14 Most Common Tourist Scams in Pakistan

Safety at Islamabad, Faisalabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Muzaffarabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Sialkot
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Shangrila Lake

Shangrila Lake

 

Pakistan is one of the less-visited spots in South Asia although it makes a great pick for anyone who wants an adventure in a colorful country that has a long history.

The country is known for its majestic natural scenery such as the Karakoram Mountain Range where you can go skiing, or you can spend time in vast cities like Karachi.

Alternatively, you can visit magical spots like Lahore which is known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Mughal architecture.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has a relatively high crime rate. There are also a number of scams to be wary of.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Spray painted fruits

 

How it works:

Be careful about where you buy your fruits from.

In late 2018, a fruit vender was secretly captured on film using a can of Win spray paint to turn white grapes into a more appealing shade of red.

As expected, a British who ate it fell ill with sickness and diarrhoea.

This happened at a street market in Afzalpur.

Apparently, this thrash of a human being claimed that he is not the only one doing it.

 

What to do:

Ideally, buy such fruits from supermarkets instead.

Although they may be a bit more expensive, at least you are sure they are safe.

Though before buying, always inspect your fruits / food no matter where you buy from.

 

2. Fake faith healers

Pir arrested for healing people using snakes

Pir arrested for healing people using snakes. Source: tribune.com.pk

 

How it works:

There are Pirs (faith healers) in Pakistan who believe that they possess power to release people from their afflictions due to their immense devotion to Islam.

Because of this, some of the uneducated and weak have fell prey to rogue Pirs.

Cases of victims being drugged and raped have been reported although the nature of such crime hinders many from even reporting.

 

What to do:

Although this is not something many tourists will fall for, but it pays to be skeptical when encountering such situations.

 

3. Fake police officers

Constitution Avenue, Islamabad

Constitution Avenue, Islamabad. Source: Salahuddin Qasim / Flickr

 

How it works:

Individuals impersonating police officers are a rising problem in Pakistan and they have spotted at Constitution Avenue in Islamabad.

These scammers who have fake police identification cards have been known to stop foreigners in the street and ask for their passports.

Once you hand this over, they will search you and find some reason to accuse you of a minor crime.

You will then be asked to pay an on-the-spot fine, otherwise your passport will not be returned to you.

 

What to do:

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.

 

4. Credit card fraud

Street shops in Islamabad

Street shops in Islamabad. Source: Cameron Woodworth / Flickr

 

How it works:

Credit card fraud is a big problem in Pakistan and is one of the most common scams likely to befall visitors.

If you pay for an item in a shop or restaurant using a credit card, the seller may tell you that the transaction hasn’t worked and ask you to key in your PIN number again.

In reality the first transaction has gone through and you will be paying twice for the same goods or service.

 

What to do:

It is a good idea to try to pay cash for items, especially in smaller shops where there is a higher chance of being scammed.

If you do wish to pay using a credit card then try to do so in reputable establishments such as large, well known hotels or upscale restaurants.

 

5. Stolen passports

Lahore City, Pakistan

Lahore City, Pakistan

 

How it works:

There is an active black market for stolen passports in Pakistan and you should remain vigilant at all times when it comes to your travel documents.

Thieves may try to steal your passport from your hotel room or by bumping into you in the street and picking your pocket.

When you are distracted they will take the opportunity to relieve you of your passport which they will then sell at a high price.

 

What to do:

It is a good idea to make several photocopies of your passport and take these with you when you travel around.

Leave your original passport in a secure place such as a safe in your hotel which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

If someone in a position of authority does want to check your identity then a photocopy of your original passport should suffice.

 

6. Fake goods

Market in Karachi, Pakistan

Market in Karachi, Pakistan. Source: Suzanne Hogendoorn / Flickr

 

How it works:

Fake goods are common all over Pakistan, particularly in local markets.

