For the first time on the culture blog we asked you to contribute. And, we weren’t disappointed with the response! Going on vacation can be a great chance to meet some interesting people you would never interact with at home. However, talking to the wrong people can often make you wish you’d stayed at home! We asked visitors to the culture blog to share their personal experiences of holiday scams and the advice they would give to others so they didn’t fall victim to the same fate. Here are the responses:
My biggest blunder happened in Rome several years ago. After arriving late to the city via train (surprise, surprise), my buddy and I checked in to our hotel around midnight. Weary but still adventuresome, we decided to take a stroll to see what a Wednesday night in the eternal city had to offer. Upon approaching a street corner, a seemingly lost looking fellow grabbed our attention and, in slightly accented English, asked if we knew where a certain street was (sorry, I forget its name). Well, we just happened to pass by it while walking, so we pointed him in the right direction. He proceeded by telling us that he was a business man in town for the night and heading to a Piano Bar recommended by his hotel concierge…”Would we like to join him?” he asked. He seemed like a good enough chap, so we joined, chatted while walking, and found the place.
We entered the bar, moved to the back room, and sat. As if on cue, three very scantily clad ladies joined us at our table. A waiter poured them some champagne. They started talking with us, and gradually began losing more of their clothing. Sensing my friend’s scepticism, we nodded at each other and announced our need to return to our hotel. As we got up to leave, a rather large male approached us and handed us a piece of paper that simply stated “Bill” at the top, with “$250 For the Ladies Champagne” written at the bottom. We each had $20 with us, which we reluctantly forked over, and thankfully the guy believed that we had no other access to funds. We skedaddled, realizing in the end that our street corner friend was a scamming recruiter for this little brothel house. Hook, line, and sinker, we fell for it.
My advice – Day or night, unless you know the person who approaches you or are connected to him via a group in some way, do not follow. And if you do, ALWAYS tell him/her that you’re part of a larger group, that the group knows your general whereabouts, and that they are expecting you to return shortly….this was the only leverage that we had when later negotiating with the big guy who looked like a professional torturer.
Ricco Ardemagni, NYC
My husband and I were on our honeymoon in Cozumel, Mexico; we rented a car for the trip. We were actually warned of this scam beforehand, but were not properly prepared. When we pulled in to a gas station, 5 or 6 guys ran over to the car and wouldn’t let us pump our own gas despite our protests. One of them stood directly in front of the pump to block the price. They told the amount we owed, and there was nothing we could do about it. They weren’t mean or threatening in any way, but we had no choice but to pay the amount without knowing how much gas was put in and what the actual price should be.
My advice to others would be to use a gas station where you see customers pumping their own gas, or just wave a $5 bill at them and tell them it’s all you have.
Dan and Lauren Milligan, Cozumel, Mexico
My wife and I went to Mexico.
3 days later after no electricity she freaked and said we need to rent a car. We argued because I’m a white guy in Mexico renting a car. And I didn’t think it was a good idea.
We rent a car.
5 minutes into driving I’m pulled over by cops in a pickup truck.
They ask me to step out of the car and begin to arrest me because I was speeding, swerving and not wearing a seat belt.
I was doing 10mph and swerving to avoid trees and coconuts in the road from the hurricane.
I ask why they were arresting me and they said I had to pay 150.00 fine at the police station. I asked if I could pay 100.00 now, they asked to step off the street and went on the sidewalk to avoid anyone seeing us. I already had 100.00 bill in my hand. They took it and sent me on my way.
We turned around and took the car right back.
Rental car 55.00. Time in rental car 5 minutes. Cost of “excursion” 155.00. Not spending a night in a Mexican jail…Priceless!
My wife was travelling in Spain and stopped at a red light. Someone knocked on her passenger window and kept pointing towards and saying “tire flat tire flat” She got out of the car to look and they opened up the passenger door and took her purse off the seat.
Pickpockets are everywhere. Use a money pouch that hangs from your neck under your shirt or around your belly. The most common forms of theft occur in your hotel room. Leave nothing of value in your room or in its safe. Take it with you. Unfortunately travellers are targets because they look out of place. However, by blending in with the locals style of dress will help. Have a constant awareness 50-100 feet around the perimeter of your body and expect people to try to distract you while they remove your wallet or bag that’s sitting next to you. Hyper awareness while travelling lets you see 10 times more of the environment for both entertainment and security value.
