13 Most Common Tourist Scams in Taiwan

Safety at Taipei, Hsinchu, Hualien, Jiufen, Kaohsiung, Keelung, Taichung, Puli, Tainan
Note: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. World Nomads Travel Insurance, backed by Lonely Planet & National Geographic, is one we recommend. Check it out before your adventure.

 

Taiwan

Taiwan

 

As one of the four Asian tigers, Taiwan is a dynamic place to be at.

Its capital city of Taipei is a bustling metropolis and a cultural center of entertainment and leisure activities.

Here, you can also explore the myriad of night markets and endless stalls of tasty street food.  

If modern comforts are not what you seek, you can head out of Taipei and explore the many stunning mountain ranges, lush forests and majestic national parks.

What’s great, is that Taiwan is also a very safe place to be at.

That said, there are still tourist targeted scams and low level crime around, so read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Fake / imitation tea leaves

Tea tree plantation in Ming Jian

Tea tree plantation in Ming Jian

 

How it works:

Due to the many mountains and misty and humid conditions, Taiwan produces some very famous teas popular with tea lovers.

One for instance is the high mountain oolong tea (gaoshan oolong tea), grown in Central Taiwan and well renowned for its fragrance and aftertaste.

Unfortunately, there are sellers which mix cheap or imitation tea leaves from neighbouring countries (e.g. China / Vietnam / Indonesia / Thailand) with the tea leaves grown here.

This is happening due to strong demand which is greater than what producers in Taiwan can manage.

Hence, many suppliers have been forced to outsource production to cheaper areas in neighbouring countries.

Note that even the big names engage in such a practice, and they are usually not transparent with the origins of their tea leaves.

 

What to do:

There are a couple of ways to differentiate between authentic and fake leaves:

  • Leaf structure: balls made of two to four leafs on a single stem.
  • Aftertaste: should linger for some time after drinking (e.g. 15-30 minutes).
  • Color of liquid: should be of a deep color.

However, short of being a tea expert who has tried all sorts of tea, it’s almost impossible to tell.

Hence, for everyone who is not a tea expert, some options to consider:

Though no matter where you go, always taste the tea before buying and only buy if you are happy with it.

 

2. Cut fruits scam at Shilin Night Market

Shilin night market

Shilin night market

 

How it works:

The Shilin Night Market is a top tourist destination in Taipei with tons of stalls to explore.

However, watch out for the fruit vendors – not all are dishonest, but a couple of rogue ones have destroyed the reputation for everyone else.

Should you enquire about a fruit at one of these rogue stalls, the vendors will immediately cut the fruit up for you to try and make you feel obligated to buy it.

These stalls also do not label their prices properly – you may think that it only costs $x, but it is actually $x per 100g.

Besides inflated prices, some stalls also do not display the scale they use to weigh your fruits.

In fact, there have been so many complaints that there are even signs around to warn of this scam.

 

What to do:

Based on advice from the Shilin Public Market Administration:

  • Decide whether you are buying freshly cut fruits or non-prepared fruits.
  • Check the weighing unit and the price per unit wight of the fruits.
  • Ask the vendor to weigh the fruits and check the readings of its weight and unit price on the electronic scale.
  • If you are not happy with the amount of payment, reject the transaction before the vendors start peeling or cutting the fruit.
  • If you find fruit vendors who do not label their products with clear price tags or do not use electronic scales, please call the office at +886-2-2883-7001 or the Taipei Citizen hotline at 1999.

 

3. Tourist prices

Night market in Taiwan

Night market in Taiwan

 

How it works:

Similar to the scam at Shilin Night Market, there have also been reports of overcharging at Raohe Night Market.

This is where prices are not clearly labelled and an inflated price is charged for tourists.

 

What to do:

Only buy at shops with clearly labelled prices.

Else, find out what a fair price should be by checking other shops out as well and be ready to bargain.

 

4. Fake gemstones / watches / branded items

Taiwan market

Taiwan market

 

How it works:

In Taipei, make sure you scrutinise the stores where your tour guide takes you as you travel around the city.

This is because there are shops which peddle fake gemstones, high end watches and branded products.

For bringing you to these shops, your guide gets a commission.

 

What to do:

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.

 

5. Fraudulent charity sales

Traffic in Taiwan

Traffic in Taiwan

 

How it works:

Like the donation scammers in Singapore, look out for individuals who say they represent charitable organisations and are trying to sell you pens on the street of Taipei.

The price will be around 200NT (~USD $6.50) and they will claim that the proceeds are going to help the poor and needy.

