19 Most Common Tourist Scams In Malaysia

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Image source: malaysiaairlines.com

 

Malaysia, along with Thailand, is one of the most popular travel destinations in Southeast Asia.

You can visit beautiful beaches, enjoy some of the best diving in the world, spend time exploring vibrant metropolis like the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, commune with nature in spots like Taman Negara National Park and explore the amazing street food scene in hubs like Penang!

However, with the influx of tourists, tourist targeted scams have been on the rise as well. Read on to learn how to protect yourself from these scams!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Pickpocket

 

How it works:

In crowded areas such as Petaling Street or Jonker Street, shopping malls (e.g. Ampang point, Sunway Pyramid), train, bus, or train stations, pickpocketing can be a big problem.

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

 

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.

 

 

2. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

Snatch theft is a huge problem in Malaysia 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.

 

 

3. Flower sellers

Image source: randomrepublika.com

 

How it works:

This is a particular problem in Kuala Lumpur in popular nightlife areas such as Changkat Bukit Bintang.

Flower sellers are usually children who will ask you to buy their flowers at an inflated price. They often work alone late into the night and have to give all the money they earn to a parent or guardian.

Thus by buying, you will not be helping the children directly.

Many visitors, understandably, feel sorry for the children. However, by helping, you are actually encouraging such acts.

Many of these sellers are child refugees and risk penalties if they are caught by the Malaysian authorities.

 

What to do:

It is not helpful to buy flowers from young children in Malaysia, as this will cause more harm than good since the practice is illegal.

As such refuse and walk away.

 

4. Fake monks seeking donations

Image source: star2.com

 

How it works:

This is a scam that has gone global (e.g. China, UK, Australia, etc).

In areas frequented by travellers, particularly nightlife spots in Malaysia, it can be common to see monks soliciting donations. In reality, real monks do not ask for money in Malaysia.

They may sometimes try to convince you of their credibility by offering you a cheap amulet or small medallion in return for a donation.

It is very unlikely however that any money you contribute will actually end up at a licensed monastery.

 

What to do:

‘Monks’ soliciting alms can be quite persistent although usually not aggressively so.

So make it very clear that you do not want to make a donation and walk away.

 

5. Spiked drinks

Image source: hype.my

 

How it works:

There is a rising problem in Malaysia with drink-spiking. This can happen to both male and female patrons in some bars and clubs.

Men or women will offer to buy visitors a drink which has been spiked with a sedative. When the tourist feels dizzy or unwell, the scammers will offer to help them back to their hotel room.

They will then take the chance to rob the visitor of their valuables while they are unconscious.

 

What to do:

Do not allow people that you don’t know to buy you a drink, especially in a bar or nightclub.

Watch all drinks being made to ensure that nothing is being added without you noticing. If possible, stick to bottled drinks that can be opened in front of you.

Also do not leave your drink unattended as this may be an opportunity for someone to add something to it.

If you feel unwell after drinking and suspect that your drink may have been spiked, alert a person in a position of authority. This could be a police officer or the manager or owner of the bar or your hotel.

Further, do not flaunt your valuables – keep most of them in your hotel safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools (e.g. door jammer, etc)

 

6. Fake goods

Image source: thestar.com.my

 

How it works:

Malaysia is a haven for shopping and often you can get some great bargains.

If the price looks too good to be true however then it probably is. This is because many markets and indoor arcades across the country sell fake goods.

These can take the form of branded clothes, watches, perfume, jewellery, and electronics such as mobile phones.

As you would expect for the price, they are usually very low quality and do not represent good value.

 

What to do:

If you are getting a branded item for a very cheap price, especially from an unlicensed venue like a market, then it is most likely fake.

Instead, it is best to shop at malls or go directly to a licensed retailer. You can ask your hotel / hostel for recommendations, or do some online searches.

 

7. Fake electronics street touts

 

How it works:

Around the Petronas Twin Towers and the KLCC shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, you might find yourself approached by a street tout.

The tout will offer you an expensive electronic item (e.g. iPhone, Samsung phone, etc) at a very cheap price.

He will claim that he has won it, as such he is willing to sell at a cheap price as he has no need for it. Or he could claim that he has just bought it but unfortunately his mum has fallen sick, and require funds for a surgery.

Should you test the item, you will find that the quality of the product is lacking. This is because it is a cheap China made knock off.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline. If something is too good to be true, it is.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Smash and grab car robbery

 

How it works:

For those who are driving rental cars in Malaysia, do be wary.

There have been reports of robbers coming up to a victim’s car, smashing the window, grabbing your valuables and then making off with them.

Three seconds are all they need, as shown in the video above.

 

What to do:

Keep your valuables out of sight, such as in a money belt / hidden pouch, an anti-theft bag that is lockable to a fixture, or simply in the boot.

