Ziggy Zapata Title

TRAVEL SCAMS

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NEVER LET YOUR GUARD DOWN

Tourists in foreign nations are often very easy prey for scammers. But forewarned is forearmed, so read the following descriptions of scams and suggestions as to how to avoid being ripped off.

BROKEN TAXI METER

When you get into a taxi, the driver will inform you that the meter is broken and try to charge you a ridiculous price. This is a very common scam. You should always negotiate the fare before you get into the cab, or ensure the meter is actually working. If the cab driver refuses to turn on the meter or tells you it's cheaper without the meter, get out and hail another cab.

OVERBOOKED OR CLOSED HOTEL

This common travel scam happens largely with cab drivers. While en-route to your hotel, the driver will tell you your hotel is either closed or overbooked and then take you to a more expensive hotel where the driver receives a nice fat commission. So just call your hotel in advance and make sure that it is open and even ask if they offer shuttle service and if so, schedule a pickup. If the cab driver still tells you that the hotel is not available, insist that he take you there anyway or get out of the cab.

FREE GIFTS

A friendly person will approach to chat, then place a "free" friendship bracelet on your wrist or hand you a sprig of rosemary for good luck. Once you have it, they will demand money. When you refuse, they will begin to cause a scene. Gypsy women in Europe are known for this scam. So don’t allow anyone to put anything on your body and be extremely wary of accepting anything for free. Ignore these scammers and keep walking.

SPILLS ON CLOTHING

A traveller will be walking down the street and feel something plop on their shoulder, often bird poop or a fast-food condiment. Then a friendly stranger approaches and begins to wipe off the offending mess while plucking your wallet from your pocket or purse. Just tell the stranger to go away and go to a restroom and clean the mess off yourself. Make sure that your wallet and passport are somewhere inaccessible to strangers.

FAKE POLICE OFFICERS

This scam is popular in many large cities. Most often, a person will approach a tourist and offer illicit items, such as drugs. While conversing one or two other people will approach, appearing to be police officers and flashing "badges". They will then insist that the unknowing traveller hand over his passport and wallet. However, they are not police officers. Never hand over your wallet or passport. Demand that they show you their identification and then inform them you will call the police to confirm they are who they say they are. Or tell them your passport is locked up in the hotel safe and they’ll need to accompany you to your hotel. If they don’t allow this, simply walk away.

ATTRACTION IS CLOSED

A friendly local who just happens to speak English will approach and inform you that the attraction you want to visit is closed for any number of reasons, such as a religious ceremony or holiday. Then they’ll guide you to a different attraction or shop where you’re pressured to purchase something or pay a lot for entry. Don't believe them. Go to the ticket counter or shop and see for yourself. Or ask someone else for confirmation.

FRIENDLY ATM HELPER

Someone will approach you at an ATM cash machine and claim to help you avoid local bank fees. What they really want to do is scan your ATM card with the card skimmer in their pocket and watch you enter your PIN so they can drain your account later. So never let anyone near you while you’re making an ATM transaction and ALWAYS cover the number pad with your other hand while entering your pin code. If someone approaches, take your card and find another ATM. Make sure that they don't get a chance to snatch your card from you. Even better, do not use an actual card, but pair your credit card to an Apple Watch and use the "Tap And Go" function. That way, there is no physical card for scammers to snatch or skim.

CHILD BEGGARS

Allegedly deaf, blind or pregnant beggars, sometimes accompanied by "helpers", will ask you for money. Women with babies are common. Children are also frequently used by begging gangs to collect money, as it’s difficult for most people to say no to the old, injured, or young. The thing to realise is that most of these beggars are not deaf, blind or disabled in any way. Sometimes an accomplice nearby is just watching to see where you keep your wallet so they can pickpocket you later. The best policy is to never give cash to street beggars because the vast majority of them are scammers.

GROUP PHOTO OFFER

A local will offer to take a group photo of you and your friends. As you’re getting ready to pose, you realise that the local has completely disappeared with your expensive camera or smartphone. So never hand your expensive items to strangers, no matter what. It's better to forgo that "selfie" than to lose that equipment.

