Avoiding Scams

Graduate professionals do not hang out at tourist sites bothering tourists

From Bangkok to Cairo, from Beijing to Marrakesh, you’ll be approached by more “teachers”, “lawyers”, “archaeologists”, “filmmakers” and “doctors” than you could shake a stick at – much as we all would have loved to.

Most of these encounters have resulted in an invitation to some scummy, over-priced tat shop for the sort of hard sell that makes the Kray Brothers look like Mother Teresa, though a few, by way of variety, will no doubt try introduce you to travel agents offering tours for the price of your firstborn, or perhaps just a kidney.

People who invite strangers to tea usually have ulterior motives…

After a while in the Middle East, the simple word “tea” can trigger a fight or flight reflex that sends one soaring back to the prehistoric savannah. In the Arab world, extensive emotional-cultural blackmail, riddled with guilt-tripping references to “traditional Arabic hospitality”, tends to lead to an eye-bleedingly awkward afternoon resisting the siren lure of the sort of carpets and statuary Michael Jackson used to buy during his glory days in Vegas, perhaps with the occasional offer of money exchange by way of variation.

…especially if they’re Chinese

The Chinese take the ancient art of the tea ceremony to a whole new level with the tea scam. Here new friends gauge your gullibility and susceptibility to flattery over small talk then invite you to join them for tea. Where there are no prices on the menu, the dishwater concoctions we Brits so politely sample can run to hundreds, or even thousands, of pounds. Where there are prices, the thirty quid loss hurts the ego more than the wallet.

If someone says somewhere is shut, it probably isn’t…

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Typically, however, the taxi driver who claims your guesthouse is closed is receiving commission from the competitor he will take you to, a gratuity that will be added to your already extortionate room bill. And the “archaeologist” who explains that the museum is shut will rapidly suggest an alternative destination, typically a “government bazaar” with a special sale.

If someone says something is government-run, run…

Tying with the very special temple only open on “Buddha Day” for the coveted position of most popular scam in Bangkok is the TAT tuk-tuk tour, allegedly donated by the government for a token 20 baht, because, lord knows, there really aren’t enough tourists in Bangkok. The Egyptian government also has a range of eminently avoidable special offers, from government bazaars to discounted entry to the pyramids. 

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is

Rather as with the folk who send their life savings to that charming Nigerian general with the winning email style, it’s difficult to feel too sorry for travellers who fall for the gem scam, dropping thousands of quid on coloured glass and painstakingly smuggling it overland, let alone the various variants on the poker scam. Because those Filipino poker sharks you’re playing with so totally want your money to extort the OTHER guy, right? Err, right?

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