How to avoid getting scammed in Shanghai

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Let's face it, even the most seasoned of travellers can get themselves into sticky situations!

When I'm travelling, my inner skepticism flourishes, and suddenly, everyone is out to get me. This keeps me on my toes, I always stay close to my possessions, I lock valuables up at night, and I'm always very vigilant. Although, these rules go out the door once I'm at home in Australia. But really, when travelling, it's better to be safe than sorry. Often, when a stranger offers to go out of their way to help you, it's usually too good to be true.

That said, China was a difference place though! People are incredibly kind and generous, going above and beyond to offer assistance for nothing in return but a photo or a WeChat Id. I couldn't count the amount of times we found ourselves lost, only to be approached within minutes by a smiling face happy to help, no strings attached. At first, we were very uneasy about the help, only to soon find kindness isn't quite dead yet.

Although my experience in China was incredibly helpful and accommodating, you can't let your guard down. No matter what country you're visiting, there are always people out there who make money off trustworthy and vulnerable strangers. Let me share with you the Shanghai scam we fell right into!

It was our second day in Shanghai, and we had planned to visit the Yu Yuan (Yu Garden). On our way there we were stopped by a male and female, asking if we could take their image for them.

Of course! We said, and in exchange they offered to take our image. Nice enough. They then asked us where we were from, in perfect English, and told us they were cousins, the female down from Nanjing, the male born and bread in Shanghai.

Slowly the conversation turned to where we were heading, and conveniently, that they were heading there too, so they asked if we could walk together.

Now, we were a little reluctant, thanked them and declined. We pretended to be distracted by a cat, and walked in a different direction. Looking back at it now, they were persistent. They followed us, asking again, saying they wanted to practice their English and walk with us. So, we accepted. After all, what's the worse that could happen?

They recommended, before we were to go to the Yu Yuan Garden, we must see Old Shanghai! Sounding like something we would really enjoy, we agreed to go with them. They walked us along a busy road, talking away, we learned Mandarin and found out more about these cousins. They were kind, and interesting, it was a nice insider.

After about 5 minutes of walking, the male pointed out the entry to Old Shanghai.

But first, he said, you must have tea with us! We know a great tea house only a few metres away, you can witness a traditional tea ceremony. He continued to walk.

We looked at each other, unsure. Only a few meters from the Old Shanghai entry, we all stopped.

Here we are! He announces, beginning to walk up a hole-in-the-wall staircase. It was hard to tell if this was just two lovely people, or if we were about to get into trouble. Maddie and I look at each other – it's pretty incredible when you find yourself in an unnerving situation, you can read minds. Ours was saying, no.

Oh, no we're okay. We declined smiling friendly.

But you must! He says. It's a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

We'll just go up, and if you don't want to, we can leave, the woman pipes in. They gestures up the stairs.

We're not really in the mood, we're on a schedule and don't want to miss the Yu Yuan Garden. But thank you for showing us this place! We smile, and begin to walk away.

They both gesture to us to come back, both saying, oh please, you'll really enjoy it!

We smile as we leave, saying thank you.

After we left, we looked at each other thinking we were just being paranoid, they seemed so lovely! Putting it behind us, hoping we weren't too rude.

That was until, only 5 minutes later, we were asked by another couple if we could take their picture. In exchange they offered to take our picture. They then asked us questions, and we got to talking. After a few minutes they asked if we would like to join them at a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We politely declined and walked away.

At that moment we know we had done the right thing by walking away.

It happened again. And again. After the last two, we declined taking peoples photos. Rude it may seem, but it felt necessary.

When we got back to our hostel, we found out that these 'tradition Chinese tea ceremonies' were in fact tea ceremonies. But the catch was, the people who invited you would leave you with the bill – costing upwards of AU$400.

We soon found how to spot the scammers during our time in Shanghai. First of all, they all had perfect English. Second, they will ask you to take an image of them, and often, it would be in front of absolutely nothing significant. It was helpful we both speak a bit of French, so we declined taking peoples photo without sounding rude – desole, je ne parle l'anglais.

If someone asks to take a photo of you, or be in a photo of you, they're completely harmless. Often they'll tell you you're beautiful and gawk over your features. It's quite nice.

Moral of the story is, trust your gut. Usually, it's right.


Share with me your scammer stories abroad or at home!