She grabbed my crotch and shouted, “I make you real happy!”
I swatted her hand away. But not too hard. I mean, I was drunk, alone, and it did feel kind of good. Sue me.
“Come onnnnnnnnn,” she pleaded. “Real, reaaaaal happy!”
She grabbed me again, this time rubbing a little more and adding a bit of massage.
C’mon, Jeremy. You don’t pick up hookers. Get rid of her.
“Not interested,” I told her. “Go away.” She’d only listen was if I was stern—these girls are incredibly stubborn. In a fit of pique, she gave up and retreated behind me into the night.
I was walking back to my hostel alone from the infamous Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia, when she approached me. At that hour of the morning, the moon was the only source of light on the street to my hostel. I could barely see the woman’s face, but I could tell she was slender, obviously pretty, but also definitely a local prostitute.
I knew this area was rife with travel scammers, and walking home late at night, drunk and by myself, only served to put a target on my back.
At this hour, the locals were only going to want one thing from me—my money…or maybe a kidney.
What ungodly time of the morning is it, anyway?
I reached into my pocket to check the clock on my phone. SHIT. My phone—it’s gone. Panic.
Sobriety kicked in fast. What just happened? Where did my phone go? It was in my hands five minutes ago!
I paused for no more than three seconds to assess. I realized that all that rubbing and massaging was actually the girl’s way of finessing my smartphone out of my pocket and into her hands! Sneaky trick.
I bolted back toward the girl at full speed. Luckily she hadn’t gone far. We locked eyes, and without saying a word or batting an eye, I forcefully retrieved my phone from her hands. She knew she was caught and there was nothing she could do. The jig was up. I got my phone back.
Not everyone gets as lucky as I did that night (not like that—come on!). Travel scams like these are common. I’ve fallen victim to rigged taxi meters and I’ve seen friends pickpocketed before my very eyes. Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen all over the world, from London to Beijing to Paris and, yes, definitely Siem Reap, Cambodia.
But if you keep your wits about you, these travel scams can be avoided.
I reached out to 19 travel bloggers to find out some of the most common travel scams they’ve encountered and exactly how to avoid them. From bribery to the ol’ bait-and-switch, don’t fall prey to one of these common tourist scams around the world.
1. Drug Busts in India
“While driving a rickshaw across India, I, of course, ran into a lot of problems with my tuk-tuk breaking down.
This can be a stressful event and so, as is only natural for me, I sought one day to treat myself to a cheeky joint. I took to the streets and was almost immediately approached by a friendly young lad who sold me some weed. Good stuff, too. He then reported me to the police. It was a white devil shake-down.
I was accosted by two unfriendly police officers who demanded that I empty my wallet in order to get out of prison. Unfortunately, my wallet was uncharacteristically full, meaning this exchange was a costly one.”
“First, watch yourself when buying any kind of substance abroad. Second, and perhaps more importantly, keep the bulk of your money well hidden. These days I hide all of my cash in a specially designed backpacker belt (no, not one of those stupid money belts) that can hold up to 20 notes and is super inconspicuous.
I carry a decoy wallet with expired credit cards and about $20 in it, so if the need arises, I can fork it over without hurting my bank account too much.”
2. Border Bandits in Tanzania, Africa
“We had absolutely no money to take transport from the border into town so we had no choice but to change our money at the border.
There are men who notoriously hang out between borders—in no man’s land—to change black market money with travelers, often at excellent rates. The man we interacted with that day, however, was not one of these people. First, he handed us the Tanzanian shillings, so our inclination was that he was legit. We gave the guy our Malawian Kwacha, but he counted it, claimed it was fake, handed it back to us, and walked off.
We counted the Malawian Kwacha again. He had pocketed half without us noticing! Our $70 just became worth $35.”
“Do your money changing before you reach the border. There are too many tales of shady con-artists changing money at the border.”
3. Cocktails With College Girls in Budapest
“This is the common ‘let’s have a drink’ tourist scam. Two college girls invited us to have a drink— something most guys would probably get excited about and love to take part in but perhaps should question. Well, we didn’t; we took the bait.
The girls were probably using us to pay for their colleges because they took us to a bar that charged 10 to 20 times the normal cost of a drink! The girls definitely get a kickback from the bartenders.”
“Don’t get drinks with strangers, especially at a bar that doesn’t have many people in it. If you do, make sure it’s not at a bar they choose. Walk around, talk more, and you choose the place.”
4. Double Taxi Fares in New York City
“One thing to be aware of when you’re getting to the airport—especially Laguardia—is that there will often be people offering to drive you to your accommodation right away in an Uber. Sounds great right? No need to order one and wait for it to show up in the confusing mess that is the airport.
What they don’t tell you is that they’ll be charging you more than double the rate of an Uber you’d hail through the app on your phone.”
“Only get into car services you book through an app or take a taxi from the designated taxi stand. This is the only way to avoid this double ‘taxi’ fare that some try to pull off!”
