24 Most Common Tourist Scams in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong harbour

Hong Kong harbour

 

A dynamic and vibrant cosmopolis in Asia, Hong Kong has much to offer beyond the Victoria Peak and Harbour.

Over here, you can find a shopping paradise, international cuisine, colourful nightlife, festivals and fairs, a kaleidoscope of cultures and heritages, lush fauna and flora, a well-functioning transport infrastructure and many more!

However, as one of the world’s pre-eminent cities attracting tourists globally, these tourists also represent rich pickings for scammers operating in the country.

Although violence and crime is not a big issue, it still pays to be careful and alert. Read on to learn how to protect yourself!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Bait and switch

Image source: Flickr – Mitch Altman

 

How it works:

This is a common trick globally and there are many different variations of it. Be careful of these when shopping at Nathan Road, Kowloon.

First, after confirming your purchase of an item, the shop attendant will go to the backroom to pick a new set for you.

  • Shady operators may pick an older model or even a fake one (though the latter is unlikely).
  • There are also some who take accessories out from the package and that is difficult to spot.

Next, there are shops which advertise popular products at very low prices.

  • Once you are hooked and have negotiated a price, the shop owner will suddenly realize that there is no stock left!
  • Instead, he offers a replacement item that is of a much lower value but at the same price.

 

What to do:

Always double check the item when it is passed back to you.

Do some online research or check with hotel / hostel staff on the reputable shops to shop at.

Also, if something sounds too good to be true, it is.

 

2. Overcharging shops

Image source: nathan-road.hk

 

How it works:

This is a problem many tourists face when shopping for electronics at Nathan Road in Kowloon.

This is because some products do not have a price tag. Thus, tourists who do not know their stuff can easily fall for the claims made by these shops.

Some of the infamous shops to avoid – Perfect digital, 3D digital and audio, etc.

 

What to do:

Do some online research or check with hotel / hostel staff on the reputable shops to shop at.

If something sounds too good to be true, it is.

 

3. Weighing scale scam

 

How it works:

As part of the Hong Kong experience, many tourists like to purchase traditional Chinese medicine or herbs here.

However, there have been reports of shops rigging their weighing scales to sell less for the same price.

 

What to do:

Besides looking at the weighing scale when there is no weight on it, do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff to find the reputable stores to buy from.

As a starting point, you wouldn’t go wrong with shops with the Quality Tourism Service Logo.

 

4. Shopping tours

Image source: hong-kong-hotels.ws

 

How it works:

There have been reports where tour groups were coerced by their tour guides to purchase a minimum amount in certain stores, else they would be kicked out of the groups.

These are usually shady tour operators in China which have advertised their tours at extremely low prices to the Chinese.

 

What to do:

Report the tour operator to the police as this is illegal.

Also do your research before committing to any tours – go for licensed, reputable ones which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee
  • Klook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and vehicle transfer with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

5. Fake herbal medicine scam

Image source: scmp.com

 

How it works:

On the streets, someone (usually a lady / old lady) might approach you with an offer to buy herbal medicine.

They claim you can either use them or resell at a much higher price back in your home country. This is just like the gemstone scam in Thailand or tea scam in Sri Lanka.

While you are considering, the scammer’s accomplice will appear out of nowhere, claiming to have overheard your conversation.

He then offers to pay double since it’s too good an offer to turn down.

This is just to tempt you to buy by using a mix of sales techniques (spurring emotions of greed, emotions of fear of missing out, and social proof).

 

What to do:

Do not buy as the herbal medicine is useless and worthless.

 

6. Bad aura / spiritual blessing scam

Image source: ejinsight.com

 

How it works:

The modus operandi of this scam is somewhat similar to the herbal medicine scam.

Someone will approach you and claim that you have a “bad” aura around you. He will ask if you have heard of a certain super doctor, who can cure such problems.

Out of nowhere, the accomplice appears. He enthusiastically offers to bring you to someone whom he knows can help.

You are now brought to a third accomplice, who claims to be related (some family member) to the super doctor.

He diagnoses the root problem, which is that you / one of your family members has offended a soul / spirit / god. Thus misfortune would befall you.

