Tourist Scams I’ve Fallen For (And How to Avoid Them)

I think one of the biggest challenges for any traveler is finding that balance between being cautious and being too closed off. Scams targeting tourists are a sad reality of traveling in pretty much any country, which is why I think it’s important to be aware of the most common scams that take place in whichever country you’re traveling to. It’s the best way to remain open to the people and the culture, while still having the knowledge to recognize a suspicious situation when you see one. Here are a few scams to watch out for that I’ve experienced personally.

The “It’s Closed” Scam

This scam happens in cities all over Asia. You hop into a taxi and tell the driver you’re going to a particular restaurant, attraction or hotel, and the driver tells you that, unfortunately, it’s closed. But, lucky for you, he knows an even better place that he can take you to! As you might immediately realize, these drivers have an arrangement with the hotel or restaurant they recommend in which they receive some kind of commission in exchange for dropping off confused, naïve tourists. These establishments aren’t necessarily terrible places, but they’re definitely not the place you originally wanted to go to, which is, most certainly, not closed at all.

I was vaguely already aware of this scam, but Brent and I still fell victim to it in Manila. We arrived late – it was dark and we were tired. It wasn’t one of my finer moments of preparation, since I basically only had the name of a hostel some friends recommended and no idea which area of this enormous city it was found in. Our friendly taxi driver told us that that hostel was closed, but he knew another one nearby. If you’ve ever encountered one of Asia’s fast-talking taxi drivers, you know how easy it is to find yourself agreeing to something even though you didn’t really mean to say “yes”, and that’s what happened. As soon as we pulled up at the guesthouse, I knew we’d be scammed. It was run-down, overpriced, and the driver even brought us right inside to the front desk, like a cat proudly dropping a dead bird at its owner’s feet.

There weren’t any other guesthouses visible nearby, we didn’t know the neighbourhood, and this part of Manila felt just scary enough at night that we didn’t want to go wandering around further than a few blocks. Thus we were stuck either paying too much for the dingy guesthouse in front of us, or paying a new driver to take us to the other hostel.

The Petition Scam

I’ve only known this scam to happen in Paris, particularly outside busy tourist attractions like Sacre-Coeur, which is exactly where Brent and I fell for it. We were doing our stupefied tourists thing, staring at Sacre-Coeur for the first time, when a girl approached us and handed us clipboard with a petition to help the blind and deaf. We quickly signed it, only half paying attention, wanting to appease her. Of course, it’s never a great idea to sign something without reading it, but we’ve all done it at some point, right? The girl then insisted that we also needed to make a minimum donation of 50 Euros each in order to validate our signatures. I think a lot of people would have made the donation to avoid the extreme awkwardness of the whole situation, but our desire not to part with a collective 100 Euros was far greater than our desire to avoid the discomfort that ensued as we shoved the clipboard in her face and rushed away while she chastised us. I later read that this petition scam is also sometimes used as a distraction technique, which keeps you occupied while an accomplice picks your pockets. Fortunately, however, this was not the case for us, and they were simply trying to take advantage of people who didn’t read the fine print.

The One-Stop Tuk-Tuk Scam

This has to be one of my weirdest scam experiences because I partially knew that it was a scam. I’d read online that sometimes tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok ask if they can make a stop at a friend’s suit shop on the way to a destination. From what I understood, the driver would get a commission for bringing tourists to the store, but in exchange, Brent and I would be able to negotiate a lower fare.

We weren’t in a rush when one driver made this offer, so we decided to go for it. He pulled up in front of the suit shop and told us to go inside and browse for 10 or 15 minutes. It seemed easy enough. But as soon as we stepped inside, the store employees pounced on us, shaking our hands tightly, and literally taking out a tape measure to start fitting Brent. We tried to tell them that we just wanted to look around, but they asked us increasingly aggressive questions about what exactly we were looking for until Brent flat out told them that we had no intention of buying a suit. The whole thing lasted for about 5 minutes and then they kicked us out of the store. We returned outside to our driver who exasperatedly told us that we needed to go back and stay in the store for longer. Needless to say that was our first and last attempt trying to work this system. Plus, I’ve since realized that it’s best to avoid tuk-tuks in general. If you’re a tourist taking a tuk- tuk in any major Thai city, you’re most definitely being charge 2-3X the normal rate, even if you haggled beforehand.

The Overly Kind Stranger

This scam is one of the hardest ones for me to protect myself against because it happens all over the world and comes in so many different forms; however, it always boils down to someone getting you to pay for something that you didn’t even realize you accepted.

