SCAM naturally concentrates around hot tourist spots. It holds multiple forms. It could be just pure low lies, clever tricks or dangerous crime and everything in between. Originally, I thought that Halong Bay and few other tourists spots in Vietnam were the places where the SCAM Phd degrees should be taken by all the lower-grade scammers from Praha, Siam Riep or Veronicas but some tourist industry people in Cusco took things to the next level. Some scammers here are so good and cleverly inventive that sometimes I even feel good paying the extra monies because they deserve it 😀
But seriously – sometimes it’s not fun. I’ve compiled here few stories that happened to me, the people I’ve met or the urban stories travellers share over their happy hours cocktails. I’ll start with the mild ones.
This could simply be just flat lies, such as when taxi drivers lie to you that there’s no public transport in other to make you to use their services instead. This sadly happens a lot around San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua but the taxi drivers could not be trusted globally (bless the exceptions). Their most common SCAM used to be taking longer routes but that is now gone with GPS and Maps.me so now they just simply try to overcharge you badly without even driving the extra miles..
Another semi-SCAM could be given change in mildly damaged dollar bills in countries that use or co-use USD as their currency. So if you are in Cambodia, Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador or Guatemala – always check the state of your change given, because you won’t be able to spend those bills, nor they will be taken by a bank. Well, in some places you could sell them for a reduced price to the money exchange place, which will get rid of it at full price with the next available careless tourist.
Low, undeserved and primitive SCAM
Together with the taxi shite, this is maybe the most common form of SCAM. I’m talking about situations when for example a bar person tells you that you only gave him or her a 20 note instead of 50 in order to give you back less change. Or when they will bring you peanuts you haven’t asked for together with your beer and then charge you some stupid money for eating them…
Most often it’s when shops don’t display prices of their products and they can charge different people different prices. In Vietnam, there are several economies for rich, poor and white people living there, who are for some reason called expats, rather than just immigrants like everyone else.
The SCAM here was sometimes rather funny because in some places the small children were the only English speakers and therefore the interpreters. At that age they however didn’t know how to lie yet so you got the normal price first which changed quickly after they were told of straight away by their mums/shop owners in Vietnamese. Cute 🙂
Hard to fight primitive SCAM
This is for example when you agree the price with the taxi driver (yes, taxis again) about a drive from A to B and upon arrival, the price changes, while the driver’s previously rather good English suddenly turns into bad English AKA “Sorry my English very bad”. Anything where the language barrier is used is hard to fight, especially if you are using your weaker language to make a deal. It’s like the small print in spoken word.
The language barrier trick is also often used in Scam Pedro de Atacama, Chile when buying tours to explore the extraterrestrial looking beauties of the town’s surroundings. They are willing to sell you a unicorn and the next day they will show up with a donkey and press you to feel grateful about how much work they needed to do to get this donkey because there was some problem with unicorns and everyone consequently wanted a donkey on that morning. It wasn’t easy getting this donkey 😉 I personally hate that twisted emotional blackmail, especially when you are being done…
Other example of what they are good at in Scam Pedro de Atacama is carefully picked information. Only a partial information that suits the sale is provided. If you don’t ask specifically for everything you need to know, they can always say they haven’t promised you that, etc… Like in politics, it’s not really lying – it’s just avoiding the parts you would not advertise about your product or actions. If you ask about it later, they will always have an answer for everything, such as with the donkeys…
In Cusco, I was done by the trick I now call “Off the menu beer”. So you scan the menu, order a 0,5l brand that says 10 Soles. The guy then goes – red or blue – you see that there in the fridge there are two kinds. The same colours like the pills in Matrix. You pick one, not even knowing what’s the difference. When you pay, you realise that it’s 15 Soles, because the other colour was the one for 10 😀
I’m sure that if I’ve picked the other colour, than it would have been the other way around. There were two colours only to do you one way or another. Ever thought that it was the same in Matrix and Neo did not really got a chance to chose his destiny because both pills meant the same?))
Furthermore, there are also people that might appear like they are partially disabled. I’ve had my valet grabbed in León, Nicaragua by a guy whom barely walked and whom I was to give 20,-NIO ‘cos I felt bad for him. As soon as I took my valet out, he grabbed it and run like an athlete 😀 I chased him and thankfully he dropped my valet keeping only small amount of cash he managed to take out during the sprint, while I got all my cards back..
Cusco‘s shoe cleaners. This is a funny one. One dude from Montreal was, like everyone who visits Cusco approached by one of the shoe cleaners. The streets are full of them, who together with their counterparts “art sellers” bother you every 30 seconds selling “their” paintings, drugs, chicks and whatever people are into.
