Credit Cards in China: Don’t Rely on Them, and Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers for Security

Many visitors to China are surprised to see that credit cards are not widely accepted. High-end hotels will accept them, certainly, but they might not be accepted at many Chinese hotels. Many restaurants are not able to take Western credit cards. Train tickets, taxis, and numerous other services will refuse them. Simply put, cash is king in China. You really need to have a healthy amount of cash for daily survival. Have a stack of 100 RMB bills and some smaller bills and a few coins.

The first time I used a credit card in China was at a Best Western hotel in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border. Within 15 minutes after using the card, a spurious charge was made against that number by someone trying to purchase something in California. Our credit card company called to report the problem and our card had to be inactivated. Big hassle. Not everyone has that problem, but in Asia there are many places where credit card numbers will be swiped. They are easier to swipe than the highly secure ATM cards that are commonly used and accepted in China, cards that require a 6-digit password.

For secure use of a credit card here or anywhere else, a great service offered by some providers is a virtual credit card number. Bank of America, Discover, and Citibank offer this service. With a virtual credit card service such as Bank of America’s ShopSafe system, you can request a one-time or limited time use credit card number with a set maximum amount that can be charged against it. You don’t have to worry about the virtual credit card number being stolen. For example, I just logged into my credit card’s service and requested a virtual credit card number. I specified the amount that could be charged ($30), the date the card would expire (2 months from now), and then received a new card number, CCV code, and expiration date with my name and linked to my credit card. I used this to pay for an annual service that I don’t want to be automatically renewed with a provider who may not have the highest security. I made the payment and don’t have to worry about them charging me over and over or about hackers stealing my card number. It’s worthless now that I’ve made my payment.

Virtual credit card numbers can help you add security to your travels and your online life. You will need online access to your account to create them. You can obtain a variety of numbers for different parts of your trip. It’s a terrific advance in credit card security.

By | 2018-04-25T05:57:43+00:00 April 25th, 2018|Categories: Business, China, Consumers, Finances, Products, Restaurants, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: |0 Comments

Expats in China, Be Sure to File Your Tax Report (WeChat Can Help)

The Shanghai City government has sent out notices to employers reminding them to have foreigners who make over 120,000 RMB per year to file a tax report with the government. It’s due March 31. Foreigners typically need the help of HR or someone else to do this. Not a simple process if you haven’t done it before. In Shanghai, you can use the “fabu” site on WeChat (search for and follow 上海发布, which can show up just by searching for “fabu” I think). Enter that site, click on the second icon on the lower left corner (市政大厅), and then you click on the red and white icon at the bottom of the screen in the center (个税查询), which deals with individual taxes. From there, you’ll need to enter your ID, name, create a password, and enter other information including a recent tax payment level. When done, it will give you access to your past tax payments. Please see HR or a competent Chinese friend for the details.

I’m not sure what problems arise if you don’t file this report, but China is a place where you don’t want to ignore laws, especially those that affect how the nation’s detailed computer records view you. This one feeds right into those records, so don’t skip it.

 

 

By | 2018-03-28T16:43:21+00:00 March 28th, 2018|Categories: China, Finances, Shanghai, Society, Surviving|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Expats in China, Be Sure to File Your Tax Report (WeChat Can Help)

Facing the Real Risk of Theft from Your Bank Account in China

An increasing number of friends are reporting troubling cases of theft from their China bank accounts. One friend, after years of working in China and saving every penny, was preparing to return to the US, but suddenly every penny in her ICBC bank account was stolen. The ICBC bank officials told her that someone had a copy of her card and had taken the money out. She asked how this was possible without knowing her password. No explanation was given, except that it was somehow her fault. She spent five days arguing with them and got nowhere. They said that the thief could have been working with her to perpetuate fraud on the bank, so why should they refund her money? Her only option now is to sue, but she has to go back to the US soon and fears she won’t have the ability to pursue the case. But we’ve encouraged her to work with a lawyer to fight this. She will, and I hope to have good news to report sometime.

