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21st Oct 2012 12:16pm | By Carol Driver
As a traveller, scamming happens to most of us. Will a taxi driver go the long way round Bangkok?
Have those ‘antique’ Moroccan carpets taken a battering to make them look old? And is that cash you’ve just been handed in Buenos Aires a genuine note, or a dud you’ll never be able to pass on?
Often scams can be petty crime, where you’re duped out of a couple of bucks, other times, they can be life-changing or, even more concerning, life-threatening.
In a new 10-week series called Scam City, Conor Woodman visits 10 cities with trouble in mind – aiming to put himself into all the situations he’s been warned about, and then to confront the perpetrators when the inevitable happens.
“I went looking for it,“ Woodman, 38, explains. “Each programme begins with me filming undercover as a tourist, then I go back to each of the people who have ripped me off, try to get to know them a bit better – who they are, how they got into what they do, and why they do it.
“The show focuses on the criminals and hopefully getting into their work, into their heads. I’m showing how they work. The aim of the series is the people watching the show get an insight into how scams work and how to avoid them.”
Handy for the programme, but worrying for tourists, Woodman never had to wait long until he was approached. In Prague, it happened after what had seemed to be an uneventful night in a ‘clip’ or strip joint.
“I was a bit disappointed that everything seemed above board,” Woodman says. “As I was leaving, the doorman asked, ‘Do you want to go somewhere a little more racier?’ And I thought, ‘Oh here we go, this is it’.
“He had a taxi on standby, and was promising five-star luxury, beautiful girls, even a whirlpool. I had no idea where I was going but I put myself in his hands, got into the back of the taxi and got taken to somewhere.”
After walking inside, it was obvious Woodman was being scammed – “there was no whirlpool for starters”, he says.
“I felt compelled to order a drink and work out where I was. But before I knew it, I was being pushed up against a wall by a gorilla of a man, demanding 500 euros from me as I’d casually had a conversation with a girl sitting next to me at the bar. He made it clear she was his girl and it was an experience I was going to have to pay for.”
Woodman managed to negotiate; coughing up the 350 euros he had in his pocket, and getting beaten up in the process.
“It’s a classic scam – most guys in my position would just pay as they’d be terrified,” he says. “Most won’t call the police as they’re ashamed that they’ve gone looking for sex and the scammers know it, and that’s what they play on.”
And it’s the reason figures for these types of crime are so difficult to compile. Woodman then had to go back into the bar to see if his attackers would talk to him about what had happened, which, unexpectedly, they were happy to do.
“You’d think people on the wrong side of the law would close up once the cameras are rolling, but they didn’t,” he says.
“As a good scammer, you need to be a bit of an extrovert, and this idea they could tell their story and have their 15 minutes of fame was quite appealing to them.”