Often I arrive at a bus station, and someone will immediately try to grab my bags and start carrying them over to the taxi queue. I really don’t like being separated from my bags and I don’t need help carrying them 10 feet from the station exit to the side of the road, yet the person always expects a tip for their assistance (and not a small one) at the end. Or sometimes someone will hand me a flower as I walk down the street or wrap a handmade bracelet around my wrist as I pass by their stall. It’s never a gift and they always expect full payment for the item.

So now I generally shoo away strangers who approach me offering to help or give me something for no reason. It’s unfortunate because it’s quite possible I occasionally reject people who really are trying to be kind. It also helps to read your environment. Someone pops out of the blue and offers to help you in rural Japan? It’s probably innocent. But if someone makes the same offer in the middle of major tourist area, it likely has some strings attached.

67 thoughts on “Tourist Scams I’ve Fallen For (And How to Avoid Them)”

  1. They also do the petition scam in Avignon…the funny thing is, at the pope’s palace, there is a sign warning you it’s a scam. They were quite aggressive with my husband…grabbing his shoulder…I put my hands up and walked away…no signatures given because…we fell for it in 2008 in Venice…this was signing a petition against drugs, but they only got a few euro. And same thing happened in Florence outside the train stn in 2012…I was walking away and hubby signed. I think he gave a few euro, can’t rem…I kinda rolled my eyes and reminded him it was a scam…which is why he didn’t fall for it a few days later in Avignon. And the bracelet scam they like to pull at Sacre Coeur…and we talked to some fellow Canadians who fell for the gold ring scam near the Louvre.

  2. This list made me smile, because I fell for them all too. And I also knew about them beforehand, but I think it’s just one of those rites-of-passage kind of things. You have to experience them once. No matter how much forewarning you get, there’ll always be a smooth talker who’ll take you for a ride. But after that, things start looking up. The shame is that these first experiences can sometimes traumatize the sensitive types and really ruin their vacations. I personally know one couple who will never return to Bangkok because of the tuk-tuk/gemshop scam…

  3. Another popular one I saw in China was the teahouse scam: highschool or university age students who attempt to befriend you then take you to a “traditional teahouse” where you are charged hundreds of dollars for a tea ceremony. If you try to leave without paying, they bring out the heavies. I was approached numerous times, particularly in Beijing and even knew a few people who fell for it.
    It’s really a shame because there are actually legitimate Chinese students who want to practice their English with foreign tourists, but it’s impossible to know which is which.

  4. Thought we would throw a little joy and happiness your way.

    We have traveled extensively using conventional methods and are inspired by other travelers to keep going.

    We are planning to start a sailing travel adventure in November and are busy prepping now. We hope to set sail soon.

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

  5. Definitely got the “it’s closed” line in Bangkok, and agree with tuk tuks – we never actually used them throughout most of Asia because they always wanted so much. Plus, it didn’t kill me to walk off all the mango sticky rice I was eating. I also become a little a jaded to any kindness (mostly in major cities). It’s sad – but anyone who is overly kind and speaks decent English is usually after something (money).

  6. We had people drive us around in Tuk Tuks for free if we went into the stores they brought us to! They really get free gas if you just walk into the stores. I saw the cards the tuk tuk driver was collecting. I can’t believe they asked you to stay longer!

    1. Interesting! Maybe this particular store had one too many tourists try to work the system. Or maybe we just weren’t good enough at feigning interest in their suits, haha.

  7. This is a really helpful post. Iim traveling in Thailand at the moment and I have heard a lot about tuk tuk / taxi diver scams. Trying to keep an eye out for them!!

    – Keyta

    1. Always, always take a songthaew (shared taxi), a taxi with the meter on, or at worst, a motorcycle taxi. It took me way too long to realize this, but you’re being insanely ripped off otherwise. In Chiang Mai, if I ask a tuk-tuk driver to take me from point A to point B, they’ll tell me its 350 baht. If I ask a songthaew driver the same question, it’s 50 baht and I can haggle it down to 20. It’s crazy!

  8. Seriously, please don’t tell us that you’ve fallen for these scams and instead you submitted the content merely because a writing assignment was due…please. Before you walk out of the airport, hail a foreign taxi or come port side, please get your wits about you.

    1. No need to be rude. When you travel frequently you are bound to fall for a scam sooner or later. The important thing is learning from the experience.