Her story has almost exactly the same set of facts that we find in a chilling account, “How I sued the world’s largest bank and won” at Shanghaist.com. In this case, it was a smaller amount, 15,000 RMB that was taken from the author’s ICBC account. He encountered the same helpful consumer service policies and attitudes, and was forced also to sue for something that was clearly not his fault. He won, and it only took 7 months and some modest attorney fees to get his money back.

If you have a bank account with an ATM card, there is a real risk that one day money will begin disappearing from your account. There are some very high risk factors in China you need to understand:

1) The daily limit for ATM withdrawals is much higher than it is in the U.S. and Europe. A thief typically can take out 20,000 RMB a day (over $3,000), which is 5 to 10 times higher than typical US limits.

2) The daily limit may not be over a 24-hour period, but may be based on the calendar date, so if that applies to your bank, then a thief can take 20,000 RMB out at 11:55 pm, and another 20,000 RMB out at 12:05 PM.

3) Banks in China often don’t have effective anti-fraud protection.

4) There are many thieves with card copying or card scanning devices who can make a duplicate of your card. If they or a small video camera can watch you enter your password, having your account number and your password leaves you defenseless.

5) Thieves can sometimes pull money out of your account without using your password. I don’t know how this happens, but it has happened to multiple people in China, and it happened to us with our US bank.

6) When someone pulls money out of your account without knowing your password, it should be the bank’s fault and they should reimburse you. But consumer service attitudes and policies may not be identical to those in your home country. China banks may tend to blame the customer and argue that maybe the thief was collaborating with you, so they might not cooperate unless you take them to court. You can sue and win in China, but it will take a lot of work and the help of an attorney.

Because money in the bank is so vulnerable, I suggest several best practices:

1) Do not keep large amounts in any single Chinese bank. Move a lot of it into US accounts without ATM cards or with two-part authentication, and keep plenty of cash.

2) Use your bank cards as little as possible. Instead, use cash to make payments when possible.

3) Do not let employees walk away with your bank card (they might run it through a card copier device of some kind). Keep your eyes on it.

4) Do not let your card be scanned in any place that seems questionable or seedy.

5) When using ATM machines, look for unusual devices, small video cameras, etc., that might have been added.

6) Keep good records of where you have been so that if the bank says it must have been you that pulled all your money out of your account in, say, Harbin, you can prove you weren’t in Harbin that day.

7) Monitor your bank account frequently, and make sure you receive automatic text messages when money is taken out of your ATM.

8) When you do find a problem, document in detail who you spoke with, what you said, what they said, etc. You will needs lots of documented details if you have to sue the bank to get back missing money.

9) Avoid trusting your money to any bank that has a bad track record of protecting the money of its customers. If you know of banks that have performed well in this regard, please let me know.

These problems are not unique to China, but they seem to be a lot more frequent here and more severe, especially with the high daily minimum that thieves can take out.

If you do online banking, your risks are also high due to hackers. I suggest you use complex passwords that you change often, and only use secure computers to access your bank accounts. It’s good to have a cheap computer that is never used for browsing but only for bank access, and even then keep good firewall and anti-spyware software on it, keep it updated, use more secure browsers like Chrome or Firefox, and don’t use untrusted wifi networks to access your accounts. For added security, use VPN when you access your bank account.

Don’t keep all your money in any one account, and keep a wad of cash somewhere, too. Thieves can get everything, but we shouldn’t make it easy for them.

By | 2017-10-24T07:05:04+00:00 June 17th, 2015|Categories: Business, China, Finances, Internet, Investing, Scams, Shanghai, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , |Comments Off on Facing the Real Risk of Theft from Your Bank Account in China

Beware Fake Rental Fapiaos (Receipts) in China

Many expatriates living in China receive housing stipends that cover at least part of the monthly cost of rental here. In expensive cities like Shanghai, getting your housing stipend can be essential. Your reimbursement, though, requires that you provide a “fapiao” (official receipt from the government) which shows that taxes have been paid. The tax rate right now is 5%, so your fapiao of, say, 8,000 RMB costs your landlord 400 RMB. Your employer then uses the fapiao for some kind of tax benefits in reimbursing you. If you don’t provide a proper fapiao, you generally won’t get your housing stipend.