FAKE WI-FI

You can find WiFi almost anywhere, but some of those free unlocked connections can be dangerous. Hackers will set up tempting unsecured wifi hotspots in public locations to which unsuspecting victims eagerly connect, giving the thief access to their computers, passwords, online accounts and more. But it's an easy scam to beat. When travelling, always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), so even if you connect to a scammer's hotspot, he can't get your personal information or hack into your equipment.

RENTAL DAMAGE

After you rent a car, moped or scooter, it gets damaged or even stolen. The owner will demand additional payment or expensive repairs as compensation, but in fact it was probably the owner or his friends who caused the damage or stole the vehicle. So take clear photos of it from all angles. If it is a bike or moped, use your own lock and chain, not the one provided from the renter, who would have spare keys. Take photos of the car or bike first to document previous damage. Make sure that there is a secure place to leave the rental bike overnight. If damage does occur, take it to a repair shop recommended by someone other than the bike’s owner.

FAKE TICKETS

Someone offers to sell you train, bus or theatre tickets at a discount or for you to avoid the queue and pay a slightly higher price. Maybe a taxi driver will offer to bring you to his friend who’s a local travel agent. However the tickets they are selling aren’t real and by the time you try to use those fake tickets unsuccessfully, the scammers are gone with your money. The solution is easy. Always buy tickets from the official ticket office or website.

JEWELLERY OR CARPET DEALS

A local man will inform you of his business of buying and selling jewellery, gemstones, watches or carpets for a fat profit. He offers to show you where to find the best deals. The problem is that these products are fake. Don’t buy expensive items overseas unless you purchase them from internationally recognised stores.

FAKE HOTEL CALL

While staying at a hotel, you get a call from the front desk in the middle of the night to confirm your credit card details. Only it isn’t the front desk calling, it’s a scammer who will drain your accounts when he makes a copy of your card using the details you give him over the phone. The easy solution is to never give out credit card details over the phone. Go down to the hotel reception in person the next morning if there is a problem.

FLIRTATIOUS WOMEN

You arrive to a new country only to discover that beautiful local women seem to pay much more attention to you than back home. One of them invites you out to a nightclub or bar. However after a wild night, the woman disappears and you are forced to pay an overpriced bill or worse, you are drugged and robbed. This is very simple to avoid. Don't let your sexual urges cloud your brain. Just don't fall for it.

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

It is exceedingly hard to avoid being scammed when travelling, especially in foreign nations with other languages. But the best thing is to always be exceedingly suspicious of any offers of help, goods, tricks and tips from strangers and come-ons from good looking women. Sure, many locals are genuine, but it's far better to be cautious and keep your money and goods, than be cleaned out by unscrupulous scammers. These days with the Internet available on smartphones, a traveller can instantly check things out.

The best thing is to get an inexpensive local voice and data SIM to use in your smartphone for the duration of your stay in a foreign country. That way, you can phone or use any of the secure communications apps such as Facetime, WhatsApp or Telegram to contact your travelling friends. Only use WiFi hotspots if you are sure that they are legitimate and even so, use a VPN to encrypt your operations.

CUSTOMS SCAMS

In some nations, officials can be very corrupt, especially in Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and many others. A corrupt Customs officer may palm a bullet or a sachet of drugs into your luggage and threaten to arrest you unless you pay him a "fine". One corrupt bastard tried to extort money from me in Phuket in Thailand by claiming that I had to pay a "fee" for some boxes I was exporting to Australia. I raised such a stink and threatened to call the Australian Ambassador, let alone hold up a Qantas Boeing 747 airliner crammed with passengers because my luggage had already been loaded on it and it could not depart without either me on board or my luggage being found and removed.

Suffice it to say that with pressure from Qantas, my ranting and screaming about this fake "fee" and my threat to bring on a diplomatic mess, that corrupt Customs officer had to let me get onto the aircraft with my goods and I did not pay the bastard one cent. But this is how many of these officials operate in these third-world nations, claiming that visas had expired, allegedly wrong details on tickets and other accusations, anything to try and extort money from travellers. Having gone to many of these nations for over four decades, I will be most pleased to never go to those places again, when there are so many great spots to see in Australia, New Zealand and other civilised nations.

