I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. In fact I’m lucky it hadn’t happened already.
A few days ago I was scammed by a fake taxi driver, right here in Shenzhen.
This is not a unique experience, sadly. People gotta eat, people gotta live and this requires funds. Some people acquire them honestly and some don’t which is the way the world over.
This is what happened.
It was a little after 2pm and I was coming out of the bookshop feeling happy with my purchase of yet another brand new and beautiful notebook. I do just as much writing by hand as I do by keyboard so it’s lovely to have something wonderful to wrap my words in.
I was in two minds about whether to walk all the way back to the subway station to catch the underground train or to just take a taxi. Being near a main road meant getting a taxi would be fairly easy, on the other hand the subway was a 10-15 minute walk and I was already starting to sweat, feeling hot and uncomfortable in the 32 degree temperatures (89F).
So, it was a pretty easy choice and I stood high on the steps of the bookstore, sheltering from the boiling sun under its protruding roof while scouting out a taxi.
In Shenzhen, taxis have to be on the move all the time as stationary taxi ranks don’t exist, consequently the taxis are always patrolling. All you have to do when you spot one is raise your hand and they will come over to you. That being said, this taxi had just pulled in and was idling by the kerb, which is an illegal action. That should have been my first clue. However, as he was almost directly in front of me, albeit about 20 feet away, I was just pleased that I didn’t have to walk up around in the heat and could get straight in.
The second clue came when I was settled and we were on our way. The meters are clearly positioned on the dashboard with fares starting at 10 RMB (1 British pound and 6 US dollars) the figures shown in red. This meter looked like a normal one, but somehow a little different. However as I was sitting in the back I couldn’t examine it too closely.
The third clue was the receipt dispenser. This is another small machine also attached to the dashboard. Drivers are happy to give receipts when asked. My driver asked me if I’d need one. I said no and he looked relieved. I could see why, the receipt machine was clearly out of order, with a long stream of paper hanging from it to give the appearance that it dispensed proper receipts when it probably didn’t.
But by the time these three clues had registered I was already on my journey and enjoying the air-conditioned ride.
My driver was dressed casually in the Shenzhen taxi uniform of white open-necked shirt and dark trousers and his car was the regulation burgundy and grey standard model, identical to the real taxis. I guess it just wasn’t registered, but there’s no way to know that in advance. Even if there was some kind of public licence displayed it would be in Chinese and I wouldn’t have been able to read it.
As I arrived at my destination approximately 20 minutes later, the meter signalled 44RMB (a little over 4 English pounds and about 7 US Dollars). I handed him a 100RMB note and waited for my change. He shuffled around before handing me a 50RMB note and some coins.
This was the key moment.
If I’d checked my change immediately I would have clearly seen that the 50RMB note was fake, but I didn’t. I took it, said thank you and left as he drove away with my real money. If you’re wondering why I wasn’t more aware, my only excuse is that it was very, very hot and having not eaten all day, I was very, very hungry.
Chinese people constantly check the money given to them in shops, bars and taxis and they advise us to do the same. Sometimes I do, but generally I’m more trusting which is why the taxi driver was able to scam me.
Harry, a Chinese friend of mine, recently had a similar experience in a rogue or fake taxi. He’d arrived at the train station in the early hours of the morning, prime time for being scammed. He’d entered the taxi and on reaching his destination had handed over a 100RMB note. The taxi driver exclaimed that it was fake and handed it back demanding a replacement. This went on until Harry had offered 4 or 5 replacements. Eventually the driver was satisfied and allowed Harry to leave. That’s when Harry noticed that the driver had switched all of his real notes for fake ones as he’d returned them.
Many locals will have similar stories with various types of traders. Another common scam which often happens is with buying fruit on the roadside. The seller will encourage you to choose but then switch your purchase with a bag full of lesser quality fruit if you turn away for a moment.
Obviously, not everyone is a scam artist but when the locals tell you to be vigilant, they do so for a reason and you’d be wise to heed their warnings, I know I will from now on.