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The Art of Chinese Scams

[ 9 ] July 2, 2010 |

This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the Art of Chinese Scams.  Over the next few weeks I will be rolling out 3 personal scam stories from my time in China with tips and advice on how not to get sucked in.

It doesn’t matter where you travel in the world you are inevitably going to come across SCAMS! One minute you can be leisurely strolling through a park in Paris, the next thing you know a Gypsy has your finger and is intricately and speedily weaving you a gorgeous bracelet.  Or what I found out the hard way was a 10 Euro bracelet that promised to give me a lifetime of good BOOM BOOM!

In Thailand all you need to do is walk down any Tuk Tuk lined street to have an over friendly driver flash a kind Thai smile and tell you about his whole extended family in Chang Mai.  He then proceeds to offer you some dodgy, suspiciously cheap tour of all the hot tourist attractions, then taking you to nowhere but tailors and fake jewelry shops.

What sets China apart?

In China scams are less forward, harder to pick out and certainly a lot harder to get out off!  In China if you get scammed it is unlikely to be by an outgoing driver or a touchy feely gypsy.  It will be the people you don’t consider, the dear old lady, the university student or the enthusiastic musician.  They will come across as friendly, kind, trustworthy and in many cases even shy.  Occasionally you will find yourself being chased down the street by a scammer trying to offer you some dodgy tour or ‘fantastic hotel offer’.  But in reality who is that guy really going to scam, no one is dumb enough to fall for such obvious and desperate tactics!

The friendly face of Chinese scam artists

The friendly face of Chinese scams.

The reality of scams is that most scam artists are just that, artists.  They’re good at what they do, they have scamming perfected to a fine art.  They know that we all respond well to a friendly, welcoming face.  What Chinese scam artists have figured out is that laowai (foreigners) respond even better to someone who is extremely modest and if there is one thing that can be said about the Chinese is that they are modest people.

It is this that makes it all the more hard to deal with if you do get scammed.  You can’t help but wonder where you went wrong “they just seemed so innocently friendly”.  It’s easy to loose trust in the people and expect the worst out of everyone “who can your trust? could they be a scam artist too?”  However it’s important to keep in mind that so much of travel is about learning about new cultures, do not let yourself get lost in pool of contempt and self-blame if you are unlucky enough to get scammed.

Keep in Mind

  • It’s painful to part with your hard earn money when you know it’s not going to an honest cause.  But at least there is one thing you can say for Chinese scams, because of the cultural attitudes of the people it is very rare that you will ever get scammed, ending up with nothing. Most of the time you will get what you wanted/asked for however keep in mind that if someone says something is free it most likely is not and when they do try and charge you, it will be a ridiculously high amount.
  • Trust your gut.  Every time I have felt that I’m about to be scammed, I have been.  Don’t ignore that feeling of suspicion because often it’s spot on.  At the same time don’t be overly suspicious of people just because of their nationality, otherwise you may just pass up an amazing opportunity to integrate in with the locals.
  • There aren’t many situations you can’t get out off besides someone threatening you with violence.  Often you can get away paying only a very small amount with bargaining or threatening to call the authorities.  It’s the guilt factor that often compels you to pay and in China you can count on them inspiring the guilt factor!
  • When bargaining with a scam artist first and foremost it’s imperative that you are aware of your personal safety.  If things are getting heated and it feels as though it may resort to violence cut your losses, give them the money and leave swiftly.
  • Don’t loose sight that scam artists are still people, often quite poor just trying to make a little bit of money the only way they may know how.  At the end of the day if your rich enough to be travelling no matter how poor a backpacker you may be, being scammed for a few bucks isn’t a big deal.

Top Tip: Have the phone number of the police or local authorities in your mobile phone, not only is it essential for safety it also gives you huge bargaining power.  Just whip out your phone and show them that you are serious about calling the authorities. This trick will often work to bring down the price if not pay nothing at all.

This is the first of a series of posts on “The Art of Chinese Scams” if you want to stay up to date with this series as well as follow my journey teaching, living and travelling in China then please subscribe to the RSS feed!!!

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Category: China

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (9)

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  1. Dina says:

    Definitely looking forward to reading the next in the series!

    Haven’t been in Thailand yet (even though have heard about the scam), but I did see the Paris bracelet scam in Sacre Coeur, I had to dodge a lot of them coming to me. I was having fun though, taking a lot of pictures of scammers in action, hoping someday I would write about them.
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..Top 3 Temples by Travelers Around the World =-.

  2. ‘At the end of the day if you’re rich enough to be travelling no matter how poor a backpacker you may be, being scammed for a few bucks isn’t a big deal’

    Being scammed is a big deal. It’s disrespectful and, worst of all, it can erode our trust and goodwill towards a whole group of people. I hate that feeling – It’s unfair to the vast majority of genuine people we meet out there.

    And that extra few bucks could have gone to someone deserving.
    .-= Shane @ The Working Traveller´s last blog ..3 Summer Music Festivals in America Looking for Volunteers =-.

  3. Sasha says:

    Hi Shane, thanks for the comment. I absolutely agree with you that scamming is disrespectful and absolutely it is unfair to all those genuine people out there. I’ve been scammed many times and have I liked it HELL NO did it piss me off at the time HELL YES! But if I were to let that taint my view of the people or of that person who often are genuinely nice people then I would never trust anyone and would pass up on amazing experiences.

    The point I’m making is that scammers are still people, often poor (though not always I know) many come from generations of scammers that have spent their lives making a living from scamming. It’s all they know, now i’m not saying it’s an excuse making it any more acceptable but the reality is scams happen and particularly in Asian countries they can happen quite often.

    Of course I would rather spend my few dollars on something worth while and I know all about tight budgeting I live off a crap ESL teaching salary scraping every penny. But for me there is really no point dwelling on it if I put it in perspective in the grand scheme of world injustices scamming is pretty low on the list.

  4. Sasha says:

    @Dina the most awkward thing for me with those Gypsies in Paris was them saying at the top of their lungs “it will give you good BOOM BOOM!” I was so embarrassed lol

  5. Suzy says:

    I just encountered some scammers today in Italy. I love the whole “I offer you tour better than anyone” people. This guy today pounced on me right when I got out of my car. They must be all over the world. At the end of the day though, I completely agree. It isn’t worth the pain and hassle to fight someone over a few dollars just for principal. Most of the time I feel situations escalate and it is best just to go with the scammer, but avoid them at all costs.
    .-= Suzy´s last blog ..The Taj Mahal Wishes You Were Here =-.

  6. Dina says:

    Good boom boom, eh, hahaha! Too bad nobody offer the good boom boom at us.
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..New Zealand’s South Island- Our two week road trip itinerary =-.

  7. [...] is the second in a series of posts dedicated to the Art of Chinese Scams.  Over the next few weeks I will be rolling out 3 personal scam stories from my time in China with [...]

  8. Good tips! Too true about how smart they are about it. I’ve had a few people ask me about ‘free art galleries’ and ‘going out for tea’. They can be easy to catch if you use common sense.
    .-= Michael Tieso´s last blog ..Meet- Plan- Go! Art of Backpacking Contest- Win Travel Items! =-.

  9. Sasha says:

    Thanks Michael, I do often wonder where do they learn such a skill, because a skill it really is! Is there like a ‘Learn to scam’ course or something!

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