One of beijingkids‘ most-read blogposts is 5 WeChat Groups for Moms in Beijing. Despite being nearly three years old (a lifetime in the fast-changing Beijing international scene) it continues to attract comments, mostly from people asking to be added to WeChat groups – most of them men.
Our response has moved from contacting the individuals to help them find more suitable groups, to pointing out that we don’t run the groups but that details for joining are in the piece, to adding a prominent note to the end of the post, which reads as follows:
PLEASE NOTE THAT BEIJINGKIDS DOES NOT RUN THESE GROUPS AND CANNOT ADD YOU AS A MEMBER. DETAILS OF HOW TO JOIN THE GROUPS ARE INCLUDED IN THE ARTICLE. FURTHER REQUESTS FROM MEN TO BE ADDED TO BEIJING MOMS’ GROUPS WILL BE TREATED AS SPAM.
And yet the requests continue to be posted, even though they are now simply marked as spam. There is one obvious reason why men are asking to be added to these groups, and sadly we had to take down a post about one WeChat group because the administrator was receiving inappropriate messages from men, despite being happily married. However we have recently learned of another, even more sinister, possible reason.
The scam is a simple one. Men in the US (or pretending to be) make contact with Chinese women, claiming to be former soldiers wanting to learn Chinese. They often have a tragic story about being widowed, and induce the women to fall in love with them. Then they say that they were awarded millions of dollars in compensation for their war injury, and they want to transfer it to China so they can be with the victim. Of course, transferring the money involves an ever-escalating series of fees to be paid by the victim.
This tale will be a familiar one to anybody with an email account. It’s a variation on the “Advance-Fee Scam”, often known as the “419 scam” after the clause in the Nigerian penal code concerning fraud, as the emails often originate from that country. In this version the scammer claims to be the widow of an important person, or a tribal prince. They have a huge sum of money which they need to get out of the country, and are willing to share it with a complete stranger if they will only provide their bank details and pay the necessary fees.
The Chinese version of this scam has before now mostly involved Chinese fraudsters pretending to be American and targeting Chinese women (the misspellings are a giveaway.) However more recently it has spread to the international community.
Unfortunately one result of this practice is that WeChat users are understandably skeptical about genuine requests for help. A sudden illness can result in huge medical fees, and it is not uncommon for appeals for donations to be shared on WeChat. We advise you not to donate to these appeals unless someone you know personally in real life is able to vouch for their authenticity.
WeChat users should also beware of fake sellers. Buying and selling secondhand items is widespread on the platform, with groups specifically dedicated to trading. Most sellers are genuine, but some will take your money and never dispatch the item. At times this can be due to cultural misunderstandings: in the west agreeing on a price is the end of negotiations, whereas in China it can often be just the beginning. However it is often an outright scam, with the seller becoming aggressive and unpleasant when challenged, even making threats of violence. Beware of iPhones and other electronics being offered at a suspiciously low price, and never buy Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies via WeChat. The law in China concerning these currencies is complex, and you may find yourself with no legal recourse if you’re cheated.
Fortunately there is an easy way to stay safe when buying through WeChat: delaying the transfer. On WeChat Pay, tap the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the screen. This opens the Password Management menu, with one of the items being “Transfer Time”. This can be set to “Immediately”, “In 2 hours,” or “In 24 hours.” Agree with the seller that you will set it to 24 hours, then if the goods don’t arrive in satisfactory condition before that time, you can contact WeChat to resolve the issue. (Note that you can’t simply recall the money; this is the seller’s guarantee that the buyer is not a scammer!)
As with everything else, apply common sense on WeChat, and be careful whom you trust. Most users are genuine and friendly, but social media are not free from the worst aspects of human behavior.
Photo: Sinchen Lin via Flickr