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Top 8 Scams in China to Watch Out for (2018)

From oldskool scams to WeChat scams – people are still falling for this every single day.

Gabi Verberg

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As times change, so do scams. In an age of smartphones and social media, Chinese scammers are more prone to abandon old tricks and use new technology for their swindling business. But in a time of more digital scams, there are also still scammers who use people’s inexperience and desperation to earn money by simply fooling them on the streets. Here’s a top 8 of 2018 [check out top 10 China scams in 2015 here].

With the rapidly increasing number of online transactions in China, the persisting problem of counterfeit money scams in China may now be less of a problem than it was before. But other scams are on the rise.

Although people are now less vulnerable to scams involving cash money, services as WeChat wallet and Alipay are also not without peril. Over the years, scammers have developed numerous ways to cheat people and steal money from WeChat or Alipay wallets.

From infecting smartphones with viruses, to letting people “voluntarily” hand over their personal information, scammers have found ways to trick people from all ages and all layers of society.

As a follow-up to an earlier top 10 we did on scams in China, What’s on Weibo has compiled a list of 8 scams that are recently trending on social media or in the Chinese newspapers.

 

#1 WeChat Scams: Hacking Accounts

 

With over 800 million users of WeChat Pay in China, WeChat users are a lucrative target for scammers. In recent years, there have been various cases of WeChat scams, in which hackers of private accounts pretend to be a friend or family member, and convince others to send them money.

Last summer, the news went viral of Chinese parents becoming a victim of scammers pretending to be their children.

Image via http://www.sohu.com/a/201988031_689129

These hackers, using the children’s accounts, told ‘their parents’ that they had to attend a special course or lecture, often held by professors from renowned universities such as Tsinghua or Beijing University. Once the scammer convinced the parent to pay for the extra curriculum activity, the scammers send the contact information of the “teachers” in charge of the event.

Once the parents added the “teachers'” to WeChat and transferred the money, the scammers continued to get parents to pay for all sorts of things such as service fees, registration fees, supply fees, etc.

In other more extreme examples, parents were asked to follow a link to complete the payment. The link installed a virus onto the parent’s phone, allowing the scammer to have full access to the victim’s WeChat wallet.

 

#2 Voice Scams: Imitation Champions

 

Another rising problem that China and many other countries are currently facing is the issue of so-called ‘voice scams.’ Often done through WeChat, scammers collect a person’s voice messages and then pretend to be this person by imitating his or her voice.

The scammers will then make a fake WeChat account that is an exact copy of the one they are imitating. They will contact family members and friends of the person they are imitating, and ask to borrow money. Because the voices sound so much alike, they often win the trust of people and get them to send the money.

Image via http://www.sohu.com/a/201988031_689129

In one extreme case, a young man’s voice was imitated so well that scammers were able to convince the man’s mother that her son was abducted. In a complete panic, the mother transferred the demanded ransom.

In all cases, the police advise people to always confirm face-to-face with the other person before sending money. Additionally, they also warn people should be on their guard sharing voice messages or any other form of personal information with strangers.

 

#3 Delivery Scams: Too Many Packages

 

As easy and convenient online shopping might seem, it is not without danger. Just as with WeChat scams, there are many ways in which scammers will try to find weak points within the system.

One of the issues that makes people more vulnerable to scams within the world of online shopping is that many people order so many products online, that they are more likely to believe that a package is theirs – even if they have never actually ordered it.

The most common online shopping scam involves “cash on delivery,” where the courier asks people to pay upon delivery. Once opening the packaging, people discover their package is actually empty.

In another version, scammers will first call the victim pretending to be their neighbor. They will ask them to do them a favor and accept a package, since they are not able to be home on time to accept it themselves. This way, people are even more likely to accept the package.

In yet another scam, often referred to as the “compensation scam,” scammers call customers and pretend to be employees of a delivery company. On the phone, they will tell that one of their carriers accidentally lost or damaged the ordered product and that they want to compensate for the loss. The only thing the victim has to do is to fill out an online “compensation form” for which personal information and bank information is required. With this information, the scammers can easily break into their victim’s bank account.

In some cases, scammers ask customers to add a WeChat account so they can be compensated for their ‘loss’. In the final step, they will require them to scan a QR-code, or click a link, and to transfer a small ‘service’ fee. Once they have transferred the fee, a virus will be installed on their phone, allowing the scammers to access their WeChat wallet.

