24 Most Common Tourist Scams in Jamaica

Safety at Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Kingston, Negril, Falmouth, Port Antonio, Runaway Bay, Treasure Beach, Hopewell, Rose Hall, Discovery Bay, Ironshore, St. Ann’s Bay, Silver Sands, Portmore, Mandevivlle, Mammee Bay, Tower Isle, Duncans, Sandy Bay

 

Image source: jamaicainn.com

 

As the country that gave us Bob Marley and Usain Bolt, Jamaica has much to offer.

It is one of the most beautiful countries in the Caribbean, with miles of stunning beaches, adventures and water sports, exotic fauna and flora, unique cuisine, culture, history, art and music all amalgamating into one captivating Caribbean experience.

However, Jamaica also has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and does see many cases of crime. Thankfully, much of these are directed amongst local gangs, and not towards tourists.

That said, it still pays to be cautious in navigating safely in the country and avoiding tourist targeted scams here.

Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Unofficial tour guides

Image source: jamaicaexquisitetours.com

 

How it works:

You may be approached by local people suggesting places of interest which they could show you, and which you cannot find from your hotel room or from official guides.

He will insist on taking you to some hidden nice place promising to bring you back. On the way, he may be joined by someone else.

You may find yourself being taken to some place like a secluded bar from where you cannot trace your way back.

When you insist on being taken back, perhaps even after paying for their drinks, they will demand to be paid for the tour first.

The payment demands can be quite outrageous, at times as high as 4,000 Jamaican Dollars or 35$. That like a week’s earning in Jamaica for a 20 minute unsolicited guided tour!

While they may seem very friendly at first, if you don’t reward them well for their help after the tour, they could become very intimidating and may be supported by others in the bar.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline.

Also, avoid carrying too many valuables out, store them in your hotel / resort / apartment which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

2. Aggressive street touts

Image source: YouTube – Falmouth News

 

How it works:

There are many Jamaicans who make a living selling hand-made tourist merchandize or selling a service.

Some of them can be very persistent. Some may follow you as you walk around or even try to force you into their stall.

For a service like hair braiding they are even known too demand double the amount initially agreed to once the service has been given.

Others will join insisting you pay the demanded amount with even some men joining in to intimidate you.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline.

 

3. Renta-Rasta or Renta-Dreds

 

How it works:

Many women come for casual relationships in Jamaica, what is known as “renta dreds” or “renta-rasta”.

Here the woman gets casual male companionship for which the woman pays cash or in gifts in return for the service.

Because of this, a female traveling alone may be approached by men who assuming she is seeking a casual relationship, “renta-rasta”, especially in resorts at Negril.

 

What to do:

Ideally, travel in groups, especially at night.

 

4. Illegal drugs

Image source: thedailychronic.net

 

How it works:

The use of drugs like marijuana (and other drugs like heroin and cocaine) in Jamaica is quite well-known, yet they are illegal.

When visiting the island, you will invariably be approached by someone offering you marijuana (“ganja”).

Although possession has changed from being a criminal offense to being a civil one now, having two ounces or more is still illegal and can lead to arrest. While having two ounces or less will lead to a fine.

And if caught carrying some out of the country, you will be charged with trafficking of drugs.

 

What to do:

Avoid.

 

5. Street pickpockets / robberies

 

How it works:

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

Examples include: Hip Strip clubs, bars, around Montenegro Bay, Negril, Mandeville and Ocho Rios.

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 will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another will block, 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 / coat / newspaper and then escapes with it.

 

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 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, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get travel insurance so even if all else fails, you are still protected.

To control crime, tourist police (in black pants, white shirts and white hats) have been deployed in touristy locations.

 

6. Beach hustlers and scammers

Image source: pshanson

 

How it works:

While at the beach (e.g. Seven Mile Beach), you may find several touts coming over to disturb your peace.

There are even scammers who may try to charge you for sitting at beach chairs.

 

What to do:

Decline and ignore.

However do take care of your valuables. We highly recommend storing them in either an anti-theft bag or a portable safe that can be locked down to an immovable object.

This way, you can even head to the water without worrying about your valuables.

 

7. Contest scam

 

How it works:

There are many “contest and win” scams in Jamaica. You may find them peddled at tourist attractions such as at Dunns River Falls or Dune Buggy Tour.

Should you participate in a contest here, you may soon enough get a call informing you that you have a won an 80% paid one-week vacation.

For the remaining 20%, they will ask you to put down your credit card before they can confirm the trip.

Once you pay, your calls will get ignored, and communication through emails or the website will not work.

 

What to do:

Do not enter such contests.

 

8. Overcharging restaurants

Image source: kayasf.com

 

How it works:

There are many ways you can be overcharged at a restaurant:

  • Only shown tourist menus with higher prices; or menus with no prices..
  • Hidden / small footnotes in another language about additional fees and charges.
  • Deceptive pricing based on weight.
  • Underweighting food items that go by weight.
  • Not providing an itemized bill and adding items you did not order.

 

What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive touts.

Check online or with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places to eat at.

 

9. Drink spiking

Image source: YouTube – !TRavel-Videos @

 

How it works:

At bars, nightclubs or private parties, they may use drugs on you and then rob or sexually assault you.

Assaults by hotel employees have been reported happening in resorts along the north coast.

 

What to do:

Do not accept any drinks that you have not seen made in front of you.

Also, do not leave your drink unattended as this gives a scammer time to slip something into it.

Choosing canned or bottled drinks is a good choice as it is more difficult for someone to put a sedative inside.

Finally, do not flaunt your valuables. Leave them in your hotel / hostel safe room which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Public transport pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded transportation hubs with confused tourists and crowded buses to and from the airport and tourist attractions 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 the target (e.g. ask a question / survey / drop something and ask you).
  • A third steals your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes with it.

 

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 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, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get travel insurance so even if all else fails, you are still protected.

Other transportation tips:

  • Avoid traveling at night by public bus.
  • Only take minibuses with a JTB (Jamaica Tourism Board) sticker displayed on the windscreen.
  • Same for taxis, only use those approved by the JTB – recognizable by their red licence number plated starting with PPV.

 

2. One way ride scam

Image source: jamaica-star.com

 

How it works:

You may be approached by a young Jamaican with an offer to take a canoe or moped ride to a popular tourist site.

After arrival, he will insist you must pay more money for him to take you back as you only paid for one way.

 

What to do:

Agree clearly on the price and that it is two way. Note that even after agreement, rogue ones can still renege on the agreement.

 

3. Hotel taxi scam

Image source: roadaffair.com

 

How it works:

Unfortunately in Jamaica, it may not be a good idea to book your taxi from the hotel desk.

The hotel staff usually earns a commission from the taxis and to scare you from seeking other taxis, they will tell you harrowing stories of tourists being robbed.

They take advantage of your perceived fear being in a strange land. You may end up paying double what you would have paid for a taxi on the street outside the hotel or resort.

 

What to do:

Only take those taxis that are Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA) approved when on the Jamaican streets.

You can recognize them easily as they have a JUTA sticker prominently displayed on the windscreen and a red license number plate.

Remember to bargain before the ride and come to an agreement on the currency, the price, and that is for it is for the whole ride, not per pax.

 

4. Unlicensed taxis

 

How it works:

These are not only illegal but are also not metered rarely carry any insurance cover. In case of accidents, there is no way of seeking redress.

What they like to do is to entice you by offering a cheap rate. Once you get on however, you might find yourself brