33 Most Common Tourist Scams in Philippines

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Philippines is a beautiful archipelago of islands. You will find great beaches, pristine lagoons, resorts, beautiful nature, friendly locals, adventures and getaways all at an affordable price.

Unfortunately however, many still suffer from poverty and struggle to make ends meet, which goes some way in explaining the large number of tourist targeted scams and safety concerns in the country. Read on to learn how to protect yourself in this beautiful land!

 

a. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Ativan gang/family scam

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This is a sequential scam. Firstly, female scammers (usually as they seem less threatening) will approach you and make small talk. Once trust is built, they will invite you for a meal with their family.

Should you accept, you will meet the family, get to know everyone young and old (young and old also feel less threatening). Once you feel all warm and fuzzy, they will invite you to an out of town trip together. Meanwhile, they will warn you about pickpockets in Philippines and act like they are looking out for you. That is actually just a ploy to fish information on what valuables you are carrying.

Once you get out of town with the family, they will find the right opportunity (usually through a drink) to drug you with Ativan (a sedative), and steal your valuables. There have been even reported cases of rape, so do beware.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging friendly strangers who approach you first in an overly friendly manner.

 

2. Familiar face scam

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So how this works is that a scammer will bump into you, and then exclaims that he know or has seen you before at the hotel which they work at. He can claim to be a security guard or a bellboy and what have you. He might even claim to be the driver who brought you to the hotel.

Good news is that he is on leave today and can bring you to the local spots which tourists do not know. Follow him if you wish to be robbed. Although this is a common occurrence in Manila, it can really happen anywhere in the world such as in Morocco and Turkey, so do be careful.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging friendly strangers who approach you first in an overly friendly manner.

 

3. Sob story scams

You will find these sob story scammers everywhere around the world. Canada especially has some really persistent ones who have been doing the same scam for many years.

In Manila however, things get more serious. This is because there have been reports where victims have been led into dark spots and then robbed or even kidnapped!

Beware the same old script. For instance, the scammer claims to have just been robbed and need some cash to get transport to the police station/nearest embassy. A mom could claim that she needs cash to buy food for her hungry kids. Or a husband could claim to need to rush to the next town to find his sick wife but has just been robbed of all his cash..

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and move on.

 

4. The bump and drop

This is a common scam globally (e.g. China, Canada, etc) as well. This is where a scammer walks in front of you, drops a spoilt item for you to step on and then demand compensation from you.

In Philippines, besides spoilt items (such as broken phones or spectacles), they may also use takeout boxes containing food taken from the trash, or even a bag of rice!

Rule of thumb:

Keep a safe distance when walking.

 

5. The “paedophile” scam

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This is a creative one. You see a child beggar on the street and decide to do some good by either giving money or food.

Should you do so, the child’s family will suddenly appear and accuse you loudly of being a paedophile. They then threaten to call the police unless you give them some more money.

Rule of thumb:

Do not donate.

 

6. Cards/poker/blackjack scam

This is another scam common in Asia (e.g. Cambodia, Malaysia, etc). A stranger will first approach you and try to befriend you. For instance, he may ask where you are from. It does not matter what you say. This is because he will say that he has a relative who is going there soon or share some other anecdotes he knows of your country.

Next, he will ask if you are willing to come over to his house as his relative is really anxious and has many questions. He offers to treat you to dinner and also to bring you around town. However, once you reach his home, you will find people playing gambling games such as poker or blackjack there. By using peer pressure, they will force you to play.

These scammers will let you win the first few rounds. Then, the real fun begins as the stakes get higher. Your losses start piling up and should you refuse to pay, gang members will appear and threaten your life.

Rule of thumb:

Every time you hear a stranger claim a relative or someone is going to/in your home country, stay far far away.

 

7. Beggars

Do not give to these beggars as you might be swamped by other beggars. In the ensuing chaos, you might have your valuables stolen without you realizing.

Rule of thumb:

Do not donate.

