While travelling around one of the most interesting stories you hear is about how travellers are conned. And this is for real because I have seen some happening to me, but luckily I am born in India, where we see a lot of con artists from childhood and so it becomes really funny when in a foreign country someone tries to do the same scams on us. In fact a couple of times, I have told them that I am from India and we have better con artist back home. After making such statements I always wondered if I should be proud or sad (in the comments section let me know what is your take on this statement.)
However, while travelling I always keep in mind that the person in front of me might be way smarter than I am. That way I ensure I always have my guards up while talking to strangers. I believe there is someone smarter than you out there.
Here are some of the classic travel scams that happen around the world and I thought it might be helpful to my fellow travellers to be aware of it, in case anyone comes across such scams they would know what to do and how to get out of it.
1. Taxi / Rickshaw Meter Not Working
I am sure everybody who travels has come across this scam. This is the most common scam that happens almost everywhere. A few years earlier whenever I used to get down at Mumbai airport invariably whichever taxi or rickshaw I took the drive would say he will charge extra and will not go as per the meter. This he will say after he has started the journey.
How to tackle this situation: I would ask him to take to the closest traffic police to report this excessive demand. Immediately he will be fine and will go as per the meter.
In other cities, you might not be able to handle the same situation by going to the cops. In that case, you should first ask the rate and then get in the vehicle if you are ok with it and do not pay anything extra. These days you can shoot the entire conversation / negotiation on your phone to make life simpler later. Also, keep in mind if he is asking way more than the actual fare you can report the matter to the local police and hope they will help you or you can look for alternate modes of transport. Generally, all cities are well connected these days with multiple options.
2. Taxi / Rickshaw Taking Longer Routes
This is a standard scam where the driver will ask you which route should he take. This is a way to identify how well do you know the place. If he figures you don’t know the place that well most likely he will take you via the longer route so that he can make more money. I remember one story where this guy got down at Dadar station and had to go to Sion, the taxi driver took him all the way to Bandra west and from there back to Sion. That day the gentleman was happy he reached home safe and sound not aware that he has been taken for a ride. However two days later when he had to visit Madras Café in Matunga his friend accompanied him. They took a cab from Sion to Matunga and on the way he saw Dadar, and that moment he realised the taxi driver had scammed him.
How to tackle this situation: These days it is not a big issue as long as you have google maps working on your phone. In case you don’t have your phone in working condition, you can stop the vehicle and ask people/shopkeepers on the way. I prefer asking shopkeepers because if they give you the wrong direction then you know where to find him, in case if you have to. You know what I mean 😉
3. A Card Game On The Street
You will see some people sitting on the road with three cards and asking people to guess one particular card and put money on it. Initially they let you win and build your confidence, then later they will win, and you keep betting thinking you can win the money back since you won it in the first place.
Besides that they will have their team members who will flick your bag, watch, or wallet and once that happens, they scramble and you will be standing on the road wondering what just hit you.
How to tackle this situation: Just don’t wait there and start playing, keep moving to your destination. If you want to gamble go to an authorised place and lose your money there in style. Well, the house always wins!!!
4. Free Bracelet / Holy Thread & Rose Variation
While you are walking around and taking pictures one person will walk up to you and tie a bracelet or a holy thread around your hand. Then that person will say some type of prayers. And once it is done he will ask you for money. If you refuse he will create a big scene, as soon as he starts shouting his teammates will surround you along with some other people. The teammates (pretending to be your well-wisher) will pressurise you to pay the money.
The other way to do the same scam is by throwing a wrist band at you, which by instinct you will end up catching. The guy will say it is free for you, the will start having some random conversation with you. Then he will show his ailing mother or kid and ask for some help. By this time most of the people get emotional and end up paying. If you wait there long enough you will see him doing the same thing to others.
The variation of this scam is done with Rose. The guy/girl will target a couple and he/ she will give rose in the hands of the guy saying it is for the girl. And you, in order to save a face, will accept it and will also end up paying a huge amount for that single rose
How to tackle this situation: Whenever anyone walks up to you, first ask the reason and don’t let that person touch you or do anything to you. Maintain a safe distance and keep walking without entertaining them.
For the rose scam, inform your lady well in advance that you both should be aware of such scams and not to get emotional about rose and his stories. Be mindful while travelling.
