Scammers in China Fake Road Injuries, but Cameras Capture the Truth
BEIJING — The scam may be as old as the automobile itself: A fraudster throws himself in front of a vehicle and demands that the driver pay for his self-inflicted (or nonexistent) injuries. But in an age of ever-present cameras, it’s getting a lot harder to pull off.
There are scores of videos online that capture these scams, known in China as “pengci,” or “porcelain bumping.” The video above, posted last month, shows a woman in Yongzhou, in the central province of Hunan, taking the scam to brash extremes. After getting money from the driver of a car she had lain in front of, she boasts to bystanders and even does a little jig in front of the car.
Here’s an excerpt from the exchange between the woman and the driver:
Driver: “What do you want? Get up! Go away! Quick!”
Woman: “What, not even 20 renminbi?”
(The driver apparently slips 20 renminbi, about $3, under the windshield wipers of the car. The woman retrieves it to laughter from the crowd and breaks into a dance.)
The woman then says to the person filming, “Photograph me! It’s only 20 renminbi, but I can make 250 in an hour!’’
She is later seen on the ground in front of another car.
In another video, from November, a fashionably dressed young woman deliberately sprawls on the street in front of an expensive-looking S.U.V., challenging the driver to run her over. Eventually she is dragged away by the police.
In Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, a man throws himself repeatedly at a stationary bus until the police intervene.
Some attempts have resulted in broken bones or even death on the part of the “professional porcelain bumpers,” as they are known.
There is no reliable information on the scale of the fraud, and it is usually not prosecuted. For many victims, paying a bit of cash is preferable to arguing with the perpetrator or having to navigate China’s challenging legal system.
But on Saturday, a court in Shenyang, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, sentenced two men to 11 months in prison and fined them about $3,000 each for targeting small trucks while driving a three-wheeled motorized vehicle typically used by disabled people.
The men confessed that they had earned about $1,500 over 10 days last year through the scam.
The term “pengci” derives from the practice of dishonest shopkeepers placing a porcelain item in a spot where it was likely to get knocked over and broken, allowing them to claim damages from the “clumsy” customer, said David Schak, an anthropologist at Griffith University in Australia.
澳大利亚格里菲斯大学(Griffith University)人类学者沙学汉(David Schak)说，“碰瓷”这个词最早来自不诚实的店主将瓷器放在很有可能撞翻打破的地方，然后要求“笨手笨脚”的顾客进行赔偿。
Videos of the modern scam started appearing on China’s internet several years ago, and the perpetrators have become the butt of jokes and a source of public entertainment.
Mr. Schak said the scam was usually perpetrated by people who, “out of a combination of laziness, desperation and being thick-skinned, will resort to it to try to make a buck, or a yuan,” another term for China’s currency.
Chinese are more than fed up with the trick, as comments below the video of the jubilant scammer in Yongzhou suggested.
“Should have squashed her,” one commenter wrote.
“Don’t put up videos like this. It’s shameful,” another said.
Ren Fan, the judge who presided over the case in Shenyang last week, offered his advice to avoid falling prey to the scam. Do not violate traffic regulations, he said, as any vulnerability may be exploited. Do not panic or try to buy off the scammer. And if money is paid, insist on a receipt, get the person’s ID number and report the episode to the police.