On the Road

Some More Travel Scams

There’s another backpacker born every minute..

We love hearing from road junkies around the world, especially when they have cool stories like these ones to offer. This is from René, a German traveler in Singapore.)

Message: Fellow Road Junkies,

I would like to contribute my experience in regards of travel scams. While backpacking in Asia for 6 months, I came across three scams worth mentioning.

1. The ‘Overweight Backpack Scam’, Kunming – China

The worst one of all.

I was walking in the busy streets of Kunming minding my own business as a friendly couple approached me. The lady did not say a word and looked uncertain/shy, but the guy had good English skills was very outspoken. He introduced himself and said he “was a small manager at the local bus station” and wanted to take the opportunity to practice his English with me, making small talk. Stupid me pointed out that coincidentally I was about to leave for Vietnam by night bus the next day. He said that was great and he could treat me with a drink before my departure. I was not keen and declined politely, but somehow he extracted the details of my departure time & bus info etc.out of me.

So the next day I almost forgot about him and did not think I would see him again. But sure enough, as I was waiting for the bus he found me. He was very happy to see me and was so kind to carry my backpack, led me to the right bus and even boarded it with me to showed me my berth for the night. He wanted to see my ticket and I believe he either kept it or passed it on to someone else. At that point he said everything was alright, except one little problem: my backpack was too heavy and I needed to pay for the overweight.

Remember, I was sitting in the bus not in a plane. This raised the red flag and I told him I had hardly any local currency left (less than $5). Naturally that was too little for him, although the total ticket price was maybe already 3 times of that amount. He replied I could pay by in US$ instead and asked how much I would have on me. I refused to cooperate with him any longer, branded him as a con and told him I would not believe him any longer. He said I could talk to the bus station security (that was certainly involved as was the waiting bus driver), but I insisted to bring the police.

To make it short, he first verbally abused me, then even tried to hit me and rattled with a hidden chain to intimidate me further, ignoring all other passengers. After one and a half hours(!) he finally gave up and the bus drove off. That asshole was really pissed off. At that time I was quite scared as I didn’t know whether he tampered/removed my luggage or if the bus driver would drop me off in the middle of nowhere since I did not have my ticket anymore. Later on, almost every backpacker I met that had taken the same route told me they had been conned by that scumbag!

2. ‘Petrol scam’, North Vietnam

This one was not a biggie, but I hated to see the big grin of the bitch that screwed me over.

I rented a motorbike and before returning it you had to fill it up again. The petrol station was quite busy and had an assistant who would fill up the tank and the accept the money. After she filled up my tank I found the amount I had to pay was more than I had expected. Upon closer inspection I noticed the petrol pump displayed more dispensed liters than that would actually fit into the tank. So either she “forgot” to reset the counter to rip me off or more likely that smiling bitch who got served just before me and was about to leave told her I would pay her share. It was hopeless to argue as the attendant acted blur and I ended up paying.

3. ‘The Card Game Scam’, Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

This seems to be quite common and it seems a number of different groups operate there.

I was walking in downtown KL as a young couple stroke up a conversation. After a while they invited be for a cup of coffee at the next McDonalds. Having nothing better to do, I accepted but insisted to pay myself. We got along well and I got comfortable with them, not suspecting any scam as I met other people in Malaysia that were really that welcoming. Next, they invited me to their home for (early) dinner. They hailed down a cap which brought us to a nice area with villas. I wasn’t worried as their family (with kids running around) seem to be genuine friendly & wealthy. Furthermore it was still bright outside, the door to the house always open to provide a possible escape route.

After the meal & a coke we sat down and I talked the an elderly gentleman. He said he used to work as a dealer in a casino and knew a fool proof trick to win every card game – always. I just needed to come upstairs and he would show me the trick and we could practice it. Well, I wasn’t really in the mood to follow a stranger to his private room alone to gamble (even no money involved) which is also illegal in Malaysia. So I told him I never gamble and tried to change the subject. But he kept trying to convince me to give it a go. After a while I said I had to leave and they complied. Fair enough, they even gave me a lift back to town and stayed friendly all the time – not showing any disappointment or trying to intimidate me.

I googled this incident and found how the scam is actually done: If you are playing along and accept to learn the “card trick” (Poker or BlackJack), the dealer will give you secret (but quite obvious) hand sign that enables you make the right decisions and win every round. Surprisingly, the house owner’s rich friend from Brunei just happens to show up during the session and fancies to play a round of cards. Of course, the friend does not know about the little scheme between you and the dealer – so it is a sure win for you and the dealer even gives you maybe $200 to play with. The Brunei friend keeps losing and at the end bets several thousand $ in the last round, but insists that you can show the matching amount before revealing the cards…

If you’re lucky, you only have to repay the initial deposit the dealer generously gave you beforehand. Unlucky ones (read: drugged or stupid greedy ones) went to the ATM to get the asked deposit and lost thousands of bucks.

René (German Road Junky, currently living in Singapore)