41 Most Common Tourist Scams in Indonesia

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Bali Water Palace

Bali Water Palace

 

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. So read on to learn how to protect yourself here and enjoy Wonderful Indonesia!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Domas Crater at Tangkuban Perahu scam

Image source: wanderwithjo.com

 

How it works:

Tangkuban Perahu is a volcano in Bandung, and many tourists make the trip there to see Domas Crater. Unfortunately, the place has turned into one big scam operation.

At the entrance, you will be assigned a guide who cost ~IDR 400,000. This is actually only for one hour but will not be mentioned.

As he brings you up, you will find another 2-3 “guides” tagging along. The main guide will make up some excuse, such as that they are his kids, or that they are there to help ensure your safety.

Once at the top and when ready to head back, the 2-3 “guides” will turn into sellers of key chains, fridge magnets, volcanic stones and what have you!

They will surround and pester you, not allowing you to leave until you have bought something, at prices 10-20x that of what you can find in the street markets.

Almost all tourists fall for it as they fear for their safety in an unfamiliar territory, and they do not want to waste time being pestered.

However, once you get back to the entrance, the main guide now demands an additional IDR 200,000, because you have exceeded the 1 hour tour while resisting the sellers’ attempts at the crater!

 

What to do:

Avoid coming here, unless you do not mind spending ~IDR 600,000 – 1,000,000.

 

2. Jakarta Istiqlal Mosque guide scam

Image source: tripsavvy.com

 

How it works:

At the entrance, you will be introduced to a local guide by the security guard, before being brought to change into appropriate clothes for the mosque.

Note that over here, these guides are not allowed to received money officially. However, you should tip the guide around IDR 10,000 – 20,000 if you are happy with his services.

If you are unlucky and have gotten an unethical guide, he may request for an over inflated upfront payment for a lousy tour.

Should you try seeking help from the security guards or from the staff at the dressing room, they will turn a blind eye as they are in cahoots with the guide.

 

What to do:

If you find yourself in such a situation, threaten to call the police (hotline at the end of the article).

 

3. Unlicensed tour guides / temple touts

 

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, which is nonsense as there are ceremonies almost every day.

As for the more scheming ones , they will stop 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 #6 explains why it is a bad idea to accept their offer.

 

What to do:

If you wish to have a guide, avoid using unofficial touts. Instead, engage a licensed, reputable tour operator 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 transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

4. Sarong touts

Image source: theatlasheart.com

 

How it works:

At almost every temple in Bali which require 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.

 

5. 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.

 

6. Jalan Malioboro batik / art scam

 

How it works:

The batik scam is infamous along the Jalan Malioboro street at Yogyakarta.

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 feel pressured into buying 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. Kraton Palace scam

Image source: Wikimedia – Gunawan Kartapranata

 

How it works:

The Kraton Palace in Yogyakarta has two entrances. The one by the clock is legitimate and costs IDR 12,500 to enter, while the other is a shabby section of the palace which only costs IDR 5,000.

However, should you enter the shabby area, the compulsory guide over there will make sure to pester you until you go to the Sultan’s batik workshop.

Over there, you will be subjected to high pressure sales techniques and forced to buy low quality batik at inflated prices.

 

What to do:

Head to the correct entrance.

 

8. Overpriced national park ticket

Mt Merapi National Park

Mt Merapi National Park

 

How it works:

There are shady tour companies which charge 3-4x the normal price for entrance tickets to the national park at Bromo.

Should you buy through them, they will issue you a receipt which doesn’t allow entry, unlike a ticket.

However, as park staff is in on the scheme, they will not check your vehicle when you are entering the park.

If you are not on a tour, you may also be approached by touts trying to sell you these tickets around the entrance area.

 

What to do:

Engage a licensed, reputable tour operator 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 transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

Do not pre-pay the tickets – only buy at the official ticket counter.

 

9. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

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

You might find them in major cities / towns (e.g. Jakarta, Ancol, Kuta, Bandung), 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 / 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 pushesdistracts the target (e.g. ask you a question / survey / drop something and ask you).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / items and then escapes with it.

 

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. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry 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.

For public transportation: avoid buses; as for trains, take ekonomi AC class trains.

 

10. 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, we recommend using a portable safe or a lockable anti-theft bag that can be locked down, so that no one can steal from you while you are relaxing or in the water.

 

11. “Damaged” equipment

 

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.

The more malicious ones will send someone to tail you to see where you park your bike, steal it back, and then demand compensation.

 

What to do:

To protect yourself, never give your passport as collateral.

Before renting, examine the jet ski / bike / equipment. Take a photo of any scratches, dents or potential damaged parts and alert the company.

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

As for being accused of losing the bike, note that for vendors, bikes (for most bikes under two years old) are actually insured in case of theft.

Ask for the STN card / registration as these details are there.

To further protect yourself, you can bring your own padlock to lock up your rental motorbike.

 

12. 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 / hostel staff, driver or from online travel forums.

Should you be up for bargaining, you will usually be able to get items at a cheaper price, from places such as Kumbasari Market in Denpasar / Bali.

Else, a few other options are:

  • Using local connections: get a local to bring you around.
  • Fixed price shops: slightly higher prices than average, but you won’t be ripped off.
  • Shopping tour through Klook (best day tours platform in Asia): get a professional guide to bring you around.

Some fixed price shops include:

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

 

13. Uluwatu Temple monkey scam

 

How it works:

The monkeys at the Uluwatu Temple are 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 globally, only monkeys at the Uluwatu Temple exhibit such behaviour.

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 / hostel / apartment 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.

Also, get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

14. 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.

 

15. Drink spiking

Image source: Instagram – Mariarahajeng

 

How it works:

There have been reports of drink spiking, either with the use of animal tranquillisers or date rape drugs which will knock you out cold.

Once you are unconscious, you will be robbed, or even sexually assaulted.

 

What to do:

Do not accept any drinks that you have not seen made in front of you.

Also, do not leave your drink unattended as this gives a scammer time to slip something into it.

Choosing canned or bottled drinks is a good choice as it is more difficult for someone to put a sedative inside.

Finally, 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. Probolinggo transport scam

Image source: neverendingeverywhere.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

Tons of scams here, watch out!

Once you reach Probolinggo via the train station:

  • Many touts here offering tours, bemos or taxis to the Bayuangga Bus Terminal.
  • Instead of bringing you to the bus terminal, they bring you to a tour agency to buy low quality tours at inflated prices.
  • They claim that a bus to the terminal will pass by the agency but it does not. This is to trick you into taking their private bus / taxi and to delay you as the real bus stops operating after 4pm.

At the Bayuangga Bus Terminal:

  • Many touts offer tours and taxis, claiming that there are no more buses.
  • Two options if heading to Cemoro Lawang (Mt Bromo): (1) go-Jek ride (2) bison ride (green vans) at Depot Marinda.

If heading elsewhere from the terminal:

  • Touts will direct you onto a bus with an accomplice posing as the driver, asking you to pay 3-4x the normal fare.
  • If you refuse, you will be refused entry. Locals won’t help, for fear of reprisal.
  • Another variation: while on the correct bus, a scammer comes up and insists that you are on the wrong bus. He demands you buy another ticket, or sign up for a tour / taxi.

 

What to do:

Ignore the touts, and head into the yellow Angkot to get from the train station to the bus terminal.

Use GPS / offline map to make sure that you end up at the bus terminal. Even if not, with the GPS you can walk there without being held hostage.

Do not 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

Street of Jakarta

Street of Jakarta

 

How it works:

Be wary when a private driver you hire insists on heading to another hotel or 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, jewelry 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.

Do not use any recommended accommodation, but to book them through legitimate platforms like: 

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

You can engage a private driver through a day tours platform like Klook (best in Asia), or through your hotel / hostel.

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

 

4. Bajaj scam

Image source: globalistindonesia.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

Similar to the tuk tuks in Thailand and Vietnam, you may be in for a ride if you were to take Bajajs in Indonesia.

For instance, even if you had agree on a price upfront, a different fare may be demanded at the end of the trip, possibly at a secluded place and not intended destination.

 

What to do:

Avoid taking.

 

5. Binjai to Bukit Lawang scam

Image source: Wikimedia – Jonathan McIntosh

 

How it works:

Should you choose to take public transport to get from Medan airport to Bukit Lawang, you may fall for this scam that is similar to the Probolinggo scam in Bromo.

There are 2 scams on this route.

First, if you take the ALS bus, it will stop at an area with becak drivers. These drivers will offer to bring you to the pickup point for the orange minibus to Bukit Lawang, but at an inflated price.

Should you take up their offer, you will indeed find the correct bus there. However, local gangsters will not let you board the bus, unless you pay IDR 50,000, when the ticket price is IDR 15,000.