 

8. Fake goods

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The stuff you see peddled by street sellers are fake. Even touts who offer drugs like Viagra and Cialis are actually peddling coloured aspirin or something else which could be dangerous for your health.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid buying unless for a cheap thrill, and haggle if you do indeed buy,

 

9. Pickpockets

Beware in crowded places and on the metros. Also be wary should someone approach you with a newspaper or magazine asking you to read it. They are trying to distract you so that an accomplice will steal your stuff.

For more tricks, check out how the pickpockets in Spain and the Netherlands operate – they are the real experts.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert especially in busy places.

Keep some valuables in your hotel’s safe and the remaining valuables securely on yourself. Consider getting a spare wallet or a money belt.

Also, you could carry a photocopy of your passport or identification card around instead of the real thing.

 

10. Fake travel agents

This is a painful one to fall for. This is because you will usually be asked to pay everything upfront and will lose that sum of money with little recourse.

Rule of thumb:

Only engage reputable tour operators with positive reviews. If you were to feel uneasy at any point of negotiations/discussions with the agent, test him/her and do not sign up unless you are really sure.

 

b. TRANSPORT

1. Bullet in bag scam

A relatively recent scam starting in 2015, there have been reports of airport staff/security personnel at Ninoy Aquino International Airport planting live bullets in tourists’ luggage and accusing them of illegally possessing firearms. A bribe is then demanded for them not to press charges.

These scammers are serious – there have been victims detained for days and charged as well. So don’t be surprised when you find locals with wrapped bags and luggage at the airport like in the image below:

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The good news is that this scam has died off due to the media coverage back in 2015, but it still pays to be cautious as anything can be planted, such as drugs or other illegal items.

Rule of thumb:

Not much you can do here, besides to use a hard case luggage without external pockets.

If not, keep (all pockets and spaces of) your luggage properly secured and difficult for these scammers to meddle with. Also, keep an eye on your luggage at all times.

 

2. Airline desk overweight luggage

The National Bureau of Investigation discovered that there are some airline staff who begin weighing your luggage before the weighing scale has reset from weighing of a previous luggage. The result is that your luggage is heavier than stipulated rules and you are forced to pay a fine

Rule of thumb:

Ensure that the scale/machine starts from zero. Request another weighing attempt if you suspect foul play.

 

3. Immigration officer bribe

Another scam discovered by the National Bureau of Investigation, this is where immigration officers might question your travel documents incessantly and not let you through unless you pay a bribe.

Rule of thumb:

If you are in a rush, just pay and go. However, if you have time to spare, request to speak to the supervisor or make things difficult for the scammer.

 

4. Airport porter theft

More a theft/crime than a scam, there have been reports of airport porters who open up luggage to steal valuables.

Rule of thumb:

Ensure that your luggage is secured and always check it when you arrive at your destination

 

5. Taxi spray scam 

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This is a scary scam to be a victim of.

There have reports where a substance is sprayed into the taxi/vehicle’s air conditioner which causes whoever inhaling it to feel giddy and faint. The eventual outcome is that you will be robbed and maybe abandoned on the road. For females, the consequences could be worse.

Rule of thumb:

If you hear a spray sound in the car, or if you see that the driver has a towel or something over his nose, do NOT take the cab.

 

6. No meter

This is a common and fast one to pull off by taxi drivers in many emerging countries. They claim their meter is down and so they charge you an outrageous price.

Rule of thumb:

Only board a cab that uses a meter unless you know the price well and am able to haggle at the start of the trip.

To complain/report a rouge driver, you can do so by text to the authorities – the LTFRB 0921 448 7777

7. Rigged meters (Batingting)

Sometimes, taking a cab with the meter running is not necessarily the most reliable bet, as there have been reports of “Batingting” taxis with rigged meters.

