Scams are an international sport, it is not enough to go abroad to be the victim of a scam, in France, the United States or the Philippines, scammers are everywhere. But just because they are inevitable doesn’t mean you have to fall for them every time: a well-informed traveller is worth two. Here’s an anthology of the most common transport scams.
Here are a few tips to avoid being ripped off by taxis which, I must say, live up to their international reputation…
That is a taxi with a logo and a telephone number. There are many countries where taxis are unmarked cars, so you have to adapt accordingly. If a driver approaches you as you leave the station (he or she may also be a driver of the road), ask to see the car and refuse the ride if it looks suspicious.
Are you in a country known for its taxi scams, with no official company in sight? Take a photo of the license plate, it can always impress the scammers.
Metered taxis are generally recommended, but…
Between fake meters that spin too fast and those that don’t display the numbers correctly, asking to plug in the meter doesn’t always protect you from being ripped off. Sometimes it is better to ask for a fixed price for the journey, for example from the airport to the hotel. In the city, the meter is a guarantee that you only pay for what you actually drive and sometimes you have to insist that the driver plug it in. Hang on and don’t hesitate to change cars if he refuses.
Check that the meter is at zero when you get in. If it is not and he explains a tax, get out of the car and take another taxi.
Be careful with your luggage, especially if it is in the tboot
Ask to get them back before paying and once you have secured your belongings, pay what was agreed at the outset. There is always the risk that it will start off with your luggage as a gift.
Pay and wait for your change inside the car
Always wait for your change before getting out of the car, especially if it is a large note. Once outside, the driver only has to press the accelerator to let you enjoy the world’s most expensive ride ever.
Have your change ready to give the exact amount at the end of the ride
If you wave a 100 or 1000 banknote under the driver’s nose, it might give him the desire to increase his benefit. Then, he will always be able to tell you that he doesn’t have change and thus inflate the price.
Never pay in advance for your taxi ride
It seems strange but it can always happen: the taxi will drop you off several kilometres from your destination. As the driver is already in possession of the money, he feels safe.
On your smartphone, follow the route on an application such as Google maps
(free) which, unlike Google Maps, does not require an internet connection to work. Remember to download the maps before arriving in the country and to save the place where you want to go.
Don’t be impressed by the bullshit, the authoritarian tone, the peremptory tirades from the taxi drivers
The driver(s) will tell you that the fare is $20 (instead of $2). If there are other drivers in the area, as is often the case around train stations or airports, they will all put pressure on you and tell you that this is the normal fare or even give a bogus reason for the increase: the centre is closed because of a demonstration or site. Turn a deaf ear, stay on your position, show that you are confident and keep smiling. If you are all ears, horrified, panicked by the high price, the announcement of the disaster are making efforts to find some help: you become an easy prey. Indeed, the roles are reversed: you beg for help, you are scared when in truth you are a customer ready to pay a normal price for a service: you are the boss, you set your conditions, make your choices, negotiate the taxi ride. Put things back in place, stay calm and wait for other taxis. It may take a little time, but between losing 15 minutes and getting ripped off for $20, it’s up to you.
At the Cairo airport, Egypt, a young traveller paid $50 for a ride to the centre of the old city when the normal fare is between $10 and $15. Moreover there is a shuttle bus, not easy to find it’s true (you have to take a bus to terminal departure, then another shuttle bus to Tahir) that which costs… 1$! She was manipulated by a whole troop of drivers telling her there is no shuttle and a lot of other lies.
Try to always have an idea, an average or a price range for the ride
Scams flourish in the soil of ignorance. When I get off the bus in Cairo, still in Egypt, the taxi driver asks me £100 for about 2km, what the heck! No way! I negotiate at half price. Quite proud of me, I will realise later on that the ride actually costs only 10-15 Egyptian pounds!
From the city centre to the airport: be careful with scams
Be careful when travelling to the airport. Sometimes the driver stops on the way to ask for more and refuses to take you there if you don’t comply. Fear of missing the flight will bend the most combative travellers. This is one of the reasons why it is safer to use public transport to get to the airport. Check on the internet or with your hotel to find out how the airport is served.
