No one wants to go on holiday and be scammed, no more so when you’re travelling alone. Before you travel to a new destination it is worth spending an hour researching the place including the common tourist scams, because I really do believe that being forewarned means you will be alert and aware of the people around you while travelling. What you shouldn’t do though is worry about being scammed, and let that spoil your travels. Anyone is capable of scamming you as a tourist, simply because they know you’re in a country with different cultures, languages and it’s very easy to get distracted.
Here are some of the more common tourist scams to avoid.
I am going to start off with the more obvious scams that occur to tourists in taxi’s around the world. Before you step into the taxi, ask the driver how much it is going to cost you, and ensure that the meter is switched on. Finding out the taxi price prior to your trip will help you. Personally, I never travel around by taxi; my preferred method is public transport because not only is it cheaper, but it’s also safer. Another tip is to make sure you take a note of the taxi company, and their driver number and details. Finally, the majority of scammers will wait in their taxi outside of popular tourist attractions and hotels, so avoid picking up a taxi there.
While in Vietnam my friend was approached by what at first glance appeared to be a policeman, the individual told him that he was investigating a crime in the area and that the victims described a criminal matching my friends description. What materialised was that the individual wanted him to pay 3 million Vietnamese Dong (approx. £100) and he would let him go. Being an well experienced traveller, my friend asked the individual for police ID, so that he can call the local police. Not surprising, the fake police officer ran away, and was never seen again. The lesson here is do not assume that an individual dressed up as a police officer is one. If approached in the street, always ask for ID.
This is a popular scam in Bangkok. You are walking towards a tourist attraction, shop, or restaurant, and you are approached by a local informing you that it is closed, and they recommend somewhere else to go. They will even offer to take you. The reality is, that they will take you to a place where they receive commission and, the prices are ridiculously high because they’re trying to scam tourists. Just politely say no, and continue to walk.
You’re in a strange city, sometimes lost, sometimes in awe of the magnificent tourist attractions, and it is very easy to be distracted. A lot of the more common scams involve you being distracted by the scammer or their accomplice. Tricks include spying on you to find out where your wallet is kept, so that they can pickpocket you. Or, while in a shop the owner will drop your change on the floor, you’ll pick it up and walk out, without realising that they haven’t given you the correct amount of money. Other scams include bumping into you, spilling food or drink on your clothing and while they attempt to clean you down, they’re pickpocketing you. Always keep alert, and be aware of the people around you.
While in Kuala Lumpur, I walked out of the hotel and within five minutes I was approached by a local Malaysian man, well dressed, and spoke perfect English. He asked where I was from, what football team I supported and came across as being very friendly. He invited me for a drink at a local cafe where we he would offer some tips to get around the city. Prior to arriving in Malaysia I had read about this type of scam where friendly local people approach you, and then rob you. Politely say no, smile, and make an excuse. I said to him that I was meeting friends, but thanked him for his invitation.
In this situation you do not know if the person is trying to be genuinely friendly, or, it’s a scam, so it is best to play it safe. Scammers will hang around hotels and keep a look out for unsuspecting tourists to come out, especially solo travellers.
Too good to be true
Someone will offer a service or product for free like a massage, free food, anything really. What will happen though is when you say yes, or, pick up the item, they will then ask you to pay a hefty amount of money and if you do not pay, their friends will appear and try and bully you into paying. This kind of happened to me in Barcelona, where a local tried to sell me a punnet of grapes, he handed them out and said “free”, so, without thinking I took them off him and walked away – he then grabbed my arm and said, only joking, €5 please. I attempted to put the punnet back into his hands, but he wouldn’t take it, so, I put it on the floor and walked away. There is no such thing as free, so just politely say no.
It’s important to be forewarned so that if anyone tries to pull any of these tourist scams on you while travelling you can respond to the situation.
Photo of Chinatown in Bangkok. Alexandre Antuszewicz