St. Gobain Celebrates 350 Years of Innovation with a Temporary Pavilion on the Huangpu River in Shanghai

St. Gobain, one of the world’s oldest companies (350 years!), just had their Innovation Days celebration in Shanghai on Sunday. I was privileged to be a guest and to learn more about this innovative Fortune 500 company, headquartered in France, that produces leading materials like special glasses and abrasives.

To celebrate their 350th anniversary, they built a temporary pavilion on the Bund near the International Cruise Terminal area, just east of Suzhou Creek, and it is now open to the public for a few days. But you have to reserve a ticket for specific times. Make your reservations at http://www.saint-gobain.com.cn/en/350th_anniversary.html.

I especially enjoyed the display with mirrored walls and actively lit glass inside, and the display highlighting the acoustic insulation materials they produce. Booming loud inside, quiet outside.

Here are some photos from the event I attended:

By |January 14th, 2015|Categories: Business, Industry, Innovation, Photography, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off

Gelato Update: Le Creme Milano at South Shaanxi Road Is Wonderful, But Beware the Rogue Store in Xintiandi

Ever since my visit to Italy a year ago, I’ve been on a quest for good gelato, and have found a couple of fairly good brands here that draw upon Italian know-how.

Gelato was on my agenda following an intellectual property conference in Shanghai, the IP Business Congress Asia 2014, held Dec. 8-9. My wife and I took an IP lawyer from the States and his wife to dinner at the beautiful and delicious TMSK in Xintiandi. After dinner, the lawyer and I wanted to try some gelato, so we went west to Danshui Road to visit a Creme Milano gelato shop, a gelato chain in Shanghai where I’ve had some excellent gelato several times in the past.

When we entered the store, something seemed a little different. No, a lot different. The gelato bins, normally full and carefully groomed, looked sloppy and the trays were mostly empty. What remained looked rather like old relics. We did the best we could by finding a couple of flavors to order from the few surviving bins, but the flavor and texture was unimpressive and the servings were unusually small and stingy. What had happened? Were sales so poor in our cooler weather that the store had just given up and failed to keep up appearances? I was let down.

The next day, I had lunch with another friend and mentioned the bad gelato experience. He knew the people running the business or at least helping to run it. He said he would them give my feedback. He called later that day to tell me surprising news from the owner: the gelato store we had visited was a rogue shop that no longer was getting its product from the authentic source as they were supposed to. I don’t know if the product we had was leftover original gelato or some fake gelato or ice cream from another source. But it wasn’t what I was expecting and what I would find again at the mother store on South Shaanxi Road.

After I sent an email to the owner of a gelato brand in Shanghai about my disappointing experience in the rogue shop and their need to take action to protect their brand from being tarnished, the owner invited me to come to the mother store at 434 Shaanxi South Road in Shanghai’s beautiful French Concession area. We were warmly greeted by the store manager and marveled at the contrast between what we could see in front of us and what we had seen in the rogue shop.

Jeff in front of the mother store of Le Creme Milano

Jeff in front of the mother store of Le Creme Milano

The difference in taste was even more impressive. Gelato is not just another name for ice cream. There are large differences in method of preparation, the ingredients, and even the temperature it is served at. Gelato is more like a rich, very thick fluid rather than the fluffy solid of common ice cream. It takes skill and artistry to make it right, and what a delight it was to encounter real gelato once again. Ahhh!

Real gelato, fresh and delicious, at the South Shaanxi Road station, across from the Shanghai Culture Square.

Real gelato, fresh and delicious, at the South Shaanxi Road station, across from the Shanghai Culture Square.

We ordered some gelato after sampling several heavenly flavors. I ordered a small cup with a little pistachio flavor and a little blueberry yogurt. The small cup was packed to hold about as much as possible, nearly overflowing with goodness, unlike the miserly, well-below-the-rim portion I received in a cup of the same size at the rogue shop. Both flavors were unforgettable. To my dismay, though, after we received the gelato, the manager refused to take our payment. What kind treatment! It was my birthday, but they didn’t know that in giving me this perfect birthday gift on a little birthday adventure.

