the Travellers’ Check stocktake of scams

You’ve got to hand it to the tuk tuk (taxi) operators on Phuket island in Thailand. They’ve taken a leaf out of the big business book on how to operate a cartel: forget competition; if everyone agrees to jack up the fare to the same level, the punters will have no choice but to pay it and we’ll all be making a nice living.

I’m not suggesting that the way to get rich is to drive a tuk tuk in Phuket. But, relative to the local cost of living, the hire rates for tuk tuks on Phuket are astronomical 10 times the going rate in Bangkok, for example.

Scams go wherever tourists go. People on holidays, wherever they may be, are a relatively easy target for people who want to relieve them of their money, legally or illegally.

I thought, therefore, it was time for a stocktake of the latest scams that target travellers: Thailand and Bali keep coming up because they’re the most popular Asian holiday spots for Australians. But what about the rest of the world?

Thailand, the “land of smiles”, hasn’t been getting such good press of late. The national government last August announced that it was cracking down on scams at Bangkok airport, for instance.

In one such scam, corrupt police have been cornering tourists for alleged shoplifting in the duty free section and demanding (and getting) thousands of dollars to set them free.

In a scam at Bali airport uncovered last year, immigration officers were charging tourists for visas they didn’t need $US25 for a 30 day visa instead of $US10 for a 7 day visa and skimming off the difference for themselves. A group of them were said to have enriched themselves by about $US300,000. (Seven day visas have since been abolished partly to combat the corruption problem, according to officials.)

Let’s keep it current: if you’ve travelled in the past two years, we want to hear about any scams you’ve encountered whether it’s the old favourites like taxis, or other goods and services that are flatout theft or are charging way too much. A bit of a crowd had gathered and Brazilians were arguing with the cops as this was a typical tourist shakedown. The locals told us to demand to go to the police station and be properly charged. The cops just wanted a bribe from us and weren’t ever going to take us to the station. We got in the cop car and refused to pay any bribe and kept demanding to go to the cop station and in the end they just dropped us at our hotel. I’ve heard some people paying the cops up to $1000 in bribes to be let go, but you just have to hold your ground. The police are the biggest crime gang in South America; just ask anyone whose travelled there or lives there.

In China, gro ugg shoes ups of English speaking chinese students look for tourists and tell them that if they’ve got nothing to do. today there’s a special tea ceremony “festival”. unsuspecting tourists follow the students to a tea house where the teahouse puts on a show. after the show the teahouse demands payment which is in the hundreds of US dollars.

The teahouse threatens to call the police as the tourist is expected to pay for everyone.

Obviously the students get kickbacks from the teahouse to lure tourists in.

We were wary of ugg shoes the brute force “Do you speak English?” setup, and despi ugg shoes te thinking we would face it mainly in Italy and not in France, found it to be the other way around.

Gypsy girls will show you a note (so you have to stand still and read it) claiming several starving children or parents in a salt mine in Armenia, the usual shtick.

The big fashion in Paris last October was the Gold Ring Scam. The best version we saw of this was a girl waiting for a man to leave the public toilets, shaking his hands dry.

She would run after him, “Sir, you dropped your ring!”

After you deny it’s yours, they try to get you to take it from them.

The bloke didn’t fall for it, just as I hadn’t earlier (my wedding ring was back in Oz) so I don’t know what they’d do then, offer to sell it to you or claim a reward.

We had about 6 locals try it on us in the few days we were in Paris.

I have just come back from Vietnam, which is reputed to have more than its fair share of scams and scammers. One of the odder ones that happened to me involved someone walking up to you in the street and having a chat. Once they find out where you are from (in my case Australia), they tell you they have a relative of some sort studying or about to study there, and they want you to come back and set someone’s mind at ease about the place.

When this happened to me, I assumed it was a scam and declined. However, I couldn’t work out for the life of me what the scam was about. Someone later told me about someone they knew who agreed to this in Saigon. They were supposed to go back to the house to meet an elderly mother, who was unsurprisingly not there when they arrived at the house. Instead, there was gambling going on. Despite many attempts to persuade them to take part in the game (including offering to fix it in their favour), they refused.

So if anyone walks up to you in Vietnam and tells you they have a sister about to study in Australia and they need you to come back and tell their elderly mother Australia is a safe place, and you are wondering if a) they are for real, and b) if not what their angle is, the answers to those questions are most likely a) no and b) gambling.

ATM fees are disclosed on a card with printing less than 1point font. Can’t be read by 99% of people even in good lighting. No machine located near good lighting and no prompt appears on screen. It adds fee to amount withdrawn.

Fee starts at $20USD (to withdraw under $50) and rises with the amount withdrawn regardless of bank etc. $20USD withdrawal costs $20 = $40USD. $300 = $30. Fee rises with amount taken. The fee is independent of exchange rate, bank etc. The exchange rate is also appalling worse than hotel rates by approx 10 15% and about 25% worse than most other ATM machines. It’s the closest you will get to the mob in Vegas and feel their hand in your pocket. (Who says drinks are free??)

All casinos use same machines and they can ugg shoes not be avoided. It’s an art to avoid them, actually. This scam can cost 20% or more of each dollar you spend on food/shopping etc.

Outside casinos there are (some) bank machines (ie Bank of America) that charge up to $2USD plus local bank fee. In casino malls they are well hidden and quite hard to find. You won’t find them walking along the strip. Dont be put off, though; use the grubby looking ones in 711 etc on street as they only charge $2 and are reliable.

The Travel Space Bag

SEATTLE Can a plastic bag that squeezes air out of your clothes, really give you more room when you pack your luggage? This week’s “Does it Work?” challenge is a product called the “Travel Space Bag.”

It’s a travel version of the big space bags you see advertised for storing blankets and comforters.

Frankie reads instructions: “Begin at the zipper and slowly roll up the bag, compressing the items inside and expelling the air through the valve at the bottom of the bag.”

You place your items into the space bag, taking care not to fill the bag past the designated black line.

Then, swipe the zipper to seal the bag an ugg shoes d starting at the zipper end, roll the bag toward the blue valve strip at the bottom, squeezing the air as you go.

You can hear the air release, and you can see the bag shrink in around the clothing.

“That looks about as far as I can roll it up,” she said, putting as much pressure as she could on the first bag.

Frankie filled all three spaces bags that came in the box. Then packed them into her suitcase with some additional loose clothing on top.

It’s a tight squeeze, but she packs in quite a bit.

Frankie: “I think this is. OK.” says, with less than enthusiastic tone.

The question is, is it really any better?

I had Frankie unpack her suitcase, then re pack to see how much would fit without the Space Bags.

Frankie gets the same amount of clothes in her suitcase.

“I think it didn’t change anything,” she said.

Just to be sure, she gave the Space Bags one more try, taking ugg shoes extra care to squeeze out all the air possible.

But Frankie never came close to getting the extra space she expected.

“It’s wasting my time,” Frankie exclaimed at the end of the test. “It’s actually wasting my time to put all the clothes in there, roll all the air out, try to squeeze it in the suitcase and then keep doing the same thing just to fit the same amount of clothes in here.”

Frankie gives it a thumbs down, and points out the mere act of filling her suitcase automatically displaces the air in her luggage.

She ugg shoes says the Travel Space Bags might make a difference if you have bulky sweaters or quilted jackets and pillows that cushion air more but not for the lightweight clothes she was packing.

O ugg shoes ddly enough, Frankie said she would used the Travel Space Bags for packing her shoes because the bag would keep her shoe soles from soiling her packed clothing.