Some of the counterfeit items you may find available including clothes, watches, perfume, jewelry and gemstones, and fake electronics are widely sold in shops and malls.

There are also many counterfeit facial and body creams which went used, can have deleterious effects on your skin.

Some spots where you should look out for fake goods include Jinnah Market as well as Super Market.

 

What to do:

If you find an outlet selling branded items at a very low price then this means that they will probably be fake.

If you wish to buy, learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, or only visit licensed, reputable shops.

You can find these by doing some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.

 

7. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Pick pocketing is prevalent all over Pakistan, particularly in crowded areas such as:

  • Lahore: Liberty market, airport, bus stands, railway station, Anarkali, Ichra shopping centre, Mall road.

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 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 a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Don’t look like an easy target: wallet in front pocket, small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in an anti-theft bag, most valuables in hotel safe.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers theft.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Taxi meter scams

Taxi in Pakistan

Taxi in Pakistan. Source: lahorelahorehaiyaar.com

 

How it works:

When you hail a taxi in Pakistan it is common for the taxi driver to refuse to use the meter.

Often they will tell you that the meter is broken as an excuse not to use it and will then offer you a flat fare which will be more expensive.

 

What to do:

When you hail a taxi in Pakistan make sure to ask the driver to turn on the meter before you get into the vehicle.

If the driver refuses or makes an excuse about why the meter isn’t working then simply find another taxi.

Alternatively, you can also estimate the fair price of any route (to use for negotiating) by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Uber, Careem, Paxi, A-Taxi, Metro Cab.

Take a photo of the car plate and also of the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

 

2. Indirect taxi routes

Traffic in Karachi

Traffic in Karachi. Source: Shehzaad Maroof / Flickr

 

How it works:

Often taxi drivers in Pakistan will take advantage of the fact that foreigners may not be familiar with a city.

As such, they may choose the longest route or go into traffic jams to inflate the fare if they are using the meter.

 

What to do:

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. More prominent landmarks around your destination can be mentioned.

During the ride, check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

Sometimes, drivers do take detours to avoid traffic jams, but that should not detract from the correct general direction.

To tell if you have been taken for a ride, you can also estimate a fair price of any route by checking:

  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • Taxi booking apps like KakaoTaxi and Uber.

If you want to seek recourse, take a photo of the car plate number and of the driver’s license to report to the cab company.

 

3. Short-changing taxi drivers

Pakistani rupees

Pakistani rupees. Source: Peretz Partensky / Flickr

 

How it works:

Many taxis drivers are known for short changing passengers in Pakistan as they rely on the fact that newcomers to the country may not be able to recognize all the different coins and notes.

As such, they will often give you notes or coins of lower denominations when handing you back your change and hope you don’t notice.

 

What to do:

If possible try to familiarize yourself with the coins and notes in Pakistan when you arrive as this will make it harder for scammers to fool you.

Also take your time and count your change slowly before you leave a taxi and ask the driver if you feel that you have been short changed.

 

4. Express kidnappings

Red mosque, Islamabad

Red mosque, Islamabad. Source: 沙鲁克 / Flickr

 

How it works:

If you are unlucky enough to meet a rogue driver, he will take you to a secluded location and threaten you until you agree to pay him an inflated sum of money to be taken back to the town center.

A twist on this scam is that some drivers may also force you to contact friends or family members and ask them to transfer money to secure your release.

You should remain vigilant in areas around the Red Mosque in Islamabad.

 

What to do:

Do not make yourself appear a target by wearing obvious jewelry or carrying expensive electronic items around with you.

If possible do not travel alone and make sure that you do not get into a shared taxi with other passengers who may be part of a gang who are planning to kidnap and rob you.

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.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1.Snatch theft

 

How it works:

Snatch theft is a rising problem as many locals use motorbikes instead of cars to get around cities.

Take care particularly in the Lyari and Orangi districts of Karachi.

