Everyone on a trip has had to deal with it: scammers and scams. You especially have to be careful in some countries. During our travels, we sometimes suffered from it. But I notice that when we are together, we get bothered less than walking down the street alone. Maybe that helps?
They Make You Scared
Before we left for our first world trip (September 2016) we watched a lot of Dutch programs about scammers in foreign countries. If we are to believe that show, nowhere is safe, you should have a large, fireproof safe in your pocket, constantly look around you, and most certainly, never talk to strangers.
The further the season of this series got, the more I started to get annoyed with it. It seemed like they were really looking for trouble. From fights with bar owners who make you pay 200% more, to so-called loverboys who make a female tourist pay for everything. But the makers of the program literally offered a lady to these people. You also read a lot about this on the internet and social media. “Don’t go here! They cheat” or “I did nothing and now they want money from me!” or “They are all scammers”. If you believe all of them, you better stay home.
Is it really that bad? Should we isolate ourselves completely? Should we ignore everyone and never take taxis? Well, let me tell you this: We traveled for 1 1/2 years and we got scammed by a taxi once. Of course, some people try it but not as extensively as they show you on social media.
That said, of course, it happens. There are real victims of scams that have lost lots of money, or even worse. Don’t forget that and I am not saying it’s all B.S. I think we got lucky, so here is our story so far.
During Our Travels…
… We have hardly had any problems with scammers. Of course, we suddenly had a lot of friends in countries we visited (“Hello, my friend! Special price for you! Come see!”) and taxi drivers tried to earn as much as possible. But it didn’t go much further than that. We did notice that sometimes it was slightly more expensive than agreed in advance. We agreed together that if it is less than € 2, we will not make a fuss about it; sometimes the good people earn far too little. It’s a trade-off.
One of the most special experiences we’ve had so far took place in Shanghai, China. In the evening we went to the Bund to enjoy all the lights and take pictures. It was super busy and so we walked in that direction. At the Bund itself, everyone happily spread out and we were able to walk around and take pictures.
Normally I don’t lose sight of Rieneke and I stay close by, but Shanghai is pretty safe so I let her play with her camera. I saw a guy pass by a few times when I was still standing with Rieneke, but as soon as I walked away he seized his “opportunity”. I walk less than 5 meters away from her when a man comes to me.
“You looking for women?” he asks and showed me pictures of rather young girls.
I look at him in surprise, because my wedding ring is clearly visible to him. I say thank you and before he could say anything more I walk on.
Not Everything Is What It Looks
But you can also end up being really wrong. In Saigon, for example, we were waiting at a traffic light. A man comes to stand next to me and asks what we think of the traffic. Immediately we are on our guard! What does this man want? Why is he wearing a bicycle helmet when it is 35 degrees plus? I answer, but stay alert. We cross the street and he talks about how beautiful Vietnam can be. On the other side, he wishes us a good journey and a lot of fun in Vietnam. He waves and walks to his wife who is waiting across the street with two bicycles (..).
The Internet and TV have learned us a lot of standard texts that scammers use. The first time we ran into this was in Sri Lanka, in Galle to be precise. After a 5-hour bus ride, our first impression of Galle was not very positive. Very busy, no charm at all. And so we go somewhere to eat and look for a new place to stay.
Soon we come to an annoying conclusion, we don’t have enough money on us. No reason to panic. With my long legs, I can be at the train station where the ATM is in no time. I’m standing outside the ATM booth waiting for my turn. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a man walking by, he looks at me and turns, and walks back taking a ticket (not a debit card by the way). He’s practically standing next to me.
“Hello! Where’re you from?” he asks.
“Netherlands,” I answer, a little more wary.
“How long do you stay here?”
That sentence sets alarm bells ringing. Classic start. If a tourist stays for a short time, they have less chance of being caught by the scammer.
“Just arrived. Stay here for three weeks,” I lie with my best poker face.
It seems like it believes me.
“Oh, okay…. Have fun,” he says disappointed as he puts his fake ticket away and walks away.
Don’t Think It’s All Free
One scam which seems really popular is the ‘free’ food. We heard about it a lot and we had it once too.
The idea is pretty simple: You sit down for a drink and they give you the drinks plus food, which you didn’t order. As soon as you take a bit you need to pay for it. If you don’t eat it you don’t have to pay for it.
Sadly this happens a lot. Someone that got a sandwich pushed in her hands, saying it was free. As soon as she took a bite she had to pay for it.
The same happened to us in Sri Lanka while we enjoyed Lipton Seat. The bus took dropped us off and we had to walk up quite a bit. Once up we had the most stunning view ever. So high above the clouds, so quiet. It was perfect.
There was a small establishment next to the view and we decided to grab a tea. We ordered and we were accompanied by other tourists from the same bus. Our drinks arrived and all kinds of food. Since it was early we didn’t want it, but our table guests took some and had to pay for it, even when they didn’t order it.
Back In Time
So far we have had very few problems with scammers. How different it was on a two-week holiday in Morocco, a year before our first world trip. We went in there with our eyes open.
Most scammers and scams can be found in tourist-infested Marrakesh. It is a beautiful city, but very touristy! You are not safe even during a walk through the city. We walked around the palace, on our way to the Jewish quarter.
