What would traveling be without scams? It is almost hard to imagine. Almost every country will have their scam specialty.
Scams are a lot of things... a daily hassle, things that could potentially ruin your trip and most certainly stories that you will tell back home.
For those reason I would like to write about some of the scams out there. But I also want to emphasize that the simple fact that scams exists must not put you off travelling. The main advice I can give each and every traveler is easy: Use your common sense.
A guide to scams and how to avoid them:
Taxi Scams: The most common of all. In almost any country you have to be wary of taxi drivers. It is the easiest way to rip anyone off. You are foreign, you don’t know your way around and you may not know how much a fare should cost. Some taxi drivers might also take you around for a lot longer than necessary.
The way out: Use reputable taxi companies. In some countries other companies will try to copy the name of a reputable company by just changing it slightly. So read the labels carefully. Get an idea of how much a ride per kilometer will cost in the country of your destination.
Ask about the price before you enter the taxi. Even if the driver ensures that the meter is used, just ask about a rough quote beforehand. Some meters are tempered with and run a lot faster than they should. In order to ensure that the driver does not take you around unnecessarily get an idea of how far your destination is away. And last but not least... if you are certain that you are being ripped off, get the locals involved. Ask the concierge at your hotel or staff at the place where you are being dropped off, to argue on your behalf. Most locals will be happy to help.
Hotel Scams: Hotel scams and taxi scams are very closely linked. If you ask a taxi driver to take you to the hotel of your choice, he might tell you that the hotel does not exist anymore, has moved or is fully booked. Some drivers then suggest to take you to a better hotel they know of. These hotels pay the driver a commission to take their passengers there. Most of these hotels will be overpriced and below standard.
The way out: The best way to avoid this is to book the hotel in advance and insist on being taken there, otherwise you will use a different taxi.
A different hotel scam involves copying the name of a well known and highly valued hotel. The taxi driver (if he is involved in the scam) will tell you that the hotel has relocated. We have heard that this specific type of scam happens in Hanoi. A way to avoid it, is to book your hotel in advance or make a reservation over the phone. Or simply check the hotels website prior to your arrival. If the hotel did move, they most certainly would have updated their website.
Gambling scams: I have heard that these scams are common in Thailand and around South East Asia. But they could happen anywhere. A typical way of getting foreigners involved in a gambling scam is to approach them on the street and engage them in a conversation. The local will then invite you to their home or a cafe to meet his or her family or friends. They are very clever in convincing people to join. At their home or cafe you will be casually asked to participate in a harmless game of cards or the like. This will then slowly turn into a more serious game where money will be bet. People are being pushed to continue. By the end of it you will have lost a lot of money. If you don’t have enough cash on you, you will be taken to an ATM where you’ll be closely monitored so you won’t be able to escape. After you hand over the cash (and this can be thousands of dollars) you are usually released. It will pretty much depend on your bank balance and the ATMs daily withdrawal limit that will determine how much you’ll loose.
They way out: This is a tricky one. Often locals simply want to get to know you, without any hidden intentions. It would be sad to reject everyone simply on the basis of fearing the possibility of a scam. Ways to avoid it are:
- Don’t ever go to someone’s house by yourself. Especially if you have just met.
- Ask the local to meet at a busy public place instead
- Say that you don’t play cards (make up an excuse)
- Leave when you start to feel awkward
Many scams are based on the fear of being impolite or disrespectful. Out of respect or social norms many people will continue with their actions, even though they know it’s wrong or it will have a bad consequence. Just remind yourself that, as long as no one forces you to stay, you can always leave. Just do it!
The friendly stranger and all of his friends: I have heard about this particular type of scam happening in Turkey. But it can happen anywhere. A stranger might approach you and engage you in a conversation. You and him or her seem to have a lot in common. He invites you to a bar and drinks are ordered. More of his friends join the party. A few hours go by and the table is filled with many drinks. Before you know it, everyone disappears and you are the only one left at the table. The bar or restaurant now makes you solely responsible for paying the bill. Usually the restaurants are in on this scam and will threaten you if you refuse to pay.
The way out: Once again, be wary of who you trust. If you think this is were the situation is heading, be the one to leave. Excuse yourself and leave them with money to pay for your drinks or just disappear before they get the chance to do so themselves.
Tour and taxi scam: This has happened to myself, so I can speak from experience. It happened in New Delhi in India, however this could also happen anywhere. I believe this is a scam that a lot of people would fall for and it was a clever one that was certainly difficult to identify as a scam.