Experience real gelato at a real Le Creme Milano store in Shanghai. There may be one or more rogue shops out there selling inferior product, based on what I experienced and learned from the owner. How disappointing that there are stores (at least one) with the nameplate of Le Creme Milano that aren’t selling the real product. I hope the other Creme Milanos in town are legit. One way to check is to email the store using their contact page at http://www.lecrememilano.com/#!contact-uk/c2q4.

A small cup with a generous portion of gelato at the mother store on South Shaanxi.

A small cup with a generous portion of gelato at the mother store on South Shaanxi.

By |December 29th, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: |Comments Off

Golden Jaguar on West Yanan Road in Shanghai: Huge Disapppointment for a Large Party

Golden Jaguar is a well-known chain offering a large buffet. Unfortunately, after the disturbingly poor experience a large group of us encountered there recently, I won’t be going back. A group of about 200 or so people made reservations for a special dinner there. Some who had been to Golden Jaguar before were really looking forward to the buffet with numerous tasty items. We paid 200 RMB per person, apparently a little more than the normal buffet rate in the main area on the first floor. They put our large group on the sixth floor to give us a big room of our own, pretty much the whole floor, but they wouldn’t let us go down to the first floor to access the good stuff. Instead, they brought in a few large bins of very ordinary, uninteresting food. It was actually the buffet in China that I can remember where I left hungry because there was so little worth eating, and so little of what looked good.

One girl at our table looked really depressed. I asked what was wrong and found out that she had been to the main buffet on the first floor with numerous delicious items and had really been looking forward to a special evening here, but now was gravely disappointed with the low-quality food being brought to us. I asked the floor manager if she could be allowed to go down to the first floor and get some real food. He gave us some story about how we had a special rate for the room and this did not include access to the first floor. Sigh.

The food they brought came in a few large bins that were often empty. It was usually cold, with no devices to keep anything warm. What surprised me was how inept their system was for providing the food. For over 200 people, the food was presented on a single line of tables and they only allowed people to queue up in a single line on one side. This resulted in a ridiculously slow line, complicated by the fact that the bins they brought were too small and quickly depleted, at which point people in the line often just stood and waited until a refill eventually came, making it all the more insufferable.

The fish was cheap, unpalatable sardines or saury. The chicken was cold, boring, plain whole chicken whacked into boney pieces. There was flavorless beef and broccoli, cold. The crab was perhaps the highlight for appearance but there was so little edible meat that it did little to abate hunger. Some fried rice. A salad that was often empty. Tasteless cheap little fluffy cake pastries for desert. Lukewarm Sprite or Coke as the only beverages. There was a tray of smoked salmon, enough to serve about 10 or 12 people per refill, that was usually empty. Some cold shrimp (tender, though) and corn was provided as a salad. That dish was OK, but overall it was something of a miserable meal, given the fact that we  knew we were being poorly treated, even ripped off, and that for the same price or less we should have been able to eat a great meal below. Sigh.

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There were also some “sushi rolls” that were just rice and radish or other veggies. These sliced rolls came with a safety problem: some were still wrapped in thin cellophane that guests would ingest if they didn’t notice and peel it off before eating their slice. After someone on my table apparently ate one, I pointed this potential danger out to a worker, who blew me off by saying that the plastic was necessary to prepare the sushi. There was not an attitude of serving the customer that night! I went to someone more senior an explained the problem again in great detail, asking repeatedly to make sure he understood that yes, this was a safety issue and should be resolved. Nothing happened for a while, but later I did see that the rolls they brought had the plastic off.

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I feel that they really took advantage of our group. If that is their attitude toward customers, I won’t be back.