Delivery companies advise their customers not to accept any package if they are not sure they have actually ordered it. With cash delivery packages, customers are advised to always check the package before sending the courier away.

About lost or damaged packages: delivery companies will never ask you to fill out a compensation form or share any personal or bank information. In case the delivery company loses or damages your order, the company you bought it from will then inform you and transfer the money back to your bank account.

 

#4 Catching Red Envelopes

 

Snatching ‘red envelopes’, qiǎng hóngbāo (抢红包) in Chinese, originated from China’s long-standing tradition of giving red envelopes to children to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

However, as the tradition of giving red envelopes is transforming from offline to online, the new phenomenon of ‘snatching red envelopes’ has also become more ubiquitous.

Through WeChat, people can send red envelopes to a group of friends: the (few) people who are first in opening that envelope will then receive an amount of money. Companies often use this feature as a marketing tool.

Scammers also make use of this red envelope craze. The ‘red envelop scam’ starts with a message via one of one’s WeChat contacts, reading something like: “I just discovered a group and the host of the group is going crazy! He keeps sending red envelopes! Add yourself to the group and snatch some envelopes.” This message will often be followed by a message telling you that you will be rewarded money when you add more people to the group.

Image via http://www.tanmizhi.com/html/4445.html

Within a few minutes, the group chat has added hundreds of people. As members increase, the group owner will encourage people to add more people to the group by keeping on sending red envelopes. In the meantime, the group owner will send out a message saying that the ones who already opened an envelope are registered. In case they do not add ten people to the group within 30 minutes they will be kicked out. As for those who add 20 people to the group within half an hour, they will be rewarded even more money.

This way, people will keep adding contacts to the group. And because it is not allowed to talk in the group, people are also not able to warn each other of its potential dangers, because, at this point, the red envelopes will actually change into QR codes – the group owner will post a message saying that his transactions surpassed the transactions limit of the day and that if people want to continue receiving money, they will have to scan the QR-code and pay the symbolic amount of one yuan ($0.14). If they do so, they are promised to be rewarded with a high amount of money.

Once these people pay the one yuan, they have been scammed: through the QR code, the scammers have installed a virus into their WeChat, allowing them to empty their WeChat wallet. There are many versions to this kind of “red envelope” and “free money” scams. To avoid being scammed, it is best to remember that there is no such thing as getting money for nothing – there’s always a price to be paid.

 

#5 Winning Lottery-Ticket Scam

 

For the “winning lottery ticket scam,” scammers play with people’s minds. And no matter how simple this trick may seem, it is a worldwide phenomenon.

The scam starts with the victim finding a lottery ticket that has intentionally been placed somewhere. Since the owner of the lottery ticket is nowhere to be found, most people finding the ticket then call the number registered on the ticket to find out whether or not the ticket won a price. And, of course, they are told that the found ticket is indeed a ‘prize-winning’ ticket.

Because people, at this point, are so excited about their unexpected ‘luck’, they often no longer keep their mind straight. The scammer on the phone will inform the lucky finder that they only need to pay a handling fee before they can receive their prize money.

In some cases, the scammers even convince the victim to pay an income tax before receiving the prize money. Once the lucky winner paid the handling fee or income tax [via WeChat or Alipay], the connection will be cut off, and of course, the victim will never get the prize.

 

#6 Found Wallet Scam

 

You are walking outside, and suddenly you find a wallet on the streets – the owner is already out of sight. As you stand still with the wallet in your hand, a stranger comes up to you accusing you of stealing money from that found wallet.

It is a scam that frequently occurs in China, and it is easy to imagine that someone who just found a wallet might feel awkward about the situation, especially when accused of trying to steal the money inside of the wallet.

While explaining that they did not intend on trying to steal money, the stranger will intimidate the finder to give him some of the cash inside to settle the matter. Many people will do so in order to avoid a public scene.

But that is not the end of the scam, as the ‘owner’ of the wallet will then suddenly pop up, asking for his wallet, and discovering that some money inside is missing. The ‘finder’ will then compensate for that loss to get themselves out of the humiliating situation.

Obviously, the two men – the ‘bad guy’ demanding the money and the person who lost the wallet – work together in setting people up like this. Police advise people who find a wallet to turn it in at the closest police station.

