The below is an amalgamation of a couple recent emails our China lawyers have gotten from companies taken in by what is probably the oldest and most common China scam out there: the one where the China company convinces you to go to China to sign a contract, planning to rip you off once you get there. The two stories were incredibly similar, even regarding the money lost — which is actually considerably less than is typical. Anyway, I do think it important to pass this on in the hopes it will stop others from falling for this scam.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, at least once a month a company will email us (after having read one of our posts like this one), asking if they are being caught up in a scam and every single time we have been asked that question our answer (after some quick research) has always been that we are 99 percent sure they are. Anyway, here are the latest:
My name is ____________ and I was just a victim of the “come to China to sign the contract” scam. We are a small tour company, based in ___________ London. Below is the story in short. Please use it as a possible scenario for when you advise or investigate or help other people/companies on the subject.
I received a request by a Chinese chain of ______________ for organizing large groups of Chinese ________ coming to London. Our negotiations with them took more than two months and consisted of around 200 emails and three phone calls and a lot of our time.
They did not ask us for money before our trip to China for signing the contract. Four of us at my company were intimately involved with this project and yet none of us found anything wrong with it or even the least bit suspicious about it, though keep in mind that none of us had previously dealt with Chinese scammers or tourists or even any legitimate Chinese companies.
We were free to organize our trip to China and we chose our own flights and hotel there.
We even did some research on the company before we went and determined they appeared to be a legitimate company with a real website and a real domain name and their emails came from that domain name and our phone calls to them were to the telephone number on their website. It was all very professional and they never seemed to be in any rush to do the deal with us.
They consistently provided us with credible informations and technical documents and even an “official” invitation letter for our visas. I am suspicious by nature but I could not find anything wrong with the scenario before our travel to Chin
Then after we signed the contract with them in their home city, we were asked to pay for a dinner to celebrate. At that moment there was no way I could say no because there were just two of us alone with a group of six Chinese people (three men and three women) in a small hotel. Everyone looked and acted completely normal and so I paid the 900 euro for the dinner. But, honestly, by that point I was about 90 % sure that the whole thing had been a scam. Someone even accompanied me to pay the cashier.
After I returned back home they asked me by e-mail to “share” in paying a 450 euro notarizing fee and of course I refused. A few days later it became 100% clear this was a scam.
I know, I know. So stupid but I just wanted to share this with you if I could help somebody else.
I had one of our China attorneys look up the Chinese company and it did not exist. This took us all of about five minutes and had it been done at the inception when this company first started dealing with China, they could have avoided all of the above problems. The rule here is the rule everywhere: do at least really basic due diligence before you spend time and money.