Travel Trouble

Mon, 17 Sep, 2018Danielle McCarthy

The elaborate tourist scam responsible for stealing $7200 from travellers

The elaborate tourist scam responsible for stealing $7200 from travellers

Lawrence Andrews was just another tourist exploring the streets of Beijing before he stepped foot inside a local restaurant to enjoy a meal and some tea.

But once he returned home, he was in for a nasty surprise as he discovered he had been charged $7200 for the experience.

Mr Andrews is the latest victim of one of the most well-known tourist traps in Beijing: The Tea House Scam. After fighting a lengthy battle to get his money back, he’s determined to warn other unsuspecting tourists.

“While visiting the Forbidden City, I went to (a tea house) – a local, unimpressive place,” Mr Andrews told consumer rights organisation Elliott.org, who took on his case.

“Later, I discovered this tea house charged my American Express card a total of $US4704 ($NZ7200). Although American Express assured me that it would defend me against this fraud, it didn’t. I need help!”

According to Mr Andrews, he was handed two bills with one converting to $380. He became sceptical, however, when he was given the second bill. While he signed both receipts, he asked for copies to which the restaurant staff declined.

“These ladies said they were unable to give me copies,” Mr Andrews said. “Then I knew something was wrong and that I had stumbled into a tourist trap.”

After leaving the premises, he immediately contacted American Express to which he was told that he would be protected against any fraud. But that turned out to be false, as he received a $7200 charge on his American Express bill.

A month later, Mr Andrews was informed he’d lost the case with the bank, so he launched an appeal that was also denied. That’s when he reached out to Elliott.org.

“There is no way a person could run up a tab of $7200 at this place,” he wrote. “This is a fraudulent merchant. This charge is a scam. But after an investigation on July 27, I officially lost my American Express dispute and the appeal. The (charge) reappeared on my statement.”

Amex believes Mr Andrews was responsible for the amount as he signed the two non-itemised receipts.

Elliott’s Michelle Couch-Friedman said of the popular scam: “Starting at 3:34 pm, you can see the mechanisms of the Beijing tea house scam in action.

“What typically happens is a friendly ‘fellow tourist’ strikes up a conversation with their intended victim,” she wrote. “This scammer, who is often an attractive young woman, has been sent out to hunt for unsuspecting visitors to the area and draw them into a local tea house.

“Once inside the restaurant, the victim is seated in a private room and prices are purposely omitted from the conversation. Soon a hostess brings light snacks and a variety of teas to sample.

“In the end, the victim discovers that none of this was done as a friendly overture. The cost of the visit is typically hundreds of dollars for some inexpensive refreshments.”

After a thorough investigation by Ms Couch-Friedman, Amex eventually reimbursed Mr Andrews and he received his money back.

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