28 Most Common Tourist Scams in Indonesia

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Image source: bali-indonesia.com

 

As the largest archipelago in the world and the largest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is a sight to behold.

With over 13,000 islands, temples, parks, diving sites, volcanoes and a capital that is a melting pot of cuisines and culture, you will never run out of places to see.

However, after decades of economic mismanagement, many in the country still live below the poverty line.

Hence, tourist targeted scams are rampant in the country. Read on to learn how to protect yourself and enjoy Wonderful Indonesia!

 

 

A. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS / ACTIVITIES

1. Unlicensed tour guides / temple touts

Image source: bali-indonesia.com

 

How it works:

You will find many unofficial “tour guides” at the main attractions, such as the Besakih temple or Goa Gajah in Bali, the Kraton in Jogja, etc.

They will offer to bring you around and explain the history of these sites, giving you the impression that their service is free.

However, at the end of the tour a tip will be demanded with an official looking price list shoved in your face.

There are also others who ask for an inflated fee upfront. A common excuse they use is that there is an important religious ceremony today.

However, that is nonsense as there are ceremonies almost every day.

As for the more scheming ones , they will stop you halfway during the tour and demand a fee / tip before continuing.

The scam doesn’t end there however. At the end of your tour, the guide would claim that it is “Batik day” and offer to bring you to a showcase in a famous gallery. Scam #4 explains why it is a bad idea to accept their offer.

 

What to do:

Avoid or if you do engage one, negotiate a price first before starting your tour.

 

2. Sarong touts

Image source: theatlasheart.com

 

How it works:

At almost every temple in Bali which requires a sarong, a sarong rental charge has already been included in the ticket price.

 

What to do:

Do not fall for the hordes of sarong touts near these temples hounding you to buy one.

 

3. Blessings

Image source: bali-indonesia.com

 

How it works:

Just like in Cambodia, Bali is home to many famous temples, and around these temples, you will find fake “priests” and “holy men”.

They will offer their blessings and then demand you donate to a donation jar filled with IDR 100,000 notes.

 

What to do:

Avoid engaging.

If you accept their “blessings”, you can also choose not to donate, but you will be harassed. To get them off your back, a donation of IDR 2,000 – 5,000 is sufficient.

 

4. Kuta beach touts

Image source: eoasia.com

 

How it works:

You will find these touts in the form of aunties / ibus offering beauty services (e.g. manicure, pedicure, hair braiding, massaging, what have you) at Kuta beach.

They will provide extremely simple services at a ludicrous price, so be prepared to bargain hard.

 

What to do:

We recommend avoiding them, as you can get ripped off easily.

e.g. after designing one of your nails, they claim that the initial agreed upon price is only for one nail. To have the other nails polished, you have to pay extra.

Also, the use of an anti-theft bag with hidden pockets, zippers and is lockable to a permanent fixture is highly recommended, as you wouldn’t want to be on constant alert about your valuables on the beach.

 

5. “Damaged” equipment

Image source: gate20.com

 

How it works:

Some of the most common cases are motorbikes, surfboards and jet skis, where vendors whom you have rented from claim that you have damaged the equipment during your usage.

 

What to do:

To protect yourself, never give your passport as collateral.

Before renting, examine the jet ski / bike / equipment. Document / remember any scratches, dents or potential damaged parts. Sound off to the vendor.

If you have done everything but are still accused, contact the police (hotline at the end of the article).

Don’t vex yourself when trying to talk sense to these crooks because it will not work.

 

6. Jalan Malioboro batik / art scam

 

How it works:

The batik scam is infamous along the Jalan Malioboro street.

What happens is that a person will approach you and offer to bring you to the best batik shops. As you walk past different stalls, the stranger will helpfully point out the different grades of batik and why they are not worth the money.

Finally, he brings you out of the market and into an unmarked shack along a dark alleyway.

This is where the stranger’s friend has a shop selling batik. He might even claim that his friend receives money from the government to teach batik to increase his credibility.