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By |December 28th, 2014|Categories: China, Consumers, Crazy, Food, Products, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off

Henderson Metropolitan Mall at East Nanjing in Shanghai: Restaurants to Try and to Avoid

Shanghai’s Henderson Metropolitan Mall is at East Nanjing Road and Henan Road at the beginning of the Nanjing Pedestrian Street close to the Bund, right above the East Nanjing subway station where Line 10 and Line 2 intersect). It is a popular place to shop and eat, partly because it houses one of Shanghai’s 4 big Apple stores (the others being at Lujiazui, Xintiandi on Huaihai Road, and the IAPM Mall at South Shaanxi Road).

Henderson Metropolitan has two floors of food courts at its two lowest levels, B2 and B1. At the lowest level is a small Korean place I like, and next to it is Marissa Italian, which offers pretty inexpensive set meals at lunch (I think they are closed at dinner for a while–must be some trouble there, unfortunately). On the next level up, the main food court level, is a wide variety of places including a Burger King, Yummie House curry (Japanese style curries–pretty good set meals), a good Japanese/Korean place next to it, a popular hotpot place that lets you pick your own ingredients and then cooks them up a big bowl of broth, a Hong Kong dessert shop, a Thai place, a takoyaki shop selling fish and meat balls, and other places. I’ve enjoyed most of them. Nothing I’d say you have to avoid there.

Higher up in the mall, do avoid the Seafood Club restaurant. High prices and someone sullen service. Not satisfying food, though I gave it two tries. Last one was especially unpleasant.

For high end Chinese, try South Beauty on the tip floor. Great, but more expensive than most. I don’t think they have set meals, so it is best to have two or more people and share several dishes. Expect around 100 RMB per person or more.

My favorite place is the Japanese restaurant, Akasakatei, on the 3rd floor. It is a popular chain with excellent sushi, noodle dishes, bee beem bop (a Korean favorite), grilled fish, and fun set meals for lunch in the range of 45-65 RMB. I recently the beef and egg noodle dish set meal, which comes with a good salad, some pickled vegetables, and custard. The sushi set meal is also very delicious.

On the fourth floor is Fusion, a Singaporean/Malaysian place that has inexpensive set meals and great Singaporean ice kashi desserts.

Near South Beauty on the top floor is Classic Shanghai which has reasonable set meals and a variety of Shanghai favorites, including dumplings, hongshao pork, etc. Pretty good, but not my favorite.

The second floor has Ice Season, one of the best gelato chains in Shanghai. Their mint flavor is probably my favorite. Close to real Italian gelato, but nothing beats being in Italy!

 

By |November 28th, 2014|Categories: Restaurants, Shanghai|Comments Off

Buy an iPhone 6 Plus in the US to Use in China: My Success Story With a Verizon Phone

Apple iPhone 6 Plus GoldBuying an iPhone 6 and especially an iPhone 6 Plus in China is extremely difficult. You can’t just walk into an Apple store to buy one. You have to first go online and compete against untold thousands to reserve one of the few to be sold each day. This makes it something of a lottery that begins each day at 8 AM and ends shortly thereafter. I’ve wanted to get one for a few weeks now but there didn’t seem to be much hope, though I did have a shot at a relatively less popular black iPhone 6 with the lowest amount of memory offered (16 GB)–not many are rushing to buy that one. But for an iPhone 6 Plus, forget it. And for either phone in the wildly popular gold color, you can totally forget it, unless you want to pay a huge premium for one smuggled in from Hong Kong or somewhere.

Buying an iPhone in the US is a little cheaper and easier than in China, but there’s the risk that the phone won’t work in China. Apple does not yet sell factory unlocked phones in the US, according to Apple’s website (Nov. 2014), and phones need to be unlocked to work here. Unlocking might be possible but is a hassle and risk if something goes wrong. Further, according to tech support at China Mobile, only models designed for China have chips compatible with the Chinese 4G network, and typical American models just won’t work. That’s what they told me AFTER I bought a phone in the US that didn’t seem to work here. The Verizon model I had bought, model A1522, had no hope. And that’s what Apple tech support also told me when I called from China as a frustrated new customer. But my phone is working great now. Turns out the Verizon phone may have been the perfect one to buy in the US. Here’s my story.

