23 Most Common Tourist Scams in Hong Kong

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A dynamic and vibrant cosmopolis, Hong Kong has much to offer beyond the Victoria Peak and Harbour. Over here, you find a shopping paradise, international cuisine, colourful nightlife, festivals and fairs, a kaleidoscope of cultures and heritages, lush fauna and flora, a well-functioning transport infrastructure and indeed many more.

However, as one of the world’s pre-eminent cities attracting tourists around the world, these tourists also represent rich pickings for the scammers operating in the country. Although violence and crime is not a big issue over here, it’s still important to learn how to protect yourself and not fall victim to the multitude of scams in the country.

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Bait and switch

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This is a common trick globally and there are many different variations of it.

First, you could confirm your purchase of a particular item and the shop attendant will go to backroom to help you pick a new set instead of the display set. However, there are some shady shop operators who will put an older model or even a fake one instead (though the latter is unlikely)!

Next, instead of changing the model of the item, there are some shop owners who simply take out the accessories which are less noticeable.

Finally, there are shops which advertise a certain popular product at a very low price, once you are hooked and negotiations are finalized, the shop owner will check his stock and claim that he doesn’t have any remaining stock of that product, however, he offers you a replacement item that is in reality of much lower value but at the same price. Tired of the negotiations again, some travellers will simply take up the deal.

Note: this is especially common with electronics items which are of higher value, which makes the scam more worthwhile. Be careful when shopping around the shops at Nathan Road, Kowloon.

Rule of thumb: double check the item when it is passed back to you

 

2. Overcharging shops

This is a problem many tourists meet with when shopping for electronics at Nathan Road in Kowloon. This is because products do not have a price tag, and tourists who do not know their stuff and can easily fall for the claims made by these shops.

Some of the infamous shops to avoid – Perfect digital; 3D digital and audio

Rule of thumb: do your research before going down to purchase (high value items especially)

 

3. Weighing scale scam

As part of the Hong Kong experience, many tourists over here like to purchase traditional Chinese medicine or herbs. However, there have been reports of shops rigging their weighing scales to sell less for the same price.

Rule of thumb: besides looking at the weighing scale when there is no weight on it, do some online research on which are the reputable stores to buy from. As a starting point, you wouldn’t go wrong with shops with the Quality Tourism Service Logo.

 

4. Shopping tours

There have been reports where tour groups were coerced by their tour guides to purchase a minimum amount in certain stores, else they would be kicked out of their tour groups. These are usually shady tour operators in China which advertise their tours at extremely low prices to the Chinese, so they would have to generate revenue through these ways.

Rule of thumb: report the tour operator to the police as this is illegal; also do your research before committing to any tours – go for the reputable ones

 

 5. Fake herbal medicine scam

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On the streets, you might just find someone (usually a lady/old lady) approach you with an offer to buy some herbal medicine which you can either use or resell for a much higher value back in your home country.

Before or while you are considering, the scammer’s accomplice will appear out of nowhere, claim that he/she has overheard your conversion and offer to pay double since it’s too good an offer to turn down. Do not succumb to greed as the herbal medicine is essentially worthless.

Rule of thumb: reject the offer

 

6. Bad aura/Spiritual blessing scam

The modus operandi of this is somewhat similar to the herbal medicine scam. Again, someone will approach you and tell you that you have a “bad” aura around you, and whether you have heard of a super doctor, who can help you with it. Out of nowhere, the accomplice appears, having overheard the conversation apparently, and enthusiastically offer to bring them to someone he know who can help.

He brings the party to a third accomplice, who claims to be related (some family member) to the super doctor, and diagnoses you or one of your family member who has offended a soul/spirit/god, and misfortune would befell you. He then offers to perform a ritual to cleanse you of your bad aura. Should you accept, you would first have to surrender material valuables which will be safeguarded in a bag by them so as not to not affect the ritual.

Once the ritual is performed, they hand you back the bag, but alas, what is inside are not your valuables, but a bunch of newspapers (which looks like your valuables are wrapped in them are not).

Rule of thumb: stay far away from such ludicrous offers

 

7. Fake antiques

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The Cat Street market, also known as the antique marketplace, is one where tourists flock to for souvenirs to get back home. Shopkeepers will claim that these are all antiques from years gone by, but don’t believe their spiel and do not get taken in by outrageous high prices which they can just make up on the spot.