Netease has reconstructed the scam on a video here.

 

#7 Fake Job Scam

 

One of the most common scams in China nowadays is the so-called “fake job scam.” Scammers will place fake job ads, and meet responders outside a company office for their ‘job interview.’

In most cases, the applicant is ‘hired’ immediately after the job interview. But before they can get to work, they first have to pass a medical test at a designated ‘research center.’ The victim is then told that he has to pay for the transportation and medical fees, and that the money will be reimbursed at the end of the first working month.

In many cases, victims also pay for service costs and forward a deposit for cards that allow them into the office, etc. When all these fees are paid, the ‘company’ can no longer be contacted and is suddenly untraceable.

To avoid people from getting tricked into these fake job scams, police advise to only reply to job ads with a registered phone number and official company address.

 

#8 Trap Loans: A Mountain of Loans

 

The problem of ‘trap loans’ has received much media attention in China over recent years. Earlier this year the story of one woman went viral; she borrowed 2,000 yuan ($292) and ended up with a 150,000 yuan ($21.872) debt two months later.

She is just of among many victims of China’s “trap loans.” In various other cases reported by the media, people end up in such huge debts and depression, that they take their own lives.

Scammers specifically target people who are temporarily short of cash. It often starts with an individual lender offering a quick loan, only for a few days, in the name of a small loaning company (小额贷款公司). Once the person tells the loaning company they need credit, a lender will come up with a contract that has blank spaces in them. The contract is often so long and complicated that people don’t read it through carefully enough.

When the contract is signed, the loaning company will insert extra information into the blank spaces of the signed contract. They will, for example, change the time you are allowed to borrow money, the interest rate, or the name of the lender.

In the next phase, the loaning company will purposely make the borrower breach the contract by, for example, temporarily being out of service or unreachable, so that the borrower is not able to pay off his debts as recorded in the agreement. They will then face the sum of accumulated interest on the borrowed money, and fines for overdue payments.

Around this time, the lender will introduce the borrowers to another loaning company where they can take out more loans to pay off the debts of the first contract. This can go on for many years and many contracts. The borrower will not be able to repay the entire sum of borrowed money, so keeps on paying huge interest rates and fines for overdue payments.

There have been reports of trap loans in various forms such as campus loans, where students are tricked into ‘easy money loans’ by on-campus advertisements; or naked loans, where scammers demand people to send a (partly) nude picture of themselves holding their ID as collateral. Often this photo will later be used to blackmail a person.

Want to read more? Also check out our previous ‘Top 10 Scams to Watch Out For in China‘.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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  1. Avatar

    David

    June 4, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing Gabi! was a very interesting read to see how the scams have been evolving haha. Perhaps to share one shared by the community at https://travelscams.org/asia/china/ a new one that is reported is the QR code scam. In essence it is similar to the “catching red envelopes” scam but done differently.

    For this version, criminals paste their own QR code over the original ones by merchants (shops, bicycle sharing, etc). It is pretty much impossible to detect with the naked eye and in Guangdong alone, an estimated US$13 million was lost this way.

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China Digital

Summer Censorship: Weibo Launches “Project Sky Blue”

No hot summer on Weibo: the social media network announces extra censorship on ‘vulgar content.’

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Earlier this week, the administration of Sina Weibo announced a special summer holiday crackdown on “vulgar content,” including “pornographic novels, erotic anime, pictures or videos.”

In a public announcement that was posted on July 4th, the Weibo administration writes that the primary goal of this campaign is to “create a healthier, more positive environment for underage users” during the summer break period.

The censorship plan is titled “Project Deep Blue” (or: “Project Sky Blue”) (蔚蓝计划), and will use filter systems, human moderators and user reports to censor more content for the upcoming two months.

The project even has its own Weibo account now, where Weibo users can ask questions, report inappropriate content, and get more information on the campaign.

Weibo states it will further expand its team of online content supervisors, and also explicitly encourages netizens to flag ‘inappropriate’ content to make the online community ‘more wholesome.’

The hashtag #ProjectDeepBlue (#蔚蓝计划#) topped the hot search lists on Weibo this week; not necessarily because of the topic’s popularity, but because it was placed there by the social media site’s administration. At time of writing, the hashtag page has attracted more than 180 million views.

Online responses to the summer censorship program are mixed: many commenters voice their support for the latest measure, while others express frustration.

