Written by: Greg Ellifritz
“The bad guy can lure you to an isolated place. This is almost infinitely varied. Anything from offering a cheap, unlicensed cab to telling you that there is a beautiful shrine just down the alley that isn’t on the tourist maps. It’s hard to pass up. I have learned an incredible amount and had some great times because I was willing to be adopted by locals. With this one, watch for isolation. If they are taking you to the best local restaurant, you should see more people as you approach, not less.”– Rory Miller
Every location you visit is likely to have a few specific scams that con artists like to pull on people visiting the area. If you are unfamiliar with the local scams, check your travel guidebook or ask the staff at your hotel. You could even do an internet search on “scams in (your location).”
The majority of scams targeting travelers (either domestic or beyond) have at least some verbal component. The con artists use words to either reassure the victim or to close distance. Shawn Smith, in his book “Surviving Aggressive People” classifies these verbal interactions as “testing rituals.” The testing rituals all have the following similar characteristics:
– Talking too much
– Contradictions between words and actions or behaviors
– Triggering your intuition (this doesn’t feel right)
As a reliable general guideline, any time you are engaged in conversation with a stranger and you notice one or more of those characteristics in the conversation, you should expect that you are being scammed.
Another quick scam identifier is when the scam artist hands you something. This is always bad. Don’t ever accept anything that a stranger hands you on the street. At best, it will be a “gift” to guilt-trip you into donating money for the scam artists’ “charity.” At worst, it could be a set up for a robbery.
I’ve seen that happen in tourist areas of Thailand where scam artists will dress up like fake Buddhist monks and hand travelers cheap “prayer beads” with a request for a donation, usually to support an orphanage. Besides prayer beads, this scam often targets women with small bracelets, flowers, or even herbs. The con artist will give the traveler a single flower or a sprig of rosemary and then demand an exorbitant price. He will make a scene if you don’t pay for it.
This scam could end up costing you serious cash if the scammer hands you something valuable and claims that you broke it and demands payment. Some of the scammers will even have corrupt cops working nearby to pressure you into paying for the “broken” valuable.
The best non-specific scam avoidance advice is to avoid accepting any item given to you by a stranger in public. If approached by a scam artist who uses any of the “testing rituals” identified above, you should walk away. Be rude if necessary. Keep your hands in your pockets.
You should also avoid giving any information about where you are from, where you are staying, or what type of work you do. All of this information can be used later to construct more elaborate cons.
If the con man isn’t working on a long-term scheme, these simple questions become introductions to the testing rituals I mentioned above. Most people will answer questions from a stranger on the street. You shouldn’t. Just stay quiet and keep walking. Avoid verbally engaging with people you don’t know or with anyone who initiates conversations with you in public in an uninvited manner.
Those three pieces of advice will keep you safe from most scams. If you want some more information about common ruses, check out my upcoming travel safety book. I could never possibly detail every scam you may experience, but in the book, I attempt to explain all of the common hustles that have been foisted upon either me or my travel companions over the years
After I get my first book published, I’ll follow it up with a shorter book focusing solely on common travel scams and how to avoid them. Look out for both in the near future.