Travel scams are common all over the world. Tourists unfamiliar with their host country or in need of help may at times easily fall for schemes set up by criminals willing to make a profit out of people’s trust. Usually it is locals who cheat foreign tourists, but in the case of a scam recently exposed by Japanese media, Chinese are targeted by their fellow countrymen.
Over the past few years the number of Chinese visitors to Japan has risen considerably. In 2016 over 6.3 million people from mainland China travelled to Japan, amounting to 26.5% of all foreign visitors to the country. By comparison, less than 1.3 million visits from the US were recorded in the same year. The large number of Chinese tourists as well as their penchant for shopping have created opportunities for shady tour operators.
According to a report by Nippon TV, a group of scammers from mainland China has organized a fraudulent scheme to cheat Chinese tourists. A former member of the scam ring told the network:
The goal of unlawful tourist guides is to take tourists to a duty free shop. For this purpose they arrange a time-consuming journey from Osaka to Tokyo so that the tourists have to spend much of the day in a bus. The guides use this time to divulge fake information so travellers unknowingly fall into the trap. They are brainwashed.
Tour operators hide their true intentions so that the scam doesn’t become too obvious. Here is how the scheme works.
Illegal tour operators organize trips to Japan for Chinese citizens. The tourist guides plan visits to several important scenic spots and attractions. However, they make sure that the tourists spend a lot of time in buses and don’t have chances to go out shopping on their own. While at the beginning the trip might seem normal, everything is carefully arranged for that final day when the tourists are taken to a duty free shop.
In the bus the guides subtly start to “brainwash” the tourists by providing misleading information about Japan that will determine their behaviour when they finally get the opportunity to purchase local products. For example, the guides claim that “in Japan prices are the same [in every shop],” and that “prices are fixed by the tourism agency [of Japan].” They repeat these lies several times so that tourists come to believe they won’t find cheap goods anywhere.
The guides explain that “Japan has created the next generation of cosmetics. These are the only cosmetics in the world that have received the Nobel Prize.” Obviously either the the guides are not familiar with what a Nobel Prize is, or they assume that their victims don’t know what it is.
The scammers praise Japan’s food, claiming that Japan has the oldest people in the world because they eat miso soup, natto and other foods that contain special “enzymes” that enhance longevity. For several days the travellers are fed with this kind of false information. If people ask whether these products can be found abroad, the guides say that “Japan doesn’t export its best products”.
On their last night the tourists are accommodated in Narita instead of Tokyo. The guides claim that “there were too many travellers from China so Japanese people couldn’t find places to stay. That’s why Chinese people now have to stay outside of Tokyo.” The real reason, however, is that they don’t want to give tourists the chance to shop freely in Tokyo.
The following day the guides take the tourists to a duty free shop. The guides and the shop owners have an agreement: Chinese tourists purchase overpriced goods, the guides get a commission. After having been brainwashed for days, the travellers believe that in every shop the prices are the same, that Japanese food will make them healthy, and that Japanese cosmetics are the best in the world. Since they haven’t bought anything before, they will purchase as much as they can afford before returning to China.
Tourist guides in Japan are required to have a license issued by the government in order to serve foreign customers. According to Japan’s Guide-Interpreter Business Law, “individuals who accompany foreigners and provide them with travel guide services using a foreign language for remuneration have to pass an examination given by the Japan Tourism Agency Commissioner and acquire a license issued by a prefectural government.” Illegal tour operators don’t have a license, but Chinese tourists may not be aware of Japanese laws.
The Chinese embassy in Japan has issued a warning to travellers, urging them to beware of illegal travel agencies and to thoroughly examine and compare the prices of goods.
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