5. Access Denied in Indonesia
“Many times there will be a massive tourist attraction that’s either free and open to the public or for a very low-cost entry fee. Well, local young men will set up a fake stand with fake printed tickets across the street, hoping to lure those who want to get in.
Tourist after tourist will pay varying amounts for the fake ticket, only to get inside and realize that there’s nobody there to verify it and that they will end up paying more money to actual ticket sellers who are the ones working inside.”
“There’s really no way to know about this tourist scam beforehand unless a friend warns you because the tickets can often look legit, and because they are locals, you want to just blindly trust them. Just be cognizant and look for red flags if something feels dodgy.”
6. Train Troubles in India
“The India rail system is confusing and it’s often possible to sit in a car that is in a different class than your ticket. Many times, officials will simply have you upgrade for a small fee if you had gotten into the wrong car—but scam artists often take advantage of this.
Many times, we knew we were in the right compartment, but men with notebooks and official-looking badges asked to see our tickets. When they looked at them, they said we were in the wrong class and asked for way too much money. We fell for this once and learned our lesson.”
“When booking your ticket, ask how much it is to upgrade to a better class and ask what the full cost of a ticket is. Know what the highest fare is for the best class. If you do happen to be in the wrong class from the ticket you paid for, officials will never ask for more money than they need, and they will give you a proper receipt.”
7. Card-Game Crooks in Paris
“You’ll see people on the street playing a card game (sometimes known as three-card Monte) or hiding a ball in a cup and someone guessing where it is and winning money. Then you decide to play—and you win! Thinking this is great, you bet more money…and then you lose…and lose again and again. It’s one of the most common travel scams on the streets of Paris.”
“There are often others playing the game that are accomplices with the scammer—they lose on purpose while you initially watch to make it seem like you can beat them. Remember, the house always wins!”
Scams like these are common the world over. We always recommend traveling with travel insurance. Just like you insure your home, health and car, you should always insure your trip. The price of a single policy could cost a whole lot less than the price of a new smartphone or stolen laptop. At TravelFreak, World Nomads is our insurance provider of choice—just fill out the form below to get a free quote!
8. Mystery Meters in Romania
“My husband and I had read online that you should get a pre-paid taxi inside the airport in Bucharest, but the booth was closed so that wasn’t an option.
We went outside, saw what appeared to be an official taxi, asked if the meter was working and got in. As we started driving out of the airport, I noticed that our driver had turned the meter away from us. I immediately asked him to turn it back so that we could see the fare, but all of a sudden he seemed to forget his English.
When we reached our hotel, he started fiddling with the meter and turned it back around to show us an exorbitant amount he intended to pass off as the fare… We eventually managed to bring down the price, but we still overpaid seeing as he was holding our luggage hostage in the trunk.”
“Use Uber, get a prepaid taxi or insist on having the meter reset in front of you before you agree to get in the car. It’s also smart to always have your valuables with you in the vehicle and not in the trunk”
9. Fragrant Foes in Eygpt
“In Cairo, I had a man offer to show me a local attraction I was walking to. Always down for a local encounter and some nice company, I didn’t think too much of it at first.
After a considerable amount of time, he asked me to come to his perfume shop. I followed but, not too soon after going inside, it was very clear that he got me to come in to make a sale. The entire thing was just a set up to get business out of me.”
“Be wary of anyone who initiates a conversation with you. Unfortunately, a nice local encounter such as this one can be likely a set up just to get some cash out of you.”
10. Delightful Deceivers in Cuba
“I stayed in a Casa Peculiar in downtown Havana, which is basically where you sleep in the house of a local. The lady of the house was sweet and amiable. After a few hours chatting about what I already know about Cuba, I told her that I loved the famous Cuban band “Buena Vista Social Club.”
Her eyes lit up and she preceded to tell me that three of the founding members of the band were headlining a massive concert that night—I was thrilled and paid the $70, foolishly trusting her.
When I went to this “concert” it was just a couple of random blokes singing Cuban songs in a little bar… and just two other people who were also naive tourists and had fallen for this trap.”
“Just do your homework and don’t take anything at face value—even sweet old ladies lie for money!”
11. Fiver Thieves at the Vietnam-Cambodia Border
“When crossing the border from Vietnam into Cambodia, one of the locals on the bus will come around and ask for your passport and enough cash for your Cambodia visa. They will ask for $5 extra and they explain that this is their fee so they can get you across the border quicker than if you were to do it on your own—if you’re not back on the bus when the majority of everyone else is, the bus will drive away without you.”
“Know about the scam and make sure people on the bus around you know about the scam, as well. If no one participates or the majority of people on the bus don’t fork out the extra $5 and go through the border crossing on their own, then the bus will be forced to wait.”
12. Shitty Swindlers in Chile
“While waiting in central Santiago for our Uber to take us to the airport, my travel partner felt a splat on his (white!) tee-shirt.
