Travellers beware of the confidence trickster

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Possessions are a problem when travelling mainly because there are avaricious, desperate and unscrupulous  people who would like to get their hands on your cash, cards and electrical equipment.  Luckily most of the population are honest, kind, generous and welcoming and to be trusted. It’s only a minority that a traveller needs to be wary of.  Here are some survival tips:-

Don’t do what three idiotic Kiwis did when they landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  They caught a bus from the airport straight to a dodgy suburb to watch a football match before checking in and dumping their luggage. They were totally stripped of all their belongings and more importantly missed the match.

Don’t put wallets in external trouser pockets (zipped or not) like my friend did as they are easy pickings for light-fingered thieves (as he found out).

Lock wallets, change etc in daypack before going through customs and x-ray machines.  My friend got stitched up here as well.  He put all his stuff in the tray, the customs officer sent it through the machine, then asked to see his computer.  By the time he had sorted that out and walked through to the other side his wallet had vanished. 

Chain or thread luggage handles through anything solid and lock/tie on.  I tend to padlock bags to seats, tuk tuks, tables, chairs –  basically anything solid so that if someone tries to snatch my bag they won’t get far.   Another tip is use small locks on your luggage/daypacks as people will often try to unzip the pockets as they walk behind you.           

Buy clothing that has hidden pockets on the inside.  Money belts can be worn around the waist arms and legs.

Don’t flaunt cameras, jewellery, i-pods etc – you immediately become a target of crime.

Never put your hand luggage on the floor.  Several friends got caught this way in Peru when they put down their day packs to pay for a bus ticket.  One person deliberately distracted everyone by creating a scene and his partners in crime swept en mass through the station snatching bags as they went. 

Watch out for bag snatchers on motorbikes.  If you have to carry an off the shoulder bag wear it on your side that is away from the road.

Don’t put day packs in a bicycle basket.  It is an open invitation.  Don’t complain if you do this and it gets nicked – Doh

Carry a small amount of money in your pocket for the just in case you get robbed scenario.

Check your money is correct before paying and that your change is also correct.  Try to use small denominations as invariably the driver/ticket/shop collector will say that they do not have enough change and will give it back to you later (yeah  right).     

Keep to main roads at night – staggering around drunk at 3am and making yourself generally vulnerable in the morning is bound to alert shady characters.

When I travelled to South America there were many cautionary tales but I found Lombok , Indonesia to be the worst place for scammers.  We were travelling down to Floris and had booked buses and ferries all the way through.  The  agent had cautioned us about going to the bus station early because of the type of person who hung around there.  But the three French boys we were with insisted on being dropped off early.  The agent told us that under no circumstances should we pay any extra along the way.  At the station 2 men immediately latched themselves onto us – we were polite, told them we didn’t need any help and asked them to leave us alone.  Of course they didn’t and tagged along as we made our way to the bus.  Luggage stowed we got on board to check out the seats, with the two men still in our wake.  They then proceeded to try to show us to some seats in exchange for money.   We told them we already had numbers, having booked in advance , they changed tactics. 

‘You need to pay luggage ticket.  Only 30 …… said scammer no 1

‘We have all-inclusive tickets. We don’t pay anymore’ said my friend

‘Can’t guarantee safety of your bags if you don’t pay’ said scammer no 2

‘That sounds like blackmail’ said my friend fronting up to the largest of the men.

An argument ensued, voices were raised, scammer no 1 lowered the price.  The bus driver, who’d sidled up behind his compatriots hoping for a cut, melted away immediately my friend started shouting and waving his arms around.

‘You thieves, you try to rob us, I go to the police’ he said

‘ok we go to the police’ said scammer no 1 calling his bluff

And off they set, my friend shouting, pointing and generally telling the world that there were thieves trying to rip him off , with scammer no 1 following still trying to barter a price.   The French boys (who were all an intimidating 6ft something) were nowhere to be seen having already told these con artists to fuck off (so we found out later).  I was left keeping an eye on the luggage to ensure that it didn’t go walkabout with the partner in crime.  By now my friend was half way to the police post and I could still hear what he was saying.  When they were almost at the door and criminal no 1 saw he meant business he stopped walking and said

‘Ok you only pay 10′

‘I  p a y  y o u  n o t h in g  got it?’ David shouted and carried on walking towards the police.

Criminal no 1 conceded.

Meanwhile back at the bus – the accomplice turned to me and said sadly

‘Why your friend shout and carry on.  It not polite in my country’

‘Well then you shouldn’t try to steal from people – that’s not polite in your country either.’ I retorted.

Finally we got on the bus and arrived some time later at the ferry terminal.  We handed our payment voucher in expecting boat tickets in return.   One hour, several cups of tea and some lunch later we still hadn’t been given the tickets.  Suspecting that the guy who was supposed to give them to us was going to leave it to the last minute before the ferry left then try to charge more we settled in to play the game.  Now we understood a quite a bit of Indonesian at the time and this guy spun us a line about being in charge. Whatever he said to us he relayed back to his friends who found it hilarious that we were falling for his lies hook line and sinker.  We egged him on in the hope tickets would appear at some stage.  It was getting perilously close to departure time so we paid our bill and in very good Indonesian thanked him and hoped that he would be able to produce the tickets when we came back seeing as he was in charge and all that.  The sight of his face when he realised the joke was on him was priceless.   We went in search of the ticket office.  But before we found it the French boys found us.  They had stood over the little trickster until he produced the goods.  Amazingly he still tried to charge an extra 90 per person.  They told him to fuck off and took the tickets off him.  We caught the ferry with minutes to spare.

We met many people who had been ripped off by the same couple at that bus station many of whom were women, had felt intimidated and paid up.  So if you’re not 6ft something and can’t hook up with an intimidating travelling companian just be careful, vigilant and look out for each other.  It’s all part of the experience.

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