It is unfortunate that tourists and travellers are the first target for scammers worldwide. Generally, when tourists get conned, they rarely report it so as not to spoil their holiday. Here are some alerts on what swindlers are up to, so you may avoid them and enjoy a pleasant and peaceful holiday.
Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah
Rental Car Runs
When you rent a car in Vietnam, you’ll definitely stand out as a tourist because the number plate will clearly show you’re not local. There are lots of tricksters around and you have to be prepared for emergencies and work out a contingency plan if the car breaks down. Here’s a scam that you need to know: A stranger will keep pointing at your tyres and as you come to a stop at a traffic light, he may offer to help when you alight from the car to check on your tyres. That’s about the time when his accomplice grabs your valuables and handbag from the car and runs off.
Get Smart: Always lock your car doors while you drive. If it so happens that you do have a flat, put the contingency plan you’ve worked out with the car rental company into action.
When you’re a tourist, it’s hard to keep track of the typical uniform of the local police, and scammers take advantage of this. The fake policeman will usually hang around crowded tourist spots, especially train or bus stations, museums and art galleries. They will approach you and tell you of a case of fake money in circulation. They will ask you to reveal the contents of your wallet so they may check for such money. Since they are policemen whose job is to protect you, you comply. Once you hand over your wallet, they run like the wind!
Get Smart: Persons of any authority who request to check or see your belongings or identification papers will have to first produce their identification badge. Always ask an officer of the law for such identification. If you’re doubtful, say that you want to walk to the nearest police station with him and, he can check it there.
Take note if you’re headed for Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Shinagawa, and Roppongi in Tokyo. These ‘monks’ will approach tourists, offer a good luck charm and ask for a donation. While you’d be happy to donate to a noble cause, these are not really monks and the money is not going to any charities. These ‘monks’ are part of a syndicate that make thousands of Yen a day, preying on gullible tourists. In any case, real monks are not allowed to ask for cash or any means of worldly goods apart from food.
Get Smart: Smile and walk away. If you really want to help them and worry that they may be real monks, offer to buy them food instead. The fake ones will most likely walk away. In fact, this tip can be used to stave off beggars and street urchins too in various countries. Never offer money, no matter how pitiful the beggars look. Offer to buy them food instead.
India, Malaysia, Philippines
Refusing to use the meter, claiming the area you wish to go to is congested with traffic, demanding exorbitant fees for short distances, pretending to not know the way to your destination, saying the place you’re looking for has closed down or moved, offering reduced taxi fares in exchange for visiting shopping outlets are all part of famous taxi scams in these countries. There are many taxi and auto rickshaw drivers who are honest, but some do resort to tampering with their meters.
Get Smart: Always get into a proper taxi queue and insist the driver uses the meter. Some malls have coupon kiosks that ensure you take only legitimate taxis. If the taxi refuses to use the meter and demands a specified amount, do not argue but politely walk away. Do not entertain taxi drivers who approach you. If you feel you have been victimised, quietly note the taxi driver’s registration number and get your hotel to help lodge a complaint to the relevant authorities. But if you are desperate, need a taxi very badly and don’t mind paying, make sure you agree clearly on the amount, repeating it at least twice to avoid any confusion and verbal arguments.
Times are hard and some travel related businesses too are practising this scam. However, it appears unbridled amongst taxi drivers who are notorious for giving you fake bills in change. Be extra careful when paying your taxi fare and keep your eyes on the driver because this is when they’ll slip in a few of those dodgy notes back to you.
Get Smart: Watch the money like a hawk during the transaction. Always check your change and don’t be afraid to return an iffy-looking bill and ask for a different one. Better yet, carry enough small change so you can pay the exact fare.
A trip to Indonesia more often than not involves shopping. Textiles, fabrics and carpets are all pretty cheap here. With carpets and rugs, the older they are, the higher the value. So if it’s an investment on an expensive carpet you’re making, be sure to have an expert or at least a knowledgeable friend with you when buying. Many little shops in huge bargain lofts are manufacturers themselves, and chances are, their factories are more than capable of ‘bleaching’ rugs and carpets for that aged look. These are then sold off as antiques at crazy prices.
Get Smart: Do your research and find out which genuine shops sell the real thing. Check online or ask a local friend. Make sure you understand the characteristics of an antique carpet before purchasing one. Don’t be taken in by the beauty of it or the glib talk. Ask for certification.
Be extra careful when you’re wandering around alone because you’ll end up making ‘friends’ soon enough. A local (male or female) may approach you in the street, bar or shop and start chatting, taking full interest in you. He’d want to welcome you by offering to buy you a drink or local knick-knacks. Next, he’ll offer to take you to a fantastic restaurant, club or KTV bar. The meal or drinks in the place will cost an arm and a leg! But not to worry because your newfound friend will say it’s on him and offers to pay for the meal. He’d walk to the cashier, ‘pay’ and leave swiftly. Before you try to leave, a waiter will appear and hand you a whopping bill! Only then will you realise that your ‘friend’ never paid and that you’ve just been taken for a ride. You may think that the poor sod was just after a meal but beware, this new friend will return to the restaurant later to collect his ‘commission’.
Get Smart: The best way to deal with this type of scam is not to accept any such invitation from strangers, politely say Thank You and walk away. If the person is persistent, say you are waiting for a local friend and his family to take you out for dinner/shopping. Remember what mum said: “Don’t talk to strangers!”
Many gem scams take place at must-see tourist stops in Bangkok. Normally, the scammers will station themselves near temples and entrances to tourist attractions. Once they spot tourists, they will approach them and claim the temple/attraction is closed for the day. They will then offer to take the unsuspecting tourists to an alternative temple/ attraction on a tuk-tuk that just happens to be waiting nearby – for free. The tourist will welcome this friendly gesture and hop on, only to fi nd the tuk-tuk stopping at jewellery shops along the way, all of which sell overpriced, if not fake gemstones. This has become a hot scam that the Thai Gem & Jewellery Trader Association views seriously to protect its reputation. If you ever get caught gemscammed, call them at +662 6301 3907 or visit www.thaigemjewelry.or.th
Get Smart: To begin with, check for yourself that the temple/attraction is really closed. If you find yourself being ushered into a jewellery shop, just smile, say Thank You, and leave.
Short of engendering unnecessary paranoia in tourists, it pays to keep safe so your dream holiday comes true.
- Clarify the cost of all your purchases when negotiating. Be sure to list what is included in the price because when you’re quoted the ‘final price, it may not include service charges or taxes. Always ask if there are additional charges to the ‘final price’.
- Be extra alert when you are most vulnerable especially when you’re tired from a long flight, adjusting to the time difference, anxious to find your way around, or even when you’re in a happy holiday mood. Always check around to see if whatever amount is quoted to you is reasonable with your travel companion or the locals around.
- Beware of smiling strangers because scammers and conmen are adept at winning your confidence through friendliness and assurance. While it seems shameful to be suspicious of a friendly face, it’s even more embarassing to be scammed by one.
- Watch your guide and tour escorts carefully because even if their job is to look after you, they are not spared from the lure of commissions. This is where you need to be careful. They may strongly recommend a particular place even though it’s not half as good as the one your heart is set on. So be fi rm but agreeable and insist on where you’ve already planned to go.
- Do your math and if you can’t do it in your head, don’t forget the pocket calculator or the one in your smartphone. Double checking prices with the currency conversion will lower the risk of you being duped, especially when the currency is very much smaller in value and has a lot of zeroes in them. Check your credit card charges for a purchase immediately to ensure there are no added zeroes in them.
- Play hard to get when bargaining for an item you like. As a tourist, you’re always at a disadvantage. However, the shop people know that if they don’t cut a deal, you’re not likely to return. So as long as you don’t give away how much you want something, it would be in their best interest to lower the price.
- Carry small change because short-changing a tourist is the classic scam and the only way to avoid it is by paying the exact amount. It’s not easy to get lower value notes when changing at your local moneychanger, but try to get your hands on as much change when you arrive through small purchases like a bottle of water or a meal.
- Don’t succumb to pressure because this is how you get scammed – be it a car rental or beautiful scarf. If your heart is not set on it and you just want to ‘please’ the vendor, don’t do it.
Travel 3Sixty°, in no way, wishes to damage the reputation or sully the tourism industry of the countries mentioned here. However, there will always be instances where a foreigner will get fleeced or cheated when he or she visits any country. This article is meant to create awareness of some of the more common scams that take place and how travellers can arm themselves with adequate knowledge for self protection. For every one rotten apple, you will encounter hundreds of genuine, honest and hardworking individuals who appreciate your tourist money and want you to truly enjoy the hospitality, beauty and warmth of their country.