33 Most Common Tourist Scams in Philippines
Safety at Makati, Quezon City, Manila, Cebu, Boracay, Pasay, Davao City, Mandaluyong, Taguig City, Baguio, Pasig, Puerto Princesa, Luzon, Angeles City, Paranaque, Lapu Lapu, El Nido, Iloilo City, Tagaytay, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Muntinlupa, Puerto Galera, Panglao Island, Dumaguete City, Coron, Mindanao, General Santos, Marikina, Tagbilaran, Palawan Island, Legazpi, Tacloban, Moalboal, Baler, Subic Bay, Olongapo, Batangas, Mandaue, Bohol, Naga, VIgan, San Juan, Roxas
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 huge number of tourist targeted scams and safety concerns in the country. Read on to find out how to protect yourself in this beautiful land!
a. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES
1. Ativan gang/family scam
This is a sequential scam. Firstly, female (usually as they are less threatening) scammers will approach you and make some 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) and 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 – but that is a ploy to fish information on what valuables you are carrying.
Sure you say, but once you get out of town, they will find the right opportunity (usually through a drink) to drug you with Ativan, a sedative, and rob you of your valuables. There have been even reported cases of rape, so do beware.
Rule of thumb: avoid friendly strangers
2. Familiar face scam
So how this works is that a scammer will bump into you, and then exclaim that he/she knows or has seen you before at the hotel which they work at, be it a security guard, a bellboy or what have you. He might even claim to be the driver who brought you to the hotel.
Good news is that he/she is on leave today, and can bring you around if you like. Follow if you wish to be robbed. Although this is a common occurrence in Manila, it can really happen anywhere such as Morocco and Turkey, so do be careful.
Rule of thumb: reject
3. Sob story scams
You will find these sob story scammers everywhere around the world, in Canada especially which has some really persistent ones who have been reported to be doing the same scam for years.
In Manila however, things get more serious, because if you were to be hooked, there have even 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 has just been robbed and need some cash to get transport to the police station/nearest embassy; the mom needing to buy some food for her kids; the husband needing to rush to the next town to find his sick wife..
Rule of thumb: firmly reject and move on
4. The bump and drop
In Philippines, besides spoilt items (such as broken phones or specs), they also use takeout boxes containing food taken from the trash, or even a bag of rice, and then demand compensation from you.
Rule of thumb: keep a safe distance when walking
5. The “paedophile” scam
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
The same scam found in Thailand, first, a stranger will approach you and try to befriend you.
For instance, he may ask where you are from. It does not matter what you say, as he will say that he has a relative who is going there soon (for any reason such as studying) or share some other anecdotes (they all have a template).
Then, he will ask if you are willing to come over to his house as his relative has some questions, or he might outright invite you for a game of cards.
Over there, somehow you will end up playing poker or blackjack with them.
They 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: firmly reject such offers
Do not give to these beggars as you might be swamped by other beggars and in the ensuing chaos, have your valuables stolen
Rule of thumb: do not “donate”
8. Fake goods
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
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.
Rule of thumb: keep valuables securely with you and be wary when someone tries to distract you
10. Fake travel agents
This is a painful one to fall for, as not only will you be losing quite a sum of money as you usually be asked to pay everything upfront, your entire holiday experience will be destroyed and almost impossible to salvage.
Rule of thumb: go for official agents and those who have positive reviews. If you were to feel uneasy at any point of negotiations/discussions with the agent, test him/her and do not engage their service unless you are really sure
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 this image below:
This good news is that this scam has died off currently due to the media hype 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, but to use a hard case luggage without external pockets. If not possible, 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
A scam discovered by the National Bureau of Investigation, this is where airline staff weigh 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 for another weighing attempt if you suspect foul play
3. Immigration officer bribe
A 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 culprit as well
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
This is a scary scam to be a victim to. 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
A common and fast one to pull off by taxi drivers in many emerging countries, who claim their meter is down and so they charge you an outrageous price.
Rule of thumb: board one that uses a meter unless you know the price well and am able to haggle at the start of the trip. To complain/report the 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 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 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, such as being robbed, being driven to a secluded area and then threatened to pay an exorbitant amount before the driver will bring you to your correct location, or being asked to pay an excessive amount at the end of the trip because there are tourists who did not first agree on a price.
By the way, it is illegal for them to solicit at the airport
Rule of thumb: reject, take the official taxis only; 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 the inside due to either 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 make sure the door can be opened from the inside
10. Taxi driving off with your luggage
There have been reports of rouge taxi drivers making off with passengers’ luggage in the boot. If possible, keep your luggage beside you in the car.
Rule of thumb: as above; if you have to leave your luggage in the boot, note the driver’s name and car plate number
11. Horse buggies
These horse draw buggies are 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 also smart. They would first bring you to an isolated area before making their outrageous demand and there is almost no way out for you in finding your way back to your hotel in 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, but what you can do is to thoroughly inspect the bike upon rental, and take a few photos to protect yourself in case the bike owner/shop makes up some wild claims about damage to the bike
13. Traffic snatch theft
This is one common in Malaysia and Brazil as well, which can happen in different ways.
For instance, at crowded traffic jams, someone might appear out of nowhere, snatch your valuables in the car if your window is wind down.
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. Most if not all concerned drivers will step out to inspect the aftermath of the situation, and that is where 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. Also do not get out if you find something being thrown onto your car deliberately
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, with the reason that the hotel’s computer system has crashed or that there is an error with the number, and this does catch 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, and when you point out the error, he will act confused and ask you to read the entire number.
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
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, near the main roads. Or hiring 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 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 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 (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
3. Card skimming
There have been reports of card skimming but it has been difficult to identify the sources. The best way to protect yourself is to always use cash when you cannot see your card being used to pay the transaction (e.g. at restaurants).
Rule of thumb: use cash if possible
4. ATM theft/skimming
Be especially careful at ATMs, as these are ripe spots for easy thefts by criminals. Also, cover your pin while typing it in, because there might have been cameras set up to capture your PIN and a card read to swipe your card.
There have also been reports where a scammer can distract you by tapping you as are withdrawing money to claim that you have dropped a $10 note behind you. Most people would turn, and at this point, an accomplice will appear out of nowhere to steal your card. And if you haven’t realize, scammer #1 would have already seen and memorized your PIN if you hadn’t bother to cover it up.
Rule of thumb: avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas
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 orders outrageously price lady drinks on your tab.
Rule of thumb: reject
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 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
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-wife, it would be the dad and daughter, who will claim to be older than 18 but is in actual fact younger than that. 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
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.
Rule of thumb: stay alert, avoid secluded places especially at night, move around in groups
d. GETTING HELP
1. Emergency numbers to call
- 911: all emergencies
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