How to Spot a Scam

It’s easy to scoff at someone whose been the victim of a scam and judge them for being naive.  However, none of us are immune and travellers are some of the most vulnerable.  There are scammers everywhere trying to dupe people and it is much easier than you think to become a victim. So how do you spot a scam?

Here are some of the latest scams which have come to the attention of our claims department.  Some are old, some new and some seem to be new takes on the old “tried and true”.

1. Found ring

An average person who looks like a local picks up a ring from the ground in front of you.  The “local” pretends to have found the ring and asks if you dropped it.  When you say that it is not your ring, the “local” begins to study the ring only to determine that it is genuine gold!  At this point, the “local” kindly offers to sell it to you – at a very inflated price and many, many times what he paid for it some time earlier.

2. Pigeon poop / ketchup spill

An old one involving a jostle after which it is discovered that there is bird poop or ketchup on your shirt.  The scammer busily sets about helping to clean your shirt by dabbing and wiping away whilst at the same time their accomplice is busily emptying your pockets or bag of valuables.  In the end, you have a “clean” shirt and clean pockets too.

3. Friendship bracelet

A street vendor approaches you and asks if you will participate in a demonstration.  When you agree, the vendor makes a friendship bracelet on your arm.  When the bracelet is finished and encircling your arm, you are asked to pay an exorbitant price for it.  As it is on your arm (unable to be removed easily) and there is often an audience, you feel obliged to pay.  Take special care with these situations – they are often used as a distraction for an accomplice of the vendor to also rifle through your bag or pockets!

4. Flower gift

This is a variation of the friendship bracelet scam.  A street vendor (often poorly dressed to imply poverty) and carrying a bunch of flowers will approach you with an offer to “gift” you a stem.  The stem of choice will often be lavender or a rose.  Naturally, you wish to be polite and accept the stem only to be asked for payment.  It feels rude to return the “gift”, the vendor looks poor and it is natural to feel piteous and pay up.

This tactic is also used by beggars who offer gifts such as “lucky charms”.

5. Damsel in distress

This scam involves a “random” person approaching the victim to ask if they know where the local police station is.  The person will appear frightened, shaken and genuinely distressed.  Upon enquiry, they will reveal that they have robbed and no longer have sufficient funds to get home – often in another city or country.  Naturally you offer to assist and hand over some money to help.  If you offer a lot of cash – great!  If you only offer a small amount, the gratuity will be gladly accepted and they will move on to the next victim and recount the same story.

6. Broken camera

So you’re at a tourist attraction and everyone is taking photos.  A fellow tourist approaches you and asks you to take a photograph using their camera.  Sure, no problem – only that when you try and take the photo, the camera doesn’t work.  When you hand it back, the fellow tourist fumbles and the camera is dropped.  Now, the best case scenario is that the tourist is asking you to pay for the repairs (which you should politely decline).  The worst case scenario is that the fellow tourist has lifted your wallet and / or phone from your pocket whilst you bent over to pick up their camera.

7. Fake police

If you are victim to this scam, two police officers will stop you in the street, flash fake badges and inform you that they are “tourist police”.  You will then be asked to produce your wallet for inspection so that they can check to see if you have counterfeit notes or “drug money”.  Your wallet should be returned to you after inspection but you won’t notice that some of your cash is missing.  If by some chance you do, you will be reluctant to comment in the belief that they are police and have suspected you of criminal activity.

8. Language student

Often used in Asian countries, the victim will be approached by a local under the pretense of wanting to practice their English.  If met with a positive response from the victim, the scammer will suggest a local restaurant where they can converse over a meal.  As the scammer is a local, they will guide the victim to a suitable restaurant.  When the meal is over, so is the pretense of wanting to practise English and the victim is left with an extremely inflated restaurant bill.

Of course, scams can take many forms and prevention is based on knowledge.  Research where you are going and know your destination – that way you are less likely to fall prey to approaches from strangers when you are in a vulnerable state.  At the same time, if you do get stung, know you are not the first and nor will you be the last.  Scammers are professional and provided you have not been harmed, at least you have a good story to share when you get home.

For more information on tourist scams or to discuss your travel insurance needs, don’t hesitate to call us on 1300 819 988.