26 Most Common Tourist Scams in Indonesia

Bali, Lombok, Magelang, Flores, Batam, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Bintan, Banda Aceh, Bandung, Seminyak, Ubud, Kuta, Denpasar, Surabaya, Sanur, Canggu, Legian, Jimbaran, Malang, Semarang, Gili Trawangan, Tangerang, Kerobokan, Medan, Nusa Dua, Makassar, Bogor, Solo, Nusa Lembongan, Manado, Mataram, Tabanan, Pekanbaru, Balikpapan, Amed, Palembang, Padang, Ungasan, Java, Sulawesi, Bromo

Source credit

As the largest archipelago in the world and the largest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is a sight to behold. With over 13,000 islands, temples, parks, diving sites, volcanoes and a capital that is a melting pot of cuisines and culture, you will never run out of places to see.

However, after decades of economic mismanagement, many in the country still live below the poverty line. Hence, tourist targeted scams are rampant in the country. Read on to learn how to protect yourself in Wonderful Indonesia!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Unlicensed tour guides/temple touts

Source credit

There are many “tour guides” at the main attractions, such as the Besakih temple or Goa Gajah in Bali, the Kraton in  Jogja, etc. They will offer to bring you around and explain the history of these sites, giving you the impression that their service is free. However, at the end of the tour a tip will be demanded with an official looking price list shoved in your face.

There are also others who ask for a fee first but will overcharge you. A common excuse they use is that there is an important religious ceremony today. However, that is nonsense as there are ceremonies almost every day. As for the more scheming ones , they will stop you halfway during the tour and demand a fee/tip before continuing.

The scam doesn’t end there however. At the end of your tour, the guide would claim that it is “Batik day” and offer to bring you to a showcase in a famous gallery. Scam #4 explains why it is a bad idea to accept their offer.

Rules of thumb:

Avoid or if you do engage one, negotiate a price first before starting your tour.

 

2. Kuta beach touts

Source credit

You will find these touts in the form of aunties/ibus offering beauty services (e.g. manicure, pedicure, hair braiding, massaging, what have you) at Kuta beach. They will provide extremely simple services at a ludicrous price, so be prepared to bargain hard.

Rule of thumb:

We recommend avoiding them, as you can get ripped off easily. e.g. after designing one of your nails, they claim that the initial agreed upon price is only for one nail. To have the other nails polished, you have to pay extra.

 

3. Blessings

Just like in Cambodia, Bali is home to many famous temples, and around these temples, you will find fake “priests”/“holy men” as well. They will offer their blessings and then demand you donate to a donation jar filled with 100,000 notes.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging. If you accept, you can also choose not to donate, but you will be harassed. To get them off your back, IDR 2k – 5k is more than good enough.

 

4. Jalan Malioboro batik/art scam

The batik scam is infamous along the Jalan Malioboro street. What happens is that a person will approach you and offer to bring you to the best batik shops. As you walk past different stalls, the stranger will helpfully point out the different grades of batik and why they are not worth the money.

Finally, he brings you out of the market and into an unmarked shack along a dark alleyway. This is where the stranger’s friend has a shop selling batik. He might even claim that his friend receives money from the government to teach batik to increase his credibility.

After you enter, they will show you the wax and dye to create batik and shine a light against the batik for you to admire. Cold water or tea will be served while you peruse the extensive price list and different art work.

At this point, most tourists will feel bad not buying. However, should you buy, you would most likely be getting a screen printed fake on a worthless piece of cloth.

The art school scam is the same as the batik scam, just swap batik shop with art school and batik with paintings and you get the idea.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject the offer. You could accept simply to check out the place for the thrill, but never buy.

 

5. Sarong touts

Source credit

At almost every temple in Bali which requires a sarong, a sarong rental charge has already been included in the ticket price.

Rule of thumb:

Do not fall for the hordes of sarong touts near these temples hounding you to buy one.

 

6. Markets (e.g. Kuta/Ubud Art Markets)

Source credit

This is not exactly a “scam” per se but more a tourist trap. Items here are wildly overpriced so do be prepared to bargain hard.

