Who hasn’t been victim of a scam in China at least once? Maybe the teahouse scam or the ladybar scam or the maybe, like me, you simply suspect that life in China is one giant scam. But last week I heard a new one. This happened to a colleague of someone I know, a Chinese girl. She was bilked for RMB40,000 in the space of a day. Here is her story.
One morning last week sometime before 9am, the girl got a phone call from a bank telling her a credit card had been set up in her name and RMB9,000 had been charged to it. The caller simply wanted to confirm whether this was accurate or not. In order to clear this up, she was asked to provide a few basic pieces of information including her ID card number. The calls went back and forth as they tried to resolve the credit card situation.
Shortly thereafter a phone call came from someone claiming to be a police officer in Jiading. They told her some terrible news – not only had the fake credit card popped up, but it had also been used by someone in perpetration of a crime – child trafficking. The case was in court and would be tried in Beijing tomorrow. They pointed her to a website. She checked the website there was all her information – including her ID photo – just like the police officer said. She even did some internet search on the case and found other information to back it up. It looked completely real.
That is when they started asking for money. They asked her how much money she had in her bank account. RMB40,000 she told them. Then it would take RMB40,000 to make everything go away.
Her colleagues could tell something was upsetting her, but when they asked about it, she put them off saying it was “a family affair.” She asked to rearrange her work schedule so she could rest because she was not feeling well. She then went to the staff dorm.
Around this time, one of her colleagues received a phone call from someone claiming to represent a special unit of the Public Security Bureau telling her that they had tracked a number of phone calls between a known scam artist and one of her colleagues. The PSB reps told her to tell the girl not to answer anymore phone calls from these people because they were frauds. The colleague told the girl as much, but the girl didn’t believe because the scammers had told her that the some police were in on it and could not be trusted.
By this time the girl was in a real panic. She asked her colleagues not to interfere, demanding they leave her alone, telling them she knew what she was doing. At that point, she left the company grounds via the front gate. The colleagues dispatched a male colleague to follow her. She went to an ATM, but didn’t succeed in getting out any money because of interference from the male colleague. This was around 11:30am. The colleagues even called the real police who sent someone over right away (apparently the police will only get involved if the amount is over RMB5,000). But she still refused to believe, nor did she didn’t tell anyone what was really going on.
She slipped away in the afternoon, finally coming back around 6pm. Colleagues asked her where she had been. She told them she had been at the police station all afternoon. One of her colleagues challenged her on that. “Which one?” she asked, “My husband is a lawyer and he knows all the police stations in this area.” She confessed that she hadn’t been at the police station.
The colleague explained if she had really been implicated in a crime, the police would come and take you in before asking you for any money. Finally the girl began to face facts. She admitted she had already transferred RMB40,000 to the scammers, using two separate ATMs, RMB20,000 at a time, as requested. She broke down crying. Finally she admitted she had been cheated and told them the whole story, even the child trafficking part.
But even then the calls didn’t stop. She let two of her colleagues listen to one of the phone calls on speakerphone mode. One had a Zhejiang accent, one had a Taiwanese accent. They couldn’t possibly be from the Jiading police. She stopped answering the calls and, after a few hours, the scammers stopped calling. In the end she felt incredibly stupid about the whole thing.
That’s the basic outline of the scam – find a target that fits the profile, extract the ID number, quickly set up a page on a website which escalates the issue with something so horrible that you will be too embarrassed to tell anyone, keep the person engaged by calling them frequently, extract as much money as you can.
So who is this person who was so easily bilked of RMB40,000 in a single day? Here’s the profile:
1. Highly educated – this person had graduated from a 4-year college
2. Overseas experience – this person had been in the U.S. for the last 6 years, 4 of them at college
3. Chinese – but only just returned to Mainland China so not familiar with the current state of Chinese society
4. Wealthy family – For her the 40,000 was less important than the potential humiliation of being implicated in a legal case
5. Works with children – so a child trafficking charge was basically the worst thing ever – aside from pedophilia
6. Young – so she’s concerned that this thing could completely derail her future
7. Religious – she believes in God. Maybe that makes her more susceptible?
8. Female – probably happens to either gender. Men actually are easier victims because they tend not to want to talk about things at all.
It’s an interesting profile. Some elements seem pretty obvious, but 1 & 2 leave me wondering. Having international experience doesn’t bulletproof you against being the victim. In fact maybe it makes you more susceptible. Same with overseas experience.
And the last question: who are the scammers? On the one had they are despicable parasites, probably operating out of Malaysia where they take advantage of lax regulations to prey upon gullible, weak people around the world. On the other hand, they are some of the most remarkable sales people in the world. I’d hire them for my company. I mean think about it, armed with these three things they made RMB40,000 in a few hours:
1. a thorough understanding of the psychology of the target
2. a phone
3. a website
And what were they selling? A story. Nothing more.