Don't Catch The Baby!

Published: Wed 22 Dec 2004 04:13 PM
22 December 2004
Don't Catch The Baby!
We hear endless tales of travellers being drugged, having drugs planted on them or returning to their hotel room to find all their belongings are gone. It’s true, there are a lot of con-artists and scam-sters out there just waiting for unsuspecting tourists, but by ‘knowing your scams’ and applying a bit of common sense, such disasters can be avoided.
Scams and rip-offs are not limited to developing or poorer countries – some European countries are the worst for it – so don’t be fooled by the pretense of a ‘civilised’ country. Taxi drivers worldwide, for example, have been known to take foreigners the ‘long way round’ in an attempt to up their fare, or just plainly ripped them off.
Travel consultants from New Zealand’s largest travel retailer, Flight Centre, have heard of a wide number of scams and rip-offs, either from their clients or from their own travel experiences.
Area leader for Flight Centre Carlee McCaw said while the majority of travellers enjoy their trips unscathed, it pays to do a bit of research before you go.
“Travel scams certainly aren’t the norm for most people on their travels but being a little streetwise can go a long way to getting the most out of your trip, and avoid any mishaps,” she said.
Flight Centre travel consultants have compiled a list, which is by no means difinitive, of some of the worst or most common traps that travellers fall into every day:
*Friendly strangers – they are well dressed and offer to show you around or worse, take you to a ‘once only’ sale with incredible bargains. Best avoided. More likely to be on commission for fake or over priced goods.
*In Thailand, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is a government run organisation that assists tourists, but does NOT sell tours or travel. If some guy with a TAT badge tries to sell you a tour or ‘VIP’ bus or train ticket, ignore it, as you are more likely to end up at the old commuter bus stop having paid three times the regular price for a ticket.
*In bars, keep hold of your drink at all times. Drink spiking is more common than you might think.
*At airports or other transport depots, watch out for a hotelier claiming to be from a hotel that is recommended in the Lonely Planet or a similar guidebook and offering to drive you there. You may end up in a completely different, and no doubt inferior, property.
*Be careful when riding camels in Egypt. There have been loads of cases where tourists are asked to pay for the ride before they get on, and then payment is again demanded when they go to get off (and it’s a big jump down!).
*Bracelet scam in Paris – a man takes your hand and braids a bracelet onto it, initially saying you don’t have to buy it, but when it won’t come off (and it won’t!) they demand payment.
*Gem scams in Thailand. Each year hundreds of tourists get sucked into this, despite the warnings in many guide books. You get taken to a gem store where you’re told that they are such a bargain you’ll make thousands of dollars by selling them back home. They even offer to send them on to your next destination (a sure bet you won’t get them). In most cases, the gems are fake and largely worthless, yet people have been known to shell out thousands of dollars for them, especially if they are on a tight travelling budget and the lure of all that profit is just too much.
*In Central African Republic, watch out when changing foreign currency before crossing the river into the Congo – you’re likely to end up with useless expired money. One Flight Centre travel consultant figured it out before the crossing and managed to hold the money man down and get their money back. However victory was fleeting because they were then pulled up by the police who accused them of robbery and were forced to hand their money over to them.
*Be careful changing money in the streets of Peru – or taking advice on where to change it by ‘kind’ taxi drivers. The money you get is likely to be fake.
*Be careful changing money in Bali – there have been a number of cases where money changers, offering unbelievably good rates, will count the money in front of you, and between that and getting it in your hands, will slip a few notes into their pocket (they’re experts, doesn’t matter how hard you look). If the rate is too good to be true, it probably is!
*Tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok more often than not will try to take you on a free tour, which usually ends up at a fabric or jewellery store where you are subjected to a very intense sales pitch.
*In Italy, never catch the baby! There have been occasions when someone will approach a tourist and throw a baby at them (a toy one) and while they’re panicking their pockets are being picked.
*In Peru, watch out for flying chocolate sauce. The people responsible for it being all over you will then try and clean you up, and when you remove your bag to assist the process – within seconds they’re gone, and so is your bag.
*And finally, even at home you’re not immune – there have been reports recently of fake $50 notes circulating the country.

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