  9. I travel all over the world for work and encounter things like this all the time. A sturdy “fuck off” usually does the trick. Never try to be affable with the scammer, it only makes it worse.

  10. Oh man, who doesn’t hate a “good ole” scam? Blech! When I was still a travel newbie, I went to Rome and took a picture of a man dressed as a Roman soldier, and was subsequently appalled when he chased me down for 10euros for the crappy picture that I took on my own camera. I told him that I would delete the picture becuse I didn’t think it was worth the money. He definitely wasn’t satisfied. Oh well! I deleted it in front of him… little did he know that I’d taken two. Mwahaha!
    Don’t even get me started on Parisian scams… including inevitably being asked for money everyday by someone (even out in the neighborhood district –the 17th–where I lived).

    1. It’s funny, I was actually going to write about the Roman soldier one because I saw it happening to a lot of people too! But, then I did a little Googling, and I read that about year ago, Rome started making it illegal for “soldiers” to loiter around tourist sites. So, at least people don’t have to worry about that one anymore!

      1. Thanks for the heads-up about the soldier, just in case there are still some! I’m going to Italy next year and there seem to be a few warnings around.

  11. We saw people with petitions all over Paris (at the Eiffel tower) and we also saw them in Florence too (though that one was a petition against drugs… and especially shady because the person kept stopping people and the first thing she would ask was “do you speak English?”). I also had a random guy at the Eiffel tower try to put a bracelet on my wrist but I pretty quickly stopped that one.

    What’s funny to me is that so many travelers worry about scammers in Asia (and to be sure, there are plenty of scams there), when the reality is that we were never hounded as mercilessly as during the past 5 weeks when we were in Europe! The one thing I will say about Asian scams is that in general Asian people are really pretty friendly so it can be more difficult to tell the legit folks apart from those on the make, whereas in Europe, anyone coming up and offering help or services out of the blue is highly suspect (not saying it doesn’t happen, but for the most part, the only people to approach us in Europe clearly wanted something from us, whereas although we were scammed for a few bucks here and there in Asia, I would say more often than not, the people we encountered were genuinely nice people who did not want anything from us).

    1. I remember when we were in South America I told Mike that “at least the people here will just rob you to your face, no tricky bullshit.” I stand by that.

      1. I find my experiences have been really across the board of Asia. Elaborating on what I mentioned near the end of the post, people have been incredibly kind in small towns and I feel like I can let my guard down. But in big cities, I’ve literally never had someone approach me with good intentions. I guess it’s kind of luck of the draw, though, who you happen to meet in each city.

        I agree about Europe. Even in small towns, I didn’t find people were way overly friendly, so it’s kind of a red flag. Although, weirdly, in Rome, some guy helped us find our guesthouse for no reason. It was funny because he was like a scolding parent about it, like the feeling of the whole interaction was “Argh. You stupid tourists. Am I going to have to take care of this?”.

  12. I’ve seen so many scams while traveling, I now try to avoid anything where someone seems too eager to “help”. In Istanbul, there are people wandering around waiting to “help” you if you look lost or curious about anything. They get you talking and find they have a brother who lives near where ever you’re from and they use that connection to entice you into their carpet store. Or in Egypt I fell for the one where they offer to take your picture (at the pyramids, especially) and then won’t give back your camera until you pay them. Avoiding these people is an art!

  13. This is a great list since every traveler has likely fallen for one or more of these. I know I have! The “overly kind stranger” is the toughest one for me to deal with. After falling for this scam so many times I sometimes find myself being a little too skeptical of strangers. And I hate that feeling. It’s definitely tough to tell the difference between someone who’s a scammer and some who is genuine.

  14. The “it’s closed” scam doesn’t seem to exist in India anymore. Drivers just ask if you already booked, you confirm and they take you to your destination. Bless the internet and mobile phones i guess. 🙂

  15. We almost got scammed coming home to Orlando by a cabby at the airport. After we got started I noticed that the meter wasn’t running and after we were well on the way he said ” Oh I forget to tell you my meter isn’t working and the office is closed so I can’t call in to find the fare. Do you know what it us?” Fortunately we knew exactly the fare to our home from the airport so that is what he got. I imagine he just went home and pockected the fare.

  16. The only time I’ve been scammed was after a long day visiting the Forbbiden City in Beijing, I hopped into a “bicitaxi” that would take me to my hostel for 3 yuan, then the guy started driving through the Hutongs until I got lost and dropped me in an unknown place and told me it was 300 yuan and started shouting at me.

