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Shanghai offers guide to avoid swindlers

SHANGHAI -- For visitors who might find it hard telling needy beggars from swindlers, Shanghai now has a manual with some tips.

The guide, ''Recognizing Phonies," lists scams ranging from women faking pregnancies to counterfeit monks and bogus students asking for tuition help.

''Amid the great army of city vagrants, there is a cadre of professional beggars who prey on the sympathies of citizens," says the manual, issued last month by the city's Civil Affairs Bureau.

''There isn't a trick they won't try," it adds above a drawing of an elderly couple forking over cash to a grinning scam artist.

The guide is one of the ways in which Shanghai and other cities in the country's booming east are trying to cope with an influx of beggars and vagrants following a 2003 decision to eliminate police powers to detain them.

The result has been to stretch scarce social services to the breaking point and stir resentment among city dwellers.

Shanghai officials say they are trying to improve a system of voluntary aid centers to help the homeless with immediate needs and send them safely home. Helping out is not a bad thing, they say.

''We don't want to discourage people from helping beggars," said an official with the Civil Affairs Bureau, who, like many Chinese government officials, asked that he be identified by his surname, Ding. ''We just want to make sure they don't get tricked."

But the manual also reflects Shanghai residents' common suspicions and prejudices about people from China's rural areas, blamed in the city for everything from traffic congestion to crime and dirty streets.

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