BEIJING – Now there's an answer to a sad, strange and common question in China: How can someone be a good Samaritan to an elderly person in need without getting scammed?
China's e-commerce giant Alibaba has partnered with an insurance company to introduce a one-year, three-yuan (50-cent) insurance plan that covers up to 20,000 yuan in litigation fees for anyone who wants to help an older person to their feet but is concerned about being accused of knocking them down to begin with. The novelty insurance product attracted more than 60,000 buyers since going on sale Oct. 15.
Concern has grown in recent years with media attention given to various scams in which elderly people are found to have turned against their helpers. Some have been caught on video purposely falling next to cars to rip off the motorists.
A joke circulating in China's social media says a new criterion in judging one's wealth is whether he or she has the guts to help an elderly person.
"Many people want to do good deeds by helping the elderly to their feet, but they are also worried about getting scammed," said Xu Ting, product manager at Alibaba. "We hope the insurance plan can help reduce some financial costs by paying for litigation fees that can help restore the facts."
One of the best-known cases occurred in 2007 in the eastern city of Nanjing, where a young man took an old woman to a hospital after she fell at a bus stop. When the woman was diagnosed with bone fractures, she demanded that the young man pay the medical bill, saying he knocked her over and should be held responsible for her injuries. The man denied wrongdoing.
Without solid evidence, the court assigned no fault to either party but ruled the man should shoulder 40 percent of the medical costs. The verdict stirred a wave of criticism, with the public largely believing the man had been unfairly punished.
According to the party-run People's Daily, a Chinese college professor examined 149 disputes involving people helping others to their feet between 2004 and this year and concluded that the helpers got framed in 84 cases, the helpers were at fault in 32 and the facts of the remaining cases were unclear.
"It's chilling that there is a high percentage of cases in which the Samaritans get framed," opined Guangming Daily, another party newspaper.
The People's Daily editorialized on Tuesday that the new insurance product by Alibaba and Hua'an Insurance provides a possible solution to the moral quandary, but also reflects a failure in China's social morals.
"You can taste frustration and bitterness in this seemingly quite civic-minded and public-minded approach," the People's Daily wrote.
Commentaries have questioned what has turned the elderly into scammers. Some critics have blamed the authoritarian country's political system. Yet many among the Chinese public have arrived at a different consensus: Some bad people have simply grown old.