    Luckily, I had most of my cash on my money belt so he just took around 60 yuan.

    1. It’s definitely always a good idea to have a small amount of cash in your wallet, and hide the rest somewhere else. Then, you can just pretend that small amount is all you have on you, like you did. It sometimes helps with haggling too ;)!

  17. There’s a book called “Influence: The Art of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini – worth reading to get an overview of the various psychological tricks people use to get others feeling trapped and obligated.

    The main take-aways are: beware of ppl who are overly friendly / chatty for no apparent initial reason; when you are identifiable as a stranger/a visitor/a newbie/an outsider, you will be targeted much more than will a local; don’t be afraid to be firm or borderline rude in refusing people. Fear of being rude is one of the foundations of scams. Yeah it’s too bad, but that’s reality.

    1. I totally agree, and not just when it comes to scams. People (particularly women) are really afraid of being rude when someone crosses their boundaries. It’s important to learn that being rude is acceptable when someone is over the line.

      Another book that helped me with this is The Gift of Fear.

  18. I am guessing that the author and anyone else who has been “victim” of such scams are not from large U.S. cities. A scam is a scam is a scam no matter what part of the world you are in.

  19. I just got scammed in Florence this evening – the most well organised and official scam of all – the currency converter scam. Here’s how it works. We are on the last day of our trip to Italy and almost out of Euros. My wife had some GBP from a previous trip to the UK and suggested we change them to Euros. I was hesitant as I was vaguely aware that the tourist money changers charge exorbitant conversion charges but went along with her.

    The girl behind the glass barrier straight away offered us a ‘better rate’ – which worked out to .82c GBP/EUR, which after a quick check on google showed it was not too bad (the rate for the days was .79). We had £145, so I agreed. The girl then smartly said, “so I give you .82 and do you accept the standard terms and conditions?” I asked how much I would get and she said €131. I started doing the mental maths because it didn’t seem right – I asked her- hey is the GBP stronger than the euro ? That isn’t right – and she just repeated “I give you discounted rate” etc. my wife meanwhile gives her the GBP and the girl slides a receipt under the glass showing a total of €131. I look at the recipt and it shows a service charge of 19.90% and a transaction fee of €8.9! (That works out to a commission of €45 on a transaction of only €175) I said no – this is too much – You didn’t tell me the service charge to which she says no – you accepted the standard terms and conditions!

    I said well this is ridiculous (at .827, the we should have got €175 – c. €45 more)! I asked for my money back and she said no, the system has locked it, I can’t give you your money back.

    After this it got ugly. I lost my cool, yelled and created a scene, called the Poliza, who were generally unhelpful, more police came, the Carabinieri came. Meanwhile I was recording it all on my iPhone. First they refused to give it back at all. The girl behind the counter kept insisting I had agreed to the t&c’s. Then she spoke to her manager. First they offered us €135, the €155, then finally €165! My wife was pretty upset and agitated by then and was pushing me to accept the deal (which I didn’t want to do on the principle of it). I finally relented and took the €165 and we left.

    A big factor in them agreeing was that the cops were there, me was making a loud scene, and I was threatening to put all their videos and pictures on YouTube, Twitter and FB. Still cost me €10, but a lot less than what it could have been.

    Bottom line – don’t use the currency converters in tourist spots and don’t hand over your cash till you have a complete breakdown of what they are charging you!

  20. We were suckered in Thailand. The ‘cheap’ tuk tuk ride across Bangkok entailed stopping off at a numerous shops so the driver could collect petrol vouchers. Sitting next to a bus exhaust at traffic lights in a tuk tuk wasn’t a highlight. Avoid Jewelery shops! I don’t know what was in the free coke at the counter but we won’t be getting a valuation on the stuff my wife bought there…. I just don’t want to know!
    Buanos Aires is well know for the bird poo on the shoulder trick. A couple behind you spray your clothes with some liquid and while one thief is proceeding to wipe this “toxic bird poo” off your lovely clothes the other is going through your pockets.
    Naples train station. YOU should physical triple check your change at the ticket box! Talk about Magicians! I still don’t know if it was correct. Don’t fall for “Oh quick, that is the last train to Sorrento today. Let me take your bags I’ll show you the quick way to the platform” At the end, while haggling over the 5€ tip for every bag you are carrying, the pick pockets are hard at work behind you … and there is no last train!
    Don’t ever wear any jewelery/watches that you can’t afford to loose…. especially in Palermo Sicily. A fellow traveller was wrestles to the ground while a necklace was torn off her neck. The two thief escaped on a vesper. The police weren’t interested…
    Always be alert. If it doesn’t feel right it’s probably to late.
    Keep on keeping on. The world is a wonderful to explore.

