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Chinese Tea Scam

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Chinese Tea Scam

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In tourist areas of China, women may approach you suggesting they are a student visiting Beijing wanting to practice English. If you allow them to accompany you as you tour the area, you will find they are helpful and knowledgeable. After some time building up trust, the woman will suggest sitting down in a tea house or bar. The scam occurs later when the bill arrives. You are charged a vastly higher amount for the tea or wine than would be reasonable and appear to have little choice but to pay.


The scam occurs in Beijing's Tienanmen Square and Wangfujing. Women (and some men) are on the lookout for tourists walking alone. Usually, you will be approached by a women or a pair of women who speak English well. The women do not need to be especially attractive or flirtatious. They will explain that they are university students visiting Beijing from another province, and that they look forward to opportunities to talk with native speakers of English. During the initial discussion they will confirm you are a tourist with no permanent ties to the city. In some cases, they will find a subtle way to confirm you have cash.

During the first stage of the scam, you will spend time continuing to explore the tourist area and looking at the sites and monuments. They will discuss what they know about China and engage in light conversation. After they have built up some trust and reached a retail area (in Beijing, the side streets of Qianmen or Wangfujing ), they will invite you to have tea with them. The scammers are often willing to spend considerable time "chatting you up" before suggesting going for tea.

The tea house they take you to will be empty or divided into empty rooms. Further conversation occurs during the second stage. The more cups of tea or glasses of wine you drink, the less able you are to estimate how much the final bill will be. Eventually, you will receive a bill pay a huge amount of money for a few cups of tea or wine. The quality of the drink may be inexpensive, however they may also claim it is of the highest quality and use fake packaging or wine bottles.

How it persists[edit]

The scam is effective because these tourist areas are well patrolled by police. Most people in China will advise you to not trust the police, believing that they could be corrupt, which is an unfounded belief in this case. It appears there is nothing that can be done. Furthermore it is not clear to most people what law is being broken, if any. Consequently few people report the scam or do something about it. However, in the cases where action is taken, the tea house or bar will refund the money to prevent any action being taken and suggest it was a big misunderstanding. This is described in the next section.

Avoiding the scam[edit]

The scam is easily avoided by not entering an unfamiliar bar with a stranger.

Note that people and genuine domestic tourists in China are friendly. Being approached by strangers is quite normal and a typical request is to have your photo taken with a family. So, it is possible to meet new people in Beijing, however you can continue discussions on public seating, in a brand name establishment or a venue which is obviously popular, lively and not dependent on tricks.

Furthermore it should be pointed out, Chinese do not expect a new friend will pay the bill. It is considered perfectly sensible in China to check prices before you buy, to pay in advance or seek a good deal. You don't need to make any excuses for doing these things.

Obtaining a refund[edit]

Because the tea scam operates from an fixed venue, it is much easier to obtain a refund. Complete the following steps:

  1. Write out the details of what happened in the form of a complaint. Including all your details, the address of the venue, a brief description of the events and the amount paid.
  2. Make a full translation.
  3. Make a photocopy of your passport and the complaint.
  4. Go to a nearby police station and show them the papers you prepared. Ideally, you should go with a Chinese assistant. Alternatively, have a translator available to communicate over the phone.
  5. You will need to be patient and persistent with the police before they deal with your case.
  6. Eventually, you will be returned to the venue with a police officer.
  7. From there, you will be in a strong position to be refunded the full amount you paid. It should be automatic. If necessary you may need to show a copy of your complaint and be clear about the amount you are demanding.
  8. Use Chinese to thank the police officer: "Xie Xie Ni" (pronounced "sear sear ni")