Be Smart: Common people scams in South East Asia and how to avoid them

In our Be Smart series we take a look at common things that you might encounter that seem strange that you should be informed about.

In this installment we take a look at common people scams that happen in South East Asia and how to avoid them.

Forcing themselves to help you

Be wary of anyone going out of their way to insist on helping you, be it with giving you directions, or helping you with your luggage, parking, getting a taxi. The best case scenario is that they will ask for a small tip, which is alright, but the worst case scenario is that they will get belligerent and demand money or drag you to an alley where you could be robbed.

Common in

High population countries such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam but not China

How to avoid

Politely and firmly tell them that you’re alright and thank them. If even after you’ve done it a couple of times, just simply ignore them and continue with what you were doing. If you’re, for example, grabbing a cab, and they are the ones that get it for you, just ignore them and continue waiting for the next one.

Lucky charm bracelet / free gift

A person could approach you and offer you a gift or most commonly a lucky charm bracelet. Especially with the charm bracelet, they’ll keep talking to you while they tie it around your hand after which they’ll demand payment.

Common in

Very common in tourist hot-spots in Rome, Italy

How to avoid

As with most things, say no thanks and keeping moving is the first thing you always do. If they start trying to tie it around your hand, just push their hands away and walk away.

Money / wallet / tool drop

This is two slightly different scams. One is where someone drops a thick wallet full of cash and a person in front of you picks it up and then offers to share the profit with you. After that the person who dropped it will come back with the cops and you’ll be on the hook for stealing the wallet.

The tool drop involves some craftsman dropping one of their tools, and when you get it for them they’ll be so grateful they’ll offer you a free whatever it is that they do, except that it will turn out not to be free.

Common in

Tool drop happened to us a couple of times in Turkey, in a few different cities.

How to avoid

Just ignore it and keep walking. If they approach you, say no politely, keep walking and ignore them.

Fake cops / officials / bribery

You can get approached by someone offering something less then legal, very frequently a prostitute. As you’re talking the fake cops will arrive and demand payment to let you go.

Officials, particularly in certain less then reputable airports can help you “cut queue”, in fact they can’t, after which they’ll demand a “present”.

Cops can stop you for something, legitimate or not, and demand bribes to let you go, quoting exorbitant prices that you’ll have to pay for the ticket. Trust me, it’s no where near as expensive as they claim it to be.

Common in

Fake officials happened in Vietnam and Thailand (esp. in Phuket), and bribery is common in Thailand and Indonesia

How to avoid

Don’t accept help. If approached by police officers, ask to walk to the police station and do it there or to a respectable hotel lobby if nearby.

For traffic tickets, ask for the ticket instead and immediately go to a police station and settle it. In many countries, you’ll get a huge discount (up to 70%) if you pay the ticket within the first week or two.

Passport as security deposit

Not necessarily a scam in itself, but it can easily become one. In many places they’d ask for your actual passport as the deposit. Now, in many places this is legitimate but in many places they’d hold your passport hostage unless you pay a ridiculous fee. For example, a copy of passport should be alright for bicycle rental, there should be no need to leave your original passport.

Common in

Particularly in beaches of Thailand for bicycles and motorcycles

How to avoid

Don’t leave your passport with anyone and always have it on you. After all, it’s your most important possession.

Going for a drink / tea ceremony / for food

This takes a few different forms. In one scenario, you’d get invited to a drink with some friendly locals to a cool bar that they know. The bar is of course extremely overpriced and has huge bouncers.

You can also be invited to a “tea ceremony” with some family friends. The tea is USD50 per cup.

Alternatively, someone could ask for your help and could be so grateful that they’d invite you to have food with their family. But you’d be paying for it.

Common in

Going for a drink is common in Istanbul and Thailand, tea ceremony in various places in China and food in India, especially bigger cities.

How to avoid

Don’t go out with people you don’t know, especially if they take an immediate liking to you.

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