After you enter, they will show you the wax and dye to create batik and shine a light against the batik for you to admire.

Cold water or tea will be served while you peruse the extensive price list and different art work.

At this point, most tourists will feel bad for not buying anything. However, should you buy, you would most likely be getting a screen printed fake on a worthless piece of cloth.

The art school scam is the same as the batik scam, just swap batik shop with art school and batik with paintings and you get the idea.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject an unsolicited offer from an overly friendly stranger. If you do, do not buy anything and do not feel bad for doing so.

We also recommend concealing your valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch, and to use a cheap, spare wallet with little cash inside to act as a decoy (i.e. showing the scammers that there is little point in exploiting you).

 

7. Markets (e.g. Kuta / Ubud Art Markets)

Image source: easybook.com

 

How it works:

This is not exactly a “scam” per se but more a tourist trap.

Items here are wildly overpriced so do be prepared to bargain hard.

 

What to do:

If you would like to buy, find out the real prices for specific items from your hotel or your driver.

If you are up for bargaining, you will usually be able to get items at a cheaper price, from places such as Kumbasari Market in Denpasar / Bali. Or you could bring a local along for help.

However, if you are afraid of being overcharged, you can check out the shopping malls or souvenir shops with fixed prices, such as:

  • Bali: Krisna Souvenir Shop, etc
  • Yogyakarta: Hamzah Batik, etc
  • Lombok: Bayan Lombok Handicraft & Tropical Gift, etc

 

8. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

Pickpocketing is very common in Indonesia and the country is home to many highly skilled ones.

You might find them in the major cities / towns (e.g. Jakarta, Ancol, Kuta, Bandung, etc), crowded places like markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions and on transit (e.g. buses, trains, ferries).

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

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene
  • Another will push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it)
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

Do watch out for child pickpockets as well.

 

What to do:

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

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

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • 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 securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

Finally, to avoid exposing yourself in areas with higher thefts, avoid taking buses. Take the ekonomi AC class trains instead and when on a cab, lock the doors and make sure the windows are locked.

 

9. Uluwatu Temple monkey scam

 

How it works:

The monkeys at the Uluwatu Temple are reportedly very aggressive, and will steal your items should you be distracted.

Everything can be nicked, but their favourite items seem to be glasses and sunglasses.

To get your item back, you will have to offer fruits / eggs / food to them or get a temple staff to help you.

The scam is not that these monkeys have been trained to steal. This is actually a learned behaviour by this population of monkeys, as researchers from the University of Liege have found that only monkeys at the Uluwatu Temple exhibit such behaviour globally.

The scam is when a staff or local offers to help you take it back, but for an outrageous amount of money as tip.

 

What to do:

Keep your valuables and passport locked in your hotel’s safe. Carry a photocopy of your passport around instead.

Also, stay alert and keep your valuables in a secure place. Consider using a sturdy anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

 

10. Fake Arak

Image source: southeastasiawanders.com

 

How it works:

Arak is a traditional Balinese spirit.

In recent times, there have been reports of unscrupulous vendors mixing methanol instead of alcohol into the drink to save costs.

This can either blind or kill you.

 

What to do:

Only buy your drinks from reputable bars and check it with the bartender.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Fake bus ticket

Image source: changirecommends.com

 

How it works:

At busy bus interchanges such as Probolinggo bus terminal, a couple of guys will approach you, ask where you are headed and direct you to a bus.

This bus is usually scheduled to leave only half an hour later, so these scammers have the time to cheat you.

Once you are on the bus, they will demand that you pay a price 2x – 3x the normal fare. An additional fare for luggage is also demanded.

Should you refuse, another accomplice will come some time after with a set of keys, claiming that he is the driver.

If you still refuse to pay, you will be asked to leave.

This is where many tourists get caught out, because the locals won’t help. This is because they are afraid of offending the scammers who are part of the local gangs / mafia.

 

What to do:

Never pay the bus fare if the bus is not moving. The real bus conductor will collect the fare once the bus starts moving.