 

What to do:

Instead of following the becak drivers, head instead to the Supermall after alighting from the ALS bus (just across the road) and board the bus there instead.

The bus will still go through the point where the gangsters are, but with you on the bus, they will be unable to harass you.

However, do look out for the becak drivers at the Supermall, who will lie to you to take an overpriced ride back to where the gangsters are.

 

6. 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 above.

 

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.

 

7. Overcharging airport taxis

 

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.

Another variation happens at the airport, be it the Soekarno-Hatta International airport in Jakarta, the Husein Sastranegara Airport in Bandung or at Juanda International Airport at Bromo.

You will find touts claiming to be able to get you a cheap / Bluebird taxi.

Should you take those, they are probably just a random airport taxi with an inflated fare, to be shared by the tout and the driver.

 

What to do:

Do not take an unofficial taxi. If you do take one, be ready to bargain hard and to take a photo of the car plate and the driver’s license.

Else, consider these other options:

  • Get a ticket from the official taxi counter.
  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platforms like Klook (best in Asia).
  • Book a rental car through AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee.
  • Use a taxi booking app like Go-Jek / Grab – however, book this only from the streets, not within the airport.

 

8. Dishonest taxi fare / meter is down

 

How it works:

A rogue taxi driver 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.

 

9. Longhauling taxis

Taxis in Bali

Taxis in Bali

 

How it works:

There are rogue drivers here who bring you on a much longer path by pretending to misunderstand your destination, or by driving you into traffic jams.

Note however, that in some cases, drivers may seem to be taking longer paths, but that is because they are trying to avoid traffic jams which is really bad in Jakarta.

 

What to do:

First, especially for long routes, make sure to estimate the fair price by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Go-Jek or Grab.

Next, make sure to only take taxis from reputable companies like Silver Bird, Blue Bird, Eksekutif, Transtaxi, Express, Taxiku, Steady Safe, Kosti Jaya, etc depending on where you are in Indonesia.

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. You can also mention the more prominent landmarks around your destination.

During the route, you can check your phone’s GPS at intervals to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

 

10. 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.

Else, you could also use Taxi booking apps such as Go-Jek and Grab.

Image source: mashable.com

 

11. Rigged taxi meters

 

How it works:

As the name suggests, the taxi meter either jumps too much for the distance travelled or too fast for the time travelled.

 

What to do:

Watch the meter during the trip.

If you suspect something is amiss, make sure to take down the license certification and car plate number of the taxi and threaten to call the police.

 

12. 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 not buy from streets touts or unofficial sellers.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Klook (best in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee).

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch thefts

 

How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

At crowded places, even seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Do not carry valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off.

Other protection measures:

  • Leave 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.

 

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

 

How it works:

Indonesia is infamous for these money changing tricksters who have cheated 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 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. Corrupt police

 

How it works:

Some corrupted police officers like to go around “fining” foreigners on the road during peak hours for trivial things.

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.

 

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!

Hide your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This will allow you to negotiate the bribe down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

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 corrupt officer who will demand a bribe in exchange for letting you go.

 

What to do:

Don’t do drugs.

If you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” approaches you.

Three steps you can use to shake them off:

  • Verify badges and identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (end of this article).
  • Never give your passport if asked. Show only a photocopy of it.
  • If they want to fine you or check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find it or check with a local) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Next, you should have hidden your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This way, the scammers may simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash.

 

6. Local gambling scam

Houses in West Java

Houses in West Java

 

How it works:

The scammer will approach you and make small talk.

Once rapport is built, he will claim that a family member of his is heading to your country to study or to work, and would like to invite you to his house if you don’t mind providing advice to his family member.

Should you do so, you will be driven to a house which will be locked. In the house, there will be people playing cards, and you will be forced to play.

At first, they may let you win. Then when they up the stakes, you will lose more cash that you might have on yourself.

They then drive you to a secluded ATM and force you to withdraw whatever you have in your bank account.

 

What to do:

Decline such invitations.

It may also be a good idea to keep a separate bank account just for traveling:

  • Do not keep too much cash in there.
  • Only carry a bank card of that account so that even if kidnapped or if the card is stolen, you would not have much to lose.

Further, get travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any loss of valuables.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

7. SIM card scam

Image source: findingmenno.com

 

How it works:

In East Java (for those travelling to Mt Bromo, Ijen Crater, etc), you may encounter a scammer posing as a staff of a telecommunications company who try to sell you a prepaid SIM card at the airport or on the streets.