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Tampered/missing meter seal
  • Only fare is displayed (without distance and waiting time)
  • Not being able to find taxi name, taxi operator number, taxi car plate number inside the cab
  • Driver clicking something, probably a hidden switch
  • If driver drives slowly at a high speed area to prevent the meter from jumping too wildly

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert on the ride. If you suspect something amiss, note the taxi name and car plate number and report the taxi to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board. You can do so by texting the details to 0921-4487777 or call 426-2515.

 

8. Airport taxi touts

Again, a very common one around the world, do be careful of boarding the unofficial cabs which these touts drive.

Many things can happen to you. You could be robbed, be driven to a secluded area and then threatened to pay an exorbitant amount, or be asked to pay an excessive amount at the end of the trip if you had not initially agree on a price.

By the way, it is illegal for them to solicit at the airport.

Rule of thumb:

Join the official taxi queue. Or check out this video on how to get the cheapest taxi at the airport.

 

9. Taxi robbery

If there’s someone else inside the taxi, do NOT take it as they might work together to rob you.

There have also been reports where taxi doors cannot be opened from inside the cab due to a childproof locking mechanism or a faulty door handle. This is to prevent you from escaping should the driver attempt to rob or kidnap you.

Rule of thumb:

Besides making sure no one is in the cab, always take the backseat to make sure no one is hiding on the floor in the back. Also check that the door can be opened from the inside.

 

10. Taxi driving off with your luggage

There have been reports of rouge taxi drivers driving off with passengers’ luggage in the boot.

Rule of thumb:

If possible, keep your luggage beside you in the car. Else, note the driver’s name and car plate number and report to the authorities if he drives off your luggage.

 

11. Horse buggies

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These horse draw buggies are like an open invitation to getting scammed, much like the tuk tuks in Thailand and cyclos in Vietnam.

One smart trick which they do over here is halfway during your trip, your driver will get out, and allow his “boss” to take over. At the end of the trip, the “boss” now demands up to 10 or 20x the originally agreed upon amount.

These sly scammers are smart. They will first bring you to an isolated area before making their outrageous demand. This is because there is almost no way out for you in finding your way back from that secluded spot.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid them like the plague.

 

12. Motorbike rental damage

There have been reports where bike seats were slashed overnight for no apparent reason – causing the bike owner/shop to claim an exorbitant compensation when the bike is returned.

Rule of thumb:

There is not much you can do to prevent such a situation.

What you can do is to thoroughly inspect the bike upon collection, also take a few photos to protect yourself in case the bike owner/shop makes up some wild claims about damage to the bike. You could also get insurance from the shop.

 

13. Traffic snatch theft

This is common globally, such as in Myanmar and Brazil as well.

For instance, at crowded traffic jams, someone might appear out of nowhere and snatch your valuables in the car if your window is wind down. Some others may simply smash your window.

Thieves could also drive by on motorbikes and snatch handbags/valuables off pedestrians on the streets.

Another more scheming one is where eggs/liquid/some substance is poured onto your windscreen. Almost all drivers will step out to inspect the situation, and that is when the culprit jumps in to steal your car.

Rule of thumb:

Always be alert on the road, while walking alongside the road and at traffic junctions. Watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).

Do not get out if you find something being thrown onto your car deliberately.

 

c. MISC

1. Fake hotel front desk call

This is an age old scam that happens anywhere and everywhere the world, as long as there is a hotel.

There have been reports of this where scammers using smuggled phones act as fake front desk personnel, calling guests in the wee hours of the night/morning requesting for credit card information. They claim that the hotel’s computer system has crashed or that there is an error with the card number, and this catches a number of sleepy guests off guard.

Another convincing variation is that the scammer is calling just to verify your card details on record. He will provide the last 4 digits of your card, which is obviously wrong. When you point out the error, he will act confused and ask you to read all the digits on your card.

Other situations could be claiming that you have won a free night (exploiting greed) or even posing as the local authority investigating a fraud case (exploiting fear).

Rule of thumb:

Do not provide your credit card details over the phone no matter the occasion. Cut the phone and report to the hotel’s staff.

