Scam City: Shanghai Edition


Shanghai is easily one of the liveliest cities I have ever visited in the world. When you mix in a large population in a dense and overpopulated country like China, there will be some bad people with an intention to scam tourists. Over the course of five nights and six days spent in Shanghai, I witnessed a lot of ongoing scams.

Introduction to Shanghai
Chicago O’Hare American Airlines Flagship Lounge
American Airlines ORD-PVG 777-200 Business Class
Le Royal Meridien Shanghai Hotel Review
The Westin Bund Center Shanghai Hotel Review Part 1
The Westin Bund Center Shanghai Hotel Review Part 2
The Hongta Hotel Shanghai Review
Twelve at Hengshan Shanghai Hotel Review
Four Points by Sheraton Shanghai Pudong Hotel Review
My Experience on the Shanghai Maglev Train
The Sights and Sounds of Nanjing Road and the Shanghai Bund
The Sights and Sounds of the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai
The Sights and Sounds of the French Concession in Shanghai
The Sights and Sounds of Pudong Shanghai
The Sights and Sounds of Qipu Lu (Cheap Road) in Shanghai
Scam City: Shanghai Edition
The Various Restaurant Eats in Shanghai
The Various Street Foods in Shanghai Part 1
The Various Street Foods in Shanghai Part 2
The Various Street Foods in Shanghai Part 3
Shanghai Pudong Airport First Class Lounge
Shanghai Pudong Airport Dragonair and Cathay Pacific Lounge
American Airlines PVG-ORD 777-200 Business Class

The Nightclub Scam

East Nanjing Road might look safe as a pedestrian only street, but it is like many pedestrian only streets around the world and that is full of scam artists.


When night falls, East Nanjing Road becomes a scam haven targeted young single males who are walking alone. Two scammers approached me in two difference instances about inviting me to a nearby club where there are beautiful Asian women.

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These guys are out to scam tourists by overcharging for drinks. When you get the bill, it will be in excess of $1,000 USD or more and if you can’t pay, they will take you to a nearby ATM to withdraw money. Avoid these guys at all costs and just walk by them. The first warning sign you should see coming is that they speak fluent English.

The Tea Ceremony Scam

One of the most known scams in China is the tea house scam. This is where a random person or persons will approach you and start small talk in fluent English. The first warning sign: Someone approaches you on the street. The second warning sign: They speak fluent English. Basically they will try and make small talk and in the end, they will invite you to a Tea Ceremony at a traditional Tea House.



I hung out at the Yuyuan Garden Station and watched as an Asian couple approach a female tourist (who was also wearing a big camera around her neck) making small talk about where she was from and how long she was in town for. I overheard the words tea house and tea ceremony and warned the tourist that it was a scam.

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Avoid being scammed by overly talkative fluent English speaking Chinese locals.

The Asian Massage Parlor Scam

Massage parlors are all over Shanghai and especially in the Pudong district. Basically, the girls are all dressed up in the lobby with low cut blouses and high heels. That is a dead giveaway that it is a front for prostitution. These shops are actually safe and won’t scam you.

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The real scam is where someone approaches you from the street in front of the establishment. As a rule of thumb, if they approach you before you enter the establishment, it’s a scam. If no one approaches you and you freely walk into the massage parlor, it is not a scam.

Once you walk into the Asian Massage Parlor, the girls will line up for you in the lobby and you get to pick one. You can negotiate what you want from there. I won’t go into much more detail, but this is the gist of it.

The Counterfeit Goods Scam

If you’re buying brand name merchandise from the streets of Qipu Lu, Nanjing Road, or anywhere in Shanghai, it is most likely counterfeit. Don’t let the vendor convince you that it is real because it is 100% fake.

If you want the real stuff, visit the IFC Mall in Pudong where you can purchase from the luxury retailer’s own retail store.

I bought this Burberry coin purse as a novelty gift for ~$0.25 USD.


The Taxi Scam

I absolutely avoid taking taxis if I can because it is usually the costliest of all forms of transportation. I usually take the bus, light rail, or metro if there is such method to get from point A to point B. I prepared myself by downloading some Shanghai Taxi apps from the App Store on my iPhone. I used the TaxiSH app to calculate how much my taxi would be in certain times of the day.

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Be aware that Shanghai imposes extra costs for taxis taken after 11pm. Since it was raining, I took a taxi from the Twelve at Henghsan hotel in the French Concession to the Four Points by Sheraton in Pudong.


