People seeking to buy foreign currency on Beijing's black markets are running the risk of being cheated, according to the head of the Beijing bureau of the State Administration for Foreign Exchange Control. The Beijing Daily yesterday carried an interview with the unnamed official aimed at dissuading people from using black markets that have been revived by the depreciation of many Asian currencies. These devaluations have raised concerns at home and abroad that Beijing may be forced to follow suit to maintain the country's export competitiveness. This has persuaded some Chinese that it is safer to exchange their yuan for US dollars. Mainland leaders have said they will not devalue the yuan, the most recent being Vice-Premier Li Lanqing on Saturday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mr Li said Beijing was prepared to accept a trade surplus lower than the record US$40 billion last year as the price of keeping its currency stable. The administration official said black marketeers - known as Huangniu, or yellow cows - were taking advantage of the Asian financial crisis and fears of a yuan devaluation to sell US dollars at high prices. He said the volume of money traded at these markets was very small, with a negligible influence on the legal foreign exchange market. The official said he wanted to warn the public that many people had been tricked, buying fake dollars or currencies that were not convertible, such as old Peruvian money. The main customers are smugglers, people travelling abroad, those wrongly believing there will be a devaluation, those doing border trade but unable to obtain foreign currency at a bank and foreign individuals and companies seeking yuan to trade illegally in mainland A shares. Supply of foreign exchange comes from companies and individuals, including those who obtained it illegally and do not want to change it at a bank. Chinese going abroad were entitled to change the equivalent of $2,000 and can apply to the authorities to change more, giving their reasons, he said. He said that his department and the police carried out regular raids on the black market, confiscating money found and imposing fines of up to three times the amount, with criminal punishments for organisations involved.