Top Scams that I Have Encountered While Traveling the World

During my travels, I have encountered many scams, but luckily have rarely ever been a victim of one. Making mistakes is a great way to learn a lesson, but this does not mean that they need to be one’s own mistakes. It can be much more enjoyable to learn instead from other people’s mistakes. Thus educate yourself about the following common scams so that you can avoid them during your own travels.


Flirtatious Women / Honey Pot Scams


I have never had a random beautiful woman just walk up to me on the street, tell me that I’m cute, and then invite me for a drink with her friends. Never that is, unless she was a scam artist. If something seems too good to be true, then it normally is. I have seen this particular scam take place in many different cities. It normally starts with a pair of girls flirting with some men that they meet on the street. They then tell these men that they know a great place to get drinks, and invite the men to follow them to a bar. These men then usually end up buying drinks for both the girls and themselves at this bar. At the end of the night, they get an outrageous bill totaling in the hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Some guys at this point, will still be oblivious to the fact that the girls who led them to this particular bar and ordered drinks on their tabs, are in cahoots with the bar owner. There are almost always burly security guards present, and sometimes even crooked cops will be called, to enforce payment of these outrageous bills. So a good tip is to always check the price of something before you place an order. Also be careful of the existence of a second “special” menu. Sometimes the beers that you are ordering off of your menu are reasonably priced, but there is a second “special” menu, from which your “date” is ordering cocktails priced their weight in gold. This can avoided by understanding the reasoning behind why you should never buy a woman that you just met a drink.

While pretty girls and alcohol are proven as a reliable way of luring men. The heart of this scam can be accomplished without either of them. In China, tourists are often recommended to “special tea shops,” where some hot water and tea leaves will cost a fortune. I even had a friend end up shelling out $35 for a coffee, after a girl brought him to a bar, but then learned that he did not drink alcohol.


Ball Under a Cup / Rigged Street Games

Most are familiar with the game: Guess under which of these three opaque upside down cups resides the little red ball. To have a chance to win, a person pays a fee to play the game, and is promised to receive an even greater reward upon winning.

I was once walking by such a setup and witnessed the following. The man who was running the game, was purposely losing and paying out money to another man who at first appeared to be a lucky passerby. In reality, this “player” actually knew the man running the game, and was part of the scam. By making the game look easy, and by letting other people witness a player “winning” money, a passerby was more likely to be tricked into playing the game. On top of this, the scammers would switch from their native language to speaking broken English, when they heard other English speakers nearby. As soon as these people where out of earshot, they would switch back to speaking in their native tongue.

To guarantee that a player would always lose, these particular scam artists played the game in the following way. They would move the ball around beneath the three cups at slow enough of a pace that they were certain that you would be able to follow it. This way they would be almost 100% sure of which cup you would pick. At this point, one of the other “random spectators,” will bump into you and divert your attention. The man running the game uses this opportunity to switch the location of the ball to another cup. Thus when you choose the cup that you just previously saw the ball underneath, you lose both the game and your money.

After witnessing this, I derived a way of winning the game by using an accomplice of my own. As with the scam above, it is better that the people running the game believe that my accomplice and I are strangers to each other.  My accomplice’s job is to stand off to the side, watch the game from a different angle, and note the which cup that the ball is moved to at the last instant while my own view is diverted. My accomplice would then say a code word to let me know where the ball was actually located.

Yesterday = left cup

Today = center cup

Tomorrow = right cup

So saying the sentence: “The weather is so nice today,” would inform me that the ball was actually under the center cup.

Here is a video by Penn and Teller showing how with a little misdirection and slight of hand, it is easy to manipulate such a setup.


Raising Money for a Fake Cause / Asking for “Donations”

The most common form of this scam is done in airports all over the world.  A person will hand you a flower or book as a “free gift” and then ask for a donation in return. By tapping into the powerful influencing principle of reciprocity, they try to make you feel guilty about getting something for nothing. The best execution of this scam that I have seen proceeded in the following way.

Two guys came up to me and asked me if I knew about the current hardships that their country was facing. While speaking, they tied small ribbons which shared the colors of their national flag to the loops on my backpack. They then continued by playing up the fact that they were poor students.  And in a genius final move, they had a poor old lady come up to us during this interaction, hand them a large bank note and thank them for their work. This lady’s job was to both provide social proof and set the scale for what I might view as being an appropriate amount to donate.


Taxi Rates

This is perhaps the most common scam. A taxi driver with either no meter at all, or a magic meter that will start running at warp speed halfway through your trip, will charge you a unfair price for your journey.

After arriving late one night at a city’s bus station, a fellow traveler that I knew took a 30 minute taxi ride to his hotel. The next morning, upon stepping outside his hotel building, he realized that he could see the bus station, and it was only located a 5 minute walk away. The taxi driver from the night before, had driven him all around the city without him knowing it. Had he checked Google Maps on his smartphone from the start, he could of called out the taxi driver.

The best way of avoiding such situations in places where the taxis are not well regulated, is by agreeing on a price prior to getting in a vehicle. Always be willing to walk away if a driver’s price is too high. There is almost always another driver parked directly behind him that would likely be happy to have your business. And if he just witnessed your willingness to walk away, he will most likely offer you a more reasonable price from the start.


Fake Apartments

This is one scam that I unfortunately fell for myself. After finding an apartment listed online for rent, I had my friend who speaks the native language, call the owner. I wrongly though that having a local organize the apartment for me would make it less likely that I would be scammed. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case.

After agreeing on a rate, I transferred a deposit for the apartment via an online banking platform. Then after a couple more days of playing telephone tag, the “owner” finally arranged to meet with me in person. He said that he wanted to present me with a contract, in exchange for an additional cash deposit. In the end, he never showed up and his phone number went dead. After probably sensing through our phone conversations that I was becoming skeptical, he likely decided to cut and run with his ill-gotten spoils, rather than risk a meeting with me in person which could turn confrontational.

To protect yourself from this type of scam, make sure you never exchange money until the goods are in hand, or when a third party arbitrator (such as Airbnb) can guarantee you a refund.


Crooked Police

Many countries have police forces that are incredibly underpaid, and make their living off bribes. They may harass you to pay them to get out of an offense that you may or may not have actually committed.

A friend of mine was pulled over by the police after he crossed the border between two countries. He was then informed that his car insurance policy was not valid in the current country, and that his car was to be impounded. After my friend asked the police if there was “another way” that the situation could be instantaneously resolved. They agreed that they would not commandeer his car if he was willing to pay them what amounted to be a $20 fine. My friend decided that paying $20 was more preferable than being left on the side of the road without a vehicle.


I’m Pregnant with your Baby!


It is not completely unheard of for a woman to trick a foreigner into thinking that they are pregnant with his child, and then try to exploit him for money. Other women can take it a step further and try to actually get pregnant with the man’s child. This can be a very stressful, difficult and costly situation to disprove. Not to mention life changing if it turns out to be true.

In addition to the obvious options of either abstaining or at the very least always using protection, you should also ensure that your genetic material finds its way to a final destination where it is irretrievable. Sometimes women who really want a baby will go treasure hunting after the fact.

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