So the Montreal dude got offered this “promotion” AKA “free” shoe cleaning by the “apprentice” 😀 Being there for only for few hours, he accepted it. After about 20 seconds of free cleaning, the “apprentice” applied product and then he said: By the way, this product is not part of a promotion – that would be 20 Soles 😀
On our way to Machu Picchu, we were even joking that when we get there – it will be a completely different site and the guides will go like: “aaaah – you meant the other Machu Picchu?” 😀 On this note I must say that not everyone I had to deal with in Vietnam, Cusco or in San Pedro de Atacama was a scammer. I’ve also met some really nice and honest people who stood behind their words and even delivered extras. I wish there were more of such people everywhere.
The world needs more of them, especially nowadays when we have scammers in politics and executive business positions. Or do you think that the bullies like Jeff Bezos, Trump, Bolsonaro or Maduro are any different, except the fact that they took their “shoe cleaning” product-applying apprentice tricks to an insane levels of influence?
Also, please watch out for the too friendly people. First they help you to find where you are going and then they “accidentally” bump into you in the evening. You might feel good and comfortable to finally meet someone of the non-opportunistic nature but in reality they might want to earn your trust so you drop your guard and…
This generally is applied upon younger and therefore a bit less experienced people. It could be buying drugs when the dealer turns into a corrupt cop right after the transaction. Those situations could be quite costly because nobody wants to get arrested for a possession of drugs in for example Thailand. You’d pay literally any bribe to get out of that situation quickly 😉
It’s not that SEA is full of drugs – the victims of this particular SCAM also most likely don’t even do drugs – they often don’t deserve to be judged, unless their sometimes rather disrespectful behaviour is taken into the consideration – otherwise they are just on holidays and trying different things. I personally believe that it’s something like: “I’ve drunk snake’s blood yesterday, eaten a scorpion the day before for the first time – why shouldn’t I try this shit today?”
Other example of a semi-dangerous SCAM is this good story I’ve heard was from one 20yr old Harvard student, the first timer in SEA. His friends and him got stupidly drunk in one of the Hoi An’s drink-what-you-can for $5 bars and he got off with a moto-taxi (it’s basically a drive home on a scooter) to his hostel. The old man drove him 15km out of town, took his money and left him there.
FYI: those moto-taxi drivers are usually old men, often illiterates. The Harvard boy lost about $50 and 1,5 hours to get back to town. He should be lucky he still has his liver. This way it’s just a cheap lesson Harvard would never teach him. Harvard boy being done by an illiterate – I kind off like that social karma contrast 🙂
Criminally dangerous SCAM
Oh well, here we are in the very dangerous waters. Everyone heard about the rape drugs or kidnappings for instance. In some SA countries, another SCAM was reported on several occasions. On a night bus, they spray you with Scopolamine drug to knock you off and take all your stuff and that is not the worst thing that can happen to you.
Furthermore, if you are a solo male traveller, you’ll be forced to deal with the traps and tricks of “oldest job in the world” whether you want it or not because it’s present nearly everywhere. If you are not into such scene, you will quickly learn that it’s often not only about saying “Gracias señorita , no mi interesa“. For example I got into a situation which wasn’t easy to get out of, although I must say that it wasn’t really about providing any services of sexual nature.
The “prostitute” who’s services I didn’t seek at all approached me from behind and locked her elbow to mine. She wasn’t getting NO for an answer, while the dangerous looking pimp followed us in a close distance as she’s tried to drag us into a dark side street. So my choices were to physically push her away but then it would look like I was being violent towards a lady, which would, I guess, be the trigger for the pimp to step in to defend her and take my valet as a compensation (:0 *
So girls and boys – be careful out there – I know you are on holidays, which might sometimes mean that you’d be willing to do things you normally wouldn’t. You don’t have to be a boring conservative – try new shit, have fun – as much as you can, after all you live just once 😉 Just don’t be stupid and be aware that there sometimes are assholes out there, waiting to get you so stay sharp 😉
*In case you were interested how I got out of that shitty situation, I can tell you that I got lucky ‘cos we were passing by a bar which I quickly entered. Elbows got unlocked and the pair carried on walking. She only took an equivalent of about €10, which I had in my back pocket. By the way, eversince, I carry a small note in a back pocket because such “controlled” pick-pocketing could be my ticket out of a potential robbery. They feel a note and bugger off. Better than facing a knife or a gun in the dark corridor somewhere…