19 Most Common Tourist Scams In Malaysia

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Malaysia, along with Thailand, is one of the most popular travel destinations in Southeast Asia. You can visit beautiful beaches, enjoy some of the best diving in the world, spend time exploring vibrant metropolis like the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, commune with nature in spots like Taman Negara National Park and explore the amazing street food scene in hubs like Penang!

However, with the influx of tourists, tourist targeted scams have been on the rise as well. Read on to learn how to protect yourself from these scams!

 

A. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS/ACTIVITIES

1. Pickpocketing

In crowded areas such as Petaling Street, shopping malls (e.g. Ampang point, Sunway Pyramid), train, bus, or train stations, pick pocketing can be a big problem. Thieves will try to take phones, wallets, or items out of handbags and take advantage of the packed conditions to stand close to their targets.

In the video above, you can actually see a gang of 5 working together to steal the guy’s iPad while he was just buying an ice cream at McDonalds!

Rule of thumb:

Secure all your personal items and don’t put something important like a wallet in your back pocket. Keep bags closed so that pickpockets can’t reach inside and relieve you of your valuables. If possible separate your credit cards, mobile phone, money, and other valuable items and store them in different places. Finally, use a spare walletmoney belt or anti-theft bag to further protect yourself from pickpockets.

Also think about leaving some of your valuables such as your passport in a 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 strengthen the security of your hotel room.

Do also check out how pickpockets operate in Netherlands and Spain. They are the real pros in the business.

 

2. Snatch theft

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Even more dangerous than pick pocketing in Malaysia is snatch theft. Gangs of thieves, usually on motorbikes, will ride close to you and then snatch your bag or phone. This can be very unsafe if the strap of your bag doesn’t break. In fact, victims have been pulled along the road and suffered serious injuries as a result of a botched snatch theft.

Rule of thumb:

When walking, carry your bag on the other side of your body away from the road. Keep valuables close to you. Also, try not to have items dangling into the road areas such as carrying a camera in your hand by its strap.

 

3. Flower sellers

This is a particular problem in Kuala Lumpur in popular nightlife areas such as Changkat Bukit Bintang. Flower sellers are usually children who will ask you to buy their flowers at an inflated price. They often work alone late into the night and have to give all the money they make to a parent or guardian. Thus by buying, you will not be helping the children directly.

Many visitors, understandably, feel sorry for the children. However, by helping, you are actually encouraging such acts. Many of these sellers are child refugees and risk penalties if they are caught by the Malaysian authorities.

Rule of thumb:

It is not helpful to buy flowers from young children in Malaysia, as this will cause more harm than good since the practice is illegal. As such either politely refuse or simply walk away if the seller is persistent.

 

4. Fake monks seeking donations

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This is a scam that has gone global (e.g. China, UK, Australia, etc). In areas frequented by travellers, particularly nightlife spots in Malaysia, it can be common to see monks soliciting donations. In reality, monks do not ask for money in Malaysia and as such the ‘monks’ in question are often charlatans.

They may sometimes try to convince you of their credibility by offering you a cheap amulet or small medallion in return for a donation. It is very unlikely however that any money you contribute will actually end up at a licensed monastery.

Rule of thumb:

‘Monks’ soliciting alms can be quite persistent although usually not aggressively so. So make it very clear that you do not want to make a donation and walk away from the situation.

 

5. Spiked drinks

There is a rising problem in Malaysia with drink-spiking. This can happen to both male and female patrons in some bars and clubs all over Malaysia.

Men or women will offer to buy visitors a drink which has been spiked with a sedative. When the tourist feels dizzy or unwell, the scammers will offer to help them back to their hotel room. They will then take the chance to rob the visitor of their valuables while they are unconscious.

Rule of thumb:

Do not allow people that you don’t know to buy you a drink, especially in a bar or nightclub. Watch all drinks being made to ensure that nothing is being added without you noticing. If possible, stick to bottled drinks that can be opened in front of you like bottles of beer.

Also do not leave your drink unattended as this may be an opportunity for someone to add something to it. If you feel unwell after drinking and suspect that your drink may have been spiked, alert a person in a position of authority. This could be a police officer or the manager or owner of the bar or your hotel.

 

6. Fake goods

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Malaysia is a haven for shopping and often you can get some great bargains. If the price looks too good to be true however then it probably is. This is because many markets and indoor arcades across the country sell fake goods.

These can take the form of branded clothes, watches, perfume, jewellery, and electronics such as mobile phones. As you would expect for the price, they are usually very low quality and do not represent good value.

Rule of thumb: 

If you are getting a branded item for a very cheap price, especially from an unlicensed venue like a market, then it is most likely fake. Instead, it is best to shop at malls or go directly to a licensed retailer. This is the only way to know that the items you are buying are the real deal.