Also, be wary of your surroundings especially when stopping at a junction. Look out for suspicious pedestrians and motorbike pillion riders who hide their faces with their helmet.

Further, try not to stop too near to the car in front. This will allow some manoeuvring space if needed.

 

2. Non-metered taxis

Image source: klia2.info

 

How it works:

All taxis in Malaysia are supposed to be metered and haggling is prohibited. Most taxis actually have a sign on them that tell you that they must use the meter.

However, many taxi drivers will still try to haggle for a flat rate which will usually be higher than the meter price.

 

What to do:

Before you get into a taxi, make sure that you ask the driver to turn the meter on. If they refuse or try to bargain by offering a flat rate, you can simply decline to get into the taxi.

Also, use official taxi counters at venues like airports, train stations, and malls, as you can buy a taxi coupon and pay the correct upfront fare.

 

3. Long taxi routes

 

How it works:

If the driver has agreed to use the meter they may try to add to the fare by taking you on a longer route.

Or they may deliberately drive you through crowded areas which will take longer.

 

What to do:

Try to work out the route yourself using the GPS system on your phone. Or you could have done some research to find out the approximate fare of a route (check with your online, Grab app, online taxi fare estimator, etc)

If you are familiar with the route and feel that the driver is deliberately taking you on a longer trip around the city, speak up and ask where and why he has chosen this route.

You can also stop the taxi and end the journey if the driver persists in driving you all around town instead of straight to your destination.

Avoid saying things like ‘Take whichever route you prefer’ as this makes you a clear target to be scammed.

 

4. Fake tickets

Image source: lewisthelion.com

 

How it works:

This can happen for any ticket, such as a ferry or bus ticket. It could be sold by a guesthouse owner or street tout who offers to get the ticket for you at a very cheap price.

However, once you pay and arrive at the bus or ferry terminal, you will find that the ticket is fake. In fact, the company has no record of your booking.

This means that you will have to pay again for another ticket, or travel another day if there are no more tickets left and spoil your plans.

 

What to do:

It is always better to buy a ticket for any kind of transportation at a licensed retailer.

You can also buy your tickets online directly from the ferry or bus company.

However, avoid online travel agents who are not directly affiliated with one transportation company as this may also be a scam.

 

5. Unsolicited tours

Image source: klcityguide.my

 

How it works:

This is often a scam offered by taxi drivers, particularly outside the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

In this scenario you ask to be driven to a destination and the driver will ask if you would like a tour of the city for a nominal fee.

If you agree, he will drive you to a range of destinations that you may or may not want to go to.

These places usually have little cultural or historical interest and will usually be shops, factories, cultural villages, or restaurants where the driver gets a commission.

Often the sellers at these locations will be very pushy and will pressure you to buy something.

 

What to do:

One way to avoid this is to book a tour with a licensed tour company and have a clear itinerary of the attractions you want to see.

If you are taken to any places that you don’t want to visit, politely ask to be taken to your next destination. Also, don’t feel pressured to buy anything there.

 

6. Hotel suggestions

 

How it works:

This usually happens when you take some form of transportation and ask to be dropped off at a specific hotel.

The driver will tell you that it has recently closed or that it is fully booked. Or the driver could tell you that it is very dirty or crowded and that you won’t get good service.

The driver then offers to take you to a better place that he happens to know. This place will be where he gets a commission from. It will also likely be a low quality place with an inflated price.

 

What to do:

Sometimes a hotel may well have closed but the only way to be sure is to insist on going there anyway.

Another way is to tell your driver that you have a reservation and have already paid upfront.

 

7. Motorbike rental

Image source: motorcycle-usa.com

 

How it works:

One of the easiest ways to get around in Malaysia is to hire a motorbike or scooter. This is particularly true in areas such as islands like Langkawi, the Perhentian Islands, or Tioman Island.

If you park your bike however or leave it outside overnight then you may return to find that it has been stolen or damaged in some way.

This is often however a scam organized by the person who rented it to you.

They will then ask you to pay a large amount of money to fix the damaged motorbike, even if it wasn’t your fault.

 

What to do:

Only rent a motorbike or scooter from a reputable establishment. Also ensure that you have insurance which will cover you in the case of an accident or loss of the bike.

If you are renting the motorbike overnight then make sure to park it in a secure area. This also applies during the day time.

Further, you can consider securing your bike with a sturdy padlock that cannot be broken without special cutting tools.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Unauthorized credit card transactions

 

How it works:

One of the rising scams in Malaysia involves unauthorized credit card transactions. Visitors will receive a fraudulent SMS to their phone informing them that there has been an unauthorised transaction.

