Seven years ago, we blogged about how we were getting calls from people who had visited a brothel in China and then were being threatened by alleged police officers seeking money. See also this 2014 piece from the Wall Street Journal: Latest China Scam: I’ve Been Arrested in the Brothel Crackdown!
Our post focused on the following phone call, because I wrote the post literally right after getting off the phone, largely because I found the call so interesting. It went like this:
Caller: I’ve never done this before and I feel terrible.
Me: Done what? Talk to a lawyer?
Caller: Gotten that kind of massage.
Me: Okay. But why are you calling me? Can we start at the beginning?
Caller: They took my passport and said that I would never be able to enter the country again unless I paid them USD$4000. I didn’t have that money so I went to an ATM over the next few days and kept paying them and I had the rest sent to me by Western Union.
Me: Wait a second. Can we please start at the beginning. I am totally confused.
Caller: I went to get a massage. I was tired and my back was hurting. I’m never going to do that again, I swear to you.
Me: Okay. Look, what you do is really none of my business.
Caller: I know but what I did was wrong and it led to a lot more than that and I have never done that before and I am really ashamed.
Caller: And right after it all happened, the owner and two others burst into the room and one of them looked like he was a police officer. They told me that what I had done was illegal and they demanded my passport and I gave it to them.
Caller: They then told me that they were going to hold my passport and press charges against me unless I paid the USD$4000 fine. I gave them all I had on me and told them that I would need more time to get the rest.
Me: Did you pay them the rest?
Me: Did they return your passport?
Me: Are you now back in the United States?
Me: Then why are you calling me now? When did all of this even happen?
Caller: Three months ago, but my company is sending me back to China and I am worried that I am going to get arrested for what I did. I swear I will never do anything like that again.
Me: Yeah, that would be wise. But what do you want from me?
Caller: Do you think I’m going to get arrested?
Me: I have no idea. Those guys are probably just so delighted to have made USD$4000 off you that they don’t care about you any more and who knows if the guy in the uniform was a police officer or not and since what they did was almost certainly illegal, I doubt they ever reported you to anyone, much less to border patrol, but I don’t know.
Caller: But should I go to China?
Me: That’s your call. We could spend all kinds of effort trying to find out if you are on any police or border lists or not, but no matter what we do we’ll almost certainly never know for sure.
Caller: I’m never going to do anything like that again. I really do feel so ashamed.
Me: Okay. Well. Good-bye.
Caller: But should I go or not?
Me: I really can’t tell you one way or the other. You are the one who is going to need to make that decision. But if you do go, I would stay away from the neighborhood in which that massage parlor is located. Good-bye.
Caller: Good-bye. And I was being serious when I said I would never do anything like that again. I really have learned my lesson.
Me: I understand. Good-bye.
For many months after that post I got a bunch of phone calls and emails involving similar situations (all from men we could not help and — get this — pretty much all from men who thought they were going to a legitimate massage place and who had “never done anything like this before.”
And then total silence. . . . Until recently.
In the last few months I have gotten at least three emails/calls from men who have been hit by a similar scam and wanting my advice. My response was to tell them that if they wanted help they should retain a local Chinese lawyer.
My additional advice (which I did NOT give to any of the men with whom I spoke or corresponded) is that prostitution is illegal in China and you should not be doing anything illegal in China, especially now. See How to Do Business in China Without Going to Prison.
It’s really not that complicated.