We’ve Been Had: Our Own Personal Chinese Scam Story

Last January about 3 weeks before rent was due, I asked my friend to call my landlord and ask about the details for paying rent on February 15 (he doesn’t speak English, so she always helps us). The next day I got a message with a bank account number and a name. It was at the same bank as the last time I had paid, and the next day I showed it to my friend and she said, “When do you have to pay rent?” and I said, “Next month,” and she said, “Okay.”

February 15th came around and I deposited 24,090 kuai into the account and sent a message saying I had sent it. When I hadn’t heard by the next morning, I had my friend call the landlord and he said he had never sent that message and hadn’t received the money. I had fallen for a very common scam in China. It was just really lucky timing on the part of the scam artist. But that just makes m a really stupid foreigner. We called the bank and they said to call the police, who said I needed to come in and give a statement with an official translator, so I found one and we spent 3 hours at the police station. In the meantime, my landlord used his connections at the Agricultural Bank to find out that the money was still in the account, and he suggested that my friend go through the online banking system and try to access the account by inputting the wrong password until the account was automatically frozen.

Later that night, around 10, I got a call from the investigator who I immediately directed to my friend, because I couldn’t understand anything he was saying, and the police approved of her actions to freeze the account. The next day they froze the account themselves and we were told something along the lines that it would be frozen for one year, and if they caught the person we’d get it back sooner, otherwise we’d get it back after one year.

A little while later my friend Zhao heard about the situation (her ex-husband is a police officer) , and she wanted to make a few calls on our behalf. She was told that the account was opened in Wuhan and the perpetrator lived in Anhui, so that it would be an expensive trip for the police officers, but if we were willing to give 10,000 kuai, they would pursue it. We decided we would just wait the year and get it back, since they said that would happen (or so I was told; it’s hard getting all your information second hand).

A month later, a police officer calls my friend and says that we should go to court and sue for the money, but we decide not to do that because if it’s a sure thing after a year, we’ll just wait for that, rather than the hassle and expense of court. However, he calls back a week later and wants to know why we haven’t done anything on it. The money will be unfrozen soon, he says, and we need to take action. Why didn’t he mention this the first time?

My husband’s coworker accompanies me to the court, where we visit one of the many storefront lawyers located just outside, who makes calls for us and finds out that we cannot sue because the case is already under investigation. We tell the policeman this, and he says we should try to sue anyway without mentioning that it’s under investigation. He also says the money is frozen until November at least, so it’s not such an emergency. We decide to wait and call occasionally to make sure everything is alright. The detective stops answering calls from both my friend and my husband’s coworker, so they suggest I get someone else to do it, so I ask a woman who is married to an American if she could call him for me, but he doesn’t answer her calls, either. I find out later that she sends him a very inflammatory message that makes him very angry.

Finally he contacts my husband’s coworker and agrees to meet with us. I bake some banana muffins and prepare to set eyes on the elusive Detective Mu for the first time. His first order of business is to ask about the message that the woman sent him. I don’t know exactly what it said, but it was bad, and he wanted to find out who she was. My friend (husband’s coworker) just said we didn’t know. It must have been someone who had heard about the case, maybe a neighbor. The detective said he wanted to pursue the case now, and we should just wait a while. At some point he also mentions that they know who and where the person is, but that he has declined to cooperate. I had no idea the police in China were so polite.

Now a couple more months have passed. It’s August, approaching the 6 months mark, and my friend, the original friend who helped me from the beginning, makes a call to see how things are going. He says he wants to meet with her, but alone, not with me. When he sees her, he tells her that the expenses for traveling to all the places add up to 20,000 so his supervisor won’t allow him to pursue the case. He says we can go to the head police department for Nankai (our district) and if they don’t help, then we can go to the Tianjin police department, but we cannot mention that we have talked to him at all.

So today we stop by the bank to see if there’s anything that could be done, say possibly the police unfreeze the account and the bank just gives the money back, but of course it is not that simple because of the different locations involved. And they tell us that the money would only be frozen for 6 months, contrary to what the police said, which would mean that the money would be unfrozen in two or three days. Our next step will be to speak to Mr. Mu’s supervisor, and then maybe to the main Tianjin police department, but it doesn’t seem like anything can be done.

The thing is, the money is still in there. And I know it’s mine. I have the receipt proving I put it there. It’s mine and I just can’t get it. I understand that they have to go through procedure to get it, but surely there’s some recourse if they can’t catch the guy. I wonder what would happen in the US?  So much of this has been such a ridiculous roundabout of people not asking the questions they should ask and not relaying all the information they receive. I’m afraid that the $4,000 is just gone. I feel so stupid for letting this happen, but I cannot give up hope because the money is just sitting there. Has anyone had any experience like this?

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One comment

  1. Hi, My name is Zita and I am from Sydney Australia. I have been offered a 2 year teaching contract in Tiainjin (Wellington International School). I am really hesitant about moving to the city because I have read some terrible news about the levels of pollution in the city and the poor air quality. I have 2 teenage children and my husband will also be accompanying me. I would really like some advice on life in Tianjin. How do expats feel about the city and is life comfortable there. In particular standard of housing and health care are of a great importance to me as I have an Asthmatic child so I am really worried about air quality. I really would appreciate any info you can give me about life in Tiainjin. Thanks

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