 

7. Fake electronics street touts

Around the Petronas Twin Towers and the KLCC shopping mall, you might find yourself approached by a street tout. The tout will offer you an expensive electronic item (e.g. iPhone, Samsung phone, etc) at a very cheap price.

He will claim that he has won it, as such he is willing to sell at a cheap price as he has no need for it. Or he could claim that he has just bought it but unfortunately his mum has fallen sick, and require funds for a surgery.

Should you test the item, you will find that the quality of the product is lacking. This is because it is a cheap China made knock off.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly decline. If something is too good to be true, it is.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Smash and grab car robbery

For those who are looking at renting a car in Malaysia, do be wary of this. There have been reports of robbers coming up to a victim’s car, smashing the window, grabbing your valuables and then making off with them. Three seconds are all they need, as shown in the video above.

Rule of thumb:

Be smart and keep your valuables out of sight.

Also, be wary of your surroundings especially when stopping at a junction. Look out for suspicious pedestrians and motorbike pillion riders who hide their faces with their helmet.

Further, try not to stop too near to the car in front. This will allow some manoeuvring space if needed.

 

2. Non-metered taxis

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All taxis in Malaysia are supposed to be metered and haggling is prohibited. Most taxis actually have a sign on them that tell you that they must use the meter. However, many taxi drivers will still try to haggle for a flat rate which will usually be higher than the meter price.

Rule of thumb:

Before you get into a taxi, make sure that you ask the driver to turn the meter on. If they refuse or try to bargain by offering a flat rate, you can simply decline to get into the taxi.

Also, use official taxi counters at venues like airports, train stations, and malls, as you can buy a taxi coupon and pay the correct upfront fare.

 

3. Long taxi routes

If the driver has agreed to use the meter they may try to add to the fare by taking you on a longer route. Or they may deliberately drive you through crowded areas which will take longer.

Rule of thumb:

Try to work out the route yourself using the GPS system on your phone. If you are familiar with the route and feel that the driver is deliberately taking you on a longer trip around the city, speak up and ask where and why he has chosen this route.

You can also stop the taxi and end the journey if the driver persists in driving you all around town instead of straight to your destination. This is because taxi drivers exploit the fact that many tourists are unfamiliar with the city they are in. So make it clear that you know where you are going and how long it will take.

Avoid saying things like ‘Take whichever route you prefer’ as this makes you a clear target to be scammed.

 

4. Fake tickets

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This scam can happen for any ticket, such as a ferry or bus ticket. It could be sold by a guesthouse owner or tout who offers to get the ticket for you at a very cheap price.

Once you pay for the ticket however and arrive at the bus or ferry terminal, you will find that the ticket is fake. In fact, the transportation company has no record of your booking. This means that you will then have to pay again for another ticket, or travel another day and spoil your plans if you want to confront the fraudulent seller.

Rule of thumb:

It is always better to buy a ticket for any kind of transportation at a licensed retailer.

You can also buy your tickets online directly from the ferry or bus company. However, avoid online travel agents who are not directly affiliated with one transportation company as this may also be a scam.

 

5. Unsolicited tours

This is often a scam offered by taxi drivers, particularly outside the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

In this scenario you ask to be driven to a destination and the driver will ask if you would like a tour of the city for a nominal fee. If you agree, they will drive you to a range of destinations that you may or may not want to go to. These places usually have little cultural or historical interest and will usually be shops, factories, cultural villages, or restaurants where the driver gets a commission.

Often the sellers at these locations will be very pushy and you may feel pressured to buy something.

Rule of thumb:

One way to avoid this is to book a tour with a licensed tour company and have a clear itinerary of the attractions you want to see.

If you are taken to any places that you don’t want to visit, politely ask to be taken to your next destination. Also, don’t feel pressured to buy anthing there.

 

6. Hotel suggestions

This usually happens when you take some form of transportation and ask to be dropped off at a specific hotel. The driver will tell you that it has recently closed or that it is fully booked. Or the driver could tell you that it is very dirty or crowded and that you won’t get good service.

The driver then offers to take you to a better place that he happens to know. This place will be where he gets a commission from. It will also likely be more expensive than the hotel you previously planned to stay in.

Rule of thumb:

Sometimes a hotel may well have closed but the only way to be sure is to insist on going there anyway. Another way is to tell them your driver that you already have a reservation and have paid upfront.

7. Motorbike rental

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One of the easiest ways to get around in Malaysia is to hire a motorbike or scooter. This is particularly true in areas such as islands like Langkawi, the Perhentian Islands, or Tioman Island. If you park your bike however or leave it outside overnight then you may return to find that it has been stolen or damaged in some way.

