Top 10 Travel Scams In Asia & How To Avoid Them

Asia is truly an amazing place to explore. However, travel scams are frequent here. While most of the locals are sincere and friendly, some still see tourists as stacks of cash.

As strangers and locals meet, no one is completely safe from schemes that criminals are plotting. While these fellows are law offenders, there is no doubt that they are also inventive. Scammers in Asia are on the rise and the best way to avoid them is to recognize their tricks. Here are 10 travel scams in Asia to be wary of: (Note: Countries are named only to provide examples but any of these scams may happen anywhere)



1. Money changer scam

As exchange rates in banks, hotels, and malls are pricier compared to the black market, some travelers prefer the latter option. However, black market tellers are able to steal a few bills with a sleight-of-hand trick. Often, they will count the money in front of the customer and keep some of it whenever there is a chance. Others also replace bigger bills with smaller ones and make the victim replace it with a second large bill.

Common in: Philippines

How to avoid: Never leave the counter without counting the money. Once sure that it is the right amount, stash the bundle safely before heading out. On the other hand, always use money changers with clearly posted rates that are in safe, well-lit areas. Remember that it is better to pay a transaction fee than to be scammed.

2. Drop and swap

The Drop and swap tactic is common among taxi drivers, waiters, and shopkeepers. They will “accidentally” drop the victim’s change and pick up a similar looking coin or bill. Unaware of the trick, the tourist will never know that the swapped money is actually less than the worth of the original.

Common in: Japan

How to avoid: Avoid pulling out cash from the pocket especially when in front of suspicious people. Put bills and coins in a wallet or a coin purse. Always check the amount of money before handing it over to strangers. If the drop and swap scam happened in a store or a restaurant, ask for the CCTV footage (if applicable).

3. Taxi scams

Bad taxi drivers will try to take advantage of a victim’s lack of knowledge of the area. They will purposely take longer routes, side streets, and even areas with heavy traffic. Some also use altered meters to record higher fees.

Common in: Vietnam, Philippines

How to avoid: Check the meter every once in a while. If it appears to jack up after a few seconds, alert the authorities (or friends and families). Consequently, text important details to relatives like the plate number, driver’s name, or the name of the taxi operator. Hide valuables from the sight of the public as robberies can happen inside and outside the cab (if the driver covers his or her face with a face towel, a chemical meant to make the passenger dizzy and vulnerable is imminent).

4. Bogus travel agencies

Travel agencies can either make or break local and international trips. If legitimate, they can arrange everything from transportation, accommodation, down to the itinerary. On the other hand, they can pretend to book your trip, have you deposit your payment, then at the last minute, tell you that your trip has been cancelled. When you try to get in touch with them with regards to refunds or whatever – they will be out of reach, disappearing with your money. 

Common in: Japan, China, Korea

How to avoid: If the offer appears too good (or cheap) to be true, it probably is. Do extensive research on travel agencies and don’t solely rely on feedback on their social media accounts. More often than not, they can come up with several dummy accounts to leave glowing reviews on their page to “up” their legitimacy. Go with agencies that are currently accredited with DOT or better yet, a place that family or friends have recently worked with.

5. Cheap Tuk Tuk rides

A Tuk Tuk is a three-wheeled means of public transportation famous in Thailand. Targeting tourists near Khao San Road, some drivers lure in passengers with cheap fares. They then stop by a convenience store and ask the passengers to look around while he refuels. When done, the driver drives away, leaving the stranded passengers to pick up the tab.

Common in: Thailand

How to avoid: Research about the regular Tuk Tuk fare in the country or ask friends who have been there for the normal fare charges. If nearby, you may want to consider walking to your destination.

6. Laglag bala (bullet planting) gang

Individuals behind this scam need only a few seconds to place a bullet inside someone’s luggage. Prevalent in airports, common targets are OFWs and foreigners. Basically, when a victim is “caught” with a bullet in their luggage, they will be held by the airport police and will be harassed until they cough up a large sum of money for their release. 

Common in: Philippines

How to avoid: Do not look unsuspecting and vulnerable. If ever bullets or drugs are found in your luggage, do not be afraid to question the accuser respectfully. Also, never attempt bribery as this will only make their “business” grow. Before going to the airport, double check (or take a picture) of all of the stuff inside your bag. Use thick bag covers and tight padlocks to secure all places where a bullet may be inserted. 

7. Sob story scams

Be wary of old women or children who approach you on the streets with a sob story of a relative needing money for food, an operation, a burial and more. These are just some of the sob stories that syndicates have come up with to strike the emotional chord of the victim to that they’re more likely to give money.

Common in: Thailand

How to avoid: Avoid giving money and give food instead, if applicable. Do not follow them to an “injured” person and instead, alert local authorities to check it out instead. While compassion and empathy are beautiful traits, they are also what shady individuals take advantage of with regards to kind-hearted tourists.

8. Fake fortune tellers

Rampant in certain parts of Manila, it is not unusual for a tourist to suddenly be approached by a “fortune teller” mentioning something applicable in their life. Once they’ve got their victim hooked, they then proceed to guess, fish and tell you more about the bits and pieces of their life. They then come up with their victim’s future and proceed to give unsolicited advice. After which, the fake fortune tellers will ask for a fee for having told their victim’s future.

Common in: Philippines

How to avoid: Remember that most fortune tellers use general statements. Do not fall for their traps. Never show interest in what they are saying and as much as possible, walk away immediately. If a conversation can not be avoided, decline when asked for a fee.

9. Spiked drinks

Prevalent in certain Hong Kong night clubs, individuals spike the drinks of their unsuspecting victims. Once intoxicated, they bring the victim to a nearby ATM where they are made to withdraw large sums of money. If lucky, the ordeal ends at that. If not, female victims may become vulnerable to sexual attacks. 

Common in: Hong Kong

How to avoid: Never leave your drink unattended and do not feel obligated to accept a drink from a stranger – being in a foreign land requires you to be extra vigilant and extra cautious. Saying “no” is better than having to deal with the situation once you’re in it.

10. Hit, steal, and run

When traveling, especially in cars or vans be vigilant of the people around you. Do not leave your windows rolled down, as it may be quick for thieves to reach inside and to run off with your things. Nor should you alight from your car when people egg your wind shield – this is a means of making intended victims come out of their car so that thieves can hold them up. Last but not the least, have a dash cam ready – as there have been people known for purposefully throwing themselves onto oncoming or parked cars to feign injuries. When the victim steps down, that’s when they become vulnerable to a hold up.

Common inPhilippines

How to avoid: Stay away from roads that are poorly lit. If anything is thrown at your vehicle, do not stop unless the area is well illuminated and well populated. Do not try to clean it up with the wiper as it may exacerbate the murkiness of the windshield. If caught in a collision, wait for authorities to settle the matter before paying anyone.

Enjoy a hassle-free and safe travel. Discover cheap hotel deals and cheap flights from carriers like Philippine Airlines, AirAsia, and more with Traveloka!