2018-09-20 13:14:49

Police in eastern China have arrested eight people connected to a medical tourism scam involving thousands of dollars, local media reported Wednesday.

The fraudsters mostly targeted wealthy, health-conscious Chinese who were willing to splurge on expensive medical consultations abroad, according to the Yangtse Evening News. Police in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, said the scammers returned 1.3 million yuan ($190,000) in total to the five people who were cheated by the Chinese company that led them to the United Arab Emirates last year.

As the diagnosis rates of diseases like cancer, tuberculosis, and diabetes rise in China, businesses are cashing in by offering patients high-end medical services outside of China. This, in turn, has given rise to so-called medical tourism, whereby wealthy Chinese travel abroad for expensive treatments, believing that they are better than the services provided at home. In 2016, Chinese overseas medical tourism increased five-fold from the previous year, according to a report from the online travel company Ctrip.com that also said each traveler spent 50,000 yuan on average.

Mei Buping, a businessman from Jiangsu, was among those who were scammed. Last year, he traveled to Dubai along with his wife and three friends for a regular health checkup, after a local company in China convinced them to visit a “royal hospital” in the Middle Eastern city. Once there, an in-house Chinese “medical expert” told all five people that they had high probabilities of developing cancer and should seek treatment immediately.

Convinced by the diagnosis, Mei and his wife spent over 1 million yuan on various treatments — including a detoxification procedure and a method for repairing renal and hepatic cells — while others paid 20,000 yuan each for the checkup. It wasn’t until the couple returned to China that their daughter figured out they were scammed. However, the Meis didn’t report anything to the police, fearing embarrassment.

In March — nearly a year after the incident — the Ministry of Public Security alerted Nanjing police about the increase in medical tourism scams and their connection to one Guangzhou-based agency operating under the guise of a biotechnology firm. Police found that the eight suspects were associated with the Guangzhou Weituo International Biotechnology Co., which resulted in the arrest. The suspects had scammed more than 1,800 people out of a total of 650 million yuan, according to the news report.

In June, police in central China’s Hunan province also busted a medical scam worth several million yuan involving the same Guangzhou company. Some 100 suspects were detained for swindling 1,700 women with fake medical consultations in Thailand and Malaysia.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: The Burj al Arab Jumeirah Hotel in Dubai. VCG)