Rule of thumb:

If you would like to buy, find out the real prices from your hotel or your driver. Or you could check out Sukawati Art Market or the Krisna outlets instead.

 

7. Pickpockets/thefts

Just like across Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Philippines, Vietnam, etc) you will find pickpockets in Indonesia, especially around crowded areas like Uluwatu temple.

Also, should you rent a bicycle, be careful what you put in the bicycle basket. There have incidents where criminals on bikes can speed past your bicycle and grab whatever it is you have in there.

Rule of thumb:

If you want to avoid becoming a victim, it is best to keep your cash safe and secure. Only carry small amounts of cash around with you. Avoid carrying the purse or wallet in the back pocket. Also, use a spare walletmoney belt or anti-theft bag to further protect yourself from pickpockets.

Further, keep most of your valuables and passport in the hotel safe. Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead. Also, consider using hotel safety tools such as a hotel safe lock or door jammer to further strengthen the security of your hotel room.

Finally, to avoid exposing yourself in areas with higher thefts, avoid taking buses. Take the ekonomi AC class trains instead and when on a cab, lock the doors and make sure the windows are locked.

 

8. Ubud Forest monkey scam

Source credit

It is only common sense to be careful of the monkeys in the Ubud Monkey forest, as they will steal your items should you be distracted. What many do not know however, is that some of these monkeys are trained to steal so that their trainers can get it back for you for a fee.

Rule of thumb:

Keep your valuables and passport locked in your hotel’s safe. Carry a photocopy of your passport around instead. Also, stay alert and keep your valuables in a secure place. Consider using a spare wallet or money belt.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Fake bus ticket

Source credit

At busy bus interchanges such as Probolinggo bus terminal, a couple of guys will approach you, ask where you are headed and direct you to a bus. This bus is usually scheduled to leave only half an hour later, so these scammers have the time to cheat you. Once you are on the bus, they will demand you pay a price 2x-3x the normal fare. An additional fare for luggage is also demanded.

Should you refuse, another accomplice will come some time after with a set of keys, claiming that he is the driver. If you refuse to pay, you will be asked to leave. This is where many tourists get caught out, because the locals won’t help. This is because they are afraid of offending the scammers who usually work in the local gangs/mafia.

Rule of thumb:

Never pay the bus fare if the bus is not moving. The real bus conductor will collect the fare once the bus starts moving.

 

2. The modern bus bait

It has been reported in South Sumatra, that you will see a line of beautiful, modern coaches outside the ferry terminal. These coaches will be flashing their headlights and sounding their horns. Around them, you will find many well dressed and aggressive touts trying to get you to board their bus.

Once the bus is full however, the lights and the sound go down, and the driver claims that there is a problem with the bus. Off you go to the real bus hidden behind, which is a rusty and old box of junk on wheels.

Rule of thumb:

Do not fall for the scene’s flashiness.

 

3. Commission drivers

Be wary when a private driver you hire keeps insisting on heading somewhere else. It could be a friend’s shop/brother’s place or the usual commercial shops which you did not request to go (e.g. art dealers, batik galleries, jewellery merchants, etc). These are simply places where he gets a commission.

Rule of thumb:

Do your research and be firm with your itinerary – insist on paying only if he brings you to your desired destination.

If possible, engage a driver through a reputable agency or your hotel. That way you will still have something to fall back on if anything goes awry.

Finally, if a driver’s proposed rates are too good to be true, it usually is.

 

4. Taxi surcharge for long distances

There are rogue drivers who charge you an illegal, exorbitant surcharge when going long distances, such as from Ubud to Kuta.

Rule of thumb:

If in doubt, get a taxi from some of the more reliable companies such as Bluebird taxi (+62 361 701 1111)/Express/Dian Taksi/Taxicab. You could try your luck with Uber but do note that it is banned in the country (there are still drivers on the platform).

Source credit

 

5. Airport/ferry porters

Don’t be surprised when you reach the airport bag carousel, that you find someone who looks like an official airport porter with your luggage at his side. When you claim the luggage, he will offer to carry it to your taxi/transport. Should you accept his help, a fee/tip will be demanded at the end.