GOING THROUGH FOREIGN CUSTOMS

This is not a scam, but travellers have to understand that the Customs services in all countries have very formidable powers. They can demand that you unlock your smartphone or computer and trawl through its contents. If they find anything untoward, like pornography, dog fighting or anything that may be illegal in their country, even if it is completely legal in your country, they can confiscate and destroy your smartphone or computer and hit you with a large fine or even arrest you.

There is one very simple remedy that will keep you and your equipment safe. Before you embark on your trip and you are taking a notebook computer and your smartphone, check the contents and make sure that anything that could remotely be construed by any nation's Customs as being offensive, illegal or even obnoxious, is removed. Not just deleted, but wiped from the computer's recycle bin, so that it cannot be recovered. Don't have any content that could cause you a problem.

This doesn't mean that you cannot access such sensitive files. All you need to do is to set up a Cloud storage account or a Network Addressed Storage (NAS) device that is connected to the Internet. Put your sensitive files on it and when you need them, download them to your computer and smartphone, once you have passed through Customs and are in that foreign nation. Of course you should never put a reference or the web address and log-on details for that remote storage on any of your equipment and never disclose this to foreign Customs or anybody else. That way, no Customs officials will be any the wiser, even if they thoroughly examine your computer or smartphone.

The best thing to do before travelling to any foreign nation is to determine what that nation allows visitors to bring with them. Most importantly, if you are taking prescription medicines, get your doctor to give you a document listing those medicines and stating that they are officially prescribed for your health. Even so, certain medicines are not permitted into some nations, such as codeine, so always check to see what is or is not allowed.

DEALING WITH AUSTRALIAN CUSTOMS

Even when I am re-entering Australia, I make sure that there is nothing sensitive on my notebook computer or iPhone. If I am pulled aside by Customs for an inspection, I immediately state that there is absolutely nothing of any interest or anything remotely illegal on my devices. I state that I have deleted everything except essential software and files and have deleted the contents of the Recycle Bin and have overwritten all deleted items with a military grade deletion application, so that nothing that was deleted can be recovered. Therefore Customs can look all they like and they will find nothing incriminating. But I can reload all those missing files from my backup as soon as I am back home or anywhere else in transit. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

It goes without saying that you should never bring anything that could land you in trouble with Customs. Don't try to smuggle anything, don't bring in any food and don't bring any weapons that may be prohibited. Small pocket knives or multi-tools are fine, but if you are bringing in something like a samurai sword as a souvenir, make sure that you declare it and state its purpose as a decoration. It is most important to carefully read the Customs and Quarantine Declaration Form and answer all the questions accurately and honestly.

NARCOTICS

I personally hate all recreational drugs, but Australian Customs are always on the lookout for people who are trying to enter Australia while carrying illegal narcotics. So they use sniffer dogs to check people and baggage for traces of narcotics and if they are even remotely suspicious that you might be carrying drugs, they will pull you aside, check your baggage with swab tests and even pat you down to see if you are not concealing drugs on your body.

Customs officers are not stupid and most of the time they know whom they should search. I have come back into Australia many times and just sailed through Customs because I am sure that they know my position on narcotics and how I detest them. They know that they will never find those filthy substances on me.

However, you have to remember that even if you are like me and detest drugs, your baggage is out of your possession when you hand it to an airline to be carried in the cargo hold of an aircraft, rubbing up against other cases. So even if you have never used an illegal narcotic in your life, your suitcase might pick up traces of such a narcotic from the adjoining bag.

So when a Customs officer asks me whether I have any narcotics with me, obviously I state that I do not. But when they ask me about my suitcase. I state that since my case has not been in my possession from the time I checked it in with the airline to the time I picked it up from the luggage carousel at my destination, I cannot be responsible if traces of narcotics are found on my suitcase. Then Customs can search it all they like, but they won't find any drugs in it - or on my body and that is guaranteed.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS

Australian Customs have a statutory right to ask certain questions, but the range of questions that passengers have to answer is quite limited. My policy has always been to answer the questions that I am legally required to answer, but not volunteer any additional information and point-blank refuse to answer any questions that I don't have to answer. People should remember that with Customs, just as with Police, anything they say can and will be used against them. So the best policy is to say nothing.