I was at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia last week, and on the last day of my event, my Samsung cell phone died. The third Samsung device of mine to die in the past couple of months! I have had it for 3.5 years, so it’s been OK, but suddenly I could do nothing with it since the touch screen function quit working completely. I resolved to try even harder to buy an iPhone when I got back to China, but later that day on my way back to my hotel, I wandered into the Perimeter Center Mall to buy a few items needed for my life in China, and to my surprise found that they had an Apple store there. Hmm, I though, maybe I can ask about an iPhone 6 Plus and see if they know how to get it to work in China.

I found a helpful agent who told me that they did have the iPhone 6 Plus in stock, though I’d have to wait in line for an hour or so to get one after reserving it. I was willing. But I asked if it would work in China. Hmm, not sure. He checked with some other people and came back to tell me that the Verizon phone–presumably “locked” in to Verizon’s network–was the one that people were having “the most luck with,” though he couldn’t guarantee it would work. Should I risk buying one?? I was feeling a little desperate and was tired of using inadequate gadgets that wasted my time with failures and glitches, so I had concluded I needed to improve my odds by going with an iPhone and wanted the larger Plus model so it could replace the Samsung tablet I was carrying with me all the time for help in translating Chinese. With the glimmer of hope the Apple agent gave me, I decided to buy. It just seemed like something I was destined to do that day, with my Samsung phone having failed just a couple hours earlier and an Apple store being right where I was, with the phone I had been trying to buy actually in stock. A little over an hour later, I was holding an iPhone 6 Plus with 64 Gig in my hands–a beautiful golden iPhone 6 Plus, a legendary rarity in China.

I already had a 4G SIMM card from China Mobile that I placed in the device, switching out the Verizon card. I figured I would have to wait until I was in China to activate the card. People at my work had given me instructions on how to activate it, which basically involved calling China Mobile (10086 in Shanghai) and giving them my company name in Chinese, an account number, and my cell phone number. Meanwhile, I was happy with how the phone worked through the Internet and how easily it uploaded most of the apps and date I already had on my old iPad 1.

When I got back to China, I nervously called China Mobile and gave them my information. They said they had initiated the activation process and the card should be active in 5 minutes. Then I asked if there would be any trouble since this phone was purchased in the US. They asked for the model number engraved on the back of the phone. Just about the smallest, faintest microengraving I’ve ever seen, but with magnification I could barely make out the model: A1522. Sorry, they told me, that phone won’t work in China. You’re toast. Ugh. 10 minutes later, the phone still showed no service. Then a little later, the card on my old Samsung device showed no service also–it had been deactivated as they activated the new card, but it apparently wasn’t going to work with the network in China. I called Apple tech support and after being put on hold about 3 times, finally was told that there wasn’t much hope for me. Would I be able to exchange the phone? For that, I’d have to call the store in the US directly and see what they said. They were then closed and I’d have to wait to learn my fate. I knew the Apple stores in China won’t touch phones bought in the US, so there would be no hope of exchanging it here for a model that would work. Was feeling pretty frustrated. During that hour or two of checking with Apple, I checked my phone a couple of times and still it showed no service. Restarted a couple of times. Still no service.

After I had pretty much given up all hope and felt like a fool for plopping down roughly $900 for phone that wouldn’t work, I began wondering if maybe the problem was at the 4G level, and if I used a card designed for a lower system like 3G or 2G, maybe it would work in China. So I went over to ask someone if they thought that might be possible. They asked to see my phone, which I had turned off. When I turned it back on to let them see how it worked, to my amazement, it no longer said “no service” but in fact was able to make and receive calls. Amazing!

Since then it’s been performing beautifully. I can call, receive calls, do Facetime calls even while riding in a subway tunnel, access the Internet, use VPN, translate Chinese, study Chinese flashcard, receive and send email, read books, and even monitor how many steps I’ve taken. It’s a fabulous gadget that eliminates my need to carry a tablet and a phone. It’s big enough for my aging eyes to read well but small enough to fit in my pocket. So based on my experience, it seems like a full-price Verizon phone is the ticket. Appears to nbe already unlocked and ready to work with a 4G SIMM card in China, but give it time, and be sure to activate it through China Mobile. I don’t know if other carriers will give the same results. Maybe other phones will. And maybe I was just extremely lucky and your experience will differ. Let me know what you hear and experience.

