26 Most Common Tourist Scams in Indonesia
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As the largest archipelago in the world, the largest country in Southeast Asia and with the fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesia is a sight to behold with marvels galore. The capital is a melting pot of cuisines and culture, there are over 13,000 islands, temples, national parks, diving sites, volcanoes, villas, galleries, komodo dragons, and many more!
However, after decades of economic mismanagement, many in the country still live below the poverty line, and that’s why so many visitors to the country have met with some tourist targeted scam or another. Check out this article to learn how to protect yourself in Wonderful Indonesia!
A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES
1. Unlicensed tour guides/temple touts
There are many of “tour guides” at the main attractions, such as the Besakih temple or Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) 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, though there are also others who ask for a fee first but overcharge you by saying that this is due to an important religious ceremony that day, which is nonsense as there are ceremonies almost every day.
Of course, at the end of “tour”, for those not asked to pay upfront, tips will be demanded and an official looking price list might even be produced and shoved in your face! The more scheming ones would even stop you halfway during your tour and demand a fee/tip before continuing.
The scam doesn’t end there however – at the end of your tour, the tour guide/tout would then exclaim that it is “Batik day” today or that there is a showcase in a famous gallery, and offer to bring you there. Read on to find out why taking up his recommendation is a bad idea.
Rules of thumb: avoid, or if you do engage one, negotiate a price first before starting your tour.
2. Kuta beach touts
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 do be prepared to bargain hard.
However, our best advice is still to avoid engaging them, as you can get easily ripped off – e.g. after designing one of your nails, they claim that the price agreed on initially is only for that one, and you have to pay extra for them to apply nail polish on your other nails.
Rule of thumb: avoid engaging
Bali is home to a number of famous temples, and around these temples, you will find a couple of fake “priests” or “holy men” as well. They will offer their blessings and should you accept, he will pull out a donation jar filled with 100,000 notes and motion for each person who he has blessed to donate.
You can choose not to, but if you really want to, IDR 2k – 5k is more than good enough.
Rule of thumb: avoid engaging
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 around to the best stalls selling batik. As you walk past the different stalls on this street, the stranger will very 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 finally into some an unmarked shack along some dark alleyway, which is where the stranger’s friend sells 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. He would provide world class service as well, serving you cold water or tea while you peruse their extensive price list and different art work.
Should you buy, you would most likely be getting a screen printed fake on a worthless piece of cloth, what makes it worse is that it is also easy to lose track of the exact amount of money you pay due to the currency’s conversion.
The art school is very similar to the batik scam – the stranger will claim to bring you to an art school with the best artists in Indonesia, just that it is paintings rather than batik in this case.
Rule of thumb: avoid, or if you would like to just check it out the place out for the thrill, do not buy
5. Sarong touts
At almost every temple in Bali which requires sarong/covering up before you can enter the temple, a sarong rental charge is already included in the ticket price if there is one. So do not fall for the hordes of sarong touts near these temples hounding you to buy one from them.
Rule of thumb: avoid, or simply wear loose fitting pants and a shirt
6. Markets (e.g. Kuta/Ubud Art Markets)
Not exactly a “scam” per se, more a tourist trap, the items here are almost all wildly overpriced, depending on your skin colour, so do be prepared to bargain hard.
Rule of thumb: check out Sukawati Art Market instead
Just like around the world, you will find pickpocket cases in Indonesia, especially around crowded areas like Uluwantu temple. Also, should you rent a bicycle, be careful what you put in the basket in front of your bicycle if you have, as there have cases where criminals on bikes can speed past your bicycle and grab whatever it is you have in there.
Rule of thumb: stay alert; keep your valuables in a secure place.
Also, to avoid putting yourself out exposing yourself in areas with higher thefts, avoid taking buses; take the ekonomi AC class trains and when on a cab, lock the dogs and make sure the windows are locked
8. Ubud Forest monkey scam
It is only common sense to beware of the monkeys in the Ubud Monkey forest, who will take any item off you should you be distracted! What many do not know however, is that some of these monkeys are trained to steal them so that their trainers can get it back for you for a fee.
Rule of thumb: stay alert, keep valuables well secured and out of sight
1. Fake bus ticket
The scam works like this – at busy bus interchanges such as Probolinggo bus terminal, a couple of guys will approach you, ask you where you are going, and then direct you to a bus. This bus is usually scheduled to leave only half an hour later, so that these scammers have the time to cheat you. Once you are on the bus, they will ask you to pay a price that is usually 2x-3x the normal fare and also an additional fare for luggage if you have one.
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 the bus, and this is where many tourists get caught out, because the locals won’t help. The reason locals won’t help is because these scammers usually work in gangs/local mafia, so they do not step in for personal safety reasons.