I arrived in New Delhi at night and I got myself a taxi voucher from the airport to ensure that the taxi won’t overcharge me. As soon as I left the building I was surrounded by screaming drivers that all wanted my business. I was approached by a calm man who saw my voucher and he ensured me that he was the one who works for the company that issues the vouchers. I followed him to his taxi and told him that I was going to wait at the New Delhi trainstation until the first train arrived in the morning. When we drove past, it was dark an no one was there. So I decided to stay at a hostel in Paharganj, the backpacker district close to the trainstation. I gave him the names and addresses of some hostels in the area, but he did not seem to be able to find them without a block number, which was not mentioned in my guidebook. He even stopped at a police station to ask the police officer for directions. He then came back to tell me that the police offer does not know where it is either, but that there is a travel agency around the corner that is still open (at 4am... odd isn’t it).
They were happy to help me by calling the hostels from my guidebook to ask for availability and location. I was told that all of them were booked out. We tried calling the offices that sell train tickets, but they were also sold out, because they said that there was a festival and tickets were booked out months ago.
I even spoke to some of the people myself and they all told me that everything was booked out. Meanwhile my “friendly” taxi driver was waiting outside. I was stranded, so I thought. No trains, flights, buses or hotels available.
He then offered that they are selling private tours for around $1000 for two weeks. Knowing that $1000 is a lot of money in India and no backpacker would ever spend that much in two weeks, I was not convinced. In addition to that I did not want to be stuck with a tour guide for the rest of my holiday. I felt like I needed to do my own thing, so I rejected the offer which seemed like my only option.
The travel agent then made a very generous offer and offered me a room free of charge until the next day. Then he was going to try and find a hotel, train etc. for me.
To cut a long story short: I had an odd feeling from the start, but slowly I realised that I was stuck in the middle of a massive scam. When I was told that every hotel, train and flight was booked out, I did in fact speak to the same person over the phone (most likely the taxi driver who waited for me outside). The travel agent tried to create a desperate situation for and my only available option seemed to book a tour with them.
In the end I did not book a tour, I ran from the room I was given, jumped on a rickshaw and 5 minutes later I was at the trainstation and had a ticket to Agra for the same day. To kill some time I walked around Paharganj and I was given a lot of flyers that all advertised available rooms.
Everything I was told was a lie, there was no festival and nothing was booked out. Since this experience happened right at the beginning of my trip and it made me overly cautious which helped me from being scammed again. I then had the most pleasant trip of a lifetime!
The way out: I guess the moral of the story is, that scams can often be hard to identify as such and you will have to use your common sense and your gut feeling in order to distinguish between a scam and an honest person. Always be sceptical, but don’t reject everyone right from the start.
Hi I am your pick up!: This is an easy one. You arrive at the airport or trainstation and someone approaches you and tells you that they are the pick up from the hotel that you have arranged.
The way out: Always ask a few questions first. Don’t answer any of their questions. Some people trick you into telling them where you are staying only to use this information to trick you into thinking that they were your genuine pick up. Ask from which hotel they have been sent or ask what your name is. Usually the hotel will provide the pick up agent with your name. If they don’t know it, they are not the right guy.
Train ticket scam: This is a well known scam in New Delhi.
In some countries it is easy and recommended to buy a train ticket or bus ticket through a local travel agent. It saves you the time and money to drive to the trainstation yourself to buy the ticket from there. Most agents charge a small booking fee for their service. However, some agents will try to make as much money off you as possible. In New Delhi, the trainstation has an office on the second floor that issues tickets. This is the official ticketing office. A lot of people hang out around the trainstation,who will tell you that the office has moved or is under renovation and is now located elsewhere. They will show you the way to the new office. These offices make their money by tricking people into believing that they are at the offical ticketing office and increase the price for the tickets significantly.
The way out: You are very lucky if you manage to make it to the official ticketing office without being stopped by someone. Don’t even believe your hotel or people in uniforms. Most people are in on this scam and work on behalf of those travel agents. Just walk your way towards the main building and up the stairs. Ignore anyone who is trying to stop you. Believe me, they will! And they are very good at convincing people that the office is no longer there. It is and it will be until further notice! Be assertive and firm and tell them you were already there yesterday and they should leave you alone.
General advice: If you visit another country you may be surprised at how friendly, helpful and welcoming people are. And most people are like that, because it is part of their culture and upbringing. However the golden rule is: Use your common sense.
You wouldn’t accept a ride from a stranger at 2am, so don’t do it when you are overseas no matter how nice the people are over there.
You wouldn’t visit a stranger’s house by yourself, so don’t do it when you are overseas no matter how nice the people are over there.
You wouldn’t walk around dark alleyways in the middle of the night, so don’t do it when you are overseas, no matter how nice the people are over there.