One Weibo user from Hubei calls the latest measure “hypocritical,” arguing that minors surf Weibo just as much during school time as during the summer holiday – suggesting that launching a special censorship program for the summer vacation does not make sense at all.

But many popular comments are in favor of the project, saying: “I support Project Deep Blue, the internet needs to be cleaned up,” and: “China’s young people need to be protected.”

This is not the first time Weibo launches a special intensified censorship program. Throughout the years, it has repeatedly carried out ‘anti-pornography‘ campaigns in cooperation with Chinese cyberspace authorities.

Often, the crusade against ‘vulgar’ content also ends up being used for the purpose of censoring political content rather than to actually eradicate ‘obscenities’ (read more).

By now, it seems that many Weibo users are quite actively using the Project Deep Blue tag to report on other users who are posting violent or vulgar content.

“If you’re not careful, you’re hit with vulgar and obscene content the moment you’re on the internet,” well-known mom blogger Humapanpan (@虎妈潘潘) writes: “Now that the summer holiday is coming, I hope we can join the Project Deep Blue, and clean up the internet environment.  Actively report obscene content the moment you see it – let’s protect our future together.”

By Skylar Xu & Manya Koetse

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Faking Street Photography: Why Staged “Street Snaps” Are All the Rage in China

Staged street photography is the latest “15 minutes of fame” trend on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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It looks as if they are spontaneously photographed or filmed by one of China’s many street photographers, but it is actually staged. Chinese online influencers – or the companies behind them – are using street photography as part of their social media strategy. And then there are those who are mocking them.

Recently a new trend has popped up on Chinese social media: people posting short videos on their accounts that create the impression that they are being spotted by street fashion photographers. Some look at the camera in a shy way, others turn away, then there are those who smile and cheekily stick out their tongue at the camera.

Although it may appear to be all spontaneous, these people – mostly women – are actually not randomly being caught on camera by one of China’s many street fashion photographers in trendy neighborhoods. They have organized this ‘fashion shoot’ themselves, often showing off their funny poses and special moves, from backward flips to splits, to attract more attention (see example in video embedded below).

In doing so, these self-made models are gaining more fans on their Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, or WeChat accounts, and are turning their social media apps into their very own stage.

 

Street Photography in Sanlitun

 

The real street photography trend has been ongoing in China for years, near trendy areas such as Hangzhou’s Yintai shopping mall, or Chengdu’s Taikoo Li.

One place that is especially known for its many street photographers is Beijing’s see-and-be-seen Sanlitun area, where photographers have since long been gathering around the Apple or Uniqlo stores with their big lens cameras to capture people walking by and their trendy fashion.

A few years ago, Thatsmag featured an article discussing this phenomenon, asking: “Who are these guys and what are they doing with their photos?”

Author Dominique Wong found that many of these people are older men, amateur photographers, who are simply snapping photos of attractive, fashionable, and unique-looking people as their hobby.

But there are also those who are working for street fashion blogs or style magazines such as P1, and are actually making money with their street snaps capturing China’s latest fashion trends.

Image by 新浪博客

People featured in these street snaps can sometimes go viral and become internet celebrities (网红). One of China’s most famous examples of a street photographed internet celebrity is “Brother Sharp.”

‘Brother Sharp’ became an online hit in 2009 (image via Chinasmack).

It’s been ten years since “Brother Sharp” (犀利哥), a homeless man from Ningbo, became an online hit in China for his fashionable and handsome appearance, after his street snap went trending on the Chinese internet.

 

Staged Street Scenes

 

But what if nobody’s snapping your pics and you want to go viral with your “Oh, I am being spotted by street fashion photographers” video? By setting up their own “street snap” shoots, online influencers take matters into their own hands.

It is not just individuals who are setting up these shoots; there are also companies and brands that do so in order to make their (fashion) products more famous. According to People’s Daily, in Hangzhou alone, there are over 200 photographers for such “street snaps” and hundreds of thousands of models for such “performances.”

The photographers can, supposedly, earn about 20,000 to 30,000 yuan ($2,890-$4,335) per day and the models are well paid.

In this way, the “street snap performance” phenomenon is somewhat similar to another trend that especially became apparent in China around 2015-2016, namely that of ‘bystander videos’ capturing a public scene. Although these videos seem to be real, there are actually staged.