 

2. Money changers’ sleight of hand

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The money changers in Indonesia are the experts at the sleight of hand trick, but shady money changers in Philippines are no slouches either.

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, at the main roads. Or they may hire touts to pull you in. Once you are hooked, there are a few ways they can trick you.

Firstly, they might claim that they only have notes of a small denomination. As they count the money in front of you, they use a sleight of hand trick, dropping a few notes without you realizing. And because this is quite a huge stack of small denomination 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 (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. This can be quite effective due to the large denomination of the rupiah (i.e. difficult for you to do a mental sum to compare against).

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.

 

3. Card skimming

There have been reports of card skimming but it has been difficult to identify the sources.

Rule of thumb:

The best way to protect yourself is to use cash when you cannot see your card being used to pay the transaction (e.g. at restaurants).

 

4. ATM theft/skimming

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Be especially careful at ATMs, as these are ripe spots for easy robberies. Also, cover your pin while typing, because there might have been cameras set up to capture your PIN and a card reader to capture your card’s details.

There have also been reports where a scammer can distract you by tapping you as are withdrawing money and claim that you have dropped a $10 note. Most people would turn and at this point, an accomplice will appear out of nowhere to steal your card. Also, if you haven’t realize, scammer #1 would have already seen and memorized your PIN if you hadn’t bother to cover it up when typing.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas and at night. Use ATMs in bank branches instead.

 

5. Let’s hang out at a bar

You might be approached on the street by a friendly stranger who offers to bring you to a bar full of beautiful ladies. Should you agree, be ready to get swamped by the working girls who will order outrageously priced lady drinks on your tab.

Rule of thumb:

Reject offers to go drinking together by a stranger.

 

6. Bar rip-offs

When at a girly bar, always check the prices first. Ask if there’s an entrance fee, how much is one beer/drink, how much is a ladies drink and if there is a charge for how long you stay.

Rule of thumb:

Check out online reviews before visiting a bar, as there have been many reports of all sorts of wild charges by these bar rip-offs.

 

7. Spiked drinks

Single males are usually targeted. If you are a male and out at a bar alone, do be wary when a pretty lady offers to buy you a drink. You will be paying that back manifolds as you get knocked out with your valuables stolen.

Rule of thumb:

Don’t accept free drinks and don’t leave your drink unattended. If possible, get a can/bottle instead which is more difficult to tamper with.

 

8. Sex scam

Happens at night clubs/bars, this is one perpetuated by an attractive lady who first approaches her victim, a single male. She explains that she has drifted apart from her abusive husband, and is in desperate need for some intimacy but with no strings attached. She then suggests a cheap hotel that she knows, and off the both of you go.

Over at the hotel room, as you thought that you have never been luckier in your life, a burly, fierce looking man comes barging in. He’s the husband! Or so he claims. In Philippines, adultery is illegal, and you can get thrown behind bars if the man is really the husband. Either way, a payment will be demanded.

In another similar situation, instead of the husband, it would be the dad who barges in, He will claim that the woman is in fact, his daughter and younger than 18 years old. If you do not want to be thrown into jail, you had better pay up.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid getting yourself in such a situation in the first place

 

9. Gun crime

Not a scam per se, but the locals are allowed to own guns. So do be wary especially around clubs/bars where drunken brawls can break out and turn into a firefight.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert and keep clear of trouble.

 

10. Kidnapping

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This happens more so in South Philippines, where many suffer from poverty. Throw in extremist groups who kidnap for ransom, it’s best to avoid or to stay alert if visiting this part of the Philippines.

In 2017, there have also been reports of kidnapping at the casinos. This was perpetrated by a gang of over 40 people. What they do is monitor targets over days at the casinos. When they spot someone who seems rich but keeps losing, they will tell the target that it might be better to try another casino where they might have better luck. Once the target is out of the casino, he/she will be kidnapped.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert and watch out if you are being monitored. Also avoid secluded places especially at night and move around in groups ideally.

 

d. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • 911: all emergencies

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