OVERSEAS tourists have always been easy prey for con artists and tricksters.
We’re often naive, distracted and easily confused about local practices and foreign currency: in other words, we’re a bullseye for opportunistic scammers.
And there are so many ways to be scammed while travelling, from simple taxi pricing rorts to much scarier situations, such as the recent case of the Kiwi tourist in Bali who was kidnapped and swindled out of $2000 in a notorious card game trick.
But when we’re so often warned to be wary of scams while travelling, exactly what are we most at risk of falling victim to, and where is it most likely to happen?
Of the top 10 countries to which Australians travel the most, six come with specific scam warnings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Those are Indonesia, Thailand, China, Singapore, Fiji and India, and each have their own set of common tricks that take advantage of unwitting tourists.
And the most common scams we’re likely to fall for, according to finder.com.au, are ATM or credit card scams, monetary scams — such as the sale of dodgy or fake products — and investment scams, including card game schemes.
But there are others to be wary of as well.
It’s Australia’s favourite travel destination after New Zealand, but Indonesia has so often been the place where Aussie tourists have fallen foul of cunning con artists. The most common scams you’ll find here are credit card/ATM fraud and confidence tricks.
ATM fraud happens when someone gains access to your bank account, often by watching you enter your PIN or using card-tapping devices.
“Aussies can avoid being targeted in this way by only visiting ATMs during the day, covering their PIN codes, and withdrawing money from inside a financial institution,” finder.com.au’s insurance expert Bessie Hassan said.
Meanwhile, many Australian tourists have lost money in Indonesia to confidence tricks, most notably card game scams.
DFAT has also warned about recent reports in Bali and Jakarta of taxi drivers taking off without letting passengers take out their bags, and forcing them to withdraw cash to secure the return of their belongings.
“Lone female travellers appear most vulnerable,” the department said. “You should only use official taxi companies that can be booked by phone or from stands at major hotels and from inside the airport. You should check taxis carefully as unscrupulous operators have vehicles that look similar to those run by reputable companies.”
Jetski scams, credit card/ATM fraud, investment scams and gem scams (shopping for jewellery and getting ripped off) are the ones Australians are most vulnerable to in Thailand.
Jetski scams can be particularly dangerous. Victims are usually confronted with gangs that claim the hired jetski the victim is trying to return has been damaged, and demand a huge sum of money for compensation. In many cases the gangs are armed with knives and threaten violence. DFAT said many Australian travellers have reported harassment and threats of violence by jetski operators on tourist beaches in Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. It said travellers should take photos of jetskis before using them to help settle a dispute.
Monetary scams are prevalent in many countries and involve a vendor selling dodgy or fake products, from tour packages to handbags, and pocketing the money. In Thailand, gem scams are common.
“Keep your wits about you when making purchases and, where possible, do your research before committing to anything you buy in high-risk areas,” Ms Hassan said.
She said places such as Thailand and Singapore were also high-risk areas for investment scams, in which travellers lose money through fake investment opportunities, including property.
“Australians should be very wary of high stake purchases they’re looking to make and ensure they’re legitimate before making a big financial decision,” she said.
Massage scams are a danger to travellers in China. According to DFAT, victims are typically approached and invited for a massage, teahouse service, or to a cafe or bar nearby for various reasons, such as “to practice English”.
Afterwards, the victim is handed a massive bill and prevented from leaving until it’s paid by credit card.
DFAT said physical violence, including serious assault, and credit card skimming or duplication occurs during these scenarios.
“In Shanghai, male foreigners can be targeted on the Bund and around East Nanjing Road and People’s Square and occasionally Hongqiao by people offering ‘massages’,” the department added.
“The foreigner is guided to a building and after the massage is provided, threatened and sometimes assaulted by a group of men connected with the establishment. Foreigners have been forced to pay large sums of money.”
Travellers in China should also be wary of ATM fraud, including fake ATMs. DFAT said it was best to use ATMs inside secure areas and during daylight hours.
It’s generally considered one of the safest places to spend a holiday but tourists in Singapore have been known to fall victim to “outrage of modesty” scams.
Singapore has strict outrage of modesty laws, including those that prohibit inappropriate language and behaviour, and the penalties — including fines — are tough.
Scam artists have taken advantage of these laws by issuing fake fines to tourists and confiscating passports, DFAT said.
Many expatriates in Singapore, including Australians, have been also targeted by property rental scams, in which con artists pose as landlords on property websites offering fake rental properties.
ATM and credit cards fraud is the main one to watch in Fiji.
DFAT warns that card skimming devices are used on the islands, so travellers should take care not to expose their PIN and to monitor their transaction statements.
The department also warns passports are valuable to criminals operating in identity fraud, so tourists should make sure to keep theirs safe and report any theft online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
Fiji is low on the list of places where scams are likely to happen, but scamming taxi drivers have been known to operate there, too.
There are quite a few tricks tourists should try to avoid while in India.
As well as the high risk of credit card/ATM scams, tourists are vulnerable to train tickets scams, taxi scams and dodgy temple donations, as well as tour package fraud and fake guide scams.
In tour package scams, guides either fraudulently sell tour packages, or “proves” to the tourists their existing tour package is invalid and tries to sell them their own package.
In fake guide scams, strangers posing as tour guides take unsuspecting victims on visits of tourist areas and tries to rob or molest the victim in opportune moments in isolated areas.
Travellers in India have also fallen victim to confidence tricks, such as scammers who pose as friendly locals needing help.
SO YOU’VE BEEN SCAMMED — WHAT DO YOU DO?
If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to a scam in any country, you should contact the local police, the Australian embassy or consulate, and then your travel insurance provider as soon as possible, Ms Hassan said.
“You typically will need proof of the scam from local police to make a travel insurance claim, so ensure you have a witness,” she said.
“A basic travel insurance policy should provide cover for property loss or damage, and cancellations, but may not cover fraud. Having adequate cover is often more important than price so if heading to a high scam-risk country, make sure you compare policies online to cover yourself.”
For other common, and sometimes outrageous, tricks and schemes in other parts of the world, check out this list of the world’s worst travel scams.