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Travel Rip Offs and Scams


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If you are going to travel for long time then you are going to get ripped off, no ifs, ands or buts about it. It is just a question of time. Typically it will happen the moment you land when you get into your first taxi. It might not be for weeks or months, you might even think that you’ve enough experience and are wise enough to see through any scam, but your guard can’t be up all the time. Your time will come too. It probably won’t be for a lot of money, but the anger you will feel at being taken for a sucker will stay with you forever – or so it seems.

When we talk about getting ripped off we are not talking about being over charged for a product or service. Being charged 20% or even 50% more than the locals is something to be expected when you don’t know what the market price is. What we are talking about is being played like a fool – it is not the amount of money that matters (at least most of the time). Being charged for something that doesn’t materialise, paying ten times the real price, giving to a fake charity – that’s being ripped off.

Rule number one – never be rushed. If there is one thing that con and rip off artists know, it is that if their prey is given enough time they will see through their scam. That’s why it is normally just minutes after you have been ripped off that you cop onto it. Always take your time with your decisions, there is rarely a need hand over money that instant, regardless of how frantic the person you are talking to is. In the developing world nothing ever happens in a hurry anyway, relax, take your time, hours or even days if needs be.

Rule number two – do what the local people do. This is a good general rule when it comes to just about anything. From food to clothes, you are just about always better off and safer doing what the locals do rather than going to somewhere that caters for travellers. When it comes to rip-offs, if a bus conductor is asking you for money but not asking any of the locals, then it is a rip off. Bear in mind though that some places, like India, have a rip off culture and the locals get ripped as well.

Rule number three – this one may seem a little harsh, but don’t believe anyone until the evidence strongly weighs in on their side. If a taxi driver tells you that your hotel has burnt down in a fire, don’t believe him. Insist on going to see the smoking wreckage for yourself.

Rule number four – be informed. It is very difficult to rip someone off who knows what the real price of something should be. Before arriving somewhere ask other travellers what they paid for various services. Ask your hotel for the correct taxi fares to places etc. Don’t be surprised or put out if you can’t negotiate the price down to what the locals pay. As long as you’re in roughly the same ballpark you’re doing ok.

What follows are accounts of the four times to date (18/8/02) that we have been ripped off.

Rip Off 1
Amount - $12
Where – Delhi International Airport, India
When – The first day of our trip
Artist – Prepaid taxi company
Description – Delhi international airport is infamous for its taxi scams. Flights from Europe and the US invariably arrive at 2am and everyone is tired and in a strange country. Easy prey for con artists. We were forewarned and had arranged with our hotel to send a car to pick us up. The car never turned up. So we went to a pre-paid taxi stand reckoning that we stood a better chance with them then we did with a taxi driver off the rank. The fare that we ended up paying was three times what it should have been.

What we did wrong – We were not informed, we should have known what the correct fare was (300R). Also we were not alert enough having just finished 14 hours of travel.

Rip off Two
Amount - $2
Where – In a good neighbourhood in Delhi
When – Two months later, we had just returned to India from Nepal
Artists – A group of students
Description – Given the amount of money involved a lot of you will probably think this shouldn’t get a mention. However, it is this rip-off that bugs me the most and rarely does a week go past without me reliving it. We were walking to a restaurant, when suddenly 4 or 5 well-dressed, clean-cut students approached us. From this instant the whole thing smelt of rip-off. They immediately split us up, showed us fake charity IDs and before 30 seconds had passed had $2 off us. 1 second later we copped onto the scam but it was too late.

What we did wrong – We were rushed. Also there were plenty of Indian people on the street, in a rich part of town. Why weren’t they being targeted for a local charity?

Rip off Three
Amount – $0
Where – Ferry from Malaysia to Dumai, Indonesia
When – 5 months into our trip
Artist – Money exchange cashier
Description – We had exchanged the majority of our Malaysian money already, but we still had a few small notes and coins. We didn’t think that we would be able to change them anywhere else so we decided to change them on the ferry, even though we knew the rate wasn’t going to be the best. I handed over about $10 worth of notes and coins and was given a bunch of notes in return. There is about 8,700 Rupiah to the dollar and I stupidly hadn’t done the math, but it didn’t look right. When I motioned that I was expecting more, he smiled disarmingly and nodded that it was correct. I sat down and he disappeared. I did the sums and realised I’d been given about half of what I should have been. Since he was in ship’s uniform I wasn’t going to let this pass. After we docked and the bulk of the passengers disembarked I went to the captain to complain and got enough of my money back to save face.

What I did wrong – I didn’t do the maths. I knew the rate and should have calculated how much money to expect.

Rip off Four
Amount – $5
Where – Probolinggo, Indonesia
When – 6 months into our trip
Artist – Bus ticketing agent
Description – At this stage into our trip you would think that we had enough experience to spot any scams but we were tired and our defences were down - that morning we had been awoken at 3 am to see the sunrise at Mt Bromo. We got on the bus to Bondowoso in Probolinggo, ignoring all the touts and agents trying to sell us inflated tickets. When we got on the bus, the bus conductor came to us for the fare. He was asking for 25,000 Rupiah, when we though that the fare should be about 5,000. It smelt of rip off, we reckoned it was a rip off, but he was on the bus and had proper tickets and we duly paid him. Only when the bus departed did the actual conductor board.

What we did wrong – We were rushed. Also the conductor only asked us for the fare, none of the locals. We should have waited for someone else to pay and followed suit.