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11 Most Common Tourist Scams in Dominican Republic

Safety at Santo Domingo, Higüey, Juan Dolio, Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, San Pedro de Macoris, Santa Barbara De Samana, Santiago de los Caballeros, Sosua, Rio San Juan, La Romana
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.

 

Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic

 

Out of all the Caribbean nations in North America, Dominican Republic is by far the most diverse.

The country is famous for its beautiful beaches, romantic settings, exquisite golf courses, upscale hotels, and stunning views of the mountains, bays, coves, and waterfalls. There are also thousands of things to do in this stunning country.

However, there are numerous scam artists waiting to make a quick buck off unsuspecting tourists.

If you want to protect yourself in the Dominican Republic, continue reading!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Unofficial / fake tour operators

Dominican republic tours

Image source: carnival.com

 

How it works:

When you visit the country, many unofficial travel and tour operators will try to talk to you and sell their travel packages.

There are many problems with such tour operators because they may not be registered and won’t have insurance. If you meet with an accident or something happens, you won’t be covered.

Sometimes, the tour operators will try to cut costs so that they can offer cheaper packages.

For example, if you take a snorkelling package, you will have to go to the sea without life jackets, which can be extremely dangerous.

There are also fake tour operators who will also ask for a down payment to make the necessary arrangements.

If you try contacting them, you will discover that the numbers are fake or that their office doesn’t exist.

These tour operators can put on a convincing act with a uniform, brochures, and even a company book.

 

What to do:

Avoid travel and tour operators who solicit aggressively.

Engage a licensed, reputable tour operator which you can find 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.
  • Viator: largest platform of day tours globally and in Dominican Republic.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

To determine if an operator is legitimate, ask these questions:

  • Is the operator licensed and is there a professional website, physical office, business email and working telephone number?
  • Are there online reviews? Do they sound legitimate?
  • Is the price too low to be true? What does it cover (vehicles, guides, safety, insurance, hidden fees, etc)?

When paying:

  • Avoid paying in full upfront unless through a reputable platform / operator.
  • If using an online platform, do not make payment off the platform.

If signing up for adventure tours:

  • Make sure to cover yourself with appropriate travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review).

 

2. Snatch theft

 

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.

 

3. Sanky Pankys

sanky-panky

Image source: nobultodom.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

Women traveling alone or in a small group should practice extreme caution when approached by lone males.

Sankies are male gigolos who operate in tourist spots such as bars, hotels, restaurants, shops, and beaches. They are master manipulators looking to steal money from unsuspecting women.

These Sankies will try to lure women with their charms and have the perfect relationship with them. They will tell women how beautiful they look or that they are extremely lucky to have met them.

If the victim is receptive, they will take them out for dances, lunch and dinner dates and parties. They may also try to introduce their family to the victims, to make the act look convincing.

Once they establish an intimate connection with their victims, they will begin exhorting money through various techniques (e.g asking you to pay their bills as they have lost their job or buy them new phones as they have lost theirs).

These sankies usually have more than two victims and may try to marry their victims so that they can obtain travel visas.

Once they are in the victim’s country, they will wait till things are going well before ending the marriage.

 

What to do:

If a lone male approaches you or your friend, proceed with great caution.

Should they ask you to pay for things, decline and steer away.

 

4. Pickpockets

Palm trees

 

How it works:

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions, hotels, nightspots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

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 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.

Generally, pickpockets here are teenagers.

 

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 around 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.

 

5. Spiked drinks

Dominican republic drinks

Image source: fmms.net

 

How it works:

These scam artists will wait at bars or any other popular drinking spot and pounce on unsuspecting victims (usually lone travelers or small groups of tourists as they are easier to manipulate).

They will either offer to buy you drinks or join your drinking session. They then wait till you visit the bathroom or when you are distracted to slip narcotics into your drink.

Once you consume the spiked drinks, they will take advantage of you and rob you of your belongings.

 

What to do:

When a stranger offers to buy you drinks, decline politely.

