I’ve written before about the scams you may face while traveling – in fact I’ve been scammed myself. Having had this ‘experience’ I thought I was world wise and could avoid these all too common ploys to separate the traveler from their small budgets.
In Mongolia, I met two Danish girls who I ended up traveling with for a few weeks. In Beijing, we met up for dinner and they began to relay the odd events of their day. They had apparently met these local Chinese girls who had invited them for tea…
As soon as I heard the start to their story my heart sank for them.
“Oh, no. How much was the tea?”
As the story goes, the girls were really friendly and nice. They took their new ‘friends’ to a local tea house where tea was served in an elaborate tea ceremony. Afterwards the bills was brought – to the tune of $100.
I felt so bad for them, especially as they realized they had fallen for the most famous scam in China. I felt very wise as I shared my advice. Ah, these young, innocent travellers. Thank goodness I was there to impart my wisdom.
Of course, not three months later I was scammed in the most obvious (in retrospect) way ever.
It started when we rented scooters in Bali. For $5 a day, the four of us could zip around the Island on our own personal transportation. We loved the freedom and it allowed us to access remote beaches and interesting temples we would have never have otherwise been able to visit.
On our second day of driving around, while we were heading to a beach for surf lessons, a roadside cop stepped out in front of one of our scooters and motioned for us to pull over. Both scooters pulled into a nearby parking lot and got off the bikes to talk to the cop.
He seemed edgy and motioned for us to follow him to the back – I assumed to the location of the police office. I was super nervous – had we broken the law? We were driving well below the speed limit and were all wearing helmets. But, I’ve seen enough locked up abroad to know that these police mean business – I just hoped to pay up and get out of here as quickly as possible.
The cop took us to the back to a weird construction area. He informed us that were were driving without licenses and that we had ran a red light – the total fine was about $50.00 each. He quickly flashed us a sheet of paper listing the fines, but snatched it away before I read it carefully. I wasn’t sure the rules on international licenses in Indonesia (plus, I wasn’t actually driving) but I knew we hadn’t ran a red light.
“What red light?” I asked. He immediately told me that was just a warning. We just needed to pay the fine for driving without the license. I was just relieved to have our fine halved… I didn’t even question the red light issue.
We started to search around in our bags for the $25 he demanded. We were taking a long time and he suddenly snatched the money from my hand and claimed that $20 would be enough. We were all still in shock so we stood there trying to figure out how much money we had just paid.
One of my friends asked how we would get home and the cop informed us it was okay to keep driving now that we had paid the fine. However, he couldn’t provide us any kind of receipt to show other cops. As we continued to ask for a receipt he decided the fine we had paid was too high and gave each of us another $5 back.
Again, none of these struck me as strange.
Not the weird back room transaction.
Not the cops odd behavior.
Not the urgency in which all these transactions were conducted.
I was just happy to get back on the bikes and head off. It wasn’t until 10 minutes later that I realized something was off…
Was that an actual cop?
Did we just get scammed?
Why didn’t I notice how strange the while situation was?
We never did determine if we had paid a valid fine or if we had been scammed. Indonesia does require a valid driver’s license which we didn’t have – and the cops do pull over a large number of tourists to bust them on small infringements. However, the way in which the fine was demanded and paid was beyond odd.
What do you think? Scam or valid fine?