 

2. The modern bus bait

 

How it works:

It has been reported in South Sumatra, that you will see a line of beautiful, modern coaches outside the ferry terminal.

These coaches will be flashing their headlights and sounding their horns. Around them, you will find many well dressed and aggressive touts trying to get you aboard their bus.

Once the bus is full however, the lights and the sound go down, and the driver claims that there is a problem with the bus.

Off you go to the real bus hidden behind, which is a rusty, old box of junk on wheels.

 

What to do:

Do not fall for the scene’s flashiness.

 

3. Commission drivers recommendation

 

How it works:

Be wary when a private driver you hire insists on heading somewhere else not on your planned itinerary.

It could be a friend’s shop / brother’s place or the usual commercial shops which you did not request to go (e.g. art dealers, batik galleries, jewellery merchants, etc). These are simply places where he gets a commission.

 

What to do:

Do your research and be firm with your itinerary – insist on paying only if he brings you to your desired destination.

If possible, engage a driver through a reputable agency or your hotel. That way you will still have something to fall back on if anything goes awry.

Finally, if a driver’s proposed rates are too good to be true, it usually is.

 

4. Taxi surcharge for long distances

 

How it works:

There are rogue drivers who charge you an illegal, exorbitant surcharge when going long distances, such as from Ubud to Kuta.

 

What to do:

If in doubt, get a taxi from some of the more reliable companies such as Bluebird taxi (+62 361 701 1111) / Express / Dian Taksi / Taxicab.

You could try your luck with Uber but do note that it is banned in the country (though there are still drivers on the platform).

 

Image source: mashable.com

 

5. Airport / ferry porters

How it works:

Don’t be surprised that when you reach the airport bag carousel, to find someone who looks like an official airport porter with your luggage at his side.

When you claim the luggage, he will offer to carry it to your taxi / transport. Should you accept his help, a fee / tip will be demanded at the end.

This happens if you try to board a ferry with luggage as well.

These “porters” will grab your bags / luggage, “help” you carry them onto the ferry, and then demand a tip, as shown in the video below.

 

What to do:

Hang on tight to your luggage and reject the “porters” help.

We also recommend concealing your valuables securely in an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch, rather than in your luggage which can be grabbed.

 

6. Airport taxi monopoly at Bali

Image source: mybaliguide.com

 

How it works:

At the Ngurah Rai International Airport, there is a taxi monopoly where taxi meters are not used and fixed fees are charged.

It costs around IDR 80k – 100k to go to the nearby beach areas (think Kuta, Seminyak) while areas further ahead cost about IDR 125k (think Sanur, Nusa Dua). Areas further off like Ubud will be in the range of IDR 300k.

 

What to do:

If possible, arrange transport with your hotel.

If you have time to spare, you can head out of the airport to look for other taxis but be ready to bargain hard.

 

7. Dishonest taxi fare / meter is down

 

How it works:

A rogue taxi drivers may claim that his meter is down, and charge you an inflated flat fare.

At the end of a trip, he may also claim that he does not have any change to pay you back if you were to use a big note.

 

What to do:

Negotiate everything upfront and be firm; ideally, only use a metered taxi.

If you have to negotiate a fare, make sure that the fare quoted is not on a “per person” basis if you are in a group.

Also make sure that is no such fare for luggage in the boot.

On the road, ask for a receipt if you have to go pass a toll gate.

Finally, at the end of the journey, do have small change prepared.

 

8. The boat is full / down scam

Image source: homeiswhereyourbagis.com

 

How it works:

If you are looking to travel to other islands, such as Gili / Lombok / Nusa Lembongan from Bali for instance, you are likely to come across this scam.

Do not buy your tickets off the streets from unreliable / unlicensed sellers.

This is because once you get to the terminal / pier, you will be told that the boat is full or down.

Coincidentally, someone / the boat operator’s friend will come by and offer you another ticket, which will cost more than usual!