You are already in the taxi and the driver changes prices en route
If you can, get out of the taxi immediately and get angry, it always has an effect: the agreed price or nothing!
The driver is likely to be satisfied with the price announced at the start better than argue and no money at the end.
Scam at the police checkpoint
Here is your taxi being stopped by police officers. The purpose of the maneuver is to find something to clean your wallet. So the police officers will find something to charge the “poor” driver. With a tear in his eye, the latter begs you to pay for him, it’s terrible, he is already so much in need! It’s usually a scam, the taxi and the policemen are in cahoots and share the fruit of the scam.
To avoid being swindled, show your good faith by opening wide your wallet that contains no more than $2 in local currency. You don’t have any money! Of course, you will have taken care to put your large notes in a hidden place (tube of toothpaste, under the soles of your shoes, bra, etc.). Don’t hesitate to pretend to call your embassy, it always has a little effect.
The hotel doesn’t exist, the street is under construction… the taxi offers you another place to sleep: it’s a scam!
These scams are well known, yet travellers continue to be fooled. You arrive washed out by jet lag, an exhausting journey and you are completely lost in this unknown country. The driver explains to you with apparent kindness that the hotel in which you have booked does not exist, that the street is inaccessible, untraceable or under construction. He will even drive around in the streets and pretend to give his time to help you. In the end, he will take you to an accomplice hotel where he will receive a commission, at your expense of course. Sometimes, showing the reservation will make him shout “poor you! You’ve been fooled!”.
To avoid this kind of mess, contact your accommodation provider by any means possible, register the location on MapsMe or GoogleMap and guide the taxi.
If in doubt, it is best to get dropped off at a public place not far from your hotel (the main square, the town hall, monument X) and continue on foot.
Once at your destination, the driver will demand more than agreed upon
First of all, get out of the car without arguing and firmly give the amount negotiated at the start. What can happen to you apart from being called a bird’s name in Arabic or Thai?
In buses, trains and rental agencies, the scam also exists!
Special price for STrangers? Beware of scams!
In some countries, you pay directly to the driver or employee who issues the tickets, but his uniform or status does not protect you from being ripped off. Sometimes the price can be doubled because of your naive tourist face. It is therefore important to find out the price of the journey beforehand and refuse to pay an inflated price.
If you don’t have the information, don’t hesitate to make a scandal by asking other passengers how much they paid for their trip.
Scams around the stations: fake bus or train tickets
It often involves vendors who hang around the entrances to railway or bus stations. These practices, sell tickets outside, are very common in many countries, so the traveller is often not suspicious.
The best way to avoid falling for this scam is to only go through official websites or to wait at the ticket office. You can also use your hotel to book it for you, as the services there are usually reliable.
Thes scams are international and it concerns all tickets almost without exception: shows, concerts, museums and some tourist entrances.
Car, bike or scooter rentals: beware of scams based on damage or theft
When renting a car, bike or scooter, it can happen that the unfortunate traveller finds the vehicle damaged when he was away. In the worst case, it is stolen. This may be a scam to make the traveller pay for expensive repairs or to get a refund. It is also likely that it is the hire company itself or one of its associates who is responsible for the problem.
What to do ? Let it fix in a small garage which will refurbish it at the normal, i.e. very inexpensive, rate.
In case of theft, first you should check what guarantees or insurance are included in the rental before you leave. It’s too late? Keep calm and smile. Explain that you are going to use your own insurance, but that you have to explain everything to the diplomatic police first, then to the embassy and finally go to the police (from another city where the scammer probably has no accomplices).
Explain that many such scams have been reported, that there will be an investigation into the rental company. Add firmly that under no circumstances will he get his money cash, right away… and observe the reactions.
Last advice: use a rental company recommended by other travellers, it’s safer.
One clue that may alert you: an unbeatable price certainly means that the thief will want to get money back from the transaction.
Stay calm, it doesn’t happen all the time!