He then offers to perform a ritual to cleanse you of your bad aura. Should you accept, you would have to surrender material valuables so as to not affect the ritual. These will be safeguarded in a bag by them.

Once the ritual is performed, they hand the bag back to you. But alas, what is inside are not your valuables, but a bunch of newspapers.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject such “offers” by street touts / overly friendly strangers you find on the streets.

 

7. Fake antiques

Image source: cat-street.hk

 

How it works:

The Cat Street market, also known as the antique marketplace, is one where tourists flock to for souvenirs to bring back home.

Shopkeepers will claim that these are all antiques from years gone by.

Do not fall for their spiel and do not pay the outrageously high prices which they can just make up on the spot.

 

What to do:

Don’t buy unless as a cheap thrill. If you must, then haggle.

 

8. Counterfeit products

 

How it works:

Just like across Asia, you will find counterfeit products here (e.g. Malaysia, Vietnam, etc), such as at the Mong Kok shopping district.

While there are definitely bargains, there are also plenty of fake watches, luxury products and electronics.

 

What to do:

For big ticket items, do some online research on the reputable shops to buy from (e.g. the big chains like Broadway or Fortress).

Or simply check with your hotel / hostel staff.

Also, a good starting point are shops with the Quality Tourism Services logo.

However, if you find researching too time-consuming, other options available include:

  • Using local connections: get a local to bring you around.
  • Shopping tour through Klook (best day tours platform in Asia): get a professional guide to bring you around.

 

9. Art scammers

 

How it works:

What these scammers do is they leave art pieces as “traps” on the floor.

When distracted tourists step on them accidentally, payment is demanded.

 

What to do:

Watch where you step.

 

10. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

The video above shows how two thieves cut a gold bracelet from a woman’s wrist within 7 seconds, and then picked up the gold beads from the pavements.

The Hong Kong police reports that tourist spots along Nathan Road, the ferry terminals, busy hotel foyers, MTR stations, Lowu border crossing and the Kowloon Tong KCR train station are hotspots pickpockets operate in.

Other crowded tourist attractions such as the PeakCauseway Bay and busy markets like Ladies Market and Temple Street Market have also seen reports of theft.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

11. Spiked drinks

Image source: Wikimedia – Wiki.lkfa

 

How it works:

It has been reported that criminal syndicates hire pretty females to approach single male tourists in bars and nightclubs.

They will chat you up and spike your drinks. Once you are knocked out, they will steal your valuables.

 

What to do:

Do not accept any drinks that you have not seen made in front of you, or to leave it unattended.

Canned or bottled drinks are recommended as it is more difficult for someone to put a sedative inside.

Also, do not flaunt your valuables. Leave them in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Airport taxi touts

Hong Kong airport

Hong Kong airport

 

How it works:

Do not take up the offers of taxi touts at the Hong Kong airport.

Touts usually target tired looking, lone travellers carrying large luggage and trick them by claiming that there is a long queue for cabs.

Should you use their cab, the meter would not be used halfway through, the driver will pressure you to pay an exorbitant fixed fare.

If you refuse to, they will simply drop you on the highway or at some secluded area.

 

What to do:

Stick to the official queue.

If not, take a photo of the car license plate and also of the driver’s license. Report to the police if you believe you have been overcharged.

 

2. Airport bus theft

Image source: Flickr – Jimmy Sheng

 

How it works:

There has been an increase in luggage theft on city-bound airport buses in early 2018, and the Hong Kong police suspects that a well organized crime gang is behind it.

The city-bound airport buses in Hong Kong are double decker buses, and there is a luggage compartment on the first level.

Victims who have had their luggage stolen are generally the ones who have left their luggage in the luggage compartment on the first level, and took a seat on the second level.

Although there is a camera that beams a live feed of the luggage compartment to a screen on the second floor, it did not seem to prevent these thefts.

 

What to do:

For your bags / luggage, there are four key steps to protecting your property:

 

3. Overcharging taxi drivers

Hong Kong traffic in Central

Hong Kong traffic in Central

 

How it works:

As with all countries globally (e.g. Argentina, Australia, etc), Hong Kong is not free of overcharging taxi drivers.

The most obvious ones are those who don’t use meters, or those who add on excessive surcharges.