This is often however a scam organized by the person who rented it to you. They will then ask you to pay a large amount of money to fix the damaged motorbike, even if it wasn’t your fault.

Rule of thumb:

Only rent a motorbike or scooter from a reputable establishment. Also ensure that you have insurance which will cover you in the case of an accident or loss of the bike.

If you are renting the motorbike overnight then make sure to park it in a secure area. This also applies during the day time.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Unauthorized credit card transactions

One of the rising scams in Malaysia involves unauthorized credit card transactions. Visitors will receive a fraudulent SMS to their phone informing them that there has been an unauthorised transaction. It could be a few hundred or thousand Malaysian Ringgit from their credit card.

The scammers then provide a number to call. Once you do so, they will ask for your banking details in order to use your card to take money out of your account.

Rule of thumb:

Should you receive this kind of message then call your bank and speak to them directly. Do not call the number provided as this will almost certainly be a scam.

 

2. ATM skimming

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This scam can take different forms.

Sometimes an ATM may be rigged to read your credit or debit card details. Or a scammer may stand close to you to read your PIN number as you input it into the ATM machine. They will then steal your card and use your PIN to withdraw money.

There are also cases of staff in restaurants or hotels watching a customer type in their PIN number when they make a transaction through a hand held card machine. They then take this away, with your card, and use it to make further transactions.

Rule of thumb:

Make sure no one can see your PIN number whenever you type it. Also, keep your card in a secure place in your bag or on yourself.

If you are worried about an ATM machine being rigged, the only use those within banks.

When you pay for an item using a hand held credit card machine, cover the device as you type in your PIN. Also, don’t allow staff to take your card away where you can’t see it. If they need to take it to the back where the cashier is, follow them and watch how it is used.

 

3. Gambling invitations

This can happen to visitors of both genders in Malaysia although male travellers are often targeted.

The way this scam works is that tourists are targeted by someone posing as a friendly local. He asks where you are from, then mentions that he has a relative heading to your country. If you can go with him back home and provide some advice to his relative, he can bring you around the city.

Should you accept, you will find his family or friends playing some gambling game such as poker or blackjack. You will be encouraged to join in and play for money.

Often this scam starts slowly and alcohol is provided to impair your ability to pay attention. You will definitely lose as the group is in cahoots. They will then demand that you pay up and will become aggressive if you refuse.

Rule of thumb:

If you are asked to join any kind of gambling game in Malaysia, firmly refuse.

 

4. Fake police officers

This has become a common scam in recent years (also common in many countries such as Morocco, Brazil, Indonesia, etc) and perpetrated by individuals who are not even from Malaysia.

This often happens in tourist areas. Scammers pretending to be tourist police will show you a fake form of identification and ask to search your bags. They will then find some reason to accuse you of a violation and demand you pay a fine on the spot.

Rule of thumb:

If you are stopped in the street and individuals ask to search you, you are within your rights to verify their identification. Ask to see a copy of their official police identification and a copy of their personal identification card.

Make sure that the names on both forms of identification are the same. If they insist on searching you, you can ask for the search to take place at the nearest police station. If the police officers are legitimate then they will have no problems agreeing to this request.

Alternatively, threaten to call the police hotline to verify their identities (hotline at the end of this article).

 

5. Fake WiFi networks

Be wary of fake WiFi networks in Malaysia which have become a problem in recent years.

In some areas you may be offered the chance to join a free WiFi network but this is a haven for online hackers. Another variation is scammers setting up a “fake” WiFi network with the name of the shop/tourist attraction it is at to mislead users. The network will not be secure and your information will be able to be read by the scammers.

Rule of thumb:

If you are in a hotel, restaurant, or other venue with WiFi, make sure to ask the staff for the official WiFi connection.

Also make sure to protect and encrypt your own information. If you are using a connection in a bar or cafe, try not to input details such as credit card information. It is best to use an official safe connection that is password protected such as a hotel WiFi service if you are planning to use your credit card online.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Emergency (which includes police and ambulance services): 999/112
  • Fire and Rescue Department: 994/112
  • Tourist Police Hotline: 03 2149 6590
  • Tourist Information: 03 2164 3929

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3 Comments

  1. Adrian Van Drunen

    Received scratchiesin the post from Malaysia (Sure Love Tourism) saying I have won second prize of US$190000. I am in Australia and All looks very legitimate however seems too good to be true.
    Do you have any reports that indicates this may be a scam?
    Thanks in advance Adrian

    Reply
    • Yus

      This is definitely a scam.. believe me..

      Reply
  2. Yus

    I am Malaysian.. please please please stay away from taxis.. grab and uber services are more trustworthy..

    Reply

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