12 Most Common Tourist Scams in Singapore

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Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

 

One of the most dynamic countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore is an exciting place to visit.

From the majestic Gardens by the Bay to the concrete jungle that makes up Singapore’s skyline, Singapore is indeed, a “city in a garden” and a joy to explore.

Besides the splendid mix of concrete and greenery, Singapore is also a melting pot of diverse cultures – temples in Chinatown, tasty Indian food in Little India, and modern shopping malls in Marina Bay and Orchard Road.

However, despite its reputation as the safest country in the world, tourist targeted scams and crime do still occur.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Electronics shopping scams

 

How it works:

This is the most infamous of tourist targeted scams in Singapore, with tons of complaints made of shops in Sim Lim Square, People’s Park Complex and Lucky Plaza.

Even locals have been scammed at these playgrounds for scammers!

How this works is that shops in the aforementioned places will advertise high value electronics at prices that are too good to be true to pull customers in.

Once you are hooked, they will show you a contract, but conveniently cover up a clause where you have to pay thousands for product warranty.

Most tourists would not realize it, as they trust shops in Singapore, or may not be good at English, or simply can’t be bothered to read through tons of legalese.

Once you sign, you hand your credit card over and payment is made.

However, shop staff will hold on to your item, tell you about the clause, and not hand it over until you make the second payment for warranty.

Besides this payment scam, other scams include product swapping (e.g. switching an authentic camera battery or memory stick with a cheap imitation) – a scam that is reported in Hong Kong as well.

Such scams have been going on for years, and things finally came to a head in 2014, when a Vietnamese tourist kneeled and begged for a refund at a shop in Sim Lim Square but was mercilessly mocked by shop staff.

It became a national scandal, and the shop staff (Mobile Air) was sentenced to jail. However, there are still plenty of errant retailers around which you need to careful of.

 

What to do:

First, avoid shopping for high value items at these places.

Only visit licensed, reputable shops (e.g. Challenger / Courts for electronics) which you can find with some online research or by asking your hotel / hostel staff.

If ever caught in such a scam, seek help from the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) or from the police.

 

2. Overcharging restaurants

Black pepper crab

Black pepper crab

 

How it works:

Cases like these are rare, however you may walk right into one if you are not careful.

Some previous examples include:

  • An American group of 6 was charged SGD $239 for 8 tiger prawns at Newton Food Circus Hawker Center
  • A Filipino family of 4 was charged $128 per KG of fish and $208 per KG of Alaskan King Crab at Forum Seafood Restaurant

Other tricks include:

  • Advertising discounts / promotions but not including them in the bill until you ask
  • Unfresh / crap quality food
  • Menus with no prices (or showing “market rate” with no numbers) – can be common for seafood

Some infamous names include Forum Seafood, Haven Lobster & Seafood and Tian Tian Fisherman’s Pier at the Boat Quay area.

 

What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive touts.

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

If you want to try seafood in Singapore, reputable restaurants to check out include Jumbo Seafood, No Signboard, Red House Seafood, Palm Beach Seafood, Mellben Seafood, etc

Also, always check and clarify the menu (prices, fine print), do not eat what was not ordered, and check your bill carefully.

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

  • Klook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – food tours include:

Klook.com

  • BonAppetour: join locals over a meal for an authentic food experience!
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

3. Nightclub scams

Orchard Towers

Orchard Towers. Source: Lianhe Zaobao

 

How it works:

You may encounter these at Orchard Towers, a building which is just like any other building in the day, but which turns into the “4 towers of whores at night”.

Some past reports include:

  • If you were to use a credit card, you may be charged thousands for a few drinks, or drinks which you did not order. You will not realize it as a receipt may not be given.
  • Being approached by paid girls and paying exorbitant amounts for their drinks.
  • Spiked drinks – either being assaulted or being overcharged on your cards without you realizing it.
  • In 2011, there was a molest scam (woman accusing a man of molesting her, getting club security officers down and threatening to call the police) going on which has since died down.

 

What to do:

Ideally, pay in cash rather than by card.

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

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

 

4. Fake products

China town

China town

 

How it works:

At some street shops in Singapore, usually touristy areas such as in Chinatown, you may see shops peddling discounted fragrances for just a couple of dollars.

