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Scams in Shanghai

While Shanghai is generally an extremely safe city in terms of violent crime, there are certain tricks and scams in operation, mostly around areas commonly frequented by unsuspecting tourists, such as Nanjing East Road or People's Square.

Do be aware of taxi scams – ride inside illegal taxi to a distant direction. First you agree on price (e.g. ¥300 for a taxi shared with someone else from Hongqiao Airport to Suzhou) then after some short taxi ride they ask to get out and group of people say that you need to pay agreed money right now. Then you get transferred to a shared bus where other people cheated like yourself sitting and waiting when the bus will depart, then the bus finally gets to destination. Although taxi drivers are required to take you to the location mentioned, it's always better to check with the driver if he/she is ok to take you there, rather than getting in and finding out half way that you've been jibbed.

Try not to pay taxi drivers with ¥100 notes: either use your transport card, or lower denominations. A common scam is for dishonest taxi drivers to take your legitimate ¥100 note, subtly exchange it for a fake one and pocket yours. He will then make a show of 'checking' it, before telling you that he can't accept the note because it's a fake, and hand it back to you. This leaves you with a fake note and a taxi fare still to pay. If you fall for it and hand him another ¥100 note, the driver might even try it again. Although the majority of cab drivers are on the up-and-up, this is a well-known scam, so if you're stuck in a situation where you can only pay with a ¥100 note, make sure you're paying attention once you hand it to the driver.

Always check your change from stores, especially market stalls. It's common to be short-changed, especially if you seem like you're not particularly familiar with Chinese money. Chinese people have also been known to slip notes from other currencies (e.g. Russian roubles) within the change, which can easily be mistaken for Chinese money if you're not paying attention.

The notorious tea house scam scams, long practised in Beijing, is unfortunately spreading to Shanghai as well. Be cautious if over friendly strangers, who probably dress well, speak fluent English, and look innocent like a student, who invite you to a drink, art gallery, tea shop or karaoke – you're unlikely to be physically harmed, but they will leave you to foot a large bill. In this case, you should call 110 (emergency hotline). The con artists may tell you that calling the police does not work and claim to have connections with police, but the police in China tend to be helpful in these cases, especially when innocent foreigners are involved. These scams can be found around East Nanjing Road or People's Square near the entrances/exits of the museums and art galleries.

Generally speaking, if a perfect stranger approaches you and claims they want to take you somewhere so they can practise their English, you should refuse and walk away. Many western travellers and tourists are lulled in by a friendly face in the sea of gawking strangers, and the comparative rarity of a Chinese person speaking English well. It's no bad thing to want to make new friends, but be wary of those who would take advantage of your gregarious nature.

At fake markets around the city you'll often see USB sticks from seemingly reputable brands at capacities way over what you're used to seeing. Unsurprisingly, these 360/500/640/800Gb flash drives are not legit. If you express any kind of doubt to the seller, they will plug it into a computer and show you that Windows says they are in fact as advertised – though this is still a lie, as they have simply been hacked to make it look as though they are that size when you check it on a computer. It's a scam, plain and simple. Do not buy them.

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