11 Most Common Tourist Scams in Australia

Sydney, Melbourne, Lord Howe Island, Gold Coast, Magnetic Island, Noosa, Brisbane, Perth, Margaret River, Port Douglas, Airlie Beach, Adelaide, Canberra, Cairns, Hobart, Surfers Paradise, Darwin, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Townsville, Geelong, Bondi, Launceston, Ballarat, Fremantle, St Kilda, Wollongong, Toowoomba, Broadbeach, Port Macquarie, Manly, Coffs Harbour, Bendigo, Richmond, Fitzroy, Parramatta, Hamilton Island, Mandurah, Albany, Pokolbin, Marrochydore, Albury, Alice Springs, Rockhampton, Broome, Hawthorn, Canberra

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G’day mate! Also known as the land down under, or the outback, Australia is world renowned for the pristine beauty of its natural wonders and wide, open spaces. As one of the most urbanised places in the world, Australia is also one of the safest countries in the world for travellers to be in.

However, complacency is the mark of the foolish, and it still pays to be careful in and around the country. In fact, there are a number of scams which can be financially painful, so read on to find out more!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Tickets bought by stolen credit cards and sold at a discount

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This is a very recent scam targeted at Chinese tourists, as the scam is perpetrated on WeChat, a Chinese social media app/portal. However, it is still one to be wary of for all tourists as this can easily migrate to other platforms.

There have been reports of multiple tourist attractions in Sydney (e.g Harbour Bridge), Victoria (e.g. Eureka Skydeck, Sovereign Hill, Peninsula Hot Springs, Phillips Island Nature Park) and New South Wales suffering from this. Their tickets are bought by organized crime syndicates with stolen credit cards and then sold at a discount by Chinese criminals (e.g. real students, Chinese on student visas, etc) on social media.

As these attractions wise up to this scam, many of them are now manually checking tickets and requesting for personal identification along with tickets. If they do not match, the affected, innocent tourist will unfortunately be turned away.

Do note that it’s not just tourist attractions which are being targeted. Popular events such as Sydney’s Easter Show or Victoria’s Spring Racing Carnival have also been targeted.

Rule of thumb:

If the price of a ticket is too good to be true, it probably is.

 

2. Rouge tour operators

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This is a problem everywhere around the world (e.g. China, USA, etc).

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources in a study found Chinese tourists being ripped off by shady tour operators who exploit their lack of familiarity with English. For instance, there have been cases where operators charged tourists $100 each to walk on Bondi Beach, which is free. They do so just by pointing to a random sign and claiming that is the fee stipulated by the government.

In other similarly ludicrous cases, tourists have been charged for having their photographs taken in front of tourist attractions, such as the Sydney Opera House or the Parliament House. They were also provided accommodation which did not live up to initial promises. Or provided accommodation in areas where the tours operators’ associates have their shops at. Many of these tours promise luxury but are nothing of the sorts.

Be especially careful of trips which seem really cheap. This is because they are likely to involve long bus journeys with little activity and at places where the operators get a kickback.

Rule of thumb:

Book tours only with reputable agencies/operators.

 

3. Pub crawl organization scam

There have been reports of this at Surfers Paradise, where tourists were sold a high priced wristband. This wristband was claimed to allow the user free entry to all clubs at Surfers Paradise and a welcome drink. The starting price they offer is between $100-$200. However, if you were to negotiate or to walk away, the price would drop rapidly to between $50-$75.

Note however, that the price point is not the scam. The real scam is that for most clubs, entry is free before 10pm. After that, there is no free entry even if you have the wristbrand.

Rule of thumb:

Do not buy this wristband.

 

4. Fake monks scam

Just like in Canada or the UK, there are fake monks roaming around in Sydney. Some of them might ask for donations, while some might forcefully hand you a charm and demand a donation.

Rule of thumb:

Do not accept anything or you will be hounded for payment. Also, stand your ground, refuse their demands and walk away.

 

5. Mildura “fruit-picking” scam

In Mildura, there is an infamous farm owner “Don”, who offers fruit picking jobs to backpackers. At his farm, backpackers are lured in by promises of high pay, but in return are paid pittances while having to pay Don an exorbitant upfront fee before starting the job.

