Scams in Asia are literally everywhere. From the moment you step outside of the airport, someone will be looking to take advantage of the fact that you're green enough to still fall for local ripoffs.
Most scams in Asia are centered around either gaining tourist trust, or simply on the basis that most tourists don't yet know local customs and provide easy targets.
While sometimes you can smell a scam unfolding from the start, many are much more subtle. Even the most seasoned traveler falls victim every now and then. The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to know about popular scams in the first place!
1. Watch Out for the Drivers!
No matter the country or mode of transportation, the drivers in Asia are pros at finding ways to increase their fares.
Never get into a taxi or tuk-tuk without first agreeing on a price, or confirming that the meter will indeed be used. If you forget before getting inside a taxi, the driver can ask for any price he wants at your destination!
Even in places where the taxi meter is not conveniently "broken," you may be taken on a joyride around town to increase the fare. Some meters have even been modified to run faster.
TIP: Fares will always be higher from taxi stands at airports, bus stations, and other places where newbies arrive. Walk out on the street and hail your own cab for the cheapest ride.
2. Borders and Transportation Hubs
Seasoned scammers set up shop around border crossings, bus and train stations, and anywhere else where travelers arrive fresh with a pocket full of cash. Be wary of any stranger who approaches you in a bus or train station; these guys aren't just looking for friendly conversation and usually have a motive.
TIP: To err on the safe side, wait until you are safely away from the border crossing before changing money or purchasing anything.
3. False Ticket Counters
While it sounds too bizarre and audacious to be true, sometimes people set up false ticket windows and counters outside of attractions and bus terminals.
These false counters have official-looking signs and are typically the first ones that you see on the approach to a place. When you purchase a ticket, someone takes your cash to the real ticket window -- often very nearby! -- and purchases your ticket, while pocketing a commission.
TIP: Walk past the first ticketing counters that you see to make sure there isn't a more official counter just a few feet away.
4. Get Rich Scams in Asia
Who wouldn't want to come home after a long trip with a profit? Many timeless scams are centered around the prospect of a traveler earning money somehow by buying for cheap, then selling for more expensive at home.
Thailand's infamous gemstone scam is the perfect example. Don't think that you're the first to think about buying antiques, gemstones, collectibles, or anything else to sell at home.
TIP: Run away quickly anytime you are approached by a stranger who offers to help you make money at something.
5. Pirated Goods
While there are some great shopping bargains to be found in Asia, many of the movies, CDs, perfumes, and even name-brand clothes are fake, low-quality imitations. Even American cigarettes are faked in China!
Street hawkers aren't the only place to find pirated imitations; even department stores and shops found in big malls will stock faked goods.
TIP: Although many are ingenious recreations, fakes rarely live up to their genuine counterparts. Don't always trust the labels.
- Read more about shopping in Asia.
6. Bus Thefts
The overnight buses in Thailand between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the islands are legendary for theft. The driver's assistant typically crawls into the bag storage as the bus is moving, then rummages around for valuables while people are sleeping.
The thefts are rarely obvious; the pros only take one or two small items from each bag and people never notice until long after the bus is gone.
TIP: Lock your luggage before putting it onto a bus, or hide valuables in the very bottom. Anything that you really care about (passport, camera, money) should be kept with you at your seat.
- Read about other scams in Thailand.
7. VIP Bus Scams
Paying for a “VIP” bus upgrade in Asia typically means that you pay more and still get the same bus as everyone else. Nearly every long-haul bus plying the roads in Southeast Asia is labeled as a VIP bus. Other times, you will be told that the VIP bus has broken down and you will be put on the regular bus -- with no refund in the fare difference.
TIP: Don't pay to upgrade to VIP.
8. Exchanging Money Scams in Asia
Exchanging money on the street, particularly near borders, is always a risky prospect. To be safe, only exchange money in banks or in licensed exchanges. Even then, count your money closely and know the current exchange rate beforehand.
Consider carrying a small calculator to do your own calculations. The calculators in some countries have been modified to show the wrong amount!
TIP: Never accept worn out, torn, or damaged bills. These are often given to foreigners and you may not find anyone that will accept them later.
- See exactly how to exchange money in Asia and the current exchange rates for each country.
9. Tourist Information Offices
Tourist information kiosks and offices in Asia are not always government sanctioned. Many of these offices are simply middlemen looking to sell you attraction tickets, bookings, and accommodation while tacking on a commission.
TIP: Tourist offices are good for maps and free information, but always book your tickets in person or through your accommodation.
10. Always Ask the Price First!
Just as before you get inside of a vehicle, always ask the price before receiving something; it is too late to do so after the fact. Very few things in Asia are for free.
Ask the price before that street hawker cooks your food or you drink that softdrink sold at the same stall. Prices in shops can change on a whim; don't assume that because you've bought a consumable in the past that today it is the same price!
TIP: When staying in a place for some time, try to return to the same shop so that you become a familiar face and receive better prices.