Feels like Christmastime here in China. Actually, it is. Merry Christmas!

 

By |November 25th, 2014|Categories: China|Comments Off

Beware Inflated Delivery Charges in China: Get Pricing First

Delivery fees in China are usually surprisingly low. Kuaidi, rapid delivery, is far less than it is in the United States and is a pervasive way of moving goods, with the postal system being used far less for such things. But aways be ont he alert regarding fees. I’ve seen a number of cases where high delivery fees are being used to compensate for low asking price. When delivery is involved, make sure you have the delivery fee pricing before you buy. On TaoBao or related online services, check the delivery fee carefully–sometimes it can be quite large. Of course, this is a problem anywhere. In the States I’ve seen offers for “free” products that included $20 shipping and handling fees.

In China or anywhere else, never agree to any service before you know what the price is. The danger is that you’ll assume that the customary low price for something must apply, only to face a painful surprise, as happens in the karaoke scam and other scams.

By |November 12th, 2014|Categories: Scams, Shanghai, Shopping|Comments Off

Real Italian Bread (Roman Style) on Gubei’s Pedestrian Street: Panificio Roma

While walking along Gubei’s beautiful pedestrian street, my wife and I encountered a little Italian bakery on a corner, where we met the owners (Francesco Mazzani, originally from Milan, and his wife, originally from Shanghai).  Panificio Roma is a real Italian bakery. In fact, the dough they use is actually made in Italy, made by his family’s traditional bakery there, and then frozen and imported to China, where it is baked in his store at 620 Jin Chen Dao (Golden Street) in Gubei. You can learn more about the bread and the Italian craftsmanship in every loaf at their website, http://panificioroma.eu/.

The bread is really great. We were in Italy earlier this year and learned that Italian bread can be terrific, although bread in Tuscany usually has almost no salt in it and seems like it has no flavor. But Panificio Roma isn’t that way–it’s a good, hearty bread that I like better than Tuscan-style bread. The ciabatta is perfect, and the baguettes are soft inside with great texture. We also had a panini for 45 RMB and some fresh squeezed juice. Outstanding. We will be back. The owners, both of whom speak wonderful English, are very friendly, intelligent, and interesting. They sat down with us and talked while we slowly ate out delicious food. Imagine, real Italian bread imported from Italy but baked in Shanghai.

By |November 2nd, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai, Shopping|Comments Off

The Mysterious Angels of Lujiazui Park Watching Over Shanghai

In the midst of the tallest buildings in Shanghai, in the heart of mighty Pudong, lies an unexpectedly serene and generally overlooked park with one of Shanghai’s most intriguing mysteries. It is a beautiful but small park, offset against the towers on all sides. But within its borders lies the mystery of two unusual figures, rising and hovering over the city.

Angels? In a public park in a Communist nation? Yes, angels, with wings, cleverly sculpted so they appear to rise from the earth as trees, then transform into feminine angels watching over and nurturing the inhabitants below.

Angels are not only a symbol from Christianity or Judaism. They play a role in numerous cultures and beliefs, and even for a formally atheistic society, I believe the Party leaders here recognized that angels of this kind can be widely appreciated symbol of protection and favor of China, be it heavenly favor, cosmic, spiritual, or whatever. Yes, there can be a touch of mysticism and cosmic imagination here without subverting official policies. And for those of us who wish to see further dimensions to the art, I welcome the concept of heavenly favor of China. May real angels watch over this grand nation and its peoples!