Rule of thumb: don’t buy unless as a cheap thrill

 

8. Counterfeit products

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Be careful while out shopping at the Mong Kok shopping district, because whilst there are definitely bargains to be had, there are also counterfeits around, such as watches, luxury products or electronics.

Rule of thumb: for bigger ticket items, do some online research on which are the reputable shops to buy from (e.g. the big chains like Broadway or Fortress) or check with your hotel staff. Also, a good starting point is shops with the Quality Tourism Services logo

 

9. Art scammers

What these scammers do is they leave art pieces on the floor, so that distracted tourists might step on them accidentally and they can demand a payment from you.

Rule of thumb: watch where you step

 

10. Pickpockets

The situation isn’t as bad as in Amsterdam or Barcelona (check these two lists for a full list of potential scenarios), but there have still been reported cases in crowded/touristy areas. How these pickpockets work is they work in groups – one distracts you while the other strikes.

For instance, at crowded places such as Causeway Bay, you might find a gang of people crowd around you, one will ask you about the directions to a certain, one will rob you and another will watch out for the police or block off bystanders’ view of the situation.

Rule of thumb: stay alert and aware of the multiple distraction techniques

 

11. Spiked drinks

It has been reported that there are criminal syndicates who hire pretty females to approach single male tourists in bars and nightclubs, chat them up and then spike their drinks, and finally steal their valuables.

Rule of thumb: be wary when in such situations

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging taxi drivers

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As with all countries/busy cities in the world, Hong Kong is not free of overcharging taxi drivers. The most obvious ones are those who don’t use meters, or those who add on excessive surcharges. There have even been reports of

Rule of thumb: take a photo of the car license plate and also of the driver’s license, and report to the police if you believe you have been unnecessarily charged. To be even safer, you can avoid flagging down cabs at tourist attractions (Canton Road, Lan Kwai Fong, etc) but do so at less touristy areas

 

2. Airport taxi touts

Do NOT take up the offers of these taxi touts at the Hong Kong airport – there have many cases of this where scammer one will target tired, lone travellers carry large luggage to skip the queue to take taxi driven by scammer two.

The meter would not be used and the traveller usually does not realize due to fatigue. Halfway through, both scammers will pressure you to pay an exorbitant fixed fare and it’s difficult to resist, as they outnumber you and they will drive to unfamiliar, secluded spots if you refuse to yield.

Rule of thumb: take a photo of the car license plate and also of the driver’s license, and report to the police if you believe you have been unnecessarily charged. To be even safer, you can avoid flagging down cabs at tourist attractions (Canton Road, Lan Kwai Fong, etc) but do so at less touristy areas

 

3. Taxi money switcheroo

Again a very common scam globally, this is where taxi drivers swop the notes you give them and claim that you have given them less. They usually do this when you are distracted, for instance, after you passed them the cash, they might suddenly move the car forward and pretend that the taxi is blocking the way – this may cause you to look behind and that is when the driver will swop the notes you have passed over in smaller value ones and then ask you to top up.

Another variation is where the driver swops it with counterfeit bills, thankfully occurs more commonly in other countries and not in Hong Kong.

Rule of thumb: always be clear how much you pass over; to be safe, you can repeat the notes as you pass them over

 

C. MISC

1. Fake monks

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Fake monks are everywhere, be it in the US or Europe.. They might go around asking for donations, or offer to conduct a spiritual blessing for you in exchange for money, or push you some worthless items/talisman and claim an extortionate amount for it.

There’s even a facebook page detailing all fake monks activities in sightings in Hong Kong: https://www.facebook.com/FakeMonksInHongKong

Rule of thumb: avoid

 

2. Timeshare scam

One of the oldest and most global scams around the world, you might find yourself approached by someone who claims to be from the Hong Kong tourist department who ask if you could help do a survey in exchange for some scratch it cards – the Scottish girl at the Star Ferry Terminal at Harbour City is an infamous example.

The survey is of course, a front to determine if you are the kind of victims they are looking for (e.g. if you can afford their timeshare scam and how long you will be here for along with your accommodation details).