Border Force officers exercise questioning powers under Section 195 of the Customs Act 1901 and a range of other Commonwealth legislation. Officers have powers to question travellers about whether they or a person accompanying them have any dutiable, excisable or prohibited goods. They also exercise powers to question travellers in relation to other matters such as their immigration clearance, the nature or origin of wildlife specimens and whether they have any currency or bearer negotiable instruments, for example, cheques or money orders.

Questions may include (but are not limited to):

But Customs and Border Protection do not have an open-ended right to ask you anything they want and you have the right to refuse to answer questions that really are not relevant to your return to Australia. For instance, a Customs officer might ask you what you did while you were in the USA and you have no obligation to tell him, apart from a question as to whether you were on a farm, which is one of the questions on the Declaration Card. The safest thing for a person to do is to just shut up and only answer the questions that are required and nothing else.

A FUNNY CUSTOMS STORY

I spent a good 40 years performing on cruise ships - not all the time, but very often. In the late 1970s, I had a gig on the P&O cruise ship Arcadia on one of its maintenance trips that went to Singapore for dry dock and then to Hong Kong for a refit. This trip lasted around 7 weeks, but provided 10 days on land in Singapore and 6 days in Hong Kong. These maintenance cruises were fabulous because so much time was spent on shore in hotels and having a great time in those two cities.

Working on board were a number of concert performers such as myself and a rock and roll band that played late night sets in the nightclub. Little did I know at the time that this rock band would cause me some problems on arrival back in Australia.

Anyway, when the Arcadia docked in Sydney at the end of the cruise, I was amazed to see a massive contingent of Customs officers waiting, complete with German Shepherd dogs. I thought - hell, these guys must know something. But I gave it no further thought until I disembarked and then I found out what this was all about.

Apparently this rock band that had been working on the cruise was known to consist of members who were narcotics users, however none of them had offered me drugs and I would have point-blank refused to use them anyway. But Australian Customs had this band flagged right from the start, so they pulled all the entertainers aside - including me - and started to intensively search us and all our equipment.

Well, I was confident that Customs were not going to find any drugs on me. After frisking me, they looked in the back of my amplifier, shining torches into it and poking around and finding nothing, just as I knew.

But then the Customs guys opened my guitar case, took out my guitar and let the German Shepherds have a sniff. And those dogs went berserk, barking and pawing at the purple velvet lining. I was completely shocked, because I occasionally left my guitar in its case at the back of the stage instead of taking it to my cabin, so somebody could have easily slipped a load of narcotics into it with me not being any the wiser. I was literally shitting my pants as those dogs were going nuts over my case.

The Customs officers literally ripped my guitar case apart, but found absolutely nothing. They couldn't explain why their sniffer dogs went crazy over my case when there were no drugs in it. But I found out exactly why this happened the next day when I was at home.

I took my guitar out of the case to do some practice and immediately, my cocker spaniel dog jumped into the case and curled up to go to sleep, My dog had a habit of doing this whenever I had my guitar out of the case. And then the penny dropped. My female dog had never been desexed, as I had notions of breeding from her. My spaniel had been on heat just before I left to go on this cruise. So all those doggy pheromones that were residual in my guitar case had sent the Customs dogs into paroxysms of sexual desire - not a discovery of drugs at all. Of course those dogs were not able to tell their handlers that they were sexually aroused, not proud to have found narcotics.

I was so relieved to have discovered the reason for those Customs dogs going crazy over my guitar case, but worse was to come. Three days later, I received a call from somebody stating that he was an Australian Customs official and that Customs had determined that I had been smuggling illegal narcotics into Australia. He said that I should prepare myself to be interrogated by Customs and Federal Police and to get ready to be taken into custody.

So again I shit myself for about a minute - until I started thinking about the situation. And then the penny dropped again. My friend Russell, who had come to pick me up from the ship and who had seen the whole Customs search from behind the barrier at the dock and heard me ranting about it on the way home, decided to prank me. So he phoned me with that cock-and-bull story and I nearly fainted - until I recognised his voice and then he couldn't hold it together and started laughing like crazy. I could have killed him, but I did see the funny side of it all, apart from having a few potential heart attacks.