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The Beijing Tea Scam (and a few others)


roddy
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I don't understand why anyone, anywhere, alone in strange/new country would go anywhere with people they don't know.

 

Paying too much for tea seems to me to be the least of the things that could happen to you.

 

To me it seems clear that as a tourist/new comer i am vulnerable and should be careful.

 

I would not under any circumstances go anywhere with anyone, no matter how nice they seemed for any reason.

 

Be polite but be firm a big no thank you from me.

 

Why do people not feel worried in these situations, what about being robbed, and possibly being hurt in the process?

 

What goes through peoples minds when this is happening, don't great big red alarm bells start ringing?

 

How can the message about these scams be spread far and wide to stop people doing it?

 

if  no one goes, it will stop happening, even if the police don't do anything about it, it will naturally stop if people are aware and don't go.

 

What about huge signs in many languages at plane, rail, bus stations and hotel, hostels lobbies ect.

 

My 2 cents worth, rant over.

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Shelley: People get fooled because of the culture difference. Tourists are expecting pickpocketers, or being ripped off by resellers, but many tourists do not expect scams in broad daylight. If you meet someone on the street in Scandinavia, and they invite you for lunch, then you just will have a nice meal. That kind of scams do not exist in many countries, because it is too obvious. But in China they can get away with it, because they bribe the police officers. 

 

And no, the risk of something worse is low. The police officers will only ignore it, if they keep a low profile. If they get news about tourists being beaten up, then it will lead to a crackdown.

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Why not? 

 

 

Because China is not seen as a high crime nation. In other countries with similar crime level as China, this could never happen because the police will crack down on it. 

 

Tourists in China don't realize how corrupt the police is. They foolishly think the police would crack down on that kind of activity, 

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I don't understand why anyone, anywhere, alone in strange/new country would go anywhere with people they don't know.

 

@Shelley: I'm with you on this in principle, and I certainly wouldn't go off with strangers anywhere in the world, but I can see how intelligent and clued-in people can fall into these things. They're usually lost/lonely/confused/time-strapped in a city without very little non-Chinese language, and they're overwhelmingly relieved that someone friendly has offered to help them.

 

I do warn everyone I know about this, though. Sooner or later every traveller will be approached at least once.

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I don't understand why anyone, anywhere, alone in strange/new country would go anywhere with people they don't know.

I can give an example of when it might be acceptable - several years back when I was backpacking around Europe I'd often meet people staying in the same hostel and we'd spend the next few days going around and seeing the sights of wherever we were, and perhaps even travel on to a new/different city together.  The same has happened at various times when I was travelling around China - both with foreigners and Chinese.

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I don't understand why anyone, anywhere, alone in strange/new country would go anywhere with people they don't know.

 

Paying too much for tea seems to me to be the least of the things that could happen to you.

I do very well understand why people would come with people they don't know. I've missed out on too many potentially very worthwhile opportunities because I was too autistic to change my plans or had unfounded doubts about the situation.. As others already stated, you have to be open minded to get most out of traveling. For a woman it may be different, but there is not too much that can go wrong and can't be fixed with money. When death I've no value, so that's in no-ones interest.

 

In my experience generally in a few minutes you can make a fair (not perfect) assessment of the risks. Even if you assess it's safe to go along it doesn't mean you have to let your guards down. You can still be critical, you can still watch for exit strategies you should still make on going risk assessments. If things get too risky you can bail out. The moment your last exit strategies are taken away it's time to bail out or be confident the risks are worth it. Obviously you should really bail out when the moment is there even if it potentially means making a fool of yourself. My policy is I don't care what other people think of me, as long as I can justify my actions for myself it's ok.

 

I've had a few incidences where I bailed out of a situation and bystanders probably  thought I was an idiot or dishonest person. To me it was very simple, the risks are too big, I bail out. As long as you're in a public place with other people little can happen as you can always make a scene and ensure your safety by drawing the attention of bystanders. I've done so a couple of times though the situation was quite different from the tea scam. Most likely it was overkill but I felt it was not worth the risk. Better safe then sorry and for at least one time I still feel much more delay might have made me a crime/scam victim.

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Travelling without meeting strangers seems not a worthwhile proposition to me. I'm just a bit more careful in China than elsewhere, but I've met no shortage of strangers on my travels and had 95% positive experiences. Plenty of people want to go for a drink, dinner with you, and most times they end up paying. 

 

So I second Silent's opinion that it all depends on your judgement. 

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Because China is not seen as a high crime nation. In other countries with similar crime level as China, this could never happen because the police will crack down on it.

Keep on dreaming, some places more then others but everywhere where many relatively wealthy naive tourists congregate there are people that (ab)use this naivety for their own benefit.

