Beggars in China are accepting mobile payment through QR codes  

Beggars in China are going along with the flow of mobile payment flooding the country. They are now accepting alms in terms of mobile payment carried out wirelessly by simply scanning a QR code with smartphones.  This trend is emerging from the simple fact that most people are going cashless.


Mobile payment in China is booming

China is witnessing an unrivaled level of expansion in terms of mobile payment. In 2016, the volume more than doubled to $5 trillion as per analysis data cited by Hillhouse Capital. Chinese consumers are more and more shifting their financial tendencies online, not the least feeling intimidated by cyber threats and the risks of cyber-crime. This shift is largely attributed to the explosion in smartphone usage in China, boosted additionally by the creation of mobile payment apps such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Alipay, and WeChat Wallet.

Vagrants are henceforth asking for alms through mobile payment, conscious that fewer people are carrying cash now. Passerbys are simply requested to show their generosity by scanning QR codes. QR codes have been designed as machine-readable black-and-white images that can contain approximately 300 times more information than standard barcodes. They generally include links to a website or payment information.

QR codes were first invented for the automotive industry in the early ’90s. In the 2000s, they were adopted for consumer advertising. However, they did not thrive as consumers certainly did not want to download yet another app.  However, this is not the case in China where QR codes are at the very heart of the country’s digital payments boom. These codes have been adopted by large retailers and street markets who find it easy to use, compared to credit card systems. The QR code market is seen as colossal and still in expansion, according to Shen Wei, deputy director of the A research Institute specializing in QR codes. He is of view that more than $1.65 trillion of transactions were carried out through the use of QR codes in 2016.

Turning to mobile payment to increase chances of donations

In the city of Jinan, in Shandong province in eastern China, it is now common to see beggars hanging around popular tourist areas like the Wangfu Poo, to use mobile payments. With fewer people carrying cash and more people favoring mobile payment, the beggars understood that turning to mobile payment would undeniably increase their chances of receiving donations.

So, it is usual now to find beggars sitting with a printout of a QR code placed in their begging bowls or as a badge. These QR codes enable anyone with a mobile payment app like Alibaba Group’s Alipay or WeChat Wallet to send a certain sum to the beggar’s mobile payment account simply by scanning the code. Others do not hesitate to flash their Point-of-Sale machines.

QR code begging hides a grim business

Beggars turning towards mobile payment no doubt implies that they must be able to, first of all, afford to have a good smartphone. Chinese digital marketing firm China Channel raised alarm stating that the practice of QR code begging hides a doubtful business and is not so altruistic. The firm affirms that many of the beggars they encountered in Beijing are “recruited” by local businesses and startups to promote QR codes and entice passersby to scan them. For this “job”, they receive payment from these firms. Else, the firms can easily take a small percentage of each donation received as well.  

Apart from immorally acquiring some money, these firms are also to be said to harvest data in the same vein. Indeed, for a person to make such a donation, he or she should have a personal account on WeChat for instance. “In a similar fashion to how large email or phone numbers lists are commonly bought and sold, in China WeChat IDs are readily available at a price,” China Channel declares. It is said that these firms pay about $0.11 to $0.23 per scanned ID. The marketing firm furthermore highlights that beggars are willing to play the game because the money they receive can, in most cases, be likened to a minimum wage in the country.

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