Too smart to be scammed, right?

Journeywatch looks at some common scams and how you can avoid them. 

They often start as soon as you get off the plane. The taxi driver, upon hearing your destination, proclaims that your guest house or hotel is somehow exceptionally far away or closed but, casting a wily smile, he has the perfect place to recommend. Of course, the perfect place is often an out of the way flea infested dive that is highly over priced due to the driver’s commission.

Scams – in a myriad of clever, shameless, and sometimes expensive forms – are an unfortunate part of travel. Whether it is the ubiquitous hassles with taxis or specific scams like carpets in Turkey, ATMs in Bali, or gems in India, a foreigner in a foreign land is often an easy mark for local scam DSCN0233artist.

While con artists are bothersome, their scams are often not particularly clever as much as they are designed to prey upon the dividing line between a traveller’s greed and their rationality.

The gem scam is a case in point. Scam artists in gem shops preach salivating tales of huge profits that travellers can turn by buying gems now and selling them back home. And, the more money the traveller invests on their maxed out credit cards and dwindling travellers cheques the more profits they will earn back home. While pesky rational thoughts might be trying to remind the victim that they can’t tell the difference between a proper gem and a polished shared of glass from a broken bottle or the nagging question of why global market forces haven’t made gem prices comparable around the world, these thoughts are drowned out by the daydreams of a large payday.
Besides, wouldn’t it be cool if you pay off your vacation trading gems? This scam must be particularly painful when the victim tries to flog their shiny glass bounty back at their local gem shop.

Some scams are far more dangerous. Single travellers, often young men tempted by an alluring female or two into joining them for a private drink back at their hotel, are particularly at risk. Known as the ‘honey trap’, the inviting lasses spike the victim’s drink quickly causing him to blackout. When the victim wakes all their possessions are gone, and in one tale told to me, the victim woke up in an empty room to find nothing but a small bottle of water, one cigarette, a lighter, and enough coins to make a local call. While the scammers were kind enough to leave a comically appropriate consolation prize, the consequences can be more serious. Many victims are hospitalized as their perpetrators have doused their drinks with dangerous, even lethal, levels of animal tranquilizers.

What you can do

The general rule for scams is that if something is too good to be true, it probably is. A huge return for gems or wild night with some frisky locals are con-tricks designed to be tempting enough for the target to forgo rationality in pursuit of the promised rewards.

Most scams can easily be avoided. In the case of taxis; always agree on price before getting in, never allow the driver to make a “quick stop” at a retail shop, and don’t leave your luggage in the boot while checking a hotel or getting change for the meter. For other scams, some simple rules can help.

Keep things in perspective. Whether it is Shillings, Pesos, Rupees, or Yuan, normally when you are ripped off the sums are very low. While it is good to count your change and barter hard, there is little sense in arguing over pocket change.

Keep your cool. While a scuffle might seem a tempting way to appease your anger at being on the losing end of a scam, the perpetrator is unlikely to favour a fair fight, probably has friends, and can likely better explain his position to local police.

And finally, never let greed outweigh your rationality.


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