 

 

Just because you may be ripped off by strangers and some other countries doesn't mean it is going to happen in others. There are plenty of countries where it is perfectly safe to have coffee, tea, or lunch with a stranger.

And in which countries do you think it does not occur? The only country I can imagine that is free of these kind of schemes is North Korea where as you're accompanied by two guides making the opportunity for locals to mingle with and scheme against tourists very small. That however is compensated by setting largely inflated tourist prices by the state. Tourists are ripped off everywhere, from France to Somalia and From Amsterdam to Beijing. 

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I've met no shortage of strangers on my travels and had 95% positive experiences. Plenty of people want to go for a drink, dinner with you, and most times they end up paying.

If you initiate the contact yes, mostly positive and often times the local will be paying if you let them. If the contact is initiated by the local 95% of the time they want something out of it. That something may be very innocent like English practice, but often times it will be money, a free meal or drinks or they have something to sell. The place and way the contact is initiated has in my experience a highly predictive value of how it will turn out.

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"Tourists are ripped off everywhere, from France to Somalia and From Amsterdam to Beijing. "

I must be getting confused - wasn't it just a page or two ago you were telling us these weren't scams, just expensive afternoons out with new friends...

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wasn't it just a page or two ago you were telling us these weren't scams, just expensive afternoons out with new friends...

I wouldn't call it friends, but as I mentioned before to me a scam is when you end up with a bill that is far bigger then you reasonably might expect and are forced to pay. If they show you the menu with rip-off prices in advance imho you can't reasonably plead that you end up with a bill that is unexpectedly big, you clearly agreed to the prices (assuming the item list is correct). That doesn't make the price fair. Pretty much the same as with a taxi. If you're in a bad position to negotiate you may very well agree on a higher then fair price. Not a scam, you know what you get into, but still a rip-off as you're (possibly illegally) overcharged. Maybe the definitions I use are not the official definitions, I never looked them up, but for me a scam and a rip-off are different things. Though oftentimes they may feel the same.

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several years back when I was backpacking around Europe I'd often meet people staying in the same hostel and we'd spend the next few days going around and seeing the sights of wherever we were, and perhaps even travel on to a new/different city together.  The same has happened at various times when I was travelling around China - both with foreigners and Chinese.

 

Imron, this is different, the people you met and traveled to see the sites with were also tourists. This, in my opinion, is not the same as being approached by locals and taken somewhere you had not planned to go to anyway.

 

Striking up a friendship at a hostel/hotel with fellow travelers is not unusual, and I have done this many times when I traveled abroad.

 

Its the allowing yourself to be taken somewhere you had no intention of going to with people who initiated the contact on the street that I find hard to understand why people go along with it.

 

I am not against making friends abroad while traveling, just needs to be done the right way.

 

I wouldn't even go with someone to a cafe in the city i live in with someone i don't know unless I was going there anyway and just happened to meet someone on the bus/train etc that was going there too, but I would still be very careful and at the first sign of anything odd I would be out of there like a shot.

 

I suppose I just don't understand how people are so trusting, I have not been the victim of any scams so I am not speaking from the point of view of feeling distrustful, just sensible I think.

 

Put your thinking caps on people and use your brains, think carefully before you embark on any potentially ripoff/scam situations.

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the people who approached them said they were tourists also.

 

Part of the scam, I suspect. Did they have any of the usual tourist accessories? maps, cameras, backpack etc. Why would tourists know what teashop to go to if they couldn't find the biggest local tourist attraction?

 

It just seems so obvious to me, I suppose I find it hard to understand how anyone can be taken in.

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Well a tourist does not need to carry a backpack or a camera to be called a tourist. For me I usually have only a small handbag and only my phone (as camera and sometimes even to use as a map).

The girls did not take me to the teashop in an obvious way but on the way to the Tianamen square passed by a tea shop and proposed to stop for a drink.

Public place so not meaning dangerous place.

Before this happened to me, I would say Shelley, like you, how can someone fall for this trap (and I have travelled a lot)

I guess sometimes you're much less on your guard depending on the circumstances and decide to trust people. And sometimes that trust pays and sometimes not.

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  • 2 months later...

Just thought I'd add my experience. I was going from Shenzhen to Hong Kong when a tall European man approached me at Futian Checkpoint's train station. He asked if I could help him as he had just been confronted and robbed by a Chinese man. He asked me to accompany him to the scene of the 'crime'. I suggested talking to a guard instead, but he was determined to have me accompany him to the supposed place where the 'robbery' took place. Luckily, there was a guard nearby and I started walking towards the guard whilst explaining the situation using Chinese. As I motioned for the guard to come over to speak to the man in question, the guy looked at me with horror before bolting in the opposite direction into the crowd. So be weary of foreigners as well. 

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