Check out this article for an experience of a victim who couldn’t have said it better.

There are of course good farmers/farm stays, but there have been reports of several bad ones as well. So it is paramount to do some research before taking up any offers.

Rule of thumb:

Only work for reputable ones, find them through some online research.

 

6. “Tax-free” outlets

Be especially wary when you see shopping trips to tax-free outlets advertised. This is because there have been many reports of trips to be mere suburban warehouses where prices are over inflated.

Rule of thumb:

Do a quick Google search to verify.

 

7. Forced purchase scam

There have been reports where tour operators kept passports/travel documents of tourists. These are only released when a certain amount is spent at the bogus, back street shops which they bring you to.

Rule of thumb:

Only book your tours through a legitimate, reputable agency/operator. Also, do not pass them your essential documents before or during the tour as there is no reason for them to collect the documents.

Report to the authorities if you ever find yourself in such a situation (police number at the end of the article)

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging or long hauling taxi drivers

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What’s new? You can find rogue taxi drivers all over the world, especially at airports, and many have been reported at Sydney.

Drivers may claim that the meter is down, or take a longer route to your destination. Some may claim that their EFTPOS terminals aren’t working, and swipe your credit card through the old fashioned manual machine (seems to be common in Melbourne). If you are not looking, he can easily flip your card and note the 3 digit number behind it for future use.

Finally, there have even been cases of drivers using receipts from earlier trips with higher fare and then charging you for it.

A video of an actual taxi driver scam happening:

Rule of thumb:

Before travelling, research the rough price it will cost to take a cab from the airport to your accommodation. This is so that you can tell if a longer route is taken, or if a fixed fare proposed by the driver is reasonable.

Avoid paying with a credit card as well. However, if you have no cash on hand and had your credit card swiped through that machine, do remember to check your credit card statement. Also, keep your original receipt so that you can contest such charges if needed.

Examples of fraud companies that have been reported on credit card statements to look out for: Black/Yellow Taxis Nth Melbourne AU; Cab Account Aust Brunswick AU

Finally, do check your receipt at the end of a trip. If needed, take a photo of car plate number and the driver’s license so that you can identify the driver if anything goes wrong.

 

C. MISC

1. Timeshare scam

Timeshare scams happen almost everywhere around the world (e.g. Thailand, Hong Kong, etc) – the difference lies in how it is executed. In Australia, timeshare scammers operate at the major theme parks such as Movie World or Sea World at Gold Coast.

They dress up to look like park staff which many people fall for, and then tell you that a certain ride is down. In the meantime, they ask if you would like to try out a scratch card and win a prize as “compensation”.

Next, you obviously win, but to redeem the award, you will have to head down to their office with them. Over there, you will be kept for 90 minutes to undergo a timeshare presentation and subject to high pressure sales tactics.

Rule of thumb:

Timeshare options are almost never a good idea, avoid

 

2. Kangaroo essence

Claimed to be made of the testicles and penis of kangaroos, this is frequently promoted to tourists as a product for sexual enhancement. However, the many unproven claims of its benefits are as yet unproven.

FDA laboratory analysis further warned that –

Australia Kangaroo Essence contains sildenafil, the active ingredient in the FDA approved prescription drug Viagra, used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).  This undeclared ingredient may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs such as nitroglycerin and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.  Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid buying/using.

 

3. General crime at entertainment areas

More of a crime and less of a scam, this is still something to take note of, due to Australia’s boozy culture.

Generally, the country is safe, but in and around entertainment areas such as Sydney’s Kings Cross, downtown George Street, Hyde Park and Centennial Park as well as Alice Springs, there have been reports of bar brawls, robberies, harassments, assaults, spiked drinks and what have you.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Police/Fire/Ambulance: 000
  • SES assistance in floods and storms: 132 500
  • Police attendance: 131 444 (all states except Victoria)
  • International incident emergency helpline: 1300 555 135 (within Australia)
  • Outside Australia – external site: +61 2 6261 3305

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