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:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Street money changers

Lahore street

Lahore street. Source: Zishan Sheikh / Flickr

 

How it works:

This is a common scam globally (e.g. Peru, Czech Republic, Tanzania), though in somewhat different variations.

You may encounter people offering money exchange services on the streets at Lahore for a small commission fee of 1.5%.

However, these scammers will actually use doctored calculators – any figure they calculate for you will include a commission fee of 25%.

 

What to do:

Avoid changing with street money changers.

 

3. Sob story

Murree, Pakistan

Murree, Pakistan. Source: Cameron Woodworth / Flickr

 

How it works:

Most of these stories are meant to touch and move you so that you can part with money.

Classic examples include finding a stranded family at a filling station who have apparently run out of cash to buy fuel, or crying over a random sob story hoping you will give some money.

 

What to do:

Decline. If you ever want to help, donate to established charities instead.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not meant to be 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 and terrorism

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Pakistan

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Pakistan. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime:
    • Commonplace, particularly in Karachi (due to ethnic conflict, criminality and political violence). Happens in other major cities as well.
    • Banditry in Sindh and Punjab.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots:
    • Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK): security situation is unstable.
    • Line of Control in Kashmir: sporadic cross border gunfire and shelling.
    • Border areas with Afghanistan, China, Iran: terrorist activity, smuggling, violence.
    • Province of Balochistan: unstable due to long standing nationalist insurgency; also a smuggling route.
    • Islamabad: Centaurus, Safa Gold malls, Kohsar Market, Lal Masjid Mosque.
    • Karachi: violence in Baldia, Gulberg, Korangi, Jamshed, Landhi, Liaquatabad, Liyari, Orangi, Saddar, Shah Faisal Colony and SITE.
  • Terrorism:
    • There are several terrorist groups – main threat is from the Tehrik-e Taleban Pakistan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
    • Attacks remain frequent, due to extremism, ethnic divisions, sectarian strife, regional political disputes.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations occur periodically.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, hotspots, travelling alone at night, 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 participating in demonstrations.

Do not / avoid travelling to these areas:

  • Balochistan, Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, do not travel.
  • Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (excluding Chitral district), do not travel.
  • Border areas with Afghanistan and India (excluding Lahore, Wagah, Kasur, Narowal and Sialkot), do not travel.

 

2. Medical care

Sheikh Zayed Hospital

Sheikh Zayed Hospital. Source: Szmc / Wikimedia

 

How it works:

Basic healthcare is available in major cities but limited in rural areas.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: dengue, chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis,
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, extensively drug resistant (XHD) typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne disease: tuberculosis,

 

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, polio,
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis (if in rural areas / outdoors), malaria (if in low altitude areas), rabies (if traveling outdoors or working with animals).

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:

  • Rainy season: July to September, may trigger flooding, especially along Indus River and in Sindh and Punjab districts.
  • Earthquakes and tsunamis: in an active seismic zone. Western and northern parts of country can be affected.
  • Cyclones: coastal area can be affected.
  • Avalanches: winter avalanches may happen in mountainous areas.

 

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:

  • 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.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road accident rates in Pakistan are one of the highest globally, due to these factors:

  • Aggressive drivers who do not adhere to traffic rules
  • Many road users – cars, bikes, animals, horse carts, cyclists, pedestrians
  • Outside of major cities, roads are unpaved, poorly maintained, have potholes, sharp drop-offs, barriers which are not sign-posted.
  • At night, roads are poorly lit and vehicles do not have working headlights.

As for public transportation:

  • Railway network has been subject to attacks and maintenance and safety standards are low.
  • Security concerns with public buses and street taxis.

 

What to do:

 Driving:

  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

Public transportation:

  • Avoid. Take private transport arranged through your hotel / hostel / reputable tour operator instead.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Punjab Police

Punjab Police. Source: suchtv.pk

 

  • Police emergency hotline: 15
  • Ambulance service: 1122
  • Fire brigade: 16

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