 
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Lujiazui Park

A Protective Angel Watches Over Shanghai

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The Angels of Lujiazui Park

The Angels of Lujiazui Park

By |October 25th, 2014|Categories: Photography, Religion, Shanghai|Tags: , , , |Comments Off

More Trouble: Challenges of Teaching English in China

Met today with someone who had come to China with a major program to teach English. Heard some pretty troubling stories. Heard that administrators of the program have not been to the majority of the schools where they place teachers, so they don’t really know if the housing is adequate, if the conditions are safe, if there is any heating, or if the food provided is edible. Teachers can be subject to grueling conditions in remote and difficult places, much longer teaching hours than promised, with random changes in schedules that wipe out personal plans.

If your program won’t tell you where you will be placed until you are here and can’t provide you references from people who have been to same place, be very worried. The numerous problems that young people face when they come to teach English in China are quite discouraging. Don’t come here without knowing what it will be like. Don’t go with a program that will put you in a remote situation without support, help, and structure.

By |October 8th, 2014|Categories: Education, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off

Young Single Adult Tours in Shanghai, Fall 2014

For the large group of young single adults coming to join us in Shanghai on a certain weekend this fall, here are the basic tours we are offering.

1. The QiBao ancient water town tour: visit a popular and historic water town with some pretty bridges, a bustling pedestrian street, great street food, quirky museums (ah, the cricket museum!) and many photo ops. Tour begins at the QiBao station way out on Line 9, Exit 2, meeting underground and leaving at 10:00 AM sharp. Leave early to get there on time. This station is about 35 minutes from downtown. Your tour leader, D. R., will cover the tickets for a gondola ride and the funny little museums in Qibao.

2. Shanghai’s Biggest Hits: See the Bund, Yu Gardens, the matchmaking market at People’s Park, and the skyscrapers at Lujiazui. We meet at People’s Square, Exit 1 at 9:45 AM, departing at 10:00 AM. Note: the matchmaking market is a remarkable Shanghai tradition that strikes some foreigners as very odd. Absorb and look but don’t giggle or take too many photos. Be respectful, polite, and relatively quiet even thought it’s a pretty lively and noisy place. You’ll have time to discuss and comment later. (Some of you may wish to sign up some of your friends, but it’s best for foreigners to not try their luck with this system.)

3. Arts and Culture in Shanghai (great for bad weather): see the famous Shanghai Museum, see arts and crafts at Yu Garden, and visit the China Art Museum or several small museums near the Bund (details depend on group size and interest). Starts at People’s Square also.

4. Quirky Shanghai: Unusual sites most tourists miss. Includes the matchmaking market at People’s Park (observe the rules mentioned in #2 above), the mysterious angels at Lujiazui Park, great architecture and art in places like the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, the cricket market, the Dong Tai Antiques Market, and the surprisingly calm Confucian Temple in the heart of the wild old city. I’ll lead this group. We start at People’s Square, departing at 10:00 AM.

Bring some money for lunch and dinner. We’ll show you places where you can eat for around 35 RMB or less. We’ll also have subway cards for using the metro system at now cost to you (if all goes well). Tours will go from 10 to 3 PM. Then you’ve got a meeting and, in the evening, a dance.

Stay safe and healthy. Don’t get lost. Stay with the group. Know the phone numbers of your tour leaders and where you will be going next in case you are separated. Use the buddy system. Keep a water bottle with you and get plenty of fluids. If there are health issues, let me or your tour leaders know right away.

Know the basic scams to watch out for (the tea ceremony scam, etc.). Use caution when crossing the sometimes dangerous roads. Watch your feet and your head, especially on the streets of the old city, and watch for motorcycles that can come from any direction.

By |September 11th, 2014|Categories: Shanghai, Surviving|Tags: |Comments Off

Bukhara: Marvelous Indian Food Near Lao Wai Jie: Great Indian Restaurant in Shanghai

Lao Wai Jie, literally “Foreigner Street,” is a walking street in the Hongqiao area of Shanghai that is lined with restaurants catering to foreigners. It’s a popular but sometimes overpriced place. You can get to it from the Longxi Road station on Line 10 and then heading south on Hongmei Road, crossing Yan An Road and the elevated road above it, then turning left into the Lao Wai Jie area. But before you get there, right after crossing Yan An, you’ll see a lovely Indian restaurant on the right side of the street: Bukhara. The address is 3729 Hongmei Road. Their website is bukhara.com.cn and their phone is 6446 8800.