Rule of thumb: never pay for the bus fare if the bus is not moving – the real bus conducter collects the fare once the bus starts moving
2. The modern bus bait
This is a really cool scam. It has been reported in South Sumatra, that you will see a line of beautiful, modern coaches outside the ferry terminal flashing their headlights and sounding their horns. Around these buses, 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 it is claimed that there is a problem with the bus unfortunately. 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 be taken in by the scene’s flashiness
3. Commission drivers
Be wary should you engage a private driver who during the course of your trip keep insisting on heading somewhere else, such as a friend’s shop/brother’s place (clear red flag!) or in the usual commercial shops which you did not request to go (e.g. art dealers, batik galleries, jewellery merchants, etc), do be wary as he is most likely suggesting places where he gets a commission.
Rule of thumb: do your research and be firm with your itinerary – insist only on paying 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. If a driver’s rates are too good to be true, it usually is
4. Taxi surcharge for long distances
There are unscrupulous 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 or simply uber
5. Airport/ferry porters
Don’t be surprised when after touching down and you reach the airport bag carousel, you find someone who looks like an official airport porter already with your luggage at his side, and who will offer to help you carry it to your taxi/transport. Should you accept his help, needless to say, 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 at your bags/luggage and “help” you carry them on the ferry, and then demand a tip next.
Rule of thumb: reject the “porters’” help
6. Airport taxi monopoly at Bali
At the Ngurah Rai International Airport, there is a taxi monopoly where taxi meters are not used and fixed fees are charged depending on the zone you are going. 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)
Rule of thumb: if possible, arrange for transport with your hotel, or you if don’t mind spending the effort – you can 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), always make sure that the fare quoted is not on a “per person” basis if you are travelling 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 be prepared with small change, as the driver can 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, 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/buy through your hotel
1. Money Changer
Indonesia is infamous for these money changer tricksters who have cheated so many tourists and continue doing so today.
These tricksters 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 either do not bother counting or might be careless in counting.
Should you note the shortfall, the money changer can simply admit to an error, or claim that there’s a commission charge (which can sometimes be a ludicrous 5-10%) or that they do not have the change required.
Besides this sleight of hand trick, another trick these scammers use is to use a fake 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 trick and also calculate the amount you should get and not fall prey to hidden commission charges
2. Fake Arak
Arak is a traditional Balinese spirit, but in recent times, there have been reports of unscrupulous vendors mixing methanol instead of alcohol into the drink to save costs, which 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
What some corrupted police officers like to do is going around “fining” foreigners on the road during peak hours for the most trivial things (e.g. not wearing a helmet). All you need to do to settle the fine is to pay a small bribe of IDR 50k -100k. They threaten you with a bigger fine if you insist to only pay at the station. Anyhow, if a nonsensical amount is being demanded, remember that you can bargain!
Rule of thumb: avoid driving here as the congestion here is insane and you put yourself out to be “fined” by the police. If you drive, most importantly bring your driving license along and put on your helmet! Also, do not put more than IDR 150k in your wallet as this might tempt the corrupt police officer to demand for more payment
4. Timeshare scams
This can work in many different forms, the key is that you will be approached with a too good to turn down offer, as long as you 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, where they approach you on the street to ask you fill up a form asking you about your holiday experience. Should you leave your contact details there, you will receive a call later in the day/at night that you have just won a prize! You can redeem it as long as you go to some hotel for a timeshare pitch.
Should you accept, what happens next at the pitch is that you will be subjected to high pressure sales techniques over the course of the next two hours to commit, be it a full purchase or even a paid trial.
Rule of thumb: do not bother partaking in timeshare sessions
5. “Damaged” equipment
Some of the most common cases are motorbikes, surfboards and jet skis (though not as common as in Thailand for jet skis), where the vendors whom you have rented from will claim that you have damaged them during your usage.
Rule of thumb:
- To protect yourself, the first thing you should do is never give your passport as collateral
- Next, 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 still accused, the only appropriate next step is to contact the police (see all the way at the end of the article for the numbers to call). Don’t vex yourself up when trying to talk sense to these crooks, because it will not work
6. Watch thefts
Watch out for this, as the thieves are extremely skilful and fast and by the time you realize it, it will be too late. In Kuta, it has been reported that a young boy will suddenly grab you on the wrist from nowhere, and start small talk/speaking pleasantries with you. Just as fast as you appear, they are gone and when you look down at your wrist, your watch has disappeared as well.
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: always check your receipt; also prepare small change for small ticket items if possible
8. “10” – currency confusion
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 scam you
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 suddenly get apprehended by a “police officer” who is either a fake or a corrupted one who will demand a bribe in exchange for letting you go.
Rule of thumb: don’t buy drugs here
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 some 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 to use another ATM.
Also, there have even reports of robbery at these machines, so do stay on the lookout.
Rule of thumb: if possible, try to only use ATM machines inside banks, and avoid those in dark streets and at tourist attractions.
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 easily apparent.
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
- 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
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