 

What to do:

Take a photo of the car license plate and also of the driver’s license, and report to the police if you believe you have been overcharged.

To be even safer, avoid flagging down cabs at busy areas (Canton Road, Lan Kwai Fong, etc) and do so only at less busy ones.

 

4. Taxi currency switcheroo

Image source: scmp.com

 

How it works:

Again a very common scam globally (e.g. Philippines, India, etc). This is where taxi drivers swap the notes you give them and claim that you have given less.

They usually do this when you are distracted. For instance, after you pass them the cash, they might suddenly move the car forward and pretend that the taxi is blocking the way.

This may cause you to look behind and that is when the driver will swap the notes with smaller ones and then ask you to top up.

 

What to do:

Always be clear how much you pass over and watch how the driver counts them.

To be safe, you can repeat the notes as you pass them over.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Fake monks

 

How it works:

Fake monks are everywhere, you can even find them in the US and in the UK.

They might go around asking for donations, or offer to conduct a spiritual blessing for you in exchange for money.

Alternatively, they could ask you to donate in exchange for some worthless items / talisman.

There’s even a facebook page detailing fake monk sightings in Hong Kong: https://www.facebook.com/FakeMonksInHongKong

 

What to do:

Firmly decline and walk away.

 

2. Timeshare scam

 

How it works:

This is one of the oldest scams around the world.

You might find yourself approached by someone who claims to be from the Hong Kong tourist department. He will ask if you could do a survey in exchange for some scratch cards.

The Scottish girl at Harbour City’s Star Ferry Terminal is an infamous example.

The survey is a front to determine if you are the kind of victims they are looking for. i.e. if you can afford their timeshare and how long you will be here for along with your accommodation details.

At the end of the survey, you will be given a scratch card where you can win an electronics item, a cash prize or a free holiday if you were to scratch off three stars in a row.

Needless to say, everyone gets three stars.

However, to know what prize and to actually redeem it, you have to attend a timeshare pitch. Transport costs are covered as a sweetener to entice you to go.

Once there, you will be forced to sit through a long timeshare presentation of timeshare resorts of poor quality at astronomical prices.

After the presentation, the prize revealed will of course be a free holiday at one of these timeshare resorts.

However, it is not actually free. This is because you will have to pay for your own transportation costs, and are forced to have all meals within the resorts.

There might be other restrictions, but you get the memo.

 

What to do:

Don’t waste your time.

 

3. Can you help me take care of my cash

Image source: ft.com

 

How it works:

Sounds like a silly scam that no one will fall for, but there are people who do.

It goes like this. A well-dressed man approaches you, claims to have found a huge stash of cash and is willing to share it with you.

He shows you the stash, but as there’s an urgent task he needs to settle now, he asks if you can help him take care of the stash and he will give you some of it when he is done.

However, he would need something valuable from you as collateral since he has just met you.

Should you hand over anything, the stranger will simply disappear and never be back.

Inspect the cash, and you will find that only the notes at the top are real (low value notes), while the rest are counterfeit bills.

 

What to do:

If it’s too good to be true, it is.

 

4. Dropped money scam

 

How it works:

Another variation of the “can you take care of my money scam” is that a scammer will drop a bag of cash “accidentally” in front of you.

Next, an accomplice will pick it up and offer to share the money with you. He brings you to a secluded spot so that the money can be split without attracting attraction.

At this point however, the first scammer turns up and will accuse you of stealing his money. He then demands and proceeds to search your belongings even if you resist.

Once he has grabbed some of your valuables, both scammers will run away. Note that this entire sequence of events happens in a flash.

This can work another way, into the aforementioned “can you help me to take care of my cash” scam.

The first scammer will now accuse his accomplice, not you, of stealing his cash, and both agreed to settle the case at a police station.

They then ask you to help take care of the cash first. In return however, you have to give them something valuable as a collateral.

 

What to do:

If it’s too good to be true, it is.

 

5. Friendly helper scam

Image source: straitstimes.com

 

How it works:

You will find these scammers everywhere around the world, especially at airports or main transport hubs.

What they do is they target tourists with large bags / luggage.