I used the TaxiSH app and made sure that I wasn’t scammed and the total came to the right amount as stated on my receipt. Not all taxis are scams, but as a rule of thumb, you need to know if you’re being long hauled. I simply use my GPS on my iPhone to see if the Taxi driver is taking the shortest and fastest route.



About the Author

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10 Comments on "Scam City: Shanghai Edition"

  1. I want a musical massage lol.

    Nice post, it can help some people. You are in!

  2. Thanks for writing this up (and including photos, to boot). Very useful for anyone who’s visiting Shanghai.

    I lived in Shanghai for work, so became familiar with most of these scams. The taxi one is new to me, though. I’m Asian-American and speak passable Mandarin, so maybe taxi drivers thought I was a local and didn’t bother to scam me. Ha ha. Like you said, if someone approaches you, it’s probably a scam.

    The only taxi scams I’ve encountered were at the Pudong airport. Once I left baggage claim, I was deluged with taxi touts trying to get me to take taxis with them. They were shouting, “Sir, sir! Taxi! Metered taxi!” For me, the solution was to find a dispatcher who was by a sign for an official taxi stand. He had a clipboard and walkie-talkie. Most importantly, he just waited at his station, and didn’t approach passengers. I walked right up to him, and he radioed a taxi for me that actually used the meter.

    This was because I arrived late at night, though. If it’s daytime, I prefer to take Airport Bus Line 2 that goes between Shanghai Pudong Airport and City Terminal Building at Jing’an Temple. Vice-versa if I’m going to the airport. It’s a direct bus and runs frequently. So takes about 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on traffic. I forget the cost, because it was cheap. For more details, do a search for “Shanghai Pudong Airport Shuttle Bus” and go to the result on the Travel Chine Guide website.

    Hope that extra tip helps your readers.

  3. New Shanghai taxi scam – fake money. Driver refused to drop me at the international hotel entrance instead on the roadside before the hotel. Complained that the 20 and 10 rmb bills I gave him had a hole and torn edge. Hard to tell in the dim backseat cabin. He asked for good rmb bills which I gave. Again he complained they were not good. Asked for 100 rmb bill, repeatedly rejected some more 100 rmb bills pretending to hold each against the light on his dashboard and returning to me. He faked to be angry and agitated. Finally he accepted the 30 rmb bills. Day after, I related the incident to the hotel concierge who told me to check my 100 rmb bills. That is when I found out the driver changed my bills with fake ones!!
    Lessons learned:
    1) don’t get friendly with driver; take a picture of his ID photo on the dash
    2) seat in the front, get a good look of him. Bytheway the seatbelt works!
    3) INSIST to be dropped off at the hotel! If not get out and walk quickly to the entrance
    4) pay with small bills. If need to use 100 rmb bill, show only one and don’t show your wallet. Watch him carefully!
    5) if confronted or suspicious, get OUT of the cab and shout “jingcha” in your cellphone
    6) ask hotel to report this scammer!
    7) always change money at the hotel and ask the 100 bills to be checked by the antifake machine
    8) watch out for other scams, don’t get distracted and don’t be afraid to be rude to ignore tell the Scammers.
    Good luck, Beware the Chinese scammers are clever and will mutate to find new ways.

  4. This happened at night around 8pm on a Saturday. Friends consoled later that the few hundred RMB loss are worth the lesson and posting this alert to others. I have gotten over my foolishness. Next time: Don’t get distracted and don’t be nice to suspicious scammers!!

  5. i was a hostage in shanghai for 3200$ bail ,always pay them and go to the police you gona get the money back for sure do not be afraid, they work with the police the closest station near to the case when i went to the police they did not wont to do a report but they call the boss of the people who came and paid me back he was trying to pay less and i push harder and i got that all do not be afraid of them !!! god bless

  6. | June 25, 2015 at 5:53 am | Reply

    After nearly about 4 years investigation. Shanghai police is ready to take actions within 1 month. The operation will be one of the biggest of this year in China. So that infamous Nanjing East Road message scam is about to meet its end. I will assure that in this 4 years any foreigner get robbed can get all their money back. Anyone who get robbed can contact me +86 13917989993 from now. Also, there is a grand general pardon for sex trade issue to those who get robbed with this issue. So police will no longer consider about this issue anyone. You can just get money back and let justice previel 🙂
    Well, general pardon for sex trade only valid for this “Nanjing East Road Message Scam”. Other place of Shanghai is not valid. It is just help to close this case.

  7. Well… Besides, it is also OK to call 110 or go to Huangpu Police station to get your money back. Marked that to take your passport and your old bank account. Also, the robber’s merchant number is required during the process to get your money back. Because I just don’t have that much time to deal with single case for this.

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