A few things can go wrong on this process. Make sure you know exactly what name your company requires to be on the fapiao. For me, it has to be the proper legal name of my company, not my name and not other commonly used versions of my employer’s name. One time my landlord bought several months’ worth of fapiaos all at once, but used the corporate name I pointed to on my business card instead of the official legal name, and I ended up having to pay for new fapiaos out of my pocket. In that process, though, I learned that getting fapiaos involves going to a local tax office, showing your rental agreement and your passport, and then simply paying 5% of your rent to buy the fapiao.

Also make sure you get fapiaos by the month. Your company will generally want one for each month, not one for three months at a time, even if you pay your rent once every three months as I do.

A more troubling problem you may encounter is fake fapiaos. Fake receipts? Yep, it happens, and is an easy way for an unscrupulous person to make some quick money. This may happen when a real estate agent, after closing the deal for your apartment, offers to save the landlord the trouble of getting fapiaos. The agent may have a friend allegedly at the tax bureau who can help you get the fapiaos easily. If the agent doesn’t need a copy of your rental agreement, that’s a clear sign that something is wrong. I don’t know if the seemingly official fapiaos are printed on stolen receipt paper from government offices or are just really good forgeries, but they look like the real thing and businesses may accept them and reimburse you, but if there is an audit or careful investigation, they may discover that the fapiaos are fake and you may then be denied your reimbursement.

For Shanghai folks, you can check to see if your fapiao is real or not using a government website [this is now an archived page — check with Chinese friends for the latest link]. It’s in Chinese, so you may need help doing this.

If you are getting fake fapiaos, let your landlord know. It can hurt their credit and their reputation with the government. It may end up hurting you. The crooks who are stealing your money (and stealing tax money from China) with fake fapiaos need to be stopped. Of course, your agent or whoever gave you the fake fapiaos will be shocked that their friend in the tax office made some kind of error. Maybe they knew, maybe they didn’t, and maybe it was all an innocent mistake, but given the easy money to be made, chances are someone is just pocketing the money, and not pocketing it accidentally.

Unfortunately, one acquaintance of ours says that she got fake fapiaos by going to the fapiao office her business told her to use. I think this was an official fapiao office but I need to confirm that. Whether it was an accident or intentional theft, you need to recognize that there is a possibility that the fapiao you get is fake. Check to make sure they are legit, and try not to get too many months of fapiaos all at once in case there is a problem with them.

By | 2017-12-05T06:36:45+00:00 May 18th, 2015|Categories: China, Finances, Housing, Products, Scams, Shopping, Surviving|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Beware Fake Rental Fapiaos (Receipts) in China

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 | 2017-10-24T07:23:21+00:00 August 18th, 2014|Categories: Consumers, Finances, Products, Scams|Tags: , , |Comments Off on You Are One Guessed or Stolen PIN Away from Disaster: Be Careful With Your ATM Card in China (or Anywhere)

Water is the Next Oil: Veolia Environnement, an Interesting French Company for Investors

Veolia Environnement SA is a large French company dealing with the water supply of many nations. They provide the technology for many water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities. They also provide energy services in Europe. They are the leading European heating systems operator in the housing, health, tertiary and industrial sectors, managing both heating and air-conditioning installations. Stock is available to US investors on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker VE. This stock is a great way to diversify your portfolio. It has done well this year while many US stocks were plunging. Its outlooks are bright, dealing with key environmental areas and vital markets for much of the world. They are proven, profitable, and successful, with significant growth potential. And this foreign stock can help protect your investment when the US dollar weakens due to currency factors.

2017 Update: Veolia is no longer listed on the NYSE, but is available on the OTC market as VEOEF.

By | 2017-11-17T04:27:59+00:00 September 28th, 2006|Categories: Business, Finances, Investing|Comments Off on Water is the Next Oil: Veolia Environnement, an Interesting French Company for Investors