Also, watch how your drink is being made. Ideally, get a bottled or can drink as that is more difficult to be tampered with.

Do not flaunt your valuables – keep them in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Fake police and corrupt officials

 

How it works:

There are scam artists who pose as police officers to rob unsuspecting tourists and they are usually armed. 

Regardless whether you are walking on the streets or driving on the road, they will stop you, accuse you of breaking the law and then ask you to pay a fine.

Other times, they will set you up.

For instance, a stranger will shake your hand or slip narcotics into your pocket. A fake police officer will immediately arrive at the scene and arrest you for carrying narcotics.

There are also cases of fake officers asking tourists to follow them to the police station before robbing them.

However sometimes, even corrupt police officers partake in such scams.

 

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, and that they issue you a ticket.

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.

 

2. Unofficial / black market taxis

Dominican republic taxis

Image source: visitdominicanrepublic.org

 

How it works:

Happens everywhere in the world (e.g. UAE, Poland, Morocco), but in the Dominican Republic, you might find more scam artists using unmarked taxis to rob unsuspecting tourists.

They will wait at the airport or any other place frequently visited by tourists.

When they see you, they will offer to drop you to your destination at a cheap rate.

However, when the taxi stops at a signal, a motorcyclist will approach the taxi and steal your valuables.

Other times, the taxi will take you to a secluded spot before robbing you.

 

What to do:

Use only authorized taxi services. When you are at the airport, ask the officials to help you out.

Else, consider these other options:

  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platforms like Viator (largest globally and in Dominican Republic).
  • Book a rental car through AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee.
  • Use a taxi booking app like Uber.

Further, make sure to have 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.

 

3. Carros Publicos / route taxis thieves

Carros Publicos

Image source: exploredominicanrepublic.com

 

How it works:

Some public transport like the metro is safe, but others like the “carros publicos” or route taxis are not always safe.

These vehicles (usually banged up cars / minivans / small pick up trucks) look for tourists who are hitchhiking or want to save money.

They carry a couple of passengers at one go and are quite cheap.

Once you board such public transport vehicles, you might find yourself the target of pickpockets.

 

What to do:

You can take a private bus, tourist taxis, motorcycle taxi (motoconcho, but not always safe), but most importantly, it is essential to keep your valuables out of sight.

You can do so with a money belt or hidden pouch or an anti-theft bag, and make it impossible for thieves to steal from you.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Rigged ATMs / ATM robbery

 

How it works:

This is somewhat common in the country.

Criminals will stick pieces of paper or photographic film in the card reader of the ATM. When you insert your card, it will get stuck in the machine.

The criminals will either be nearby to try to see your PIN or will install a pinhole camera to capture your PIN. They then extract your card and will be able to use it.

Also, there are comprehensive credit and debit card scams. Insiders provide criminals with information from ATMs and card machines that function normally.

 

What to do:

If possible, don’t use your credit or debit card here. Withdraw all the cash you need before visiting the country as it is the safest option.

When you are withdrawing cash from ATMs, scan your surroundings for any suspicious characters. Avoid using in dark, secluded areas, but only in controlled spaces like in the banks.

Keep a close eye on your credit and debit cards if you have used them in the country. If there is any suspicious activity, block your cards immediately.

Also, 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.

 

2. Real estate scam

Dominican Republic resort

 

How it works:

As the Dominican Republic becomes a popular retirement destination, there are scam artists who pose as real estate agents.

Their modus operandi:

  • They deploy foreigners to engage you in restaurants and bars, to make the act more convincing.
  • You are offered a beautiful house / part of a property for an extremely low price.
  • They then bring and show you around the property.
  • Once you are happy, they ask for a large sum of money as down payment.
  • Should you try registering your newly acquired property, you will find that they are not the real owners.

Besides property acquisitions scams, there are fraudulent rental apartments listings as well, red flags include:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions, dodgy reviews.
  • Difference in photos provided and pictures on Google Street View.
  • Payment by foreign bank transfer off the booking platform / via Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • Emails with owner worded in poor English.
  • Owner is overseas and refuses to give a tour.

