By the very nature of writing about cons and scams it sounds like I am suggesting that many places are unsafe to visit, but please don’t let this put you off (my Aunt was recently on a cruise and one American couple refused to get off the boat in Barcelona after hearing lots of stories about bag snatchings and muggings – such a waste!). Getting caught up in a con or scam really is the exception rather than the rule, it is all about being careful and being aware of your surroundings. Rich and I travelled for 12 months and never got burgled, pickpocketed or mugged (and if we were scammed, we never found out). This was potentially down to pure luck, but mainly I believe due to trying to understand what scams we might be faced with and being prepared for them!
CHINESE TEA HOUSE
This scam seems to happen mostly in the tourist filled cities of Beijing and Shanghai, but we personally encountered people ‘trying it on’ in Shanghai. In our case there were a group of 4 Chinese young adults who first of all handed us their camera and politely asked us to take their photograph. They then started talking, asking where we were from, where we had visited in China etc. Their English was excellent and when asked stated that they were students, visiting from another city. Next they said that they were going to a Tea House that has been recommended and asked if we would like to join them. It was at this point that we realised what they were up to, so we made our excuses and left (only to be targeted a few more times by different groups). Generally, if you agree to go along you will end up with a very large bill (approx. £100) for a few cups of tea. The groups are in on the scam with the tea house and whilst you can refuse to pay – there have been a number of instances where a few heavies are sent in to try and force you to pay.
How to avoid – some people have managed to leave and refuse to pay the full amount. However, we recommend that you don’t get drawn in, in the first place. If you want to go to a tea ceremony then get a recommendation from your hotel or hostel on the best place to go (and make sure you know the cost before you start!).
THE OLD BIRD POO TRICK – Buenos Aires/Montevideo/Barcelona – you name it!
Even though this is a widely publicised scam in the guidebooks, we came across a few people who fell for this one. It generally involves you being in a large square such as Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. An unsuspecting victim will get squirted on their back/shoulder with something like mayonnaise or mustard. Someone will then come up with a tissue and start wiping it off and make out they are helping you, whilst trying to alleviate you of your wallet/valuables.
How to avoid – these people generally target tourists who have their wallets in their pockets or have just seen you putting your wallet in an easy access pocket in your bag etc. Make sure that all of your valuables are carefully tucked away in an internal pocket and preferably keep a padlock on your bag to avoid straying hands. Remember to only take with you what you need for the day. Leave the rest of your valuables securely locked in a safe back in your room.
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