We had a lamb curry and a chicken curry dish that were among the best I’ve tasted. The mango lassee was too sweet and didn’t have much mango, but the carrot pudding dessert rich in butter (ghee) was truly a surprise and very delicious. Main courses are typically around 90 to 110 RMB each. More expensive than many places, but typical prices for the area.

The environment is beautiful, relaxing, and pleasant. Service was outstanding with an English-speaking waiter from Indian who gave us lots of background information about our food and other issues. A very kind young man.

The flavors we found at Bukhara were some of the best we’ve had in Indian food anywhere. Really delicious. A terrific Indian restaurant in Shanghai.

By |August 31st, 2014|Categories: Food, Restaurants, Shanghai|Tags: , |Comments Off

You Are One Guessed or Stolen PIN Away from Disaster: Be Careful With Your ATM Card in China (or Anywhere)

A friend of mine in Shanghai just had 9000 RMB (US$1500) stolen from his Korean bank account by somebody using his ATM card number in Poland. His bank is unsympathetic. They claim that he must have given his card or PIN number to somebody and that is how they  took the money out. But he never gave it to anyone, though someone may have rigged an ATM machine to read his info.

Your ATM card is a disaster waiting to happen. If someone gets your number and your PIN, by theft or guesswork, you may have no recourse. You must limit the use of your card to avoid having thieves scan it and not keep too much money in any account that can be stolen using an ATM card.

Whenever you use your card with a retailer, there is a chance that the retailer is keeping your PIN, perhaps inadvertently, and this PIN can then be hacked and sold to thieves. See the 2006 story from NBC News which explains some of the basic threats.

The more you use your card, the greater your risk. The more money in your account, the greater your risk. Keep some of your money in accounts that cannot be accessed with an ATM card using the terribly inadequate 4-digit PIN security system.

Surprisingly, money may be swiped from your account using your ATM card number even if the thieves don’t know your PIN number. Sound impossible? Our experience proves otherwise.

Recently someone in Germany started pulling about $300 a day out of our US bank account using our ATM card number from our US bank. This is a card we rarely use–I think we have never used it China but did use it on our trip to Italy in February 2014. the thieves struck in May 2014. They took the most they could each day for 3 days in a row before I happened to check my online bank account and notice the unexpected withdrawals. It was very fortunate that I noticed this right away instead of after our account was drained dry. Amazingly, there was no anti-fraud alert to the surprise bleeding that was underway. Bet they could have taken everything if I hadn’t noticed.

I immediately called the bank and they inactivated the card. Whether I would get the money back or not depended on one thing: did the thieves use my PIN number when making the withdrawals? If they had, then the money would be lost forever. No recourse. But because the bank in Germany that dispensed the money was not able to provide proof that the PIN had been used, my bank ruled in my favor and refunded the money.

How the thieves got money out of my account without my PIN was never explained. But it did happen, so it seems, and that means it can happen–to you! Check your account often for fraudulent charges. Use your card as little as possible. Don’t use it in shady locations–whatever that means. Assume every operation is shady and vulnerable. Guard your PIN zealously and watch for unusual attachments to ATM machines, and realize that people may be watching the keys you push, so cover the keypad and use false moves as well.

On the other hand, when PINs are just 4 characters long, someone could simply guess the PIN after enough tries with enough cards (several tries each on a thousand or more cards) and then they have a money machine. The chances of someone guessing your PIN on the first try are just 1/10,000. After 10 tries, though, it’s 1/1000. How many people have been trying to guess your PIN? Does your bank every tell you? Probably not. Your card might get inactivated with lots of bad guessing–a huge inconvenience, but better than losing everything. Check with your bank and understand their anti-fraud systems and what recourses you have to fraudulent withdrawals.

Remember, you are just 4 numbers away from disaster, and those numbers can be stolen or possibly even guessed.

By |August 18th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Finances, Products, Scams|Tags: , , |Comments Off