They will help you carry / handle them even if you reject their offer, and then demand a big payment after. If you refuse, they will make a scene.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline.

 

6. Can I borrow your mobile

 

How it works:

This is an old scam and not as common nowadays, but still one to be wary of.

As the name suggests, a scammer might claim that he has been robbed / lost his phone, and ask if he can borrow yours. Should you lend, he will run away with it.

Another variation is that the scammer will ask to borrow your phone to call someone to transfer money to him as he has been scammed.

Midway through the call however, he will pass the phone to you. The scammer on the other line will claim that there is some problem with the transfer.

He asks if you can pass the first scammer some money and the second scammer will transfer you the money instead. That will of course, never happen.

 

What to do:

Don’t lend your mobile to a random stranger.

 

7. Can I borrow your cash

 

How it works:

Again, the scammer may claim that he has just been robbed, and ask if he can borrow some money from you and return it back later.

He will provide his contact details and to make it more believable, he may pass you a fake name card passing himself off as some reputable person.

 

What to do:

Whatever the situation, whenever a stranger asks for money, walk away.

 

8. Accommodation touts

Image source: randomvoyager.com

 

How it works:

You will find these touts at crowded tourist attractions approaching tourists and asking where they are going and where they are staying.

No matter which place you say, they will claim that the hotel is currently closed for renovation and recommend another place at a cheap price.

These are usually low quality places with a lot of hidden costs beyond the cheap price advertised.

Sometimes, the cheap price may even be fake and made up on the spot.

 

What to do:

Only book your accommodation through legitimate sites such as: 

  • Agoda: leader in Asia with the best selection and rates here generally.
  • HomeStay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Hong Kong by staying with a local host!

 

9. Fake beggars

Image source: Wikimedia – Emcinda

 

How it works:

In Hong Kong, it is illegal to beg. However, beggars from China, as part of criminal syndicates come over to Hong Kong on a L visa to do so.

As it is difficult for authorities to prove the intent to beg for this group of perpetrators, nothing much is being done unless complaints are made.

 

What to do:

Do not donate unless you want to help these criminal syndicates.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

                                                     

1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Image source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: low crime rate. Beware of petty crime and scams.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: no recent history.
  • Civil unrest: stable society. Any demonstrations are generally peaceful.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

 

2. Medical care

Image source: Wikimedia – WingHSoaminue

 

How it works:

Medical care is good in Hong Kong.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: dengue, chikungunya.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis.
  • Animal borne diseases: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: hand, foot, and mouth disease.
  • Others: air pollution from congested roads and mainland factories

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, rabies (if activities involve bats).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Typhoons: April to October, may occur and cause flooding and landslides.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports, weather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Typhoons: stay indoors away from windows, do not use electrical appliances / equipment, do not head out and touch debris (more injuries / deaths happen after than during).

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Well-developed road network and extensive public transportation system, although roads can be congested.

 

What to do:

Although there are accidents, it is rather safe here, so nothing much of note.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: thenanfang.com

 

  • Emergency services (police, fire, ambulance): 999
  • Police hotline: +852 2527 7177
  • Hong Kong Tourism Board visitor hotline: +852 2508 1234
  • Consumer Council: +852 2929 2222

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1 Comment

  1. Cheong

    A list of 23 types of scams, wow. At first glance one could wonder if Hong Kong might be just a tad better than Vietnam that has a list of 26 scams.

    But reading the 23 scam descriptions, many seem to be quite forced, or only happened in older time. Yes questionable business practices exist, or things like the ‘dropped money’ scam happened, but the targets of such scams are generally greedy local people, and in the case of inflated price merchandises, the targets are mainland China tourists who participate in ultra low price tours (like $20 usd per day with hotels and meals), so paying for higher price merchandises at pre-arranged stores is ‘expected’.

    I suppose the absence of comment supports the view that scamming on foreign tourists in Hong Kong is very very rare, very hard to get into trouble.

    Hong Kong is a well developed city with world class standard of living, which means most people can afford a legit way to earn a decent living, no need to retort to illegal scams. Of course there are scattered crooks, but for an ordinary tourist to encounter a problem, he has to be extremely naive, or somehow even intentionally makes himself available for trouble.

    Reply

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