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What can I do if I’m falsely accused of hurting someone in China?

One of the most infamous scams in modern China is “the broken vase trick”. This involves the scammer either pretending to be involved in a collision with the victim’s vehicle, or feigning injury or illness until a passer-by comes to help – at which point the “injured” party grabs them and blames them for their injury. The police arrive, and – so the idea goes – the hapless stooge is forced to pay up compensation, either on the spot or later in court.

The trick takes its name from a possibly apocryphal scam in which unscrupulous antique sellers would supposedly rig up damaged vases to look whole, then wait for a customer to “break” one by picking it up. The store owner would demand that they pay for the item. However, the roots of the modern “injury” scam may lie in the 2006 ruling by a Nanjing judge that saw a man named Peng Yu successfully sued for 40,000 yuan (around $6,000) by an elderly stranger whom he had accompanied to the hospital after she accused him of fracturing her leg.

The broken vase trick really owes its infamy to the shocking nature of the concept – nobody likes to see such injustices occur to a good Samaritan – more than its actual prevalence. Realistically you are unlikely to encounter this in China; nevertheless, it has gained some hold on the public imagination, and it’s always good to be aware of the possibility of danger, however remote.


How to avoid the scam as a driver

Prevention is better than cure. Some car owners install a small camera behind their rearview mirror, connecting it to a data recorder. This gear then records what happens in front of the car – in the case of the broken vase trick, it will tell the police whether the person was actually struck by the vehicle, or whether they deliberately threw themselves in front of it, or even lay in the road waiting for someone to stop. 

Additionally, when driving you should make sure you abide by the Chinese traffic regulations outlined in the driving license test, and follow our guide to driving and cycling safely in China. Most of all, be hyper-vigilant and don’t push your luck.

If the light is about to turn red, rather than scrambling for the last gap, hold back – it’s entirely possible (even probably) that eager pedestrians will rush forward before the light changes. If there is no red-and-green light at the crossing, only a blinking yellow light, vehicles must lower their speed and see if a pedestrian is about to cross; if so, they must legally allow the pedestrians to cross. Follow such rules and you reduce the chance of being caught out by an opportunistic scammer.


How to avoid the scam as a pedestrian

The pedestrian version of the scam starts with the “injured” scammer lying down on a pavement or another public place – or even faking a fall – and calling for help. After someone goes to assist this person, the “injured” party grabs the would-be hero’s arm, refuses to let go, and demands compensation for being knocked down and injured. This has been linked to some instances of Chinese people not helping genuinely injured people, as seen in the story mentioned above.

If you come across a stranger who is in such a situation, although it may seem heartless to not immediately give assistance, you should be wary about helping them straight away. Look around to see if there are other people on the street and ask them to join in helping this person, so you can act as witnesses for each other if either of you is accused of causing the injury. Also, keep a look out for public security cameras that may be recording the scene, and point them out to the person.

Another option suggested be a lawyer named Liu Lin in a Chinese-language news story suggests making an audio or video recording of the scene, and asking the person in distress to say that you are not the one who caused the injury, although we at One-Stop have to admit that we don’t know how this would play out in court. 

If you cannot find anyone else around then it’s your call as to whether you get hands-on with this person but you should still call 110, and ask the police to come and help, and call 120 too, if the person seem to be in need of medical attention. 


What to do if you do get scammed as a driver

We’ve covered car accidents in China over in this article, but as a quick reminder: in the event of a traffic accident, call the emergency services (for traffic accidents call 122 rather than the usual police number of 110, and for an ambulance call 120) and take photos for insurance purposes. 

If you are sure that the incident is no accident, but that you have been caught up in a “broken vase” trick, use the following steps:

  1. Stay calm and in control. Don’t react physically to what is happening.
  2. If you have a video recorder on your car, tell the “victim” that you are recording what is going on and that you know they are just acting. Tell them that you have proof of their scam. Sometimes, according to commentators on Chinese websites 163.com and ifeng.com, this will encourage them to just go away.
  3. If they are not scared away, you should dial 122 and wait for the police. In most cases, says the 122.cn traffic safety website, the scammer will be scared away by the introduction of the authorities into their scheme. If they remain on the scene, then you should not attempt to pull or help the person up from where they are laying; you may be accused of dislocating their limbs, or exacerbating their “injuries.” Or, worse, geniunely further hurt someone who is genuinely injured…
  4. If the person still insists there was an accident when the police arrive, this will get complicated. The police are at the mercy of circumstance here – if there are surveillance cameras nearby or witnesses to the incident then they will use them to find out what happened. However, if there are no such resources then they will be unable to help. In such a case, the 122.cn traffic safety website suggests telling the “victim” to get their injuries checked at a hospital and get a formal medical record to prove that they were actually Sometimes this will scare them away. If they refuse to either go to hospital or let you go, and you do not have proof that no accident happened, then you are having a very unlucky day. In this instance the police will most likely mediate a settlement between you; this will at least let you bargain down the amount that you have to pay. 
  5. In extreme cases either the victim or the “injured” party may wish to take the issue to court. In such a case the police will investigate the case again and ask for the “victim” to supply medical records proving they were injured; a medical legal expert should be able to tell if there has been any damage done and whose liability it is. However, private legal action can take months or even years to reach the court stage, so if this is something you want to pursue, you should seek a legal opinion on how likely it is for the case to be completed within a decent timeframe.


What to do if you get scammed as a pedestrian

  1. Broadly follow the advice above, if you feel it would help in your situation. 
  2. In the event that the police are involved, give them any proof you have, such as audio or video recordings you may have taken. 
  3. Having an eyewitness is really important in the case of such a scam. Talk to nearby pedestrians and shopkeepers to see if anyone saw the incident and is willing to speak out on your behalf. Tell the police the exact location it happened, and they will look for witness for you, or check surveillance camera recordings if there are any – these are particularly common at pedestrian crossings and in front of banks. 


Useful Chinese words and phrases

碰瓷 pèngcí Broken vase trick
说谎 shuōhuǎng Lie (verb)
行人 xíngrén Pedestrian
人行横道 rénxíng héngdào Pedestrian crossing
行车记录仪 xíngchē jìlù yí Automobile data recorder 
监控摄像头 jiānkòng shèxiàng tóu Surveillance camera 
目击者 mùjīzhě Witness


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