Should you buy from him, you will be paying a fee that is 10x the original price.

 

What to do:

Only buy through these sources:

  • Direct from telecommunication shop / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers such as kiosks / convenience stores.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Klook (best in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee).

 

8. Child beggars and buskers

Image source: coconuts.co

 

How it works:

In Jakarta, you may find child beggars / buskers or beggars carrying babies drugged with tranquilizers.

These are all victims of syndicates who traffic children for their own profits.

 

What to do:

Do not donate, as you will only be helping the syndicates. If you want to help, only donate to reputable charities.

 

9. Timeshare scams

Nusa Dua resort

Nusa Dua resort

 

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

Another variation 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 be 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.

 

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

 

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.

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.

 

11. “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.

 

12. ATM skimming

 

How it works:

Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

In Indonesia, there is a third way scammers rig ATMs:

  • They paste a customer service number on an ATM that actually rings the criminals instead of the bank.
  • So what they do is to trap your card in the slot, and ask you to reveal your PIN over the phone.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, check the ATM for any red flags and cover your PIN when typing it in.

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.

 

13. Donations scam

 

How it works:

In Jakarta, you may be approached by someone carrying a map or documents of constructions plans for a place of worship asking for donations.

 

What to do:

Decline firmly.

 

14. 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 scale when there is no weight to make sure it is not rigged.

 

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: armed robberies and petty crime are common.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots:
    • Central Sulawesi: Palu, Poso and Tentena – terrorist groups.
    • Maluku Province: Ambon – inter-ethnic group violence.
    • Aceh: internal conflict.
    • Papua and West Papua: political tensions.
    • Sulu and Celebes seas: kidnapping.
  • Terrorism: although over 1,200 individuals have been arrested on terrorism charges and several terrorist cells have been disrupted since 2002, threat of small scale attacks remains high.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations can be common in Jakarta and other cities.

 

What to do:

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

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid the danger zones and demonstrations.

 

2. Medical care

Image source: siloamhospitals.com

 

How it works:

Overall quality of medical care is low, with major cities generally only having routine medical care and higher quality private medical facilities being prohibitively expensive.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: chikunganya, dengue, zika, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, filariasis.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne diseases: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: tuberculosis, HIV, measles.
  • Others: potential haze caused by forest clearing fires from June – October (in particular Riau Islands, central Sumatra, Kalimantan).

 

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, Japanese Encephalitis (if visiting rural areas), rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving animals), malaria.

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:

  • Earthquakes, volcanoes: sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire with 129 active volcanoes, Indonesia is subject to regular earthquakes (~4,000 per year) and volcanic eruptions.
  • Tsunamis: due to the multiple earthquakes, the Indian and Pacific Oceans experience more and stronger tsunamis.
  • Rainy season: November to March. Can trigger flooding and landslides in West Sumatra, Central, East and West Java, Jakarta and mountainous areas.
  • Haze caused by forest clearing fires: June to October. Heavily affected areas include Riau Islands, central Sumatra, Kalimantan.

 

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 reportsweather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.
  • Tsunamis: signs include abnormal ocean activity and load roars. Protect yourself from an earthquake first if there is one. Else, get to a high ground as far inland as possible.
  • Volcanic eruption: avoid areas downwind and river valleys downstream of the volcano, do not drive in heavy ash fall, seek shelter (if no need to evacuate) or high ground if no shelter (crouch down away from volcano, cover head with arms).

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road conditions are decent in major cities, but undeveloped out of it.

Driving can be hazardous if you are not used to the chaos.

Some factors to watch out for:

  • No or little adherence to traffic rules.
  • Aggressive and unpredictable driving behavior.
  • Many parties on the road – motor vehicles, pedicabs, pushcarts.
  • Extreme congestion especially during peak hours (Jakarta’s traffic is one of the worst globally).
  • Overloaded buses and trucks travelling at high speeds.
  • Poorly maintained and unlit rural roads.

Public transportation faces similar concerns:

  • Bus and ferry accidents are common.
  • Poor maintenance.
  • Overcrowded and lacking in safety equipment.
  • Limited rescue capacity.

 

What to do:

Make sure your travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) covers travel accidents.

Driving:

  • Only book via legitimate platforms (e.g. AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee).
  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

Other transportation:

  • To move around, get a private driver or use a cab (call for an official one or use booking apps like Go-Jek / Grab).

 

E. 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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