How To Avoid Falling Victim To The Most Common Travel Scams
When Irisa Yates arrived at the Grand Palace in Thailand, she was told there was a religious ceremony on and so the iconic tourist hot spot was closed for visitors.
The Grand Palace is said to be one of the world's most-visited tourist attractions and Yates and her friend had arrived at sunrise to escape the crowds.
After seeing how disappointed they were, the man who told them the palace was shut, offered to take them on a boat ride instead.
In the early hours of the morning, the normally bustling streets of Bangkok were desolate, so Yates decided to take up the offer.
"I was speaking to him in Thai and I thought he wouldn’t scam a Thai person," Yates told 10 daily.
After returning from the hour-long boat ride, they saw the temple was swamped with tourists.
In comparison to local Thai prices, the ride wasn't cheap --- he charged them $20 each.
"It didn't make sense for them to close the temple and then quickly reopen it and have so many tourists there in such a short time. That's when we realised we'd been scammed," Yates said.
Yates' story isn't uncommon, with The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warning travellers to be wary of friendly strangers who may have ulterior motives.
The government travel site flagged one common scam in China that Australian tourists often fall victim to.
It involves women approaching male travellers and inviting them to a tea ceremony or a local bar.
After the drinks are finished, an outlandishly expensive bill - sometimes in the thousands of dollars - will be presented to travellers, who won't be allowed to leave until they pay by credit card.
"Some Australians have been violently assaulted," Smart Traveller warned on their site.
"Don't accept invitations from people you don't know, be clear on how much services cost [and] organise massages and similar services through your hotel or reputable provide."
Janie Abiharb was 21 years old when she travelled to Paris for a university exchange.
When she stepped out of the airport, she was surrounded by men yelling 'taxi, taxi, taxi' but after agreeing to go with one man, she realised his car didn't look like a real cab.
"I saw that it was just an ordinary car and I was getting 'Taken' flashbacks. We ended up safe but he scammed us out of our money,"Abiharb said.
"We told a French woman what happened and she said Paris was notorious for that and it's so dangerous because you're getting in the car with a stranger," she said.
Taxi scams are prevalent in most countries, and Smart Traveller advises tourists use licensed taxis with a meter, agree on fares beforehand and research transport options in advance.
"Unlicensed, unmetered drivers often operate from airport arrivals halls and major tourist destinations. These drivers offer flat-rate fees to tourists. In many cases, the fees are much higher than metered fares," Smart Traveller said.
"They may also try to give you the wrong change — for example, giving you change for $10 when you paid with a $100 note," they said.
Street 'gambling' games
Irisa's father Michael has also had his fair share of scams.
In Montmarte, Paris, he threatened to call the police after a cup-and-bean game went wrong and his wife was robbed.
The family had been watching a group of people guess which cup a bean was under when a woman behind the table snatched $82 from his wife's hands.
"I immediately began yelling out for the Gendarmerie [police] and they promptly gave the money back.
"It wasn't until we walked down the street to leave the area that we noticed the other groups and realised that they were all working the whole street collectively," Michael Yates said.
In the jam-packed streets of Madrid, Spain, Diana Lee spotted her first 'free gift' scam.
Women in white clothing were handing out 'free' sprigs of Rosemary and if a traveller accepted the gift, they'd start reading their palms.
After telling travellers what their future holds, the women would start to aggressively demand money.
"I remember we were once sitting at a Maccas and watching them and keeping track of how much they were making. I think some of them honestly made more than 200 bucks," Lee told 10 daily.
"Another time, we were in a park and this guy came up to us and offered to sing. My friend, thinking it was just a guy wanting to serenade us, said 'yeah of course!' And then he tried to charge us for it afterwards," she said.
While tourists are distracted, they may also be pick-pocketed, Smart Traveller warns.
They advise Australians to "stay alert.. and treat[ing] any unusual event as a potential pickpocketing attempt."
Consumer Advocacy group CHOICE suggests travellers "do not keep wallets in back pockets and "remember expensive watches, jewellery and cameras are tempting targets for thieves."
What to do if you're a victim of a scam
Australians who've fallen victim to scams can seek assistance through state police and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
While overseas, Smart Traveller urges Australians to contact local police and to always obtain a police report of what occurred.
"The Australian Government is limited how and when it can help overseas. If you've been scammed, contact local authorities and seek support from friends and family."
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