This happens if you try to board a ferry with luggage as well. These “porters” will grab your bags/luggage, “help” you carry them onto the ferry, and then demand a tip.

Rule of thumb:

Hang on tight to your luggage and reject the “porters” help.

 

6. Airport taxi monopoly at Bali

Source credit

At the Ngurah Rai International Airport, there is a taxi monopoly where taxi meters are not used and fixed fees are charged. It will cost around IDR 80k – 100k for nearby beach areas (think Kuta, Seminyak) while further areas will cost about IDR 125k (think Sanur, Nusa Dua). Even further areas like Ubud will be in the range of IDR 300k.

Rule of thumb:

If possible, arrange transport with your hotel. If don’t mind spending some time – head out of the airport to look for other taxi operators but be ready to bargain hard.

 

7. Dishonest taxi fare/meter is down

If you have to negotiate a fare when taking a cab (driver refuses to use the meter), make sure that the fare quoted is not on a “per person” basis if you are in a group. Also make sure that is no such fare for luggage in the boot.

On the road, ask for a receipt if you have to go pass a toll gate.

Finally, at the end of the journey, do have small change prepared. Rogue drivers will simply claim that he does not have any change to pay you back if you were to use a big note.

Rule of thumb:

Negotiate everything upfront and be firm; ideally, only use a metered taxi.

 

8. The boat is full/down scam

If you are looking to travel to other islands, such as Gili/Lombok/Nusa Lembongan from Bali for instance, you are likely to come across this scam. Do not buy your tickets off the streets from unreliable/unlicensed sellers. This is because once you get to the terminal/pier, you will be told that the boat is full or down.

Coincidentally, someone/the boat operator’s friend will come by and offer you another ticket, which will cost more than usual!

Rule of thumb:

Do your research and only buy from legit operators or through your hotel.

 

C. MISC

1. Money Changer

Source credit

Indonesia is infamous for these money changing tricksters who have cheated so many and continue to do so today.

These scammers are usually found in dark/more secluded areas. They attract tourists by placing large sign boards advertising too good to be true exchange rates outside near the main roads. Once you are hooked, there are a few ways they can trick you.

Firstly, they might claim that they only have IDR 10,000 notes. As they count the money in front of you, they might use a sleight of hand trick and drop a few of these notes without you realizing. And because this is quite a huge stack of IDR 10k notes, some tourists do not bother counting or might get careless in counting.

Should you note the shortfall, the money changer can simply admit his error. Most likely, they will claim that there’s a commission charge (which can sometimes be a ludicrous 5-10%). Or that they do not have the change required.

Another trick these scammers use is to use a fake/rigged calculator, which can be quite effective due to the large denomination of the rupiah.

Rule of thumb:

Change money only at authorized sources. Beware of the sleight of hand trick and also calculate the amount you should get. Make sure there are no hidden commission charges before and after the exchange.

 

2. Fake Arak

Source credit

Arak is a traditional Balinese spirit. In recent times, there have been reports of unscrupulous vendors mixing methanol instead of alcohol into the drink to save costs. This can either blind or kill you.

Rule of thumb:

Only buy your drinks from reputable bars and check it with the bartender.

 

3. Corrupted police

Some corrupted police officers like to go around “fining” foreigners on the road during peak hours for trivial things. For instance, for not wearing a helmet.

To settle the huge fine, all you have to do is pay a small bribe of IDR 50k -100k. They threaten you with a bigger fine if you insist to only pay at the police station. Anyhow, if a nonsensical amount is being demanded, you can actually bargain!

Rule of thumb:

Avoid driving here as the road congestion is insane and you put yourself out there to be “fined”.

If you drive, follow all laws, bring your driving license along and put on your helmet! Also, do not put more than IDR 150k in your wallet. This might tempt the corrupt police officer to demand for more payment. You could hide spare cash in a spare wallet or money belt.