 

What to do:

Do your research and only buy from legitimate operators or through your hotel.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch thefts

 

How it works:

Just like across Southeast Asia (e.g. Malaysia, Philippines, etc) you will find snatch thefts in Indonesia, especially crowded areas which tourists visit and there are endless variations.

One such is thieves on motorbikes driving up to you and snatching your valuables from you. This can be dangerous as you can also get dragged along the road at the same time.

Another variation is that of a simple snatch of your phone / jewelry from behind you, and then running into a getaway car to escape.

  • Restaurants seem to be a favourite place for these thieves, as victims are usually in a relaxed state.
  • A bag, wallet / purse or camera slung around the chair, or left on an adjacent seat are super easy pickings for thieves. The either steal it stealthily, or do a distract and grab.
  • Hotels are another as you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually distracted while handling the registration process.
  • The seats beside a train’s doors are a great spot as well as the thief can time his escape perfectly just before the doors close.

A third variation could be a thief snatching your valuables through a car / bus window. It will be difficult to catch him, as your car / bus would not be able to reverse into oncoming traffic.

 

What to do:

Stay alert at crowded places, and even at seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

  • Do not lay your valuables out on the table or expose them unnecessarily in public.
  • Keep your bags in your line of sight and as close as possible (e.g. on your lap when at a restaurant).
  • Ideally, use a money belt or hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

 

While out walking / on a vehicle on the road or streets:

  • Watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).
  • Carry your valuables in a bag across your body with a cross body anti-theft bag, away from the road / windows of your car / bus.
  • Do not carry items in your hands such as a mobile phone when walking by the road or when beside the window in a car / bus.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off your body.

 

 

2. Watch thefts

 

How it works:

These watch thieves are extremely skillful and fast.

In Kuta, it has been reported that a young boy will pop out from nowhere and suddenly grab your wrist.

He will then make small talk / speak pleasantries with you. But just as fast as they appear, they disappear, along with the watch on your wrist.

 

What to do:

Stay alert around crowded areas, narrow passageways and instantly react when grabbed at the wrist or simply, don’t wear an expensive watch out.

 

3. Money changer

Image source: tripcanvas.co

 

How it works:

Indonesia is infamous for these money changing tricksters who have cheated so many and continue to do so today.

These scammers 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.

Once you are hooked, there are a few ways they can trick you.

Firstly, they may claim that they only have IDR 10,000 notes. As they count the money in front of you, they can use a sleight of hand trick and drop a few of these notes without you realizing it.

And because this is quite a huge stack of IDR 10,000 notes, some tourists do not bother counting or might get careless in counting.

Should you note the shortfall, the money changer can simply admit his error.

Most likely, they will claim that there’s a commission charge (which can sometimes be a ludicrous 5-10%), or that they do not have the change required.

Another trick these scammers use is to use a fake / rigged calculator, which can be quite effective due to the large denomination of the rupiah.

 

What to do:

Change money only at authorized sources.

Beware of the sleight of hand trick and also calculate the amount you should get.

Make sure there are no hidden commission charges before and after the exchange.

 

4. Corrupted police

 

How it works:

Some corrupted police officers like to go around “fining” foreigners on the road during peak hours for trivial things. For instance, for not wearing a helmet.

To settle the huge fine, all you have to do is pay a small bribe of IDR 50,000 – 100,000.

They threaten you with a bigger fine if you insist to only pay at the police station.

Anyhow, if a nonsensical amount is being demanded, you can actually bargain!

 

What to do:

Avoid driving in Indonesia as the road congestion is insane and you put yourself out there to be “fined”.

If you drive, follow all laws, bring your driving license along and put on your helmet!

Also, do not put more than IDR 150,000 in your wallet. This might tempt the corrupt officer to demand a larger payment.

Hide your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch instead and use a cheap, spare wallet as decoy instead.

 

5. Fake drugs / fake police

 

How it works:

This can work out in two ways, the first of course being that the drugs which the scammers sell (e.g. Viagra, Cialis, Xanax) are fake.

