Taxis are a favorite vehicle for travel scam artists: Internet Scambusters #756
In the second part of our 2017 Travel Scams round up this week, we have the lowdown on the latest tricks you might encounter on the streets of China, India, and New York.
We'll tell you how to spot the scams and what to do to avoid them.
Plus, we have a warning for game console fans trying to buy the new Nintendo Switch device.
Let's get started...
Travel Scammers' Latest Tricks -- in China, India, New York and Beyond
China is the world's number one tourist destination, attracting around 100 million travelers a year -- so it's not surprising that it's also a hot spot for travel scams.
We've covered many of them in previous issues, notably the tea house visit with some strangers you met, which ends up costing you a small fortune.
Fake events are also common, luring in tourists who find themselves under pressure to spend their renminbi (Chinese currency), often getting confused about exchange rates in the process.
Fake art shows are among the newer ones tourists may encounter this year.
In some of the biggest cities, young people posing as students (or maybe even real students) invite tourists to visit an art display at their school gallery.
When the visitors arrive, the first scam is the discovery that there's a hefty admission fee. Then, as with the tea house scams, their young hosts also expect their guests to pay for their refreshments.
Worse is to come. Once inside, visitors are subjected to high-pressure sales tactics to buy almost worthless paintings that are heavily over-priced.
Avoiding this scam is simple: Politely turn down the invitation to the show.
Advance Taxi Fare
Meanwhile, half a continent away in India, taxi scammers have come up with a new ruse to trick travelers.
Indians are, by nature, very helpful and courteous, so it's not surprising when a local offers to help you find a taxi when you're wandering around looking lost.
If they're scammers, they'll take you to a parked vehicle and invite you to get in the back. There may or may not be a driver inside.
Their trick was to ask you to pay in advance for the ride. It may or may not be a genuine taxi you're sitting in but your fare money has just gone racing down the street in the pocket of your helpful guide.
You could also just be sitting in a private car whose door was left unlocked -- and you're going nowhere.
If it is a taxi, you'll have to pay again for your genuine fare.
Solution: Find your own taxi, but if you do accept help, tip the finder by all means but just a few rupees.
Tut Tut, Tuk-Tuk
What seem to be cheap taxi rides are on offer to tourists in some countries, including India and Thailand. But there's a catch.
Those little three-wheel tuk-tuk vehicles are a great way of touring a city. But if you don't have a specific destination in mind, watch out!
If a driver offers a cut-price deal, he's likely up to no good and will take you to a store of some sort -- usually a tailor's -- where, again, you'll be put under pressure to make a costly purchase.
Even if you escape with your wallet intact, chances are you'll have to endure an hour of monotonous sales spiels, not knowing how to escape.
Action: Find out the going rate for city tuk-tuk tours and don't accept big discount deals. Even then, make it clear to the driver that you don't want to be taken to any stores.
If you still roll up outside one, either refuse to get out, or pay your fare and leave.
Streets of New York
Nearer to home, here are a couple of tricks to watch out for on the streets (and restaurant tables) of New York.
First, beware of people dressed in comic character costumes. Your kids will pester you to agree to their offer to pose with them for a photo.
But these characters may not be doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to be paid and their prices can be steep; some can become nasty if you try to dicker on price.
Ask the price first and decide if you want to pay. If you refuse and your kids object, invite them to pay instead! That'll cool their enthusiasm.
Similar tricks, by the way, operate in many cities at home and abroad. They're common in Venice and Paris.
You may also encounter a restaurant scam that's recently cropped up in New York, in almost any other tourist city.
It's simple. When you get the bill, the restaurant may already have added a "service charge" (aka a mandatory tip) or simply a charge listed as "gratuity." But it also leaves the usual blank space for a regular tip.
Check your bill carefully and make sure you're not double tipping.
Going back to taxi scammers, they are also on the streets of New York and other cities. According to Fortune magazine, a New York tourist was recently charged $442 for a 10-minute ride!
Play it safe by getting a licensed cab with a meter, negotiating the fare in advance -- or taking the subway!
That's it for our annual round up of tourist scams this year -- but we're sure there'll be plenty more to talk about in 2018!
Alert of the Week
If you or one of the younger members of your family happen to be into games consoles, watch out for a new scam relating to Nintendo's latest offering, the Switch.
The device seems to be in short supply (or it was at the time of writing), paving the way for scammers to offer non-existent Switches for sale in online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist. Don't be tempted!
Scammers are also claiming they have software that enables Switch games to run on regular PCs (commonly known as "emulator" software). Phooey! There's no such thing, not yet anyway.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!