It could be a few hundred or thousand Malaysian Ringgit from their credit card.

The scammers then provide a number to call. If you do so, they will ask for your banking details in order to use your card to take money out of your account.

 

What to do:

Should you receive this kind of message then call your bank and speak to them directly. Do not call the number provided.

 

2. ATM skimming

Image source: thisismoney.co.uk

 

How it works:

This scam can take different forms.

An ATM can be rigged with a card skimmer to read your card details. A scammer standing close to you or an installed camera will then capture your PIN number.

There are also cases of staff in restaurants or hotels watching a customer type in their PIN number when they make a transaction through a hand held card machine.

They then take this away, with your card, and use it to make further transactions.

 

What to do:

At ATMs, make sure no one can see your PIN number whenever you type it.

Similarly, at shops and restaurants, when you pay for an item using a hand held credit card machine, cover the device as you type in your PIN.

Also, don’t allow staff to take your card away where you can’t see it. If they need to take it to the back where the cashier is, follow them and watch how it is used.

If you are worried about an ATM machine being rigged, then only use those in controlled environments such as in banks.

Finally, 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.

 

3. Gambling invitations

Image source: wandermuch.com

 

How it works:

This can happen to visitors of both genders in Malaysia although male travellers are often targeted, usually along crowded streets and markets.

Tourists are targeted by someone posing as a friendly local. He asks where you are from, then mentions that he has a relative heading to your country.

If you can go back home with him and provide some advice to his relative, he will offer to bring you around the city.

Should you go to his house, you will find his family or friends playing a gambling game such as poker or blackjack. You will be encouraged to join in and play for money.

Often this scam starts slowly and alcohol is provided to impair your ability to pay attention. You will definitely lose as the group is in cahoots. They will then demand that you pay up and will become aggressive if you refuse.

 

What to do:

If you are asked to go someone’s house or join any kind of gambling game, firmly refuse.

 

4. Fake police officers

 

How it works:

This has become a common scam in recent years (also common in many countries such as Morocco, Brazil, Indonesia, etc) and perpetrated by individuals who are not even from Malaysia.

This often happens in tourist areas. Scammers pretending to be tourist police will show you a fake form of identification and ask to search your bags.

They will then find some reason to accuse you of a violation and demand you pay a fine on the spot.

 

What to do:

If you are stopped in the street and individuals ask to search you, you are within your rights to verify their identification. Ask to see a copy of their official police identification and a copy of their personal identification card.

Also, threaten to call the police hotline to verify their identities (hotline at the end of this article).

Make sure that the names on both forms of identification are the same. If they insist on searching you, you can ask for the search to take place at the nearest police station.

Remember also to never give up your passport if asked. Instead, show only a photocopy of your passport.

In such cases, it is also useful to have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside for daily transactions, while the rest of your valuables are hidden securely in your money belt or hidden pouch.

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

Even if not, you can simply give up that wallet or the cash in it with minimal loss to yourself and save a ton of trouble.

 

5. Fake WiFi networks

 

How it works:

Be wary of fake WiFi networks in Malaysia which have become a problem in recent years.

In some areas you may be offered the chance to join a free WiFi network but this is a haven for online hackers.

Another variation is scammers setting up a “fake” WiFi network with the name of the shop / tourist attraction it is at to mislead users.

The network will not be secure and your information will be able to be read by the scammers.

 

What to do:

If you are in a hotel, restaurant, or other venue with WiFi, make sure to ask the staff for the official WiFi connection.

Also make sure to protect and encrypt your own information. If you are using a connection in a public place (e.g. bar or cafe), try not to input details such as credit card information.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: kinibiz.com

 

  • Emergency (which includes police and ambulance services): 999 / 112
  • Fire and rescue department: 994 / 112
  • Tourist police hotline: 03 2149 6590
  • Tourist information: 03 2164 3929

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5 Comments

  1. Adrian Van Drunen

    Received scratchiesin the post from Malaysia (Sure Love Tourism) saying I have won second prize of US$190000. I am in Australia and All looks very legitimate however seems too good to be true.
    Do you have any reports that indicates this may be a scam?
    Thanks in advance Adrian

    Reply
    • Yus

      This is definitely a scam.. believe me..

      Reply
  2. Yus

    I am Malaysian.. please please please stay away from taxis.. grab and uber services are more trustworthy..

    Reply
  3. David Field

    Received scratch cards from Sweetest Gift Holiday, one of which showed second prize of US $ 190,000. I was sure that this was a scam and did not respond.

    Reply
  4. John Pugh

    Received a nice brochure with two scratchies and US$200K to look forward to from Malaysia. Web address doesn’t seem to exist at ampanghilltravelling dot com – smells fishy. Is this as it seems?
    John – Australia

    Reply

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