It’s really just for selfish gains.

 

What to do:

Decline.

 

6. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Although crime is low, you may still encounter pickpockets at crowded areas such as night markets or at festivals.

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. Forgotten taxi meter

Taxi in Taiwan

Taxi in Taiwan

 

How it works:

On the whole, taxi drivers in Taiwan are honest and more trustworthy than in many other places around the world.

However, there are rogue drivers who pretend to have forgotten to turn on the meter at the start of a journey.

At the end of the journey, an inflated flat fare will be charged

 

What to do:

Always check that the meter is turned on before your journey starts.

Besides taxis, an alternative transport option that is recommended is the Taipei fun pass or Taiwan High Speed Rail Tourist Pass.

Klook – Asia’s best day tours platform has several such options and 80+ transport options:

Klook.com

 

2. Longhauling taxi drivers

Road in Taiwan

Road in Taiwan

 

How it works:

There are drivers who will take a longer route to inflate the meter fare.

If questioned, they’ll claim to be avoiding congestion or closed roads.

Even locals have not been spared!

 

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 FindTaxi 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. No more bus scam

Bus stop in Taichung

Bus stop in Taichung. Source: steve / Flickr

 

How it works:

There are rogue taxi drivers who slow down near bus stops where there are tourists waiting and tell them that there are no more buses running that day.

They will then suggest the tourist take their taxi to the destination, for which they will charge a high fee or forget to run the meter.

 

What to do:

If this happens, ask other passengers or look for information on the bus times to verify the driver’s claim.

 

4. Bike theft

Sun Moon Lake

Sun Moon Lake. Source: Tom Allen / Flickr

 

How it works:

There have been multiple reports of stolen bikes.

In Taipei for instance, an infamous bicycle thief – Mr Chen was released from jail after only a month or two, after stealing two dozen or more other bikes.

This was because the court decided it wasn’t worth the effort to keep him in jail.

 

What to do:

If you do rent a bicycle / bike, do make sure to lock it up with bicycle locks or padlocks.

 

5. Fake car accident

 

How it works:

These scammers usually strike at roads where there are few pedestrians to act as witnesses.

So while you are driving at a slow or moderate pace, a scammer will run towards your car and throw himself / herself at your car.

 

What to do:

Make sure to have a functioning in-car camera in your rental car.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Bag snatching

 

How it works:

Rare, but this can happen if you leave your bag unattended.

It can happen at the airport, crowded markets, hotel lobbies, shopping malls, or from motorbikes zooming past.

 

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 (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Vacation rental fraud

Taipei

Taipei

 

How it works:

There are a couple of scams to watch out for here

  • Fraudulent accommodation platforms.
  • Fake / copied listings.
  • Ex tenants who copy keys of apartments and then pose as landlords.
  • Making false claims (e.g. having WIFI but turns out to not be the case).

Red flags to look out for:

  • 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 only by bank transfer off the booking platform (note: they will use names that include the original booking platform to make it seem like you are still dealing with the platform).
  • Or payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union / MoneyGram (sure sign of a scam as transfers are irreversible).
  • Owner is 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 Taiwan 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.
  • Finally, do not pay in full upfront and do not make payment off the platform.

 

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 Taiwan

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

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: rare. Street crime is minimal as well.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur.

 

What to do:

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

 

2. Medical care

Taiwan Veterans General Hospital.

Taiwan Veterans General Hospital. Source: 李 季霖 / Flickr

 

How it works:

Modern healthcare is available in Taiwan.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, dengue (in the south during summer), chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis, Lyme Disease, malaria, tick-borne encephalitis.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies, rubella.
  • Human borne disease: HIV, tuberculosis, hand, foot and mouth disease (peak in 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
  • Some travelers: 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:

  • Earthquakes and tsunamis: in an active seismic zone.
  • Cyclones: May to November, may trigger flooding and landslides.

 

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:

Roads conditions are good, though some factors to watch out for:

  • Congested city traffic.
  • Many scooters which weave in and out of traffic.
  • Mountain roads are windy and narrow

As for public transportation:

  • Rail and bus network are well developed, affordable, 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

Police. Source: 樂生院 / Flickr

 

  • Police: 110
  • Fire, ambulance: 119

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1 Comment

  1. Spamelope

    Close to the fisherman’s wharf in Tamsui, some restaurants charge a “cooking fee” of up to NT$150.00 for each course you order. This is not always transparent, so check before you order. Once you have placed you order, you will be charged – so beware! Apart from being a total rip-off, it could significantly add to your bill.

    Reply

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