    1. Bird poo on the shoulder or shoes is definitely a big on in Buenos Aires (Barcelona too). Also lots of counterfeit money schemes there.

  21. I just got back from a trip to the Caribbean. We booked a stay at an all-inclusive resort, which included transportation from the airport to the hotel. So, when the guy took my bags after I cleared customs and brought us to the waiting area for the hotel shuttle, I was surprised to find out that he did not work for the hotel, but was obviously a good hustler, as he only needed to move the bags 100 feet for a tip. When he asked for a “tip for the service,” I realized what happened. I would never have accepted had I known, as we had only two bags, each of which had four wheels and a handle–I think we could have managed the 100 foot walk. I gave him a single dollar and told him that was all the change I had. He gave a disgruntled look, but it did t care. He’s lucky I didn’t have quarters.

  22. When you visited Manila,did you make reservations with your preferred hostel? If you did, then you will know it was not closed. To avoid these kinds of scams, make sure you have reservations and check with the hostel best way to get to thier address. Planning is part of enjoyable travel.
    By the way, do you still remember the name of the “terrible” place you ended up in? Would be helpful for other travelers to know.

    1. I definitely could have done with more preparation in the Manila situation, although I would disagree that having a reservation is the best idea in Asia. Some of the cheapest guesthouses don’t have websites, plus you can often get a better deal by haggling in person. I wish I could remember the name of the hotel in Manila, but we got out of there as fast as we could!

  23. I’m a Brazilian student living in Shanghai and I get the tea house scam everything. Fortunaly I never fell for it and I become very rude very fast if they insist… They even offer “lady friends” giving me a card and when I say “I’m gay” they flip the card to show “man friends” ahahah I’m thinking about going once to the tea scam just to break everything and call the cops and scream and shout etc ahahaha

  24. For evyerone who hasn’t been to Japan: This does not apply there. People are truly friendly in Tokyo and so helpful. We knew this beforehand so we were not surprised when a young man asked us where we were going and helped us find our hotel. He walked with us all the way to be able to improve his English and showed us the hotel. If you pick up a map and start looking, people will immediately come to your rescue, especially young people. They love talking to foreigners and improving their English 🙂

    But when it comes to Thailand, yep I’ve fallen for all of these as well!

    1. I second this. The level of kindness in Japan completely overwhelmed me. Strangers would literally walk blocks out of their way to make sure I got to my destination, or invite me into their home for tea for no reason at all.

  25. As a European myself, I don’t recall ever being scammed or even an attempted scam in any Euro countries, including France, Germany, Italy, UK or Czech Republic. Same in North America and Canada. I live in the Middle East now, and the only scams I’ve encountered here are inflated taxi prices and haggling in Suqs!

    All the scams I’ve encountered have been in China, Thailand, Cambodia and Egypt, where they will do almost anything to get a dollar off you. On several occasions I’ve actually realised a scam is underway, and depending on how much it is and who’s trying it, just let it play out.

    One you didn’t mention is the baby milk power scam in Cambodia – children will approach you carrying a baby and saying they need milk powder. They will tell you it’s not a scam and they don’t need any money. Then they will take you to a shop where you will be charged a small fortune for several tins of the stuff!

    Another one is in Egypt by the Nile – someone will approach and say they recognise you and ask are you on a cruise? If you say yes, they will pretend to work in the kitchen and try to get you to go and see their friend’s shop before going back to the boat.

    None of this puts me off travelling – it’s all part of the journey! You just have to have your wits about you, be prepared to fob people off and not get too upset if they get you a few times. The Lonely Planet guidebooks and website have very useful information that helped me avoid a few scams, so read up and do your homework before you go. On a more obvious level, try not to stand as as a conspicuous tourist or flash money / gadgets around.

    I almost don’t mind scams, because many of them are avoidable or easy to get out of if you see them coming – a lot of the people doing them are really cowards or chancers who’ll give up if called out. Out and out theft or distractions to pickpocket is a lot worse in my view.

    Last story: in Cambodia at the temples, a young girl wanted my girlfriend to buy some bracelets. She politely declined, but the girl became more and more aggressive about it. Finally, in a state of fury, she told my girlfriend that she would put a Hex of Evil on her if she didn’t buy them! She still didn’t, and no obvious hex effects have shown themselves since!

