Finally, those long-awaited vacations are starting, and you excitedly arrived at your destination, ready to enjoy the best of this trip that you thought would finally give you the relaxation you highly deserve. So, you carefreely stroll around this magnificent new city, chatting with a few locals, visiting popular attractions and eating delicious local food until you realised you cannot find your wallet anywhere, even though you are always careful and verify its location every other hour. You now find yourself with no money, no cards and no passport in a foreign country. Those vacations just took a sour turn. Here are a few tips to recognize typical scam setup and avoid falling in a similar situation.
This scams article pinpoints typical scams when travelling in Asia. Some scams are more popular in specific countries, but the possibility of it happening anywhere is still present. If you are a well-ridden traveller or a beginner tourist, you can always learn new tips on safety. As the saying goes: better safe than sorry!
1.Trust No One
This is the first tip for a good reason. Scam is done, most of the time, by someone approaching you. It might be a friendly local just wanting to know genuinely where you come from, but there is a way higher chance that this friendly face hides a evil mug. Often while these individuals are chatting with you, some of their accomplices will take benefit of your distraction to steal from you while you are not looking. While you don’t want to ruin your chance to get to know the culture better, we can agree that exchanging with locals is one of the most interesting way to do that, always keep an eager eye on your belongings, even when they are in your pockets. I would suggest keeping your backpack in front of your body and using your front pockets instead of your back ones.
2. Keep Track Of Your Money
This next one is particularly valuable to me, because it happened to me on my first day in Beijing. When paying for a taxi fare, the driver asked for change. He wanted one of our bigger bills (100¥) so that he could give us two 50¥ bills. This should have rung a bell. Nobody wants to exchange smaller bills for bigger when offering a service, right? Well as you could have expected, without us noticing, he changed this perfectly legal 100¥ bill for a fake one, saying that it was fake. Of course, it was now that he did his little trick! We tried to argue, but the damage was done. No other store wanted this bill anymore and we got in trouble at the bank, trying to exchange it for smaller bills. That is when we realised it was indeed a fake one… You will notice that Asian merchants will systematically checked your bigger bills. You should do the same and always keep an eye on your money when giving it to a cashier or service provider. The cashiers at ICE Currency Exchange might share this tip with you during your buy of Asian currencies: fold a corner of your bills before paying with it. If the receiver tries to switch it for a fake one, you will notice that the corner you folded is not fold anymore! While you cannot rip your bill, as it is illegal as well as more difficult to exchange in the future, folding a corner is an easy way to keep track of your original bills!
3. Know Your Bargain
In the first hours of your trip, you will notice that bargaining for a service or item is very common in Asian countries. Therefore, you should ALWAYS check the value of a service or object before bargaining with the provider. On one hand, if you don’t know the price of, let’s say, a taxi ride to a certain place and take the first offer without checking the approximate cost of the ride on the web or with locals, you most certainly are getting ripped off. (A lot of taxi drivers refuse to use the meter. You can try and convince him to do so, but sometimes it is better to bargain a reasonable price beforehand, than being stuck in the middle of nowhere because no driver wants to press the meter button.) On the other hand, if you want to buy a guided tour and you find an extremely cheap one, you are probably not going to see everything you were told you were as well as perhaps being forced to go into stores that you don’t want to go because the tour guide is friend with the owner and they share the profit of your purchases. Therefore, you should always do a little research either on the web, with your guide book or with fellow-travellers that used the service before. This tip applies to ANYTHING you pay money for. From restaurants (some owners have two menus: one with tourist prices and the other with local prices) to vendors passing by service providers.
4. Welcome, Welcome!
Another scam that is way more intrusive than the previous money situations mentioned in number 3 are the insisting invitations to visit a bar, a store or a restaurant. Let me explain how it goes: you get accosted by a friendly looking girl or guy and they insist on bringing you to a show/restaurant/fake brand store/bar you name it. When you finally accept to just have a look around, they bring you to the said place, that is often secluded, and offer overpriced items or services. When you refuse to buy anything, they do not let you out of the store until you do so. The same thing can happen with street vendors, that will hand you objects, refuse to take them back and ask for money in exchange. At first, they might not even look like street vendors, think of a little girl giving flowers or an old man putting bird food in your hand. The best way to deal with those situations is just not accept any invitation and keep your arms and hands close to your body when being intercepted by a stranger.
5. They See You Rolling
One of the most convenient and cheap way to move and visit many Asian cities is by motorbike or bicycle. Often hotels will offer rental of those means of transport or even offer them for free. It gives independency to visit on your own clock as well as a cheaper alternative to taxis. The thing is that those bikes come with a fault: the front basket. Sure, it seems practical to carry your belongings, but it is not only accessible for you. It is to pickpockets as well. In the beautiful city of Hoi An in Vietnam, one of the girls we met at the hotel was robbed while pedaling. That’s right, it can happen even when you are on the go! A local riding a motorcycle picked her bag while passing by her. She lost her expensive camera AND the will to use this not-so-friendly-after-all basket. To avoid this situation, I would suggest using a backpack that is securely attached to your back or tying your belongings to the bottom of the basket while going from a place to another.
In conclusion, travelling does not have to be stressful, you just need to be aware of your environment and use your better judgement. Traveling, when well prepared, brings open-mindness, beautiful memories and a whole lot of fun. Happy travels!