When scammers imagine a vulnerable, naive, easy-to-manipulate tourist, they are straight up picturing… my face.
I look chronically dopey – probably because approximately all of the time I have no idea what’s going on. I will hand over money to avoid a social situation being mildly uncomfortable, which is something that in retrospect I most definitely should not have written on the internet.
I’ve been picked up by a taxi at an airport in Thailand, and charged $120 for a trip that took less than 1o minutes. I’ve been billed twice for the same hotel room in Paris. I’ve had a woman grab me at Jamaa el Fna, the main square in Marrakesh, and as I tried to pull away, paint an elaborate henna design on my hand. When she was finished, she demanded I pay what equated to about $80, and became physically aggressive when I (tried) to say no.
If a scam exists in a city I’m visiting, there’s a 99 per cent chance I’m going to fall for it.
After one too many bad experiences, I’ve discovered that the most powerful defence against scammers is knowing precisely what to look out for. Here are the biggest scams that affect Aussie tourists.
“Do you want a photo?”
If someone in a costume summons you for a photograph at a major tourist attraction, just know that you’re going to be paying for it.
A particular hot spot is outside the Colosseum in Rome, where people dress as gladiators and pose for photos with travellers.
At first glance, you’ll think to yourself, “Oh! Isn’t it nice that the local council is paying people to add to the experience!” But the council isn’t doing shit.
Following the picture, where you’ll most likely have your eyes closed and look sunburnt, they’ll demand you pay them and it won’t be cheap. If you refuse, they’ll kick up a stink, and then you’re the stupid tourist fighting with a guy in a gladiator costume outside the Colosseum.
“Is this your ring?”
IT’S NOT YOUR RING. IT’S LITERALLY NEVER YOUR RING.
How often has a ring fallen off your finger as you walk down the street? … Exactly.
In Paris, a scammer will approach you with a ring and ask if it’s yours. When it inevitably isn’t, they will try and sell it to you for a low price.
Don’t buy it. It’s just metal painted gold. In a similar vein…
"Put your finger in here! It's a fun game!"
Unless you count getting stuck in an argument with a Parisian man for half an hour 'fun'.
Basically it's a Chinese finger trap made of string, and once they coax you into putting your finger in their web, they tighten it and demand you pay them money.
You can't go anywhere given, well, they have your finger, so most tourists will just handover cash to escape.
"Taxi very cheap!"
Always, always, agree on a taxi price before you leave the airport.
The taxi scam is particularly prevalent in parts of Asia; specifically Thailand and Vietnam.
Someone will find you as you exit the airport, and help you with your luggage. They might try and charge you for their assistance.
If there is no meter, or it doesn't appear to be a reputable taxi company, don't get in the car. They can charge whatever they like when they drop you off at the other end.
Always google a) how long it should take you to get from the airport to your hotel, b) how much it should cost and c) what taxis are recommended.
Listen: Speaking of holiday horror stories... Holly Wainwright took nits overseas with her. Post continues below.
"Where are my bags?"
This scam is one that specifically targets women, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
There have been reports from Bali and Jakarta of taxi drivers dropping off passengers, and then leaving with their bags still in the boot.
Tourists are then forced to make them exorbitant amounts of money in order to retrieve their belongings.
Again, this can be avoided by choosing reputable taxi companies.
"Can I see your passport?"
Unless you are about to board a plane do not hand over your passport or money until you see some identification.
This isn't a scam reserved for developing countries, as there have been reports in the UK and the US of bogus policemen.
Many tourists have been asked by someone with or without a uniform to see their passport or inspect any cash they have to ensure it's not "counterfeit currency".
Even if you're in an airport - this isn't a thing. Some have been charged an on-the-spot cash fine for a made up infringement, or the 'policeman' has run off with money or documents.
If you get stuck in this scam, say you will pay at the local police station and usually they'll leave you alone. Or if they get physical, make sure to yell.
"Would you like to sign this petition?"
This is one of the biggest scams in Paris. Don't sign the petition.
The petition isn't real, and usually it's a distraction so pickpockets (children who might be loitering around) can take money from your bag or back pocket.
Often it will look like a worthy cause, so they might encourage you to donate. But the money won't be going to any charity.
Another classic scam in Paris is being thrown a baby. Don't worry - it's not a real baby. It's a doll. But the 'gypsy baby toss' means that among the confusion and your attempts to catch what you think is a real live baby, they take from your back pocket.
Who thinks of this stuff?
"Who wants to hire a jet ski?"
NO JET SKIS.
Unless you take comprehensive photographs of them before you mount. And even then... you better have a few thousand dollars up your sleeve just in case.
A number of Australian tourists have reported to Smartraveller that they've been "harassed or even threatened with violence in Thailand beach area by Jet Ski operators demanding large sums of money." The same scam exists in Mexico.
Basically, they will accuse you of damaging the equipment when you didn't, by pointing to something you might not have seen before hiring it.
The cost for actually damaging equipment is astronomical - well into the thousands - so it's not worth the risk.
The same applies for motorcycles and scooters. If you take pictures, at least you can prove it wasn't you who inflicted the damage.
"I'm sorry, we've had an issue with your transaction."
If you get this call to your hotel room, do not give your bank details out over the phone.
A well known scam involves calls to hotel rooms where 'staff' claim they've had issues processing your credit card, and they need to try again. Often, this is not a hotel employee, but someone who would you like your money for free, please.
Only make card transactions at the front desk, in person.
"That hotel doesn't exist anymore..."
If you booked it on a reputable site, yes it does.
This scam is popular in Thailand, but extends through Southeast Asia.
A tourist might ask to be driven to their hotel (or temple/shop) and the tuk-tuk driver will inform them that it doesn't exist anymore BUT they know an even better one nearby.
The driver receives commission for every tourist they bring in, so it's just a way for them to make money.
There is an entirely fake 'centre of Bangkok' not far from the airport, where tourists are often taken.
Make sure to insist your driver takes you to your desired location, and if they refuse, then jump in a taxi instead.
On top of scams, women in particular need to extremely vigilant with their handbags. There are hundreds of reports of women having their bags cut from beneath in markets in Barcelona, and the contents stolen. In Hungary, there are stories of women having their tickets checked, while someone else steals their wallet. It's a better option to have your valuable possessions (passport/wallet) directly on your body (like in a travel bag around your neck and under your clothes) than in a handbag or backpack.
Sharing stories helps travellers know what to look out for.
What's the worst scam you've fallen for overseas?