Second, is that a few moments after your purchase, you might find yourself apprehended by a “police officer”.

This is likely someone who is either a fake or corrupted officer who will demand a bribe in exchange for letting you go.

 

What to do:

Don’t do drugs.

And as mentioned earlier, we recommend concealing your valuables with a money belt / hidden pouch, and to use a cheap, spare wallet with little cash inside to act as a decoy (i.e. showing the scammers that there is little point in exploiting you).

 

6. Timeshare scams

 

How it works:

This comes in many different variations. The crux is that you will be given a too good to turn down offer, but you must first attend a timeshare sales pitch.

For instance, you might find well-dressed salespeople offering you free / discounted tickets to tourist attractions.

Or they might tell you that you have just won a scratch ticket, and you can redeem the prizes if you go for the pitch!

Another variation which takes longer for the scammers is the survey method. They approach you on the street, asking you to fill up a form about your holiday experience.

Should you leave your contact details there, you will informed through a call later in the day that you have just won a prize! You can redeem it as long as you go for a timeshare pitch.

Should you accept, at the pitch, you will be subject to high pressure sales techniques over the next two hours.

 

What to do:

Do not bother, as you are unlikely to redeem any good offers due to the many hidden terms and conditions.

 

7. Minimart / circle K / market overcharging / lack of change

Image source: mamaus.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

Always check your receipt, as there have many cases of minimarts overcharging tourists.

When confronted, their easy excuse is to say that they have no change. Note that this is also a popular and easy scam for taxi drivers, which has been touched on earlier.

Even at local markets, when vendors see a tourist / foreigner, there is a high chance that you will be offered a higher “tourist price”.

For instance they might offer a bag of oranges at IDR 10,000 for locals, but a special price of IDR 10,000 per orange for you.

 

What to do:

If you find the quoted price too high, bargain.

Also, always check your receipt.

Finally, prepare small change for small ticket items.

 

8. “10” – currency confusion

Image source: wmjourneys.com

 

How it works:

10 in Indonesia can mean IDR 10,000 or USD 10, so be very clear whenever checking or negotiating prices.

 

What to do:

Be clear and be ready to walk away if a seller tries to fleece you over such word play.

 

9. ATM skimming

 

How it works:

ATMs can be rigged with card skimmers (to capture your card’s details) and with a camera (to capture your PIN).

Some telltale signs are a glue residue around card reader, loose parts of the machine or if suspicious items are placed on the machine which could be used to house a camera.

Also, if you see something protruding or not fixed tightly, that should be a clear red flag.

There have also been reports of robbery at ATMs, so do lookout for any suspicious characters.

 

What to do:

Use only the ATMs inside controlled places like in banks and avoid those in secluded areas and avoid using at night.

Watch out for any shady / shifty characters in your surroundings.

Although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet. That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

10. Rigged weighing scale

 

How it works:

It has been reported that at markets or restaurants, some vendors selling fish / seafood may rig their weighing scales.

Unfortunately, this is not easy to spot.

 

What to do:

If the weighing scale is in sight, look at the starting weight before buying.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: thebalitimes.com

 

  • Police: 110, 112
  • Ambulance and rescue: 118
  • Fire: 113
  • Medical: 119
  • Tourist police (Bali): (0361) 754 599 / (0361) 224 111
  • Tourist police (Jakarta): (021) 526 4073

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3 Comments

  1. Erik Beinssen

    Travel scam nusa penida
    Nail in scooter tyre after visiting broken beach angels billabong
    When arrived at angels billabong group of men motioned me to park scooter where they were squatting .
    On ridding out my tyre went flat just where a mechanical shop happened to be .
    Charged 200000 rupiahs for new tube when only need a patch.
    Identical thing happened to our neighbors at our hotel

    Reply
  2. Ana

    Very useful article 🙂 I’m now in Indonesia and saw most of this scams!!

    Reply
  3. Sam

    When living in Indonesia, no day is without a scam!! Starting from the airport and before leaving. No one can be trusted! I have a very bad impression.

    Reply

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