Architects across Europe, including Lubetkin Prize-winning Gianni Botsford Architects and Cambridge-based Mole, have been targeted by an alleged Chinese scam
The studios, who together are designing a 71,000 square metre resort in Hsinchu, Taiwan, were separately told they had won a luxury 130-unit villa development in Kunming, southwest China and invited to the country to sign a contract.
Believing it could be ‘too good to be true’, the companies contacted the China-Britain Business Council, which said it was ‘certain it was a scam’ and advised against the meeting.
Botsford said: ‘The scam, we are told, is usually to get you to China, to wine and dine you, to get you to pay for everything (they say it shows respect), to go to a special shop to buy gifts, and the following day, on signing the contract, to pay a lawyer’s fee of between $5,000 and $10,000.
‘On returning from what seemed a successful trip, you find they have all disappeared, do not answer calls and emails, and you do not, in fact, have a contract.’
The AJ understand architects in Italy have also been targeted.
In 2010, a group of architects in New York fell victim to a similar swindle involving an office tower and housing scheme in China’s Henan province. Botsford said he felt ‘very foolish’ because searching the internet proved such scams were common.
A UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) spokesperson advised ‘due diligence when trading in China’. The UKTI’s trade services partner for mainland China, the China-Britain Business Council also offers company checks to verify the legal status of Chinese outfits.
How the scams work
- A plausible but poorly specified request for a quote is received, often by fax using convincing letterheads
- The value is usually above £500,000. Terms are often favourable with up to a 30 or 50 per cent proposed down-payment with minimal negotiation
- The supplier is invited to China to sign the contract. Large sums may be required to ‘smooth procedures’
- Once in China there may be negotiations involving demands for commission and/or cash payments or gifts. Meetings may take place in genuine-looking offices. Contracts may be signed
- Back in the UK, the initial payment is not received.Communication ceases and any cash parted will be lost