Thursday, November 27, 2014

Beijing - Taxi Scam

Operating scams are very common in tourist areas; some which are very obvious and others which slip right by you. This is one that we unfortunately encountered while in Beijing.  Sadly, we only realised we were being scammed towards the end of the experience. It was only confirmed once we did a little online search and saw the different scams that operate in China. It’s not one that happens regularly. We normally were very aware for signs of a scam, but I admit that day we were a little carefree and thereby the right targets for this operation. 

When trying to find out about taxi scams in China there weren’t too many posts about it, so I just wanted to share my knowledge about this particular scam to hopefully make more tourists aware of what could happen to them.

The Taxi Scam
There are fake taxis that drive around China and they generally try to pick up travellers mainly near Tiananmen Square/Forbidden city, or other touristy areas. They look very much like regular taxis so you have to look for the subtle differences that will set them apart. See this link for more info: Real vs Fake Taxi Cab.

Sign 1:  There were many, many taxis picking up tourists from this area. It was very difficult hailing one, so when this taxi drove directly to us we were so happy and relieved we didn’t have to walk anymore. Be a little suspicious of those drivers that make a beeline towards you, ignoring all others standing by (especially if they are local). From our observation and what we experienced most taxi drivers would rather pick up locals so they don’t have to make the effort to speak English with us.

Sign 2: The driver was very annoyed with having another passenger sitting in the front with him. He tried everything to make it uncomfortable for that person to sit there. When my friend tried to re-adjust the seat he got angry and refused to drive unless he moved to the back. Without having anyone at the front it gives the driver more chance to get away with the scam.

Sign 3: The taxi meter was increasing a lot faster than ‘real’ taxis. We noticed this but we weren’t too sure if it was something to question.

Sign 4: Without realising it until towards the end of the drive we noticed both doors at the back were locked and the window handles were removed. There was no way for us to get out unless the driver unlocked it for us.

Sign 5: Nearing the destination the driver rounded off a figure for us to pay and would start asking for payment. We had near the exact amount but he would only accept 100 RMB or would just keep asking for 100RMB notes only. We unenthusiastically agreed.

What would happen next is that he would hold on to the 100 note for a bit. Then, after a couple of minutes, would start asking, “Is this real?” “Where did you get it?” Then argue “No, it’s no good. Not real. Give me another one”. Unwittingly, we gave over another 100 to try quieting him. Same thing, same question, same arguments.  This happened about four or five times. Our frustration and anger were rising. Finally, after a lot of yelling, he gave us the change we needed and let us out of the car. Once all the emotions had subsided everything became very clear to us and we knew that we had been scammed.

We were dropped off at an amazing, famous seven level Peking duck restaurant and with free Wi-Fi in hand we did a little Google search. Sure enough there were a couple of blog posts about this particular scam. The objective is swapping your notes for fake bills. With us sitting at the back, angry and frustrated, we missed him putting his hand into his pocket to swap the bills before arguing that they weren’t real.

We tried to enjoy our meal as much as we could before we could focus on what just happened to us. Upon leaving we decided to check our notes with the cashier staff. Nearly every shop in China has a bill counter, and I guess we now know why: to check for fake bills. Yes, it is that common!  Sure enough, the four or five or six 100 RMB bills that were handed back to us by the driver were all counterfeit. The staff that could speak English and understand our situation were very sorry and upset for us, which we thought was very sweet of them. We decided we’d try our luck at the police station and report the events but it didn’t get very far as we had limited to no information about the driver and his cab. On the bright side, while we were about 100 - 150 NZD out of pocket, there were 3 of us to share that amount with.

I guess the main things to do to save your skin just in case you’re stuck in a situation like this is to firstly check that you are in a legitimate taxi cab, and also ALWAYS ask for a receipt. If they are an official taxi then they will happily hand this over. We stupidly didn’t do this. In the heat of the moment we were too angry at what the driver was doing it distracted us from common sense.  On this receipt you’ll also have the driver’s or company’s information on there should you need it to give to the police or your insurance company.

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