Wham, bam, thank you, scam

How to spot a holiday scam (and avoid it)

Wham, bam, thank you, scam: How to spot a holiday scam

If you like your money, don’t fall victim to a holiday scam. All too many Aussies do.

  • NSW Liberal MP Gareth Ward escaped a “terrifying” attempt to blackmail him in a New York hotel, The Australian reported.  He ordered a US$100 massage and was allegedly charged US$1,000. 
  • Fake “chiefs” in Fiji were trying to sell holiday properties they didn’t own to Australians, The Courier Mail reported. The offers were “too good to refuse”. 
  • News.com.au reported that a New Zealand man was kidnapped in Bali, forced to play cards and was swindled out of $2,000. 

Scams can happen anywhere. Even in relatively safe destinations such as Canada or Western Europe. You’re more likely to fall victim in third-world countries where it’s hard to make a living. There’s no excuse, but the scammers are usually poor and trying to make a buck.

Simple scams that catch Aussies out

Sometimes the scams are relatively small. Maybe you lose anything from $5 to $100 rather than your life savings.

  • Taxi scam. The taxi driver takes your $100 peso (yuan, rupee, or Fiji dollar) note, drops it on the ground and switches it for a fake one. He points out to you it’s fake and you have to hand over more money. Check out this great video of how it works. 
  • Overpriced merchandise. Every city has its tourist shopping area. The “discounted” price you’ll be offered as you walk out the door is still many times what you’d pay for the same item in other parts of the city.
  • No menus. Never order food without being given a menu or asking the price. The charge will be astronomical otherwise.
  • Extras. So you want fries with that, but you haven’t asked how much extra that costs. Chances are they will be the most expensive fries you’ve ever eaten in your life. If the waiter upsells something to you, ask the price.
  • Jet ski damage. This scam out of Bali involves damage on a jet ski being covered with water based paint. It washes off in the sea. You’re told to pay for the damage and marched to an ATM. It could be the same with hired motorcycles or other vehicles.
  • Gold ring. The scammer “finds” a gold ring beside you. They use it to distract you to be pick-pocketed by an accomplice. Or they ask you to take the ring to the police and request a portion of the reward up front.
  • Money exchange. Beware of being given the wrong amount of local money or bundles that don’t add up to what you expect. Always do the maths yourself and count what you’ve been given.

Scams that are dangerous to your wellbeing or wealth

As well as the scams above, also watch out for:

  • The tea house scam. China is famed for this, but it happens elsewhere in different guises. A local befriends you and takes you to their “friend’s” tea house, restaurant or bar. You order when you get there then get hit with an outrageous bill. Chances are there’s a heavy on the door and you can’t leave until you’ve paid.
  • The wifi scam. It’s not unusual for scammers to set up free wifi hotspots and hack into unsuspecting travellers’ bank accounts.
  • Luggage ruses. Watch out for taxi drivers who drive off with your bags or drop you two blocks from the hotel so their accomplice can rob you.
  • Southern Cross Travel Insurance has more scam stories from travellers on their website. 

Finally, single guys like me are especially at risk. There are all too many honey traps. Watch out for good looking men or women trying to make friends with you or inviting you to go somewhere with them. You may find the bargain to be far more expensive than you imagine.

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