If you travel to China today you may find the police knocking on your door in six months to arrest you for IRS tax refunds fraud, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration fraud, automobile finance fraud, or check fraud. At first you will laugh. Then you will cry and call a lawyer. Three months and $10,000 later you will finally clear your name and get your good credit back. Then you too will start warning your friends.
Over a million visitors visit China every day for business or pleasure. China has become the number two tourist destination in the world. In addition, 800 young uni grads go there to become foreign teachers every month. But just traveling to China more than doubles your risk of identity theft. Why? Because three or four different Chinese "agents" will ask for copies of your passports:
1. Travel Agents
2. Visa Agents
3. Job Agents & Recruiters
4. Hotel Front Desk Agents (Government owned hotels require copies)
Interpol confirms that more than 60% of the world's identity theft victims originate through a China-based scam involving one of the above professions. All of them will say they need a copy of your passport. This is not true. What they really need to know in an email from you is the following:
a) Country that issued your passport
b) Your passport number
c) The date your passport expires
To be fair however half of all these agents are honest employees who only want to do their jobs and provide professional service to you. But the other half like to earn extra money on the side. Chinese have always been very good at hustling in the gray and black markets of Beijing, Shanghai, and 30 other large cities across China.
This creates a "Good News - Bad News" dilemma for all of us travelers. First the bad news: 90% of all China job recruiters and visa agents are "black operators" - not registered with the government and without a business license that would provide some accountability. By using disposable mobile phone numbers and free emails like hotmail.com, gmail.com, 163.com, sina.com .etc and fabricated "Chinglish" names like "Dennis Chen" or "Linda Zhang" they can virtually disappear without a trace the moment someone links them to a ID Theft and files a report with the police or a claim with the court.
Visa agents are not policed nor regulated in China as a profession. China has no BBB or FTC to protect consumers. So how do you protect yourself from the swindlers? In fact, your only defense is knowledge before you embark on your China adventure. At present China Scam Patrol has three suspect visa unlicensed agents under investigation that you may want to avoid:
Beijing Service Center Visa Service
Panda Visa Service
Golden Bridge Visa Service
The good news is that you can make yourself about 99% scam-proof in China with 30 minutes of reading and following these five simple tips:
1. Avoid Chinese agents of all kinds and handle your own visa application directly with the Chinese embassy or consulate for free just by following the step by step instructions on their website in English and four other languages..
2 Never let your passport out of your sight and allow nobody but an official law enforcement officer "hold" your passport and never allow third parties other than direct employers to make a copy.
3. If you are going to work in China visit and read http://ChinaScamWatch.org
4. If you plan to visit China for any purpose visit and read: http://antifraudintl.org/threads/beware-id-theft-scam-via-china-golden-bridge-panda-beijing-service-center-visa-services.93252/#post-255604
5. If you will go with plans to work or teach in China as a foreign teacher, visit and read: http://open.salon.com/blog/china_business_central/2013/03/13/phony_china_recruiters_now_target_5000_expats_monthly_1
Thus concludes our crash course on China Visa Agent Dangers. If nothing, more you have been warned. Safe travels and prepare yourself for the world's largest variety of tasty foods and amazing historical sites! We hope all your China memories are pleasant ones!