Despite its size, Beijing is a very safe city, and violent crime is extremely rare. However, tourists are often preyed upon by cheats and touts, who attempt to pull a number of scams on tourists. Be especially cautious in the inner city, around Tiananmen Square, and on the tourist-crowded routes to the Great Wall.
On the other hand, fears of scams have led many travelers to be overly dismissive of Chinese people who approach them. Many Chinese are tourists in their capital for the first time as well and they are genuinely curious about foreigners and may just want to practice their English and get a picture with you. Being asked to have your picture taken is very common and there are no known scams associated with this. Be friendly but don't feel pressured to go somewhere you hadn't planned on going in the first place. If you are outside the tourist areas then your chances of being scammed drop dramatically.
Chinese people are very friendly to travellers and expats in general; seeing through a scam requires the same common sense as travelling anywhere in the world. Beijing scams are not particularly innovative or brutal in world-wide comparison, and as long as you keep your wallet out of sight, you can always walk away without fear of violence or theft. That said, there are some common scams to be aware of.
For tours to the Great Wall, be wary: the driver might just stop and set you off before your destination. Only pay afterwards if you are absolutely sure you are at the destination. Do not go for organized tours to the Great Wall in the ¥100-150 range that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City (or in the latest scam, masquerading as the real bus service to the Great Wall which only costs ¥20, but is guaranteed to waste your entire day). Conveniently you are picked up from your hotel (so they know where to get back at you, in case you will not pay), you end up on a shopping tour and afterwards you have to pay upfront to get back to the city. Of course, there are exceptions, and people showing letters of recommendation from their previous travels and pictures are usually ok, as are people offering trips to the wilder parts of the Great Wall (i.e. not Badaling or Juyong). Shopping tours are also advertised from certain hotels, ask in advance for a tour without shopping to be sure.
At the Bird's Nest, there will be people trying to sell you small items, such as Beijing 2008 Memorabilia, or toys that seems fun to play with. They will tell you that they are offering it to you for much less, then after you pay for your item, shortly after they will claim you never paid for it and will follow you around until you either give back them or pay again. Usually they offer items to you at very good deals, but don't fall for the trick, you'll end up paying double, if not more.
Do not be tricked by students or young adults offering to go out for a beer or coffee to practice their English. Some scam artists will run up an elaborate bill by ordering food or alcohol and then expect you to pay for it or even half whether or not if you do or do not eat the food they order. In Chinese culture if someone invites you out for tea or dinner they pay the bill. If you are feeling this situation is about to happen shift credit cards out of your wallet by going to the bathroom or while sitting at the table. The scam artists can be working with the restaurant and the restaurant will ask you to pay with a credit card. Another sign if it is a scam is if they ask to follow you to a bank or back to your hotel to get additional money to pay them back. These people can come on very nice and come off as very nice people. If they want to follow you back to your hotel or hostel have them wait in the lobby and do not return. These people will likely avoid confrontation and eventually leave. These cases tend to happen mainly when you are alone. But, if you do not have any plans and want to exploit the exchange rate, it is not the worst idea. In any case, be nice and refuse politely, that will do the job for you.
Do not follow any "students" or Chinese "tourists" wanting to show you something. They are most likely scammers or semi-scammers. Examples include "art students" who bring you to their "school exhibition" and pressure you to buy art at insanely inflated prices. Tea sampling is another scam. It is free to sample tea for locals, but for tourists...you should ask. Always get prices in advance and keep the menu if you are concerned. In one incident, after sampling 5 types of tea with two "students", a group of tourists were confronted with a bill for ¥1260! They even produced an English menu with the extortionate prices for sampling. Young attractive female "students" also try to lure male tourists to shops, restaurants or night clubs. The prices at such places can be extremely high for basically nothing."
In 2010 there were reports of aggression against people of foreign descent in Beijing from one club in particular, Latte. The US embassy released a note in 2010 advising citizens of the USA not to go there. There are few details of what happened there. Since then many travellers and local expats have frequented there without incidence. These seem to have been isolated occurrences.
Fake alcohol can sometimes be a problem, not frequently but sometimes. A good rule is that if it seems a lot cheaper than other places you've been than you might want to think hard about whether to take that ¥5 or ¥10 shot. It might be cheap for a reason. For information on which bars serve fake alcohol and which ones don't check any local review site. You can find these sites pretty easily they are just a search away.
Fake Cigarettes can also be an issue. Be careful when making any purchases. Although it will be very hard for you to guess unless you are an expert smoker who knows his cigarettes like he does his wine.
Take care when offered a ride in a rickshaw (pedicab). Make sure you and your driver know where you are going to be taken in advance and agree on a price in writing. If not, you might get into an argument with the driver and end up paying a lot more than is fair. Rickshaw drivers generally charge ¥5 or ¥10 more than a taxi for short distances. It could be more for longer ones.
Be wary of fake money. You may observe Chinese people inspecting their money carefully, and with a reason: there are a lot of counterfeit bills in circulation. The most common are 100's and 50's. A few tips for identifying counterfeit bills:
Be very careful if someone wants to give back the largest currency bill (¥50 and ¥100) by the excuse of "no change". In an attempt to pass you a counterfeit bill they may tell you that they have lowered the price in your benefit. Or, they may ask you to contribute an additional sum in order to pass you the ¥100. If they give you back all the change money plus the coins on top (though coins are rare in Beijing) take your time to check each bill carefully.
Another version of the above trick is when a vendor refuses to accept your ¥100 bill claiming that it's fake. The truth is most likely that he took your genuine bill and discretely changed it for a fake one which he now is trying to give back to you. Hard to prove unless you saw the swap.
To check any ¥50 and ¥100 bill you get, do this: most importantly, check the paper. If its torn, thin or very slippery, ask for a different bill. Next, check the watermark, it should blur out softly. If there are hard visible corners in the watermark, reject the bill. Last, check the green "100" imprint on the lower left corner. It should be clearly painted on the bill so you can both feel and see a relief. If its missing or not feelable, reject the bill also. Rejecting bills is not considered impolite. It is perfectly acceptable to hand back a bill and ask for a different one. If the vendor gets upset, you should consider cancelling the purchase and moving on. If the colouring of a banknote is faded, it does not necessarily mean it is fake.
Traffic can be crazy in Beijing, and reckless driving is fairly normal. People honk all the time. Honking is not usually considered rude. It is simply another way to indicate that the driver is there. Be prepared for drivers to violate traffic laws even to the extent of going in reverse on highways to back up to a missed exit or driving on a sidewalk. Also expect occasional road debris (a piece of wood or torn out tire) to be laying in the roadway. Pedestrians should be very careful crossing the street people will generally stop for you, but they will honk. Keep an eye on the locals and cross with them — there is strength in numbers.
Free emergency telephone numbers:
Fire alarm: 119.
Medical care: 120.
Remember these three telephone numbers, and they are valid in almost entire mainland China.