These are obviously watered down products in replica boxes.

There have also been reports of fake pills being peddled, as well as fake electronics at places such as the infamous Sim Lim Square.

 

What to do:

The low price is an obvious giveaway – avoid buying.

 

5. Online shopping scam

Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore

 

How it works:

Besides offline shopping scams, you can encounter some of these scams through online channels as well.

One channel of which is the Carousell mobile app, a very popular p2p marketplace.

However, because it is so easy to use, there have been scams as well, especially around high value items such as electronics, tickets to tourist attractions (e.g. USS) or tickets for popular, sold out concerts and events.

For instance, after making payment or paying a deposit, the seller may become uncontactable.

Other cases have also included fake tickets being delivered after payment is made.

 

What to do:

If you were to use such p2p marketplaces, watch out for the common red flags:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Not doing meet-ups.
  • Claiming to be from a certain company.
  • Sending you a picture of their identification documents to prove their legitimacy.

It is still best to only buy your items or tickets from sources such as:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Klook (best in Asia) – bestselling ones include:

Klook.com

 

6. Fake travel agent

Clark Quay Singapore

Clark Quay Singapore

 

How it works:

Although rare, there have been occasional reports of such fly by night, fake travel agents who have scammed thousands of dollars from unknowing victims.

The modus operandi is always to tempt human greed by offering tour packages (airlines, hotels and tours) at prices that are too good to be true.

 

What to do:

Whenever you see prices that are too good to be true, it is most likely the case.

If you need help with your travel arrangements, engage the many established and reputable travel agencies in Singapore.

Else you can also consider tours from:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, etc can be found here – a popular tour is:
  • Klook: best day tours platform in Asia – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – most popular tours include:

Klook.com

  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

7. Pickpocketing

Merlion Park

Merlion Park

 

Despite being an extremely safe country with low crime rates, there are still pickpocket cases unfortunately (in fact, 4,000+ cases of shop thefts and pickpockets are reported in a year).

These are usually perpetrated by foreign crime syndicates, especially during festive periods, though there are also serial pickpockets and thieves around.

For instance, a Chinese gang and a Filipino gang operating along Orchard Road have been arrested in recent times.

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 availability scam

Taxis in Singapore

Taxis in Singapore. Source: ausbt.com.au

 

How it works:

Relative to many other countries, taxis in Singapore are great. They are reliable and there is minimal chance of getting scammed.

What is not so great however is that at night, some drivers will ask for your location first and will reject you if you are going out of town.

This is because by driving out of town, they are unlikely to get any new passengers, and will have to make an “empty” trip back to town for passengers.

Note that rejecting trips is actually illegal here.

These drivers will always use the same excuse, which is that as they are changing shifts, they only have a limited time and are not being able to drive out far.

This will probably not affect tourists staying in central areas, but if you stay further out of town, tough luck.

 

What to do:

If you face problems getting a taxi, use a ride hailing app such as Grab instead.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Donation / charity scam

 

How it works:

Unfortunately, there have also been various forms of donation and charity scams in Singapore and they can be found anywhere.

The common consensus is that only young students who solicit for donations in school uniform with tin cans can be more easily deemed as legitimate.

For everyone else, it is difficult to differentiate what else is real and fake nowadays.

Offline, scammers have been caught using forged donation permits and self-made donation tins to collect donations along the streets.

There are even blatant scammers, such as the infamous Zeng Guoyuan (also known as the Parrot Man), who was spotted wearing a sign saying Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) cancer research fund soliciting for donations at the Geylang Serai market.

Fliers posing as legitimate charities have also been passed around.

Online, there have also been fake fundraising campaigns on FaceBook and on crowdfunding websites.

 

What to do:

Based on guidance by the Charities Unit of the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth, there are ways to verify offline donation drives:

Request for a collector’s certificate – they should have an NCSS-issued sample certificate and SPF sample certificate.

A) SMS Verification Service by Charities Unit, MCCY: SMS FR<space><licence/certificate number or organisation name>” to 79777. For example, “FR 2011003000”, “FR L/HH/001111/2011” or “FR Charity Limited”.

B) Online Verification: via Charity Portal, NCSS Website or SPF Website

C) QR Code Verification (issued permits only): Scan the code with your smartphone.