  26. Ugh! so true! I always feel distrustful of people that randomly approach me when I’m traveling and then I feel guilty afterwards because most of the time people are just curious or are trying to be nice! It’s a tough one for sure, a hard balance to strike.

  27. I have more:

    In India if you take an auto-rick/tuk-tuk the fare takes some thinking. You drop the final digit (a 0) and minus one. Thus, if the meter says 290 your fare is 28 (290 drop the 0 is 29 the 29-1=28).

    Also, while in Korean at the Grand Hyatt with a couple of guys one of the other guys started chatting with a couple of locals who convinced him/us to go to a bar in Itaewon. The bar was in on it and we ended up with a 2,000,000 won tab ($2,000) which was fine as we were out on company business but would have been less welcome otherwise.

    In the Philippines on Boracay my wife and I were approached on the boat about a hotel. We foolishly had not booked one (it weeks when I was there a year earlier). This time the hotel sucked and $400 was stolen from our safety deposit box…not all of it, because that would have had me go ballistic, but enough to be an inconvenience.

    In Manila, I left a wad of cash with the hotel to be picked up by a friend who booked our intra-island flights. The envelope disappeared.

    Note: if you leave stuff in your safety deposit box (kind of silly to begin with but what to do on a beach) make sure you detail what is in there so there are no ‘misunderstandings’. Same goes for leaving stuff with the concierge.

    One more Boracay story: we went snorkeling and the captain said we could stop for lunch on the other end of the island. No mention of cost (assumed it wa included as part of the pitch was we would have this lunch) but at the end got an inflated bill for the ‘sumptuous fare’.

    For some reason I prefer Cayman and developed locales over emerging markets.

  28. This isn’t just an international thing. The friendly stranger scam happened to me in Chicago when I was visiting before I moved here. Now I just ignore anyone that speaks to me which is pretty rude. We were walking to the train station that my hotel concierge told me to go to and a kind man stopped us on the street asking if we knew where we were going (we were a little lost…. true) and so we asked where the xx (i forget the name) train station was. He said “that station doesn’t have an elevator for your bags, here I’ll help you walk a couple of blocks to this other station.” once we got there he wanted $10 per person for two of us. I won’t fall for that again.

    1. James – What happened to you in bora happened to me.

      instead of paying, I made the restaurant owner come back with me to my hotel where i sat him down in a meeting room and had words with him. Basically i told him i caught onto his little trick and walked out to give him time to reconsider the bill. My friends (who was a local) told the owner to give it up his ploy before i went to the police. The owner started crying and bought the price from 5,000 peso to 1,500 peso

  29. The tuk-tuk “scam” happened to me in Bangkok except I knew they do it and used it to my advantage because I actually needed a dress made for a wedding I was attending! Imagine my driver’s surprise when he dropped me off at the store and I told him to stick around while they took my measurements. Ended up being one of the best dresses I’ve ever had made and fit just right. 🙂

  30. I’ve fallen for the “free present” scam in Peru and ended up having to pay a small price for my free gift! But one time in Brazil, they actually gave me a gift for free! The only scam I have come across in South America are taking a longer route in a taxi. Although I just booked a hostel in Bolivia and they sent me an email saying that the taxi driver will probably say the place burnt down! haha!

  31. This is great! I’ve definitely experienced the “free flower” one in China. The woman told me it was a gift because I am “so beautiful”, then hounded one of my friends to pay for it when I wasn’t paying attention. I tried to give the flower back, but then I got a sob story about how she needed to buy dinner for her daughter. I eventually just placed it back in her hands and walked away.

    Recently in Taiwan, I kept running into this really weird scam where taxi drivers would try to convince you the bus wasn’t coming. In a lot of smaller Taiwanese cities there are special busses that are geared towards tourists: either getting your to the guesthouse areas from the train station, taking you to national parks, etc. The times are clearly listed on the sign and they only come about once an hour (if that). Since the times are posted, most people will arrive about 5-10 minutes before the bus is supposed to come, only to be convinced by the taxi drivers and sometimes even bus attendants that the bus came early! At this point everyone is freaking out, afraid they will miss their trains or they’ll have to wait another hour. They try to convince you that the posted times are “guidelines” and that the busses come “roughly once an hour or so”. A lot of people (even local tourists) panic and take the taxi. I’ve found that the busses are actually normally a little late! Which, of course, the taxi drivers use to their advantage (“See! It’s not coming!). Although when in doubt in Taiwan, I just hitch hiked! I had never hitch hiked before, but the locals are so incredibly nice. Some even went way out of their way for me, and refused any sort of payment or gift.