One such example happened in 2017 when a video went viral of a young woman being scolded on a Beijing subway for wearing a revealing cosplay outfit.

The story attracted much attention on social media at the time, with many netizens siding with the young woman and praising her for responding coolly although the woman was attacking her. Later, the whole scene turned out to be staged with the purpose of generating more attention for the ad of a “cool” food delivery platform behind the older lady.

In 2015, photos of a ‘romantic proposal’ made its rounds on social media when a young man asked his pregnant girlfriend to marry him using over 50 packs of diapers in the shape of a giant heart. One bag of diapers carried a diamond ring inside. It was later said the scene was sponsored by Libero Diapers.

 

Wanghong Economy

 

Both the latest street snap trend and the staged video trend are all part of China’s so-called “Wanghong economy.” Wǎnghóng (网红) is the Chinese term for internet celebrities, KOL (Key Opinion Leader) or ‘influencer.’ Influencer marketing is hot and booming in China: in 2018, the industry was estimated to be worth some $17.16 billion.

Being a wanghong is lucrative business: the more views, clicks, and fans one has, the more profit they can make through e-commerce and online advertising.

Using Chinese KOLs to boost brands can be an attractive option for advertisers, since their social media accounts have a huge fanbase. Prices vary on the amount of fans the ‘influencer’ has. In 2015, for example, the Chinese stylist Xiao P already charged RMB 76,000 ($11,060) for a one-time product mention on his Weibo account (36 million fans).

According to the “KOL budget Calculator” by marketing platform PARKLU, a single sponsored post on the Weibo account of a famous influencer will cost around RMB 60,000 ($8730).

The current staged street snap hype is interesting for various online media businesses in multiple ways. On short video app Douyin, for example, the hugely popular street snap videos come with a link that allows app users to purchase the exact same outfits as the girls in the videos.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an online survey by Tencent found that 54% of college-age respondents had the ambition to become an “online celebrity.”

 

Making Non-Fashion Fashion: The Farm Field as a Catwalk

 

Although becoming an actual online celebrity used to be a far-fetched dream for many Chinese netizens, the latest staged-street-snap trend creates the possibility for people to experience their “15 minutes of fame” online.

Just as in previous online trends such as the Flaunt Your Wealth Challenge or A4 Waist Challenge, you see that many people soon participate in them, and that they are then followed by an “anti-movement” of people making fun of the trend or using it to promote a different social point-of-view.

The 2018 “Flaunt Your Wealth” challenge, for example, in which Chinese influencers shared pictures of themselves falling out of their cars with their expensive possessions all around them, was followed by an Anti-Flaunt Your Wealth movement, in which ordinary people mocked the challenge by showing themselves on the floor with their diplomas, military credentials, painting tools, or study books around them.

In case of the (staged) “Fashion Street Photography” movement, that now has over 103 million views on Weibo (#全国时尚街拍大赏# and #街拍艺术行为大赏#), you can also see that many people have started to mock it.

“I find [this trend] so embarrassing that I want to toss my phone away, yet I can’t help but watch it,” one Weibo user (@十一点半关手机) writes, with others agreeing, saying: “This is all so awkward, it just makes my skin crawl.”

The anti-trend answer to the staged street shoot hype now is that people are also pretending to be doing such a street snap, but ridiculing it by making over-the-top movements, doing it in ‘uncool’ places, wearing basic clothing, or setting up a funny situation (see embedded tweet below).

Some of these short videos show ‘models’ walking in a rural area, pretending to be photographed by a ‘street fashion photographer’ – it’s an anti-trend that’s become a trend in itself (see videos in embedded tweets below).

Although this ‘anti-trend’ is meant in a mocking way, it is sometimes also a form of self-expression for young people for whom the Sanlitun-wannabe-models life is an extravagant and sometimes unattainable one.

They don’t need trendy streets and Chanel bags to pretend to be models: even the farm field can be their catwalk.

In the end, the anti-trend “models” on Chinese social media are arguably much cooler than the influencers pretending to be photographed. Not only do they convey a sense of authenticity, they also have something else that matters the most in order to be truly cool and attractive: a sense of humor.

Also read: From Mountains of Taishan to Faces of Amsterdam – Interview with Street Photographer Jimmy on the Run

Also read: Beijing Close-Up: Photographer Tom Selmon Crosses the Borders of Gender in China

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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