Robert Siciliano, SafteTravelSecurity.com
My husband and I were in a park in the tourist section of Mexico City when a young man in his early 20′s approached us. He was an American, well spoken and nicely dressed. He asked for our help. Said he was a student on vacation that had been pulled from a taxi, beaten, and robbed. All his money had been stolen. He even showed me a large bloody wound on the back of his head. He said that his father had wired him money for his plane ticket but he just needed cab fare, $25, to get to the airport.
Since I had been robbed myself a few years before that while on a business trip in Bangkok, I knew how frightening it can be in a foreign country to be without your passport and stranded, so I ‘loaned’ him $25 and gave him my business card so he could send me a check with the $25 when he got home. (After all, his request for help was so realistic and he only needed a little bit of money.) In the end, I left the park feeling like a Good Samaritan.
The next day, my husband was back in the park taking photographs, when the same young man approached him, asking if he could help him. Before the ‘victimized’ student could begin his spiel, my husband said, “My wife gave you $25 yesterday. You still need more?” That’s when the student aka scam artist left in quite a hurry. Only later when I recounted the story to a clerk at our hotel, did I learn that this was a popular tourist con and I had been scammed.
Don’t ‘loan’ any money to people that tell you hardship stories whilst on vacation!
Diane N. Bates, Loganville, GA.
I spent a blissful week sightseeing in Paris charmed by the people and wowed by the art, history and cuisine. I had saved enough francs to pay our cab driver with paper money and handed him the bills folded together when we arrived at the airport. He then turned to me as I got out of the cab and claimed I had shorted him on the fare. I knew I didn’t because I had double counted the bills before handing them to him. Because I had a plane to catch and my bags were still locked in his trunk I paid him more USD because the hassle of calling him on the scam wasn’t worth the anxiety. Lesson learned I now tell people to count the bills as they pay their cab drivers when travelling abroad so that this doesn’t happen to them.
Stacie Tamaki, The Flirty Guide
When my girlfriend and I took a low-budget tour across Western Europe a few years ago, we ended up pay $60 for what amounted to a 5 min. cab ride in Italy.
We were headed to Rome and used a discount airliner to fly into Ciampino. Our flight landed at 11pm and all the public transit was closed. We didn’t speak any Italian and we didn’t know exactly where our hotel for the night was, so we just hopped into the first available cab and told them the name of the hotel. The driver took us, literally, around the block and down about 4 streets and then asked us for 40 Euros (US$60 at the time). We were shocked, but it was late, we were in a foreign place, and we were inexperienced travellers.
What I know now is that in Italy this is a very common practice and cab fare is almost always negotiable as long as you settle on a price BEFORE accepting the ride. If we’d done our homework, we’d at least have had a better idea of how far we needed to go to get to our hotel and would have just walked.
Here is my personal experience of a holiday scam:
Whilst on holiday in Cuba a man approached me trying to engage me in conversation. I said no but then he made me feel bad by saying ‘Don’t you want to speak to a local? I’m not trying to sell you anything’. Feeling bad, I gave him my name, where I was staying and other little bits of information about me. The man went on his way 5 minutes later.
Later that day a different man approached me and said ‘Hey, Gary’. Shocked he knew my name I started to talk to him and he told me that he was friends with the hotel owner and that he would show me around. We spent a few hours together where he cleverly made me build up my trust and it got to the point where I needed to withdraw some money from the bank. In Cuba, they have a separate currency for tourists so my new ‘friend’ told me he could get me the currency of the locals at a great exchange rate. I handed over my money and, strangely enough he did come back.
He told me we could visit his grandmother’s house but before we were able to he would need to go in and speak to her. He disappeared around the corner and I never saw him again. Later, when reporting the incident to the police I found out that the money he had given me was worth virtually nothing.
That was my first major trip abroad and it taught me a lot. Basically, do not trust anybody no matter who they are. Sure, become friendly with people but never EVER let down your guard.
Gary Mullen, HandcraftedUK
And finally, just to show there is some good out there here is a positive experience:
My girlfriend and I were on a beach in Antigua where a native looking guy walks up and we buy a necklace.
Anyway, I give him a twenty and he says he has to get change. After he left my girl friend looked at me and told me I was an idiot and that he was not coming back…
I told her that he would be back. She said no way. Somehow I felt I could trust him and that he would be back. After talking with her though I was much less sure of myself.
However, he did come back! I just gave her that look and she mumbled something about it was still stupid. LOL!
I find it interesting that no matter how many times you prove yourself right; they still don’t listen to you. LOL!
If you have your own story then share it here for everyone to read.