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    Xi’an Woman Defrauds Restaurants Across the Country With Food Safety Complaints

    Unscrupulous customers are exploiting restaurants’ fears about negative reviews to cheat them out of their money.

    The customer is always right, so the saying goes — but there are exceptions.

    A woman in Xi’an in the northwestern Shaanxi province has been arrested for pretending to find foreign objects such as flies and screws in her food deliveries and then extorting the restaurants involved, successfully receiving compensation of over 500 yuan ($70) each time.

    Beijing police tracked the woman, surnamed Deng, to her residence more than 1,000 kilometers away from the capital city after finding that she had ordered food deliveries from 18 provinces and cities in the space of over half a year, Beijing Radio & Television Station reported Monday.

    Deng reportedly requested her food be delivered to the entrance of different local neighborhoods, then lodged fraudulent complaints about finding foreign objects in the orders. She would threaten to leave negative reviews or file a complaint with health authorities if the restaurants did not provide compensation.

    The police found that Deng had done this more than 200 times and received 20,000 yuan in compensation in total.

    In China, restaurants are very sensitive to negative complaints due to fierce competition. Reviews affect merchants’ scores on food delivery platforms, which are used as a reference by customers when choosing restaurants.

    Deng could be found guilty of fraud if the restaurants believed she was telling the truth, and the amount of money involved reached the criminal standard, or found guilty of extortion if the restaurants felt forced to pay compensation because of her threats of negative reviews or an official complaint, Zhang Baile, a partner at Shanghai Seven Dimension Law Firm, told Sixth Tone.

    Deng could face up to three years in prison in addition to a fine as her case involves a “relatively large” amount of money, Zhang added.

    Deng is not the only person to exploit the pressures businesses face in China’s cut-throat food industry. Last November, Beijing police arrested 13 others for extorting restaurants and food delivery platforms using similar methods. The police verified more than 560 such cases, involving 50,000 yuan.

    In August 2022, Meituan, China’s largest food delivery platform, received complaints from several merchants in Fuzhou in the eastern Fujian province about alleged extortion attempts by customers, local media reported.

    Meituan has set up a special team to deal with malicious claims by customers, which helped police crack down on 19 such cases from January to August 2023.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: VCG)