 

4. Timeshare scams

This comes in many different variations. The crux is that you will be given a too good to turn down offer, but you must first attend a timeshare sales pitch. For instance, you might find well-dressed salespeople offering you free/discounted tickets to tourist attractions. Or they might tell you that you have just won some scratch ticket, and you can redeem it if you go for the pitch!

Another variation which takes longer for the scammers is the survey method. They approach you on the street, asking you to fill up a form about your holiday experience. Should you leave your contact details there, you will informed through a call later in the day that you have just won a prize! You can redeem it as long as you go for a timeshare pitch.

Should you accept, at the pitch, you will be subjected to high pressure sales techniques over the next two hours.

Rule of thumb:

Do not bother with such pitches, as you are unlikely to redeem any good offers due to the many hidden terms and conditions.

 

5. “Damaged” equipment

Source credit

Some of the most common cases are motorbikes, surfboards and jet skis, where vendors whom you have rented from will claim that you have damaged them during your usage.

Rule of thumb:

  • To protect yourself, never give your passport as collateral
  • Before renting, examine the jet ski/bike/equipment. Document/remember any scratches, dents or potential damaged parts. Sound off to the vendor
  • If you have done everything but are still accused, contact the police (hotline at the end of the article). Don’t vex yourself up when trying to talk sense to these crooks, because it will not work.

 

6. Watch thefts

These watch thieves are extremely skillful and fast.

In Kuta, it has been reported that a young boy will pop out from nowhere and suddenly grab your wrist. He will then make small talk/speak pleasantries with you. But just as fast as they appear, they disappear, along with the watch on your wrist.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert around crowded areas, narrow passageways and instantly react when grabbed at the wrist or simply, don’t wear an expensive watch.

 

7. Minimart/circle K/market overcharging/lack of change

Always check your receipt, as there have many cases of minimarts overcharging tourists. When confronted, their easy excuse is to say that they have no change. Note that this is also a popular and easy scam for taxi drivers, which has been touched on earlier.

Even at local markets, when vendors see a tourist/foreigner, there is a high chance that you will be offered a higher “tourist price”. For instance they might offer a bag of oranges at IDR 10k for locals, but a special price of IDR 10k per orange for you.

Rule of thumb:

If you find the quoted price too high, bargain. Also, always check your receipt. Finally, prepare small change for small ticket items.

 

8. “10” – currency confusion

Source credit

10 can in Indonesia can mean IDR 10,000 or USD 10, so be very clear whenever checking or negotiating prices.

Rule of thumb:

Be clear and be ready to walk away if a seller tries to fleece you over such word play.

 

9. Fake drugs/fake police

This can work out in two ways, the first of course being that the drugs which the scammers sell (e.g. Viagra, Cialis, Xanax) are fake.

Second, is that a few moments after your purchase, you might find yourself apprehended by a “police officer”. This is likely who is either a fake or corrupted one who will demand a bribe in exchange for letting you go.

Rule of thumb:

Don’t do drugs.

 

10. ATM skimming

Card skimmers can record your card details, your PIN code and send all these information wirelessly (text message/Bluetooth) so it’s a real threat to be aware of!

Some telltale signs are a glue residue around card reader, loose parts of the machine or if suspicious items are placed on the machine which could be used to house a camera. Also, if you see something protruding or not fixed tightly, that should be a clear red flag.

Also, there have even reports of robbery at these machines, so do stay on the lookout.

Rule of thumb:

Use only ATM machines inside banks, avoid those in secluded areas and avoid using at night. Watch out for any shady/shifty characters in your surroundings.

 

11. Rigged weighing scale

It has been reported that at markets or restaurants, some vendors selling fish/seafood may rig their weighing scales. Unfortunately, this is not easy to spot.

Rule of thumb:

If the weighing scale is in sight, look at the starting weight before buying.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Source credit

  • Police: 110, 112
  • Ambulance and rescue: 118
  • Fire: 113
  • Medical: 119
  • Tourist police (Bali): (0361) 754 599 / (0361) 224 111
  • Tourist police (Jakarta): (021) 526 4073

Connect with us!

Get protected!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares