In a deeply disturbing incident that underscores the vulnerabilities faced by individuals with cognitive impairments, a 62-year-old mentally disabled man from Shanghai, known as Ren, was swindled out of his entire life savings by a seemingly reputable health and beauty salon. The incident, which led to Ren losing an astounding 600,000 yuan (approximately US$82,000), has sparked outrage across the Chinese digital landscape.
Ren, who grapples with a cognitive disorder, finds difficulty in communicating effectively with others. This challenge necessitates him to live under the care of his devoted sister, who first stumbled upon the financial exploitation when she was reviewing his bank statements. Her discovery revealed that the Wenfeng Cosmetology Group, a health and beauty salon chain, had deceptively extracted money from Ren’s account on fifty separate occasions, plunging him into a quagmire of debt.
The origins of this unscrupulous saga can be traced back to November 2021 when Ren innocently visited one of the chain’s salons for what he thought would be a simple haircut. During this visit, he was persuaded by salon staff to open an account with a charge card, making an initial deposit of 1,000 yuan (around US$137). The exploitation snowballed from this point. A salon employee named Yingying nudged Ren into adding 5,000 yuan to the card. Subsequently, two managerial staff, Ruirui and Li Qin, persistently pushed him into escalating his spending.
Alarmingly, surveillance videos later unveiled the salon’s disturbingly strategic tactics. Recognizing Ren’s inability to communicate via Chinese characters on WeChat, they devised a manipulative method to lure him into the salon. They instructed him to respond with an emoji of two roses if he was able to visit, taking advantage of his limited communicative capabilities.
By December of the same year, Ren had transferred an astonishing 117,000 yuan (equivalent to US$16,000) to the salon’s account, which included a single-day payment of 20,000 yuan in hard cash. As Ren’s sister recounted, “An employee even escorted him to withdraw money from an ATM located nearby.”
Sadly, the exploitation didn’t cease there. When one branch of the salon closed, another swiftly assumed responsibility for Ren’s membership, continuing the cycle of deceit. In a troubling escalation, salon employees, in April of the subsequent year, assisted him in setting up an online lending service on his smartphone, facilitating further extraction of funds.
Faced with this overwhelming betrayal, Ren’s sister approached Wenfeng Cosmetology Group, demanding the return of her brother’s pilfered savings. In a disappointing response, an employee, identified as Jiang, consented to refund only 280,000 yuan (around US$38,000). He defended the salon’s actions by contesting Ren’s cognitive challenges and suggesting he was fully capable of discerning his expenditures.
The incident has struck a nerve across social media platforms, with netizens universally condemning the salon’s deceitful practices and calling for legal action. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident in the health and beauty sector. Such exploitative scams have been recurrently reported, emphasizing an urgent need for stringent regulatory measures and increased public awareness.