At the end of the survey, you will be given scratch it cards where you can either win an electronics item, a cash prize or a free holiday if you were to scratch of three stars in a row. Needless to say, everyone does, but to know what prize you get and to actually redeem it, you would have to attend a resort now/immediately and transport costs are covered.

Once there, you will be forced to sit through a long timeshare presentation of timeshare resorts which are of poor quality at astronomical prices. Finally, after the presentation, the prize revealed will of course be a free a holiday to one of these timeshare resorts. However, note that is it not actually free, because you will still have to pay for your own transportation costs, and also have to have all meals within the resorts. There might be other restrictions, but you get the memo.

Rule of thumb: reject such proposals

 

3. Can you help me take care of my cash

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Sounds like a silly scam that no one will fall for, but it still does. It goes like this – a well-dressed man will approach you and claim that he has found a huge stash of cash, and is willing to share it with you. He shows you the stash, but as there’s an urgent task he needs to settle now, he asks if you can help him take care of the stash first before splitting. However, he would need a valuable from you as collateral since you are a stranger.

Should you have over anything, you will find that the stranger disappears and never comes back and once you inspect the cash, you will find that only the notes at the top are real, which the rest are counterfeit bills.

Rule of thumb: if it’s too good to be true, it is

 

4. Dropped money scam

Another variation of the “can you take care of my money scam” is that scammer one will drop a bag of cash “accidentally” in front of you. Then, scammer two will pick it up, and offer to share with you. He brings you to a secluded spot so that the money can be split without attracting too much attraction.

At this point however, scammer one turns up and will accuse you of stealing his money. He then demands and proceeds to search your belongings even if you deny. Once scammer one has grabbed some of your valuables, both scammers will run away and this entire sequence of events will happen in a flash.

This can work another way, into the aforementioned “can you help me to take care of my cash” scam. Scammer two will now accuse scammer one of stealing his cash, and both agreed to settle the case at a police station. They then ask you to help take care of the cash first, but in return, you have to give them something as a collateral.

Rule of thumb: do not fall in to greed

 

5. Friendly helper scam

You would find these scammers everywhere around the world, especially at airports or main transport hubs. What they do is they target tourists with large bags/luggage, help you carry/handle them even if you reject their offer, and then demand a big payment after, making a scene if you do not.

Rule of thumb: refuse their advances by making a scene (accuse them of stealing if they try to grab your stuff) and refuse to pay

 

6. Can I borrow your mobile

This is an old trick and not as common nowadays, but still one to be wary of. As the name suggests, a scammer might claim that he has been robbed/lost his phone, and ask if he can borrow yours. Should you lend, he will make off with it.

Another variation is that the scammer will claim to borrow your phone to call someone to transfer money to him as he has been scammed. Midway through the call however, he will pass the phone to you, and the scammer on the other line will claim that there is some problem with the transfer, and ask if you can pass the first scammer some money and the second scammer will transfer you the money instead, which of course, will never happen.

Rule of thumb: reject such requests

 

7. Can I borrow your cash

Again, the scammer may claim that he has just been robbed, and ask if you can borrow some money from you and return it back later. He will provide his contact details, and to make it more believable, he may pass you a fake name card passing himself off as some reputable person.

Rule of thumb: reject such requests

 

8. Accommodation touts

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You will find these touts at crowded tourist attractions approaching tourists and asking where they are going and where they are staying. No matter which place you say, they will claim that the hotel is currently closed for renovation and offer you another place at a cheap price.

These are usually low quality places with a lot of hidden costs beyond the cheap price advertised. Sometimes, the cheap price may even be fake and made up on the spot.

Rule of thumb: ignore these touts

 

9. Begging

In Hong Kong, it is illegal to beg, however, beggars from China, as part of criminal syndicates come over to Hong Kong on a L visa to do so. As it is difficult for authorities to prove the intent to beg for this group of perpetrators, nothing much is being done unless complaints are made

Rule of thumb: do not donate unless you want to help these criminal syndicates

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) 999
  • Police Hotline +852 2527 7177
  • Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong +852 2807 0707
  • Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Hotline +852 2508 1234
  • Hong Kong International Airport +852 2181 8888
  • Hong Kong Immigration Department +852 2824 6111
  • Consumer Council +852 2929 2222
  • Department of Health +852 2961 8989
  • Telephone directory enquiries 1081

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