5. Donation Form
You can expect some people approaching you for some kind of donation. They will be very serious about it. They will show you a form, which is filled by others and you would be expected to donate some money. The sad part is you will never be sure if it is a scam or genuine. However, since you are a traveller most often than not it will be a scam.
How to tackle this situation: Don’t get swayed into this, most people become very emotional listening to the sob story and end up paying the money. And if you feel like donating then do it via a properly authorised website don’t give cash or use your credit card on the streets.
6. Exact Change
This is common scam shopkeepers or roadside vendors do. When you are in a foreign country you are not well versed with the currency. Normally you tend to look at the colour of the note first so when the shopkeeper returns a pile of change that is the same colour, you think you got the right change, but they really gave you the wrong notes, hoping you won’t notice until after you rush out.
A similar scam happens at ticket counters. When you give a note let’s say you asked for a ticket and the cost of the ticket is Rs. 30 and you gave the guy Rs. 100. He will first return Rs. 20 and then he will give you the ticket. Now if you are in a hurry or in some other thoughts you will assume he has given the right amount and rush out of that place, without taking the entire change. This way the ticket counter guy ends up making a lot of money throughout the day.
How to tackle this situation: Count the exact amount before giving the cash. Don’t be in a hurry to run, take your time count the exact amount and then leave.
7. Note Dropping
If you happened to visit a shopkeeper or ticket counter and you gave them a pile of notes. Let’s say you gave Rs.1000 in form of 10 Rs.100 notes. The guy will take that pile of notes and will start counting. If he is sitting across the counter and if he realises you are not paying attention, he will drop one or two notes from the pile on the floor and tell you that you have paid less money. You won’t have a choice but to pay the balance. Even if you fight he will not agree that you have paid him the exact Rs. 1000. And the best part there is no proof.
How to tackle this situation: Pay attention to your money while he is counting. Best is to hand over the money to the shopkeeper as you count. Another way is to check under the counter because that’s where they normally drop the notes.
8. The Switch
This is a classic case that happens all over the world. If you go to a store and see a product that you like at an unbelievable price. Then after a lot of bargaining, the guy agrees to sell it to you. Then while you are not paying attention he switches the product and gives you a fake one. Even worse (it happens in chor bazaar) he packs some other rubbish in the box and wraps it and gives it to you. Then when you reach home and open it you realise you have been duped. But when you go back to the shopkeeper he will refuse to have interacted with you. Moreover, you will be surrounded by the local goons and you can’t do anything about it.
How to tackle this situation: Remember if the deal is good then the product might be fake. Even if you believe the product is genuine then don’t let it go from your hand while paying the money. Don’t allow them to do any packing.
9. Money Exchange On The Streets
People will approach you asking if you want to exchange your currency. Most often than not they will give you wrong or fake currency.
How to tackle this situation: Always exchange money at an authorised money exchange centre. Do not exchange money from people on the streets. If you are desperate then use your credit card or travellers card to get the money out of ATM, that is way better than getting scammed on the streets.
10. Fake Police
This is a classic scam, where initially one person will walk up to you and start a conversation. Then he will take out some kind of drug and start selling it to you. You, of course, won’t be interested in it but immediately you will see some police officers running to you in civil clothes or at times in uniforms (since tourist don’t know what is the exact uniform of the cops they believe people confronting them are cops) and ask for your passport and pretend to arrest you along with the drug peddler. You will plead your innocence but the cops won’t listen, then finally the peddler will intervene and convenience you to pay some money to get out of the situation. You will pay the cops some money and take your passport back. You will be happy that you evaded an arrest and they will be happy that you paid them. You may not realise that they were fake cops and it was a set-up
How to tackle this situation: First if anybody unknown comes to you randomly and start selling something avoid conversation and keep walking. Let’s say you started a conversation and cops turned up, never ever hand over your passport to them. Always carry a photocopy of the passport, which you can give them. Tell them that you have kept the passport in the hotel or someplace safe. Then insist on seeing the ID of the cops. Also, ask them to take you to the nearest police station for further discussions. Always keep your embassy numbers handy in case you need to report such matters.
These are some very basic travel scams that you might encounter during your travel trips. You should be aware of these so that you can avoid them and have a wonderful trip. And remember 99% of the people are genuinely good, humble, helpful and loving. Don’t let some rotten ones cloud your thinking about travel.
There are many more, people are constantly evolving and so are the travel scams. Very soon I will be writing about the new age travel scams that happen using technology.
Also, let me now some of the scams that you know, it will be helpful to all our readers.