For tourists all over the world, it’s hard job to avoid getting cheated by different kinds of tourist scams. Touts and middlemen are a bane of tourists everywhere. They are pesky, greedy, dishonest and always looking for a way to con unsuspecting tourists out of money by any means possible. This article is intended to help tourists avoid getting cheated by scams perpetrated by such touts and other scammers. But first, we’ll explain what we are talking about by the help of some real life incidents.
Examples of travel scams
1) Tea tasting scams
There are numerous versions of this tourist scam all over the world. In this, a very friendly local will ask you for a minor favour like taking a picture, then try to gain your trust by any means possible. Then they offer to take you to a very unique restaurant, festival etc for a special tea tasting session, best food in town or something similar. When it comes to the point of paying for it, they show their true colours by presenting an amount that could buy enough food to feed 100s of people for weeks.
2) Providing wrong information
The most recent one we heard was from an American tourist who wanted to see Delh’s Red Fort (Lal Qila). He got out of his hotel from Paharganj, which is only 10-15 minutes drive from the fort and started looking for an auto-rickshaw to get there. A tout came up to him and offered him to take him there in his ‘private car’, which would have cost 5-6 times what auto-rickshaw would have charged. When the tourist refused, the tout told him that due to terrorist threat, only private cars were allowed inside the fort and auto-rickshaws and other vehicles are not. Fortunately, the tourist was smart and he ignored everything the tout said. He hired an auto-rickshaw and visited Red Fort without any issue.
3) Tour of workshops, showrooms
One of the most infamous scams in many tourist hot-spots is touts, guides, taxi-drivers etc taking to you for a tour of a workshop, garments factory, rug factory etc and claim that it’s just part of the tour and they are under no pressure to buy anything. But the unsuspecting tourists are tricked in to buying some useless trinket at vastly inflated prices by the silver-tongued touts.
4) Recommending shady businesses
Touts and middle-men like to recommend particular hotels, shops or relevant business establishment by promising good deals and discounts. Everyone from taxi drivers to guides to travel agents and hotel owners are guilty of this. In some cases, they can get you something you may or may not require, but it’s almost always at inflated prices due to commissions involved. The business owner is obligated to pay sums as high as 50% of the sale value to the referrer.
How to avoid travel scams while traveling
As evident, any tourist is very likely to be approached by unscrupulous touts in a wide variety of situations. Here is how you can avoid losing your money in any of common travel scams:
1) Read reviews
Most of reputable businesses worth their salt have an online presence by the means of a website, reviews of forums and various travel related sites like Tripzar, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and many others. Look around for what other travelers are saying about them. Many businesses will have some bad reviews. In that case check how they responded or did anything to make up for the bad experience. There are many business with no online presence which can be good, but always ask fellow travelers before spending your money. People who are in business for long care about their reputation and are more trustworthy than small time touts who care only about money.
2) Contact in advance and keep things clear
It’s important that a tourist knows every relevant detail before handing over the money. It’s easy to fall for common travel scams if you don’t know how your money will be spent by agents. If you are planning any trip, make sure to have information about every hotel, car, guide, driver, food, sightseeing etc. written down for quick reference. It’s helpful in more than one way. Not only you have a good idea of what you are paying for, but you can also weed out the things you don’t need or ask for upgrades and better facilities.
3) Avoid the shops random strangers and untrustworthy guides insist on
As mentioned above, most business owners pay a very large percentage of their sales amount to whoever brings clients to them. . While a small commission is OK, most of the time, it’s so much that the tourists end up buying things at many times their reasonable cost. Taxi drivers may offer you reduced fare if you agree to visit some showrooms or shops on the way. Avoid them at all costs. If you absolutely have to go, then always check for reasonable price and bargain hard.
4) Keep low profile
This may sound strange to some, but do not show off your expensive branded clothes, electronics, wads of cash etc as a status symbol. Keep a low profile, don’t let other people know of your economic status. People who look rich attract more unsavoury characters than simple and broke backpackers.
5) Ignore them, don’t engage
A lot of places frequented by tourists will have numerous vendors, guides and beggars trying to sell you something or asking for money. Don’t pay any attention to them or make eye contact or do anything to make them think that you might be interested in buying something from them. Not everyone is a tout, but most such people are poor who just want to make some money qucik.
6) Call bluffs of fake officers
Some travel scams involve scammers pose as officers of some government agency and try to fleece money.It’s rare but if you ever have the misfortune of meeting any such low-life, ask for ID. Every government issued ID has text in English as well as a local language, Hindi in most cases. They’ll probably tell you that you were doing something illegal and threaten you with arrest if you don’t pay them some money. Contact nearest policeman or an uninvolved local and let him know of the issue. As a rule, ignore anyone without uniform.
That being said, there are numerous ethical businesses like ours 😀 which don’t rely on such corrupt practices. You’ll also find many good Samaritans who will help you without expecting anything in return. But you have to use your own wits to know that. Don’t let behaviour of some greedy person spoil your trip or mood.