If you want to help, we recommend contacting and donating direct to established charities instead.

 

2. Rental apartment scams

Singapore apartment buildings

Singapore apartment buildings

 

How it works:

There have been reports of run of the mill rental apartment scams.

This is where scammers post online advertisements with prices too good to be true and then disappear after deposit is collected.

Some common red flags include:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions because they copy and paste without any edits.
  • Dodgy sounding reviews.
  • Difference in photos provided and pictures seen with Google Street View.
  • Payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union / MoneyGram (sure sign of a scam as transfers are irreversible).
  • Owner claims to be overseas, insists on only using English in emails and emails are worded in poor English.
  • If the “owner” refuses to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place.

 

What to do:

First, only book via legitimate accommodation platforms such as:

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

Next, some due diligence to be done on individual listings:

  • Search online reviews and Google the names of the owner.
  • Call the phone number provided on the listing.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions, such as room dimensions or something unique as seen in the photos.
  • You can even pretend something exists in the online photos and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.
  • Search if the property has another online presence or contact number and engage that to see if they are consistent.
  • Test the owner by requesting for a visit from a local friend – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the owner’s receptiveness.
  • Do not pay in full upfront and do not make payment off the platform.

 

3. Sob story

Bugis Street, Singapore

Bugis street, Singapore. Source: Bahnfrend

 

How it works:

This may be rare, but still occurs.

It is generally perpetrated by foreigners rather than locals, and you may spot them in places such as Chinatown, Clarke Quay, Bugis, Changi Airport or really anywhere in town.

For instance, a past report was that of a well-dressed Chinese pair who claimed to be here on a business trip.

They even came prepared with business cards!

However, they got scammed and had no money for transport back to their hotel, and ask if you could spare some cash for them to take a cab.

There have also been reports of pitiful looking local elderly who approach you to ask for cash straight up.

 

What to do:

Decline.

If you want to test or even troll them, say you will call the police to get the officers to help them and watch them disappear in the blink of an eye.

 

4. Fake monks

Fake monk

Fake monk. Source: Jamie Lloyd / Flickr

 

How it works:

Fake monks are a global enterprise (e.g. USA, Czech Republic, Australia), and the hunting ground of Singapore is no exception.

Although spottings of these fake monks or nuns have been occasional, they have been around for many years – at least for more than a decade!

Generally, these scammers will come up to you and offer you an amulet / pendant or some blessing, and then ask for a donation of SGD $10 to $20.

They will even show you a book of donors who have written their names, as a form of social proof as well as to try to guilt trip you into donating.

In fact, it has been reported that these scammers can earn up to SGD $2,000 in a day!

 

What to do:

Ignore, real monks don’t do this.

 

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 Singapore

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

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: very rare and isolated.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted as extremist groups have carried out attacks in neighbouring countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines).
  • Civil unrest: almost none as unauthorized public demonstrations are illegal.

 

What to do:

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

 

2. Medical care

Singapore General Hospital

Singapore General Hospital Source: cadi.com.sg

 

How it works:

Good, modern healthcare is available in Singapore.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases (higher risk from November to March and July to September): zika, dengue, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne disease: HIV, hand, foot and mouth disease (can occur from March to May).

 

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 travelers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travelers: Hepatitis A, typhoid.
  • Some travelers: Hepatitis B, rabies (if at risk of bat bites).

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: from December to March and from June to September, may trigger flash floods.
  • Air pollution: from June to October, may be affected by haze caused by forest clearing fires in Indonesia – note that Singapore has not been affected since the 2015 haze crisis, due to effects by Indonesian authorities to curb these fires.

 

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:

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road networks are highly developed and well maintained. However, watch out for:

  • Frequent downpours which can make roads more difficult to navigate safely.

As for public transportation:

  • Metro and bus networks are also highly developed, affordable, reliable, convenient and safe.

 

What to do:

Check latest media reports and weather forecast.

Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in Singapore

Police in Singapore. Source: wikiwand.com

 

  • Police (emergency): 999
  • Police (non-emergency hotline): 1800 255 0000
  • Fire, ambulance (emergency): 995
  • Ambulance (non-emergency): 1777

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