Assuming it was bird poop from the heavens, the obvious reaction was to look up. A man insisted on helping him clean the poop, but thankfully, my partner was alert and shooed him away.
An old lady then came and tried to do the same, with her eyes on his laptop bag. They used paint as a distraction to try to get their hands on his laptop bag. Luckily, we managed to shoo her away without anything being taken.”
“If you’re in a busy city and you feel a splat on your back, it’s probably paint, not poop. The second someone tries to come and help you out in an insisting manner, secure your items, shoo them away, and leave the area immediately.”
13. Broken Promises in The Philippines
“In the Philippines, people offer transportation from the airport to your hotel to the point of harassing you—it always happens every time I land in Manila Airports.
The person offering transportation will promise everything and anything just to make sure you say “yes,” and then immediately call the transport you requested. You are then handed off to the driver who doesn’t know anything about the promises; in fact, often times there are extra charges that are not disclosed.”
“Book your transportation in advance, never at the airport. If you have to for last-minute reasons, go to the transportation counter and look for recognizable brands. Should you need an official receipt, always insist on getting the receipt before you get into the car.”
14. Lost Lira in Turkey
“With the Turkish Lira constantly losing value against the Euros, locals will try to charge in Euros in hopes of gaining some extra cash on your dime.
It will happen when you try to purchase anything from tea to souvenirs. Any opportunity to get Euros instead of Lira can make them more money, so they’ll try this common tourist scam on anyone they can.”
“Insist on paying with the local currency. Paying in Euros is, in most cases, a rip-off, and you won’t notice until it’s too late.”
15. Tea-Time Teasers in China
“I found myself talking to Chinese tourists “who happen to be visiting Shanghai” and were planning to go to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. They asked if my travel buddy and I would like to join in nearly perfect English.
We said yes, and they took us down twisting alleys with few people. Eventually, we were taken to a tea house that looked the part on the inside with people dressed up and, well, serving tea.
Our new “friends” translated our tea order and I was told I was paying $10 for my glass of tea (expensive!). But when the bill came, we had to pay for each tea we tasted (I sipped from four other cups). The tea was good, but not $45 good.”
“When you find yourself talking to locals who have surprisingly good English, refuse all offers to go to a traditional tea ceremony.”
16. Big Bills in Cuba
“A well-dressed couple came up to us in the street and asked where we were from. They asked if we wanted to go to a jazz bar to watch some live music. We of course agreed, and we headed off.
We checked the prices for drinks, which were reasonable but, after a few rounds, the waiter came over and handed us a highly inflated bill. The couple started demanding we pay for everyone or else we would “get in trouble.” The waiter started getting aggressive, as well, but we called their bluff, paid for our share at the menu prices and left quickly.”
“Don’t automatically say no to local interactions, as they aren’t always scams. If this does happen, simply suggest you go for a walk around instead, or you choose the bar.”
17. Manipulative Muggers in Bolivia
“A girl I met lost her entire daypack, which held her passport, wallet, laptop, camera and hard drive because of this scam while she was at a cafe. Absolutely devastating!
Somebody drops a handful of change near a tourist. While the kind, yet naive, tourist bends down to help pick up the coins, totally distracted by helping this individual, another person makes off with their belongings.”
“It comes down to, of course, vigilance. I always like to say, “Think like a thief.” What I do now, no matter where I am, is sit with my daypack in front of me with at least one leg through the straps so it can’t be easily yanked away. If I have to get up to do anything, I take the bag with me.”
18. Time-Suckers at the Thai-Cambodian Border
“I bought a ticket from Battambang, Cambodia straight to Bangkok, Thailand. I got to the border ready to cross into Thailand bright and early with my ticket for the onward journey in hand, and a scammer was happily waiting for me. He expressed concern that I wouldn’t get on a bus until 1 pm (it was about 8 am at the time) unless I paid 300 Baht ($10 USD).
We argued for a bit but he wouldn’t budge on letting me on a bus sooner (surely there was one)… There was a cafe with WiFi so I worked while I waited. When I came back at 12:30 pm to be sure I was there for the 1 pm bus he still tried to ask for money.”
“I lazily bought my ticket at my hotel rather than the bus station. Stick around longer to see which bus the tourist scammer is filing people on to and just get on. I had a ticket after all.”
19. Inflated Transits in Norway
“The “Norway in a Nutshell” tour is heavily promoted to tourists visiting Norway, but if you ask a local if they’d take it they’d laugh because the tour is actually just a collection of public transport tickets sold at a higher price.
Norway isn’t generally a country where you have to worry about tourist scams, but if Norway does have anything close to a scam, this would be it!”
“The tour takes you on trains, buses, and ferries, but you can book each leg of your journey independently online (all of the websites are available in English) and save a lot of money. In fact, if you book your train tickets well in advance, you could end up paying less than half of what the tour package would cost you.”
Have you fallen prey to one of these common travel scams? Or did you get scammed another way? Let us know in the comments below!