We would consider ourselves quite switched on when it comes to recognising scammers and people out to rip us off. However, for the first time on our travels, we was very close to being scammed in Shanghai by two very friendly Chinese ‘students’. We’ve shared our story so you’ll be aware should you ever be approached in a similar way.

An innocent approach

Walking along in Shanghai trying to find one of the local parks that comes highly recommended online I was asked to take a photo for a young Chinese couple. “Sure” I said, “what do you want in the background?”, they pointed behind them at the traffic and I thought why the hell do you want a photo of that but snapped anyway. Handing the phone back the couple asked where we was from and said that they were English students from near Beijing, the conversation seemed to come to a natural closing point and I was about to say goodbye when they started asking more questions.

Reeling us in

After a good 5 minutes of talking they told us that their friend from Shanghai had told them that they should go and see a tea ceremony from the minority people that live in the mountains of China. Thinking it was an outside display I agreed and off we set. The girl seemed very interested in talking to Hayley and the guy very interested in what I did for a living, I didn’t tell him I was a property investor, just went with the old IT line. At this point I was starting to think this was slightly strange, he was being just too nice and enthusiastic.

Both Hayley and I knew about a tea scam in Shanghai but was not aware of the details, and it was at this point I started thinking we might be being scammed, after talking to Hayley later she said she had the same thoughts. All my attention was on trying to understand what this guy was saying to me so I barely noticed us entering a building. But when we got to a pair of escalators that were not even working I knew this was probably a slightly run down dodgy place but wanted to see where the rabbit hole went.

The final tell that we was being scammed was when we reached a woman standing outside a small room, and our ‘friends’ just walked right in, as if they were being expected. If you was on your way to do something you had not done before you would at least stop and say, “is this where we can have a tea ceremony”. It was at this point we said we have no money we thought it was free and left but their attitudes totally changed shouting that they take credit card, total desperation. We ran out the building just in case, but after reading heavily online they are relatively harmless people running the scams.

So, what would have happened if we stayed?

I can only give you accounts of what we have read online but it goes something like this. You sit down and are told that the ceremony is around $5 per person, which seems very reasonable. The tea host then starts talking in rapid Chinese and your new friends translate for you. You then start sampling tea, more talking, more tea more talking. By this time you are you and your friends are having a great time and are not quite sure how many different teas you have had.

Then after an hour or so you are presented with a bill for $100-$200. You then find out that the price quoted was per tea and did not include this that or the other. Your new friends looked as shocked as you but they pay up. Some people haggled down, some people said they were just to embarrassed and paid. There are even stories online of someone paying and then taking their friends out for a beer after.

The best story that I read though was two guys who paid up unbeknown to them that they had been scammed. When they got back to the hotel they told someone how expensive this tea ceremony was and it was when they started laughing they knew something was up and was informed that they had been scammed. They were furious and went to the hotel manager who called the police and was escorted down to where it happened. Everyone barged in and the tea host and their friend were there all laughing and drinking and when they saw the police their face dropped. The two guys got a full refund, justice!

The China tea scam is not the only scam in China, scams can also be focused on Art or Antiques, so be vigilant and don’t go anywhere with anyone that approaches you. These types of scams are all over China so be careful 🙂