Beggars with QR code: Chinese poor collect alms in mobile wallets, ditch tin bowls

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Updated: July 12, 2019 3:36 PM

With the digital revolution taking over the world by storm, Chinese beggars have found a new way to collect alms and that consists just a sheet of paper with a QR code on it.

Image from The Mirror.

Don’t have loose money? You can no longer excuse yourself by saying that, at least in China, where beggars have a new weapon in their arsenal. With the digital revolution taking over the world by storm, Chinese beggars have found a new way to collect alms and that consists just a sheet of paper with a QR code on it. Gathering near the tourist-packed areas, the beggars have begging bowls with a QR code-printed sheet on it. Who can pay? Anyone with Alipay, WeChat Wallet (the two biggest e-wallet companies in China), or some other mobile payment app that can scan the code.

What’s more? These beggars do not necessarily require mobile phones to operate their accounts. The collected money goes directly into the digital wallet of the beggar. The same QR sheet can also be used to buy things from stores after merchant scans it. All that is required is a library where an account can be set up and the digital wallet is ready without any fees. The wallet account creator does not even need a bank account, Brookings Fellow Aaron Klein and Brookings Senior Fellow David Dollar discussed in a recent podcast.

China is the closest country to being a cashless economy. Deep smartphone penetration and dominance of digital payment applications, such as Alipay and WeChat, have supported the phenomenon. In India, the availability of Paytm and cheaper smartphones, coupled with the penetration of internet has already brought even small kiosks such as paanwallahs to street vendors to accept digital payments.

The darker side of cashless payments

According to some reports, businesses with pay these QR code beggars for every scan that is made. They then harvest data of the users and even sell their WeChat IDs, the China Channel reported some time ago. User data can also be sold to the companies which then use these to pester customers with advertisements and unnecessary nudges.

Moreover, local startups also use these scans to promote their businesses. The beggars are paid for the scans in their name. According to the media report, beggars get equivalent of anywhere from Rs 7-15 from these scans. Considering a beggar works for 45 hours, the same translates to the beggar making the equivalent of over Rs 40,000.

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