  32. I just came back from 5 months in South America and have had hundreds of people hassle me with bracelets, petitions, (ear)rings, paintings and whatnot throughout the continent. I have always friendly but decidedly turned them away. Sometimes, though, people came up to me and just wanted to practise English with me or wanted to learn about my own country and what it’s like there. The problem with so much scammers is that you start distrusting people in general and you shoo away the good with the bad. Luckily, sometimes I could bring myself just to listen to people long enough and I have met some interesting characters along the way without buying unnecessary things and ending up in wrong places. 🙂
    Oh, what also helps is asking in hostels or tourist offices (and reading in your guide) what a taxi ride or a certain tour would cost – I have always checked prices with locals so I would know when something was too much.

  33. Has anyone fallen for the escalator scam? You’re going down the escalator and the guy in front of you drops something at the bottom, making you bump into him because you are still on the moving stairs – as you bunch up and bump into each other, the accomplice is in your back pocket or backpack lifting whatever he can.

    Happened in Paris, France.

    Gypsy women in Spain are another hard-core bunch of hustlers. Will offer a rose and to read your fortune. Take that rose and you are “obliged” to make a donation and will get screamed at if you don’t.

    New York City “free CD’s” are another scam where you get handed out some CD with a gangster cover and really crappy rap music (you find that out later) and then shaken down for a “donation”.

    Taxi cab scam (nightclubs, restaurants paying commissions) in Cancun, Mexico is prevalent and you will be taken to wherever the commission is highest.

    Finally, in VIenna, the capital of civilization or so they would think, wifey and I got scammed by an old pro who “toured” us around and steered us to buying him lunch, thereby blowing our young backpackers budget for the day.

  34. The one that I have fallen for a couple of times (but no more hopefully….) is the fancy dress photo opportunity. This happened to us in both Moscow and Stockholm where someone walking the streets in costume will randomly walk up to you or your kids and encourage you to take a photo of them which you think is cool so you do, then they demand money (generally about 10 Euro) from you for each photo.

    Then there is the fake shrine scam in Tokyo, where someone will approach you and offer you a nice shiny plaque with a Buddhist quote on it to go in your wallet, once you accept it they then give you a bracelet and then ask for a donation to the building (or rebuilding ??) of their shrine / temple. To get away quickly without a hassle you will try and offer them 1000 Yen (about $10) , but they will then show you a note book with a record of all the donations they have received from other people showing that everyone else has given far larger sums than you. I just pleaded ignorance at that point and that I was in a hurry and got out of there. That one started when the guy actually grabbed my 12 year old daughter as we walked past out of the train station in a hurry to get to swimming lessons, one minute she was right behind me the next moment she was gone. Then I heard her calling me back so thought she wanted something but it was only the scammer trying to get me to return.

  35. Oh gosh I actually love the one stop tuk-tuk scam in Bangkok! I made a whole day of it when I was broke and wanted to ride around in a tuk tuk for free.. My driver and I just laughed about my bad acting skills at pretending I was interested in things and he shared his cigarettes and I also got some cool ideas from the travel agencies I visited. Win-win I got a free city tour and a new friend and the driver got a tank full of gas at the end of the day when he did his rounds of all of the shops he had taken me!!

  36. Wow great tips! I can not believe some of the ways people try to manipulate tourists. I will definitely keep these in mind next time I’m traveling! Thanks for sharing! -Happy Travels!

  37. I have also encountered the same experience in Thailand, its just that its not a “tuk-tuk” its a taxi. Good thing I did not fall for the taxi driver’s motive. As foreigners to countries that we are visiting, its hard for us to say no to locals offering us assistance. However, we should take tripple precautionary measures when deciding on certain things. Its really best to ride the train or the common bus.

    I have also encountered a similar scam in Manila wherein I asked a cab from point A to point B. It took us almost an hour to arrive in point B. The next day I strolled around the area. It took me 30mins from point B to point A.

    It really pays to know your destination well. Be safe fellow travellers.

  38. Its amazing how many scams are out there. I wrote a similar article to this about scams I’d experienced and heard, and there all different.

