The first time was in Bangkok and I was only 18. A tuk-tuk driver drove my friend and I down an alley, stopped and pointed to a dent in his bumper.
“You kicked this and it broke,” he lied, calmly. “Now you give me $100.”
We decided the best course of action was to leg it. I looked over my shoulder as we ran away, backpacks bouncing wildly on our backs, to see him chuckling away to an evil buddy.
Another time, in Shanghai, a ragged-looking shoe shiner threw a glob of what looked like bird shit on my boot, then grabbed my leg and started wiping it off, demanding huge amounts of money for the service.
I tried to shake him off to no avail, and then finally yelled at him to go away (using a ruder, alternative expression), but it didn’t look good to passers-by.
“l think that girl just kicked that poor beggar,” I heard a lady say to her husband on her way by. “Disgraceful.”
What else? Overpaying taxi drivers (it’s always from the airport that they inventing bogus tolls and extra fees, isn’t it?), buying ‘jade’ necklaces that left green smudges all overmy neck, spending a tenner on a bottle of water because I got confused with the currency. You name it, it’s happened.
Why am I telling you all this? Because there’s a new TV programme starting this week (see Swindle Cities on P63) about scams I’m looking forward to.
I find it reassuring the most experienced travellers still get ripped off, but mostly I want to see how the reporter handles it. Anyone can get conned, but the best-travelled people know how to shake it off and not let it spoil the rest of their holiday.
Not sure I’m quite there yet. How about you?
Got any scam stories to share?
Email TNT’s travel ed Helen Elfer: email@example.com