Suddenly a boy came up to us. He said he had a break and worked in the garden of the palace. He was eager to use his time to take us to the ward. He also wanted to become a guide. A little suspicious we followed him. Readers who watch a little TV may already see what happens next.
We were guided through numerous small streets and we stopped in front of a shop. We were shown inside and offered a cup of tea. Our no was ignored and the perfume, soap, and tea were placed in front of us. We weren’t allowed to leave until we bought something. Fortunately, we didn’t have that much money with us and so we got off pretty well.
When we were outside there was of course no one to help us in the right direction. Then find your way back. Fortunately, I recognized things we had passed on our way to the store and soon we were in El Fna square, the heart of Marrakech.
Meet Andy From America
A nice spontaneous boy we met in Beijing. He said he was on his way to the Forbidden City. He was watching from a distance and two Chinese ladies approached him. They wanted to learn English, could he help them? He agreed and went with them.
He said that the three of them walked through all kinds of alleys. He didn’t feel comfortable. Finally, they arrived at a small, deserted café. The ladies said something to the man behind the bar. He didn’t trust it at all and ran off.
He has managed to avoid a well-known trick of scammers. There was a very good chance that the three of them would sit down and that he would have to pay for everything. Of course not with the price that would be on the normal menu, but 200 to 300% as much. Unfortunately, this is very common.
An Online Story
Not so much on the road, but on Facebook. A girl posted a message because she had locked herself in her hotel room. Outside was a man who had previously offered to read her hand (a fortune teller). Somehow she went along with this, but she didn’t believe it and wanted to leave.
But of course, she had to pay. She lied to the man that the money was in her hotel room. And then she sat there… Stupid or unlucky? If you purchase a service from someone, you always have to pay, right?
Perhaps it would have been better to keep walking and not accept the fortune teller’s offer. Of course, many fortune tellers are scammers, but this was a bit silly. (If the girl in question happens to be reading this, will you let us know how it turned out?).
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Tips & Tricks
What can you actually do about it? Not much, because if they see you as a victim, they will always come to you. But here are a few tips that may help you against scammers.
Never just go with strangers. Bit obvious. But sometimes they have good talks and are credible. Someone always wants to take you somewhere. Just don’t do it and go for a Taxi, Uber or Grab.
Money pouch. Many people swear by it, I detest it, because it really doesn’t sit well. The idea behind it, of course, is that no one sees that you have money with you. But often we see people messing around with their debit card that is in it, so it is still visible you’re carrying money.
Do it differently: Just put your debit card in your wallet (blocking is done in no time if you really need to), add little money to your wallet (you can’t spend what you don’t have), and put the rest in a money bag. If you need money out of it, go to the bathroom. But never show your pouch.
Bargain. Something you can always try and learn if they ask way too much. In Morocco, we wanted to go by horse and carriage. The man asked for 300 Dirhams. We thought it was too much and suddenly it was possible, without batting an eyelid, for 150. They always have to earn from it, so you already learn that 300 Dirham is way too much. Sadly, if they ask the first amount they lose credibility and most people will stay away.
Taxis. This is where most scammers come in. I was very hesitant to take a taxi, but if you know what to look out for, it’s not too bad. First, the meter. Always tell the meter to be on when you get in. If they refuse, just get out. Even if you’re already driving, make sure you get out and don’t pay anything. In some countries/regions, they don’t drive with meters. Read up well and make sure you have some idea of how expensive it can be. If a driver is slightly above the price (less than € 2) accept that and don’t make a problem of it. Those people earn a lot less than you do. If it’s a lot, smile, say thank you, and walk to the next taxi.
What you also have to pay attention to with taxis, as we learned in Morocco, is that you have to see if there are two people in the taxi. A driver who drives and a passenger. If the taxi still wants to take you, chances are two things will happen: First, you will have to pay for yourself and for the strange passenger. Second, the passenger will start calling on his phone. When you arrive at your destination, there is suddenly a well-intentioned person who “coincidentally” walks by and would like to help you with your things. Once at your hotel, or whatever, you pay a lot of money for his well-intentioned service.
What you should avoid as well are the screaming drivers at airports, for example. Often there are taxis in front of the arrival hall, but the screaming drivers always have their taxis on the other side. Many airports we visited have a taxi counter. Then you pay immediately, you get a receipt and someone is outside to guide you to the nearest taxi. These prices are also on the Internet and on the signs so you know you never pay too much.
Uber & Grab. We had no problems with it. Safe feeling and cheaper than the taxi. But don’t make arrangements with an Uber or Grab outside the systems unless you really feel good about someone.
Find a middle ground. Not everyone is a scammer. After a while, you get a sense of it.
And most importantly, use your common sense. If someone on the street offers you to exchange money for a better rate, you should already know that it’s not right (except in Argentina… really, no joke). Don’t exchange money at strange, shady offices either. Do it at the well-known offices and the airport. Sometimes you pay a little more, but that is also stated and you know that there are no further surprises.
Yes, you fall for it once and no, that is certainly not a shame. Thousands of people have gone before you. But you learn from it. Use your brain, think, and read up on the country. In this way, you learn to recognize the scammers immediately.
In some countries, you are a bigger victim than in others. Especially if you are alone. If you are with more, the chance will be smaller that they will try to get you along.
But don’t be scared. Also, enjoy, have a chat with someone, and get to know the people too. What’s more beautiful?
Have you ever been scammed? Do you want to share your story with us?
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