Spending three weeks in Argentina was a great way to start 2012: sun, steak and lots of vino. Since it was our first trip to South America I was clichédly cautious about security.

Before arriving into the Buenos Aires airport, I memorised the Lonely Planet’s advice on getting a cab into town and the best way to avoid getting scammed by cab drivers. I speak Spanish and am usually a sceptical traveller, so figured it wouldn’t be too bad — but 24 hours of flight makes you a little ripe for ripping off.

Basically the Lonely Planet said there were two main remise (private taxis, generally regarded as more secure) companies at the airport but the average cost was around 90 pesos. So imagine my surprise when the quoted price by both companies was 180 pesos. I argued in Spanish that it was double what it should have been. They laughed in my face and said “yeah, 18 months ago! Welcome to inflation in Argentina.” Such is the problem of a printed guidebook …

So I spent the whole taxi ride into Buenos Aires trying to figure out if I was being ripped off. I knew inflation was a problem, the guidebook WAS published 18 months ago and we didn’t really have an option. I was so busy wondering if we were getting ripped off with the original taxi price that the driver then pulled a classic scam without me even noticing.

He was chatting with me in Spanish very politely, telling me about the weather, asking about how long our trip had been, noting that we must have been very tired etc. We pulled up in front of the hotel. I got my $180 pesos — a $100, $50 and three $10 notes — ready to hand over, my first peso transaction. I gave them to the driver, grabbed my bag, and then the driver turned to me and said “hey, you didn’t give me the right money!” and showed me the four $10 notes and a $50 in his hand.

Silly me! I must have misread the notes since I don’t know pesos very well. I gave him a $100 while he told me how careful I have to be getting my wallet out on the street, how dangerous this area is, how quick people are to rob foreigners. What friendly advice, I thought.

Ten minutes later when lying in our lovely hotel I realise I didn’t actually have four $10 notes to begin with, only three. He’d pulled the old switcheroo on me and I hadn’t even noticed.

Luckily that lesson only cost us about $20AUD (and yes, inflation had doubled the taxi fare). But it made me think about other travel rip offs that people fall for.

My dad is ripe for scamming. When he travelled to Turkey a few years ago I joked that it would save time if he just opened his wallet and gave them everything in it as soon as someone started talking to him. My brother and him were scammed into buying some “priceless old coins” by some guy by the side of a road that claimed he’d just dug them out of the ground. A few days later in the markets of Istanbul they saw scores of these “priceless coins” for sale for half the price they’d paid,

He also bought a “real” Rolex for $40 that he claimed he knew was fake but seemed like such a good quality fake that it was worth it. Imagine his surprise when it stopped working two weeks later (though to be fair on him, he owns a real Rolex and it probably wasn’t the worst idea to wear the fake one while travelling through Turkey and Greece).

Also in Turkey our family went out for a quick snack at a cafe. We never saw a menu, we asked for prices but the extremely friendly restaurant man just waved away our worries and said he’d bring us some delicious treats. We had some dip and bread. When we went to leave, a bill for 50 euros appeared. My dad paid it (of course) before I realised what happened and demanded half our money back.

Carolyne Lee — who has written for Back in a Bit beforewrote on her blog escape to Paris today about witnessing “the gold ring scam” in Paris. I’d never heard of this scam before, but it’s a clever one. As Lee explains:

“… the other day, while passing near the Louvre, I saw a couple a few metres in front of me, with a tall man just to the side of them picking up what looked like a gold ring. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘this looks interesting.’ Sure enough, the man offered it to the male of the couple who shook his head, but then the other man sort of pressed it on him (I didn’t really hear their exchanges and in any case I think it was done mostly by mime, since it turned out that the couple didn’t speak much English or French). By this time, I had passed the couple and sure enough they were moving off, with the man holding the ring in his hand and looking rather mystified, with the scammer just behind them.

I asked the couple if they spoke French, but no. English? A little. ‘Don’t take the ring,’ I said. ‘It’s a scam, he’ll ask you for money for it in a minute.’ The couple were looking mystified. Who should they believe? Me, a complete stranger, and an interfering busybody to boot, or the ‘nice’ young man who’d just found a ring on the ground and offered it to them, for luck, since his religion forbade him wearing such things/wasn’t his size, etc etc.?

But upon hearing me telling the couple it was a scam, the ‘nice’ young man yelled at me in loud and very clear if accented English, ‘[email protected]#$ you! [email protected]#$ you!’ Strong evidence that my interpretation had been correct. The young couple hastily gave him back his ring, and scuttled off.

Apparently, what usually happens is that once the ‘target’ has taken possession of the ring and started to move off, the ring-finder then says to them that he’s hungry, could do with a few euros, would like some recompense for giving them something valuable, or some variation on this. I have heard of people parting with as much as 10 euros.”

Any other typical scams people have fallen for?  I’ve heard of the “asking people to take your photo (usually when someone is in national costume etc) and then charging for it”, the “taxi driver tells you the hotel you’re booked has closed but they know another one that’s better” and the “here’s a bunch of information you didn’t want or ask for but please give me some money for my time” one. I’m talking more about annoying scams that don’t cost a lot — apart from your dignity when you realise you fell for it. Spill your scam stories please.

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