 

What to do:

If you plan to purchase property, engage a reputable firm / agent and lawyer.

As for rental apartments, only book via legitimate accommodation platforms such as

  • Booking.com: Frommer’s tests have found the site to offer the best selection and rates amongst competing sites most of the time.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Dominican Republic by staying with a local host!

Next, conduct due diligence such as:

  • Search online reviews and Google the names of the owner.
  • Call the phone number provided.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions.
  • Pretend something exists in the photos online and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.
  • Search if the property has another online presence and check to see if they are consistent.
  • Test the “landlord” by requesting for a tour – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the “landlord”.

Finally, do not pay in full upfront or make payment off the platform.

 

3. Money exchange scam

Image source: puntacanatravel.org

 

How it works:

Money exchange scams are increasingly common. Some scam artists will offer to exchange money on the street at a really good rate.

When you give them your cash, they will make a run for it.

Some money exchange places may also give you a slightly lower amount in the hopes that you don’t notice it.

When you try to count your money, they will try to distract you. Should you realize that you are shortchanged, the scammer will simply claim that it is due to some hidden / administrative charge.

 

What to do:

Always ask if any extra charges are levied and ask for a receipt before taking your money.

You should count your money in front of the bank teller before you step out, in case you didn’t get the right amount.

 

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: does occur (in large cities like Santo Domingo, at night, and when travelling to and from the Las Américas International Airport). Criminals can be armed.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: no recent history but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur. Labour strikes in town of Higuey near Punta Cana may affect hotel services.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, 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.

 

2. Medical care

Image source: ratehospitals.com

 

How it works:

Medical care is limited in Dominican Republic.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, chikungunya, dengue, malaria.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies, ciguatera poisoning.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV, 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, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, malaria, rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving bats).

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: occasional, can bring about tsunamis. The last major one was in 2010.
  • Hurricanes: June to November, can cause flash floods 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 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.
  • Hurricanes: stay indoors away from windows, do not use electrical appliances / equipment, do not head out and touch debris (more injuries / deaths happen after than during).

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Major roads in the Dominican Republic are in good condition but driving behaviour makes it dangerous.

A couple of factors to watch out for:

  • Dangerous driving, especially by motorbikes.
  • Drink driving.
  • Failure to adhere to traffic rules.
  • Lax enforcement of traffic rules.
  • Poor vehicle maintenance. Driving without lighting at night.
  • Missing manhole covers, potholes, uneven roads. Poor street lighting.
  • Lack of stop signs and road signage.
  • Squeezing four lanes of traffic onto two lane roads.
  • Heavy urban traffic.

Other safety concerns:

  • Guaguas (bus / van taxi), motoconchos (motorbike taxi) and carros publicos (route taxis) are not considered safe or reliable.

 

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:

  • Avoid public transport, especially at night.
  • Take official taxis booked by your hotel / hostel or bus lines run by reputable private companies.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Dominican republic tourist police

Image source: traveltradecaribbean.com

 

  • Ambulance: 911
  • Fire department: 911
  • Police: 911
  • Tourist police: 809-221-8697

Join the community!

Get protected!

3 Comments

  1. Venecia Lorenzo

    That can happen in any part of the world. Taxi in the Dominican Republic are safe, they carries ID, and they are not to many company.The public cars, or carritos, are very safe, it is not scam, they have, IDs and also they belong to a gremio.The samkin pamkies, if you are a adult and get involve with them it is you problem.

    Reply
  2. Antonio

    D’ont go yo Boca Chica restaurants and bars near de beach. They ríp off de tourists

    Reply
  3. Antonio

    D’ont go also un the barber shops/or massage salón (at least those le calle Conde) because some girls will offer you…things…(after payement) and than the other employes and chief will charge you again interrupting the session with the girl.
    And if you try call the Police they will do nothing.
    Welcome to the capitalism dominican repúblic way

    Reply

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