- The Money Changer
Tourists and Balikbayans – Filipino expats – are often attracted to dodgy foreign exchange money changing businesses, in out of the way places, by their large brightly colored signs advertising exchange rates which are better than those offered in banks, shopping malls and hotels. Sometimes these operators will use touts to lure in unsuspecting customers.
The saying of “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” applies to this situation.
The money changer will count the Filipino Peso out in front of you and, while counting, use a sleight of hand trick to make some notes disappear. Some will state they only have notes of small denominations, count them in small batches in front of you, take them back while making a few fall out when they hand the total back to you. Other times, they will count the money so slowly that you lose patience and ask for the money, not realizing you won’t have all the money.
Always use reputable exchange places, with clearly posted rates, in well-lit areas, hotels, malls or buy from a bank. Count your money before you leave the exchange.
- Card Skimming and ATM Fraud
Not all ATM machines can be trusted. Some don’t work properly and may chew up your card, others have devices attached to them by criminals to collect your information for their own shopping spree. Even some shopkeepers are in on it, taking their sweet time giving you a receipt while they copy down your details. Alert your bank to your travel dates and look out for any unusual transactions during and after your trip.
- Bullet in a Bag
In this scam, airport employees plant live bullets inside luggage. When the passenger puts their bag through the x-ray scanner, it triggers an alert to airport staff, prompting a search and accusation of carrying live ammo and firearms. This can tie you up for hours, and a bribe is often demanded to make it all go away.
Make sure your bags are securely locked, consider using bag covers/wrapping, and always keep an eye on your luggage.
- Free Public WiFi
Free WiFi hotspots are not always secure and can lead to hackers accessing your passwords and banking information.
Always check the name of the WiFi service before using it. Many airports do have free WiFi, but if you aren’t sure, ask at an information desk. If you plan to make a purchase or transact online, make sure the site is safe and fully encrypted with https:// at the beginning of the URL.
Better still, use a VPN – Virtual Private Network – to encrypt the traffic from your computer to other sites, or don’t do online banking on a public network.
Always have some kind of security on your laptop/ipad etc, such as a firewall and antivirus.
- Drug Plants
Travelers have reported falling victim to Laglag Droga – drug planting. Unsuspecting victims have drugs planted in their luggage, or have a welcoming flower necklace laced with drugs put around their neck in the airport by a scammer wearing gloves.
Always check your luggage in case you have had drugs planted on you, and use padlocks, bag covers etc to secure your bags. And those flower necklaces, politely refuse them.
- A Familiar Face
One of the more popular cons involves someone approaching a tourist and claiming to recognize them, often under the guise that they work at the hotel they’re staying at. Coincidentally, when they “bump into” them, it’ll just happen to be their day off. They’ll offer to show the visitor around and offer a free tour. Don’t fall for it. It often ends in a robbery. Manila is a hot spot for this scam, so be on the look out.
- Filipino For Love
Travelers holidaying in the Philippines are charmed by locals, either in person or online, with promises of love. What they are really looking for is financial gain and a quick way to get citizenship in another country through marriage. There are plenty of red flags to look for. Professing their love for you quickly, asking for funds for their family, flights, education and repeated requests for money. Never give or send money online.
- Taxi Drivers
Make sure the meter be used to avoid being ripped off. It’s illegal for taxi drivers to solicit at airports, so if you are approached, the driver isn’t legal. Avoid hailing taxis that are already carrying passengers as it increases the potential for crime.
- Horse Trading
You may see a lot of horse-drawn buggies in the Manila area. It may seem like a charming way to see the sights, but often the horses are poorly treated, abused and pushed to their limits in the heat and traffic pollution. Throw in the loud noises of a city and that can cause any horse to become spooked and decide to bolt. There are better ways to get around town safely.
- That hotel is full
Not to sound like I’m picking on cab drivers, but many of the standard scams travelers are likely to encounter do originate with them. This is another you’ll hear, most probably in Asia. You throw your backpack in a cab or a tuk-tuk, let the driver know which hotel or hostel you’re going to, and he turns to you with a concerned look, “I’m sorry, that hotel is closed”. Or it’s full. Or it burned down. Or it got hit by Halley’s Comet. The idea being that they’ll take you to a new hotel and take a cut from the payment. In this situation, just be firm.