    My favorite for sheer audacity is The Scooter Salesman. A guy on a moped will pull up next to you and offer to sell you something. Usually they will just take your money and ride off without giving you the product. Never buy anything from someone sitting on a getaway vehicle.

  39. We saw guys in Paris pull the bracelet scam on girls.

    For us, we got pulled into a visa scam at the Thai/Cambodian border, but managed to get away.

    Been ripped off/charged exorbitant prices on a couple of occasions through Asia but thankfully nothing serious. I never felt scared or unsafe in our 6month RTW trip, but that said was travelling with my hulk of a husband, heh.

  40. Tip: whenever I’m walking through a vendor area and people slap bracelets on my wrists, I just pretend I’m just dumb and give a thumbs up and walk away. I’ll often get stopped and then argue that the person gave me a gift then was mean to take it back, loudly, like a child.
    Almost every time, the vendors yell to each other to avoid you. And then the rest of my shopping experience is peaceful.

  41. Thanks for the tips Jessica. I don’t like the overly kind scammer too. They just pretend to help you but they charge you for the service which you are not aware of. Glad you pointed that out. Love your work! Thanks 🙂

  42. Hello there!
    I’m glad you posted this article. I’m planning to travel to China soon and reading this made me more aware that scamming does indeed also happen in other places. I am aware that our place has a lot of scammers, too. You’re right about those taxi drivers in Manila. They do get commissions for that.
    However, there are still a few people who’ll just simply drive you to your hotel.

  43. The comments about the trike/ tuk tuk drivers made me want to understand the truth about what we should consider as a fair trike fare in a foreign country. With this in mind, I spent some time finding out what the real story was with trike drivers in the Philippines… You will find the truth very interesting!

    My first port of call was to check out the circumstances of the average trike driver. Most of them live in housing/shelter constructed out of Bamboo, sometimes without running water. If they are lucky they might live in a dwelling constructed of bricks or concrete. When I say concrete dwelling, this would be of a far different standard than we would be used to; and would often be basic. In some parts of the Philippines the drivers are paid only PHP 6 per journey. That’s equivalent to about USD 0.1 per journey. In most places there is competition between trike drivers so they might only get 20 journeys per day. So that equates to maybe P120 or USD 2 per day; maybe PHP 200 on a good day; in other words most days they would probably earn less that USD 5.

    They have to provide food and clothing for their families. Should there be a technical issue with the vehicle, they need to pay for maintenance or repairs. If one of their family members needs medical attention, then unless they have another source of income, they would be lucky to afford even the most basic medical care. For more serious ailments they would have zero chance of affording medical care. So they really are poor.

    We are lucky enough to be paid a fair wage, have affordable healthcare (or in some cases free healthcare), good education and access to nutritious food. We would not bat an eyelid at tipping a waiter in a restaurant in our own country USD 5.

    A short journey in our own country would easily cost USD 5, or more, for a journey of equivalent length.

    If paying a little extra than the locals for a trike journey means that this guy is going to get the chance to feed, educate or pay for medical care of a sick relative. Then this is OK by me. I consider it a fair-trade trike fare; in other words a fare based on our ability to pay. You will also feel wonderful knowing that you have done your bit to help a family have a better standard of living.

    Try it, give them a day’s wage P120 or 200 (USD 1 or 2) for each journey. It’s still far cheaper than an equivalent journey in our own country and makes a huge difference to the recipient and his family. A little from us makes a big difference to someone in need.

    Have a wonderful holiday!

  44. Thank you for this article! Great tips!

    I’m visiting Taiwan right now from the U.S. and have been met with so many friendly people. The culture seems so nice. When I went to the Shilin Night Market, I saw a clothing stall with pet clothes and was so excited to check it out. I looked around and found one I liked, but it was too small for my dog so I asked for a larger one. The lady helping me knew I was not from around there. My Chinese was terrible and I didn’t know the weight of my dog in kg, only lbs. After finally communicating the size I needed and while she was getting it, I saw another outfit I liked more. When she came back she told me that one is more expensive, 390 NT. The sign showed the price of one is 290 NT and 2 for 500 NT. Because everyone has been so nice I just trusted her and didn’t even really question it. In hindsight I think I got scammed. The price was for the entire wall of dog clothing, why would certain ones be a different price? 🙁 I should have been less trusting and remembered when I tried bargaining in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Instead of the price going down, it went up! I’m a bit bummed I wasn’t more careful and wasn’t thinking more about it in the moment. I should have walked away. I was too caught up in my excitement that I finally found a dog clothing stall!

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