The travel scam in Asia and Africa ranges from the ridiculous to the sophisticated.
NEW DELHI. The Worthless Silk Print.
A guide in India that we had been sightseeing with for two days offered to take us to a store specializing in Indian art on silk prints. We arrived at a very swanky store and were taken to a private room where the clerk showed us lovely prints displayed in fine leather-bound folders. We settled on two prints; $90 each. Leaving New Delhi at the airport we saw the same prints for about $2.00 each. Ouch!, that hurt. When I got home I framed the fake prints and they are hanging in my hallway. What the hell. Be wary of guides that take you shopping and get a commission.
BEIJING. The Ancient Tea Ceremony.
My friend, Amy, fell for this travel scam. She was in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing looking at a map. A guy comes up to her and asks “Where are you from?” Amy is a pretty savvy traveler wary of strangers asking this classic come-on question so she just smiled and walked away. The guy was persistent. “I’m from Shanghai here on business” he said. Amy ignored him. The guy continued making conversation until Amy asked him to please leave her alone. Rather than complying, the guy appeared insulted and said he was a just businessman with a stopover in Beijing trying to make conversation with a fellow tourist and not wanting to bother anyone. Sometimes it’s tough to distinguish a genuinely friendly person from a scam artist. The way Amy tells it she felt bad for the guy and thought how many times she was in the same situation in a strange city wishing she could share the sights with someone. She agreed to go to a traditional teahouse with the guy. Once there they were taken to a private room and given an explanation of the traditional tea ceremony. The guy selected a special blend of tea for his “sick grandfather” but when he went to pay realized he had no money and showed Amy his empty wallet. Amy ignored this. By now she knew this was a con but, foolishly, wanted to see how far this guy would go. The attendant began ceremoniously pouring teas even though Amy said she didn’t want any while the guy encouraged her to drink. She refused. After about 20 minutes of this the exasperated guy suggested they leave. He walked away as soon as they got to the street. I told Amy she was lucky. She said her consolation is that she wasted the guy’s time.
The tea ceremony is a common travel scam in many parts of Asia. Here it is in greater detail. Tourists are lured to a traditional show where they observe an “ancient tea ceremony” and are then charged exorbitant prices for what they consume.
LAGOS, NIGERIA. The Exit Stamp.
As in all countries, Nigeria stamps your passport at passport control once you leave the country. I had struck up a conversation with a nice guy at the airport and we went through passport control together. When his turn came the passport control clerk declared that my companion, who spoke no English, needed to get an additional stamp before he could leave. The stamp could only be obtained in Kaduna State, several hundred miles from where we were. I explained to my companion that the clerk was obviously trying to rip him off and suggested he offer the clerk the equivalent of about $20.00 to resolve the issue. He did and was quickly on his way.
NEW DELHI. Wrong Carpet Shipped.
I bought two small carpets in New Delhi. The store agreed to ship them to me in the U.S. When they arrived, one was what I had purchased but the other was a vastly inferior product probably worth a tenth of what I had paid. This could have been an honest mistake. What do you think?
HONG KONG. Worthless Currency.
This one is truly bizarre travel scam. We arrived in Hong Kong, took a train into the city and a taxi to our hotel. In the taxi the driver asked us if we had the “new” currency. New currency? What new currency? The driver explained that the national currency had just changed and the old one was now worthless. As a favor he would accept the old currency for the taxi ride. But if we gave him the equivalent of about US$100 he would exchange it for us into the new currency. I still have no clue what that was about but obviously didn’t give him anything above the taxi fee. I later verified that, indeed, there was no new currency.
What’s the most sophisticated travel scam you’ve ever heard of?