As a digital nomad you are going to travel a lot, which means you are always a tourist. Tourists are a major attractions for con artists, so you need to make sure you know how to avoid being scammed. There are couple of things you can do to avoid looking like a tourist, but in half the world being a Caucasian is already a bright red flag that you are not a local. When traveling to Asia, South America and Africa it’s obvious you are a foreigner. All the foreigners are walking targets for scammers, so here are the most common scams and how to avoid falling for them.
Regardless your field of work, as a digital nomad your entire life is in the backpack you are carrying with you. All your clothes, official papers, money and your beloved laptop are in that backpack! Safety becomes way more important, especially as new scam masters are getting the ropes of the new race of travelers called digital nomads and learn to exploit us in new ways, taking advantage of the fact you carry all your belongings across the world.
Staying informed is a great weapon, so here are the most common scams around the world.
The notorious tea scam – Shanghai, China
In the last years scammers came up with a smart way to rob Westerners: the tea scam, which is usually played on tourists in Shanghai. A couple of beautiful Chinese women – sometimes men, as well – approach you in a large marketplace and spend some time with you, doing all they can to turn into your “friends”. In some cases, the duo can spend as much as two hours with you, before trying anything!
The girls always speak a perfect English, which adds to their charm. They invite you to a tea ceremony and if you accept, you will be walked on small streets, often making a large detour, which has the purpose of making you lose your sense of orientation. You will be taken to a building where someone is going to serve you multiple types of teas. At the end of the ceremony, you will be asked if you want to buy any type of tea. Then comes the bill: if you are lucky, it will be around 100 dollars. If not, you will be asked to pay even more!
Resist the temptation to participate in the tea ceremony!
Wrong change scam – universal
One of the most common scams you have to avoid is an universal one: the wrong change. This one is also pulled off on locals, all over the world, but it works best on foreigners, because they are not used with the local currency. If you are not good at math, you may want to do your calculations before you purchase anything or use a conversion app to avoid being scammed this way. How this scam works? Simple: you are given a wrong change, usually significant smaller than the one you really have to collect. Another version of this scam is even simpler: you buy something, but the vendor doesn’t have any change, so you are forced to pay more for the item. When currency is involved, you may pay a lot more than couple of pennies. The scam is often pulled in large stores too, so be alert all the time and have small bills with you at all times!
Jet ski rental scam – Thailand
A true digital nomad is not into renting cars, but if you do try to rent one, pay extra attention. However, you will be renting jet skis, which is another vehicle used by scammers. You will be charged for damaging the car/ski jet and asked to pay for the scratches and even more.
Here’s a freebie! – universal
Another universal scam is the freebie scam: if someone offers you something free, refuse politely and leave the scene as fast as possible, because there is nothing free! This scam originated from Las Vegas and is now put to work everywhere. The hotel will offer you something free: it can be a pair of free show tickets, a free night at the hotel or another attractive freebie. You will be then taken to enjoy a hotel tour, which will take couple of hours, but you will get all the free stuff. At the end of the tour, you are going to be intimidated to buy a time share in the hotel.
Best way to avoid being scammed: just say no to all the free stuff!
Free drinks and girls – Bangkok, Thailand
In Bangkok you can easily be lured to have couple of free drinks, then enjoy the company of a beautiful girl. But, the situation can quickly get very dangerous, as the girls, who receive a commission each time you buy a drink from them, are quick to call their “protectors”, who can and will convince you to pay for everything in a violent way. To avoid all the hassle, just refuse to get free drinks and stay away from girls: Asian women are keen to marry a Westerner, as this is a sign of wealth in Asia and can mean the end of their life as a prostitute.
Taxi scam – universal
Taxi drivers are the masters of scams – they can sniff a foreigner from hundreds of miles and will turn back from nothing to steal your money. The common taxi scam is pretty obvious: the driver will agree to take you for a fixed payment, but on the road they will change their mind and charge you a lot more. Depending on the country you are in, the money you will be paying might not be a lot for you, but they will be a lot for the scammer: up to a day’s wage! Closing the eye on these people will only encourage them to carry on, so before you step foot into a cab, make sure they are registered aka legal, the driver is employed to a reputable taxi company and the meter is on.
The same type of scam is pulled off with tuk-tuks and other forms of transport.
An alternative to avoid being scammed by a taxi driver is taking the bus or the train, but these vehicles also have their own hoards of scammers. Look out for the “official” people and their offers: you can be asked to buy a more expensive ticket, on the basis that all the seats are already taken. The “official” person will bring you to an office where you can buy the astonishingly expensive ticket for your ride, but if you come back to the so-called office after 30 minutes, you will find it closed and abandoned.
Trains and buses are haunting grounds for simple pickpockets, so be alert who is dropping items near you, who is touching you friendly and who is asking you for directions, as they might leave with your money as well.
Closed establishment– Bangkok, Thailand
This is a simple scam which works exactly because you are a foreigner to the country. Someone is going to approach you and tell you a certain tourist attraction is closed today, due to a national holiday. Then, the person will suggest you something exciting to do and will take you to a shop where a local who doesn’t speak English will show you an item with an impressive value. If the item, which is usually an artifact or a jewel, would be indeed valuable, everyone would be happy, but they are showing you a trinket which is hardly worth more than couple of bucks. They will ask you to pay for the item: the amount they ask can vary from 20-30 dollars to even hundred of dollars!
Don’t fall for the scam and don’t pay a fortune on the fake items.
One drink makes for one full meal
We all know how the McDonald’s vendors try to sell us the full menu, instead of a drink or a burger, so you shouldn’t fall for this scam, but it’s not that easy. You enter a local, order a drink and receive an entire litre of it. Then comes the food: a simple burger order can bring you a table full of delicacies which are going to drain your pocket in the next minute. Not because you’ve touched any of them, but because they belong to you, once they land on the table. In most cases, the waiter is going to be overly friendly and helpful from the minute you enter the establishment, which is a strong side you may fall into a trap.
You wear it, you buy it
One second of distraction is enough for a scammer to wrap a bracelet around your hand. A man or woman who sells small hand made jewelry, usually bracelets, loudly advertises the merchandise and in the next second you have a bracelet on your hand. They are on a “no return” policy, so they won’t take it back. If you wear it, you have to pay it! If you are not quick enough to reject the item before it lands on your body, you will have trouble getting away without paying, but it’s not impossible. However, it might get dangerous, because you never know if the seller has any backups around.
A variation of this scam is found in Istanbul: the scammer is going to offer “free” shoe shining, which is nothing but free.