The world out there is full of decent, fun human beings. I have met heaps of them over the last few decades. Some are my good friends today.
Some people out there see you as walking dollar sign. And the more naive and careless you are, the bigger the dollar signs.
Our job as travellers is to not be careless or stupid without being paranoid and fearful. There is a balance there.
The most common seven scams I have experienced have been:
- The place is closed
Your taxi driver or “guide”, or ” new friend” or “concerned citizen” or even police officer will tell you that your hotel, restaurant, tourist attraction, railway or bus ticket office is closed. They will then help you with an overinflated and inferior replacement.In my travels, people have told me that the railway station has moved, my hotel has burnt down and even the Taj Mahal was closed for a religious holiday.
If you have done your research and appear confident, then all will be well. Do not believe it. I have never known one of these people to be right. Thank these people politely and tell them: 1 you spoke to the place 30 minutes ago and all was fine OR 2. you want to see it anyway.
Advice: Continue on your way.
2. The Counterfeit Money Scam
This can be very frustrating when you discover that you have been given counterfeit money or worthless currency. In 50 years of travel, it has only happened to me once when someone slipped an old superseded note in my change. A common scam is to give you Vietnamese dong in Thailand or China or Belorussian rubles in Eastern Europe in your change or money exchange.
Advice: 1. Get your money from ATMs or banks or legitimate currency exchange places. 2. Do not change your money on street. 3. Get low value not high-value notes. 4. If you have high-value notes, have your hotel break them down into smaller notes. 5. Examine large notes carefully.
3. The Bar/Cofee Shop/Tea House Scam
This varies around the world but involves being befriended by people who take you to a “special” or beautiful or fun place e.g. bar, coffee shop, tea shop, carpet shop. Before you know it, your new friends disappear leaving you with an inflated bill. It is a shame because one of the best things about travelling is making friends and trying their places.
Advice: 1. Instead of going to their special place, insist on going somewhere you know eg your hotel cafe or a Starbucks. If your new friends are genuine, they won’t care where you all go. If they are fly by night, they will be very upset. 2. Pay as you order and involve everyone in paying.
4. The gold ring/watch trick
This is a very old trick. Someone will ask you if you have lost a ring/watch/necklace/wallet or offer you free perfume/short/jacket or even a rose. They may tell you it is your lucky day or God has told them to give you this gift or you are very beautiful or very handsome. After getting the item, the person then asks you for money. They either ask immediately or follows you and asks you minutes later.
Advice: Do not accept any gifts like this. Tell them to take it to the police station if they think the item is lost. Or tell them your religion does not allow you to take it!
5. The Free Jewellery Scam
She was young, pretty and a bad actor. She gushed over me telling me that luck had smiled on me. Out all of the customers that had passed that way, only I had won the store’s grand prize! Three pieces of jewellery out of the store’ entire collection were mine to take home. They all came with government guarantees. I did not have to do a thing! As I gazed at the frankly unimpressive collection of talismans, rings and necklaces, she quietly added that all I had to do was pay 18 percent taxes on the pieces so I could export them. In other words, I will pay a fee on overpriced crap! Often people fall for this and find they have bought worthless pieces and the guarantees are useless.
6. The Street Game
This varies by country but usually involves a con artist and a couple of accomplices playing a gambling game. It may be street poker or a game with three coins, or three peas or shells or cards being hidden and shuffled. It may look like you can win easily but you will lose every time.
Advice: 1. If you must lose money gambling do it in a legitimate casino. 2. The best street games I have played in were cricket in India and soccer in El Salvador!
7. The Fake Monk/Rabbi/Priest
Someone will come up to you at a holy site (eg Church, temple, mosque) and give you a blessing card or a friendship bracelet or a piece of herb or holly or a piece of string with a talisman on it. After you receive it, they then ask for a donation usually “for the poor people”.
Advice: Best to hand back the gift or just drop it and walk away.