Category: Shenzhen

Dozens of SZ Expats Swindled in United Airlines Flight Scam

Dozens of SZ Expats Swindled in United Airlines Flight Scam

The following was originally published in the Shenzhen Daily. I have added a little more information for clarity and an analysis to the end.

Cansu Uzcan, from her Facebook page.
Cansu Uzcan, from her Facebook page.

DOZENS of expats in Shenzhen have been swindled out of tens of thousands of yuan in a United Airlines fraud case allegedly perpetuated by a well-known Shenzhen international student, an investigation by the Shenzhen Daily has discovered.

“My mother was stranded in Rome,” said one victim named Rose. “We had to pay thousands of dollars to get her back home to the United States.”

People interviewed for this article asked not to be identified by their full names.

The person accused of the scam, Cansu Uzcan (also known as Jansu Uzcan), is attending Shenzhen University and allegedly used a stolen credit card to purchase flights while selling the flights to Shenzhen expats at discounted rates. Victims deposited cash into Chinese bank accounts under Uzcan’s name or the name of her boyfriend Sean Champion.

Some of the people Uzcan approached were cautious initially, but after booking the flights through Uzcan, United Airlines emailed the victims directly to confirm the flights. Some were even able to apply the flights to their United Airlines Mileage accounts. After several people successfully completed flights booked through Uzcan, the number of expats purchasing discounted flights through her grew quickly.

But on September 2 people noticed that their flights were being canceled by United Airlines.

Some who were halfway through their trips were told by United Airlines that they had to pay for the full cost of their flight – often double or triple the amount of money they paid Uzcan – in order to return home.

Some travelers arrived at the airport before finding out their flight had already been canceled. “I was told I would have to pay over US$3,000 to take my flight,” Seth said. “I only paid US$500 for it in the first place.”

At least two dozen people contacted Uzcan through WeChat and email to find out what happened. At first, she said that United’s system had been hacked and she returned some of the money, according to the victims.

Sean Champion, Uzcan's boyfriend and partner in crime, from his Facebook page.
Sean Champion, Uzcan’s boyfriend and partner in crime, from his Facebook page.

By the end of September, she began blocking the WeChat accounts of people who had booked flights through her.

United Airlines has since started contacting people who completed flights or attached their United Airline Mileage accounts to flights that weren’t taken. According to letters from United Airlines sent to the victims, the people who booked flights through Uzcan violated the airlines terms of service because Uzcan was using a stolen credit card to book the flights.

United Airlines said the victims are liable for flights they took because United was never paid for the flights by the credit card company. United Airlines has also nullified all the mileage accounts connected with the scam.

“I lost over 100,000 miles I had saved,” another victim named Ariyana said. “United Airlines is saying that I owe them thousands of dollars. The stress has been unimaginable. I had to hire a lawyer. I don’t know when I’ll be able to recover financially. I won’t be able to go home for Christmas this year.”

“United Airlines has been terrible to all of us,” Rose continued. “They are treating us like criminals.”

“United Airlines allowed this apparently fraudulent card to be used for months but are now blaming us for their lack of oversight and responsibility,” said a victim named Jayton.

Several of the fraud victims have reached out to law enforcement officers in China, the U.S. and Canada. While all three countries are investigating the case, they claim there is little they can do. “Most of the transactions were conducted through WeChat,” a Canadian police officer said. “Anyone could have been behind the screen.”

Investigations are ongoing.

~*~

Many people have asked how this could happen. How could so many expats be convinced to deposit their money into someone else’s bank account so easily?

The expat community is small. Even though there are thousands of expats in Shenzhen alone, we are all connected. Everyone knows everyone else through someone. We are all also very Internet savvy and keep in touch with each other. Many times, we feel we are “in this together.” Living overseas is not easy, so we are always trying to help each other. Giving each other tips and tricks to make life easier and save money is extremely common.

united-airlinesWhen Cansu said she could help fellow expats save money through booking flights, we believed her. She is also very well-known. Many expats vouched for her because they know her through Shenzhen University. I actually met her several months before when she organized an event as part of the International Cultural Industries Fair.

We didn’t have a reason not to trust her.

At least for me, I didn’t lose that much (about US$500). I chalk it up to a learning experience. But some of the people I quoted in the article and many others lost a lot more money and are facing legal issues with United Airlines.

At this point, even if nothing legal can happen to Cansu Uzcan, United Airlines needs to stop treating the victims of her scam as criminals. She took advantage of the trust and community expats in Shenzhen have built, but United is continuing to ruin lives by re-victimizing the people Cansu took advantage of.

United Airlines needs to reinstate the mileage accounts of the victims at least – at most they need to refund the people who were swindled by Cansu Uzcan.

What do you think? Have you ever fallen victim to a scam while living overseas? Let me know in the comments.

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Be A Good Landlord

Be A Good Landlord

The following was originally published by the Shenzhen Daily

Two weekends ago, I spent a couple of days helping a friend look for an apartment. She is a young professional whose company relocated from Shanghai to Shenzhen. However, our excitement over her move quickly gave way to despair after looking at over a dozen apartments over two days. Everything less than 7,000 yuan (US$1,097.6) was falling apart and located too far from any metro stations. She finally found a very small, one-bedroom apartment for 6,000 yuan. When I moved to the city two years ago, we had a comfortable two-bedroom apartment close to a metro station for 4,500 yuan.

a-newer-apartment-complex-in-s_4837Shenzhen is quickly becoming known as the city with the worst landlords. I have lived in the city for only two years but am on my third landlord. The first apartment we had for 4,500 yuan, the owner sold it as soon as our contract was up, and so we had to leave. The second apartment we rented, we told the house owner that we wanted a long-term rental because we are expecting a baby. The house owner agreed and signed a two-year contract. We were only in the apartment for two months when she messaged us and told us she was selling the apartment. The new house owner keeps saying she wants us to leave so she can move into it, but she has thus far refused to give us a move-out date. This means we have now been in our apartment for over a year but haven’t been able to “settle.” We can’t completely unpack, hang pictures on the wall, or decorate the baby’s room.

After my bad experiences with my landlords and apartment hunting with my friend, I had considered writing about this problem for the newspaper, but then I found out that one of our regular contributors had already decided to write about it. However, I was dismayed by his lack of accountability as a landlord.

In last week’s opinion piece entitled “Soaring housing prices hurt SZ,” Wu Guangqiang said that Shenzhen’s housing prices are too high, which I agree with. But then he went on to relate his experience as a landlord: “The apartment we bought in 1989 is only 64 square meters in area. Since we moved to a larger unit in 2005, my wife has been in charge of leasing the original one. The initial rent was 1,000 yuan and it gradually grew to 1,500, 2,000, and 2,500 until it had hit 4,000 by the end of July this year. All of a sudden, rent prices saw another leap in July, and the price of my old, tiny flat jumped from 4,000 to 5,000… The only thing I know for sure is that the young men who rented my apartment were forced to move out and look for something smaller and cheaper.”

6875343-Shenzhen-Apartments-0We have a saying in America, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” No one forced you, Mr. Wu, to raise the rent on the apartment and kick those tenants out. When you complain about rent in the city being too high, you as a landlord are the one who sets those prices. You are the only person responsible for your rental prices.

I find it interesting that Mr. Wu’s solution to this problem is for the government to get involved. He said, “Unless Shenzhen’s government does something to curb the overheating housing prices, Shenzhen will suffer, rather than benefit, from the runaway prices.” What exactly do you want the government to do? Do you really want the government to tell you how to rent out your own property? Do you want the government to tell you whom you have to rent your property to? Should the government just abolish private property? Is it so hard to be a responsible landlord that you need the government to tell you how to do it?

This is kind of like dropping garbage on the ground and then saying, “The government should really do something to stop me from littering.”

If the rental prices in Shenzhen are too high, be a better landlord and lower your rent. It is that simple.

What do you think should be done about Shenzhen’s high rent prices and bad landlords? What have some of your rental experiences in Shenzhen been like? Let me know in the comments!

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11-Year-Old Girl Takes on Chinese Government For Her Rights

11-Year-Old Girl Takes on Chinese Government For Her Rights

An 11-year-old girl is taking the Luohu District Public Security Subbureau of Shenzhen to court for the second time in her fight for her hukou registration.

500x279_beijing_lawIn China, every citizen has to have a hukou, or residency permit, in order to avail themselves of social services such as schooling and medical care. But millions of children in China have been denied a hukou because they are second or third children. China currently has at least 13 million unregistered children.

The young lady in the article, identified only as Rui, is fighting for her right to a hukou. Not having a hukou can handicap a person for life in China. Without a hukou, a person cannot receive an ID card. Without an ID card, a person cannot go to school, get medical care at a hospital, apply for a passport, rent an apartment, get married, or even open a bank account. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, millions of its own citizens do not exist. Rui is not just fighting for a hukou, she is fighting for her right to be recognized by her government as a human being.

In China, if a couple wishes to have a child outside of the restrictions of the one-child policy, they must pay a fine. The fine varies from place to place in China and is based on the local area’s average income. In Shenzhen, the current fine for having a child outside of the one-child policy is 240,000RMB (US$40,000). 

This case is a big deal because Rui represents millions of invisible children in China today who are being denied their basic human rights. Should she win, the effects would be felt throughout the country. I don’t think she will win because the government has already shown that these children are unimportant to them. However, hopefully more children and young adults like Rui will start speaking out, sharing their stories, and pressuring their government to give them legal recognition. When I was speaking to a coworker about this she said, “I just don’t think that people think so deeply about this stuff. They don’t complain.” Maybe Rui is an example of how that is changing. More and more people in China every day are looking at their government’s injustices in the face and fighting back.

A Dead Antelope At the Shenzhen Museum

A Dead Antelope At the Shenzhen Museum

I visited the Shenzhen Museum yesterday morning. I’ll write more about that later when I can get to my camera, but in the afternoon I went to a poetry workshop with the Shenzhen Writers Circle. For some reason, when I was told to just start writing, I wrote about this…photo

 

A Dead Antelope at the Museum

A velvety face
soft and fawn brown
eyes large and wet

White bones
sharp and splintered
futility protecting delicate entrails
from the beaks as they rip and tear

Tourists quickly passing by
ignoring her plight
dying for all eternity
It’s educational.