If you’re planning to visit Beijing soon as a tourist, be prepared to be extra vigilant, if not wary when making local transactions. Tea shops for one can be appealing and a must-try when in the Forbidden City, but they can also be a magnet for tourists traps in the city infamously known as “The Tea House Scam.”
Tourist Lawrence Andrews learned this the hard way. While visiting Beijing, he went into a local tea shop that didn’t even appear expensive. He even described it as “unimpressive.” Imagine then getting the shock of his life when he discovered much later that he was charged $4,704 for the experience on his American Express credit card.
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Thing is, Andrews vividly recalls being handed a bill that amounts to only about $350 upon conversion for his meal. There were warning signs, though, at that time as he was presented with another bill. Despite his suspicions, he signed both receipts but asked for a copy. The tea house attendants, however, said they could not give him copies.
He quickly made a call to Amex after leaving the tea house, which assured him he will be protected from any fraud. He was shocked to find out then about the astounding $4,704 charge upon his return home.
Andrews, of course, disputed the amount with Amex, but a month later he was informed that he lost the case with the bank. He launched an appeal but was similarly denied.
Andrews then turned to consumer rights organization Elliot.org for help. He was adamant in fighting for his case. He wrote to the group: “There is no way a group could run up a tab of $4,704 at this place. This is a fraudulent merchant. This charge is a scam.”
It was later discovered that the tea house pulled off a deceptive trick to get the credit card’s approval for its fraudulent billing. The tea house provided two non-itemized receipts from those two receipts he was made to sign but was not given copies of back in Beijing. Because of said receipts, Amex determined that Andrews was responsible for the whole amount.
Elliot’s Michelle Couch-Friedman said that there’s really a widespread tea house scam in Beijing. One of the tactics the scammers is to employ attractive young women to lure tourists, especially men, inside a tea house to have drinks on the pretext that they were just doing so as hospitable, friendly locals. The victims are surprised senseless when they get the outrageous bills after - exorbitantly steep amounts for "unimpressive" drinks.
Couch-Friedman said that when they were researching the case of Andrews, they discovered reviews and complaints from other disgruntled customers who were similarly scammed.
Elliot took the fight to Amex, and thankfully Andrews got his money back. But to avoid all the stress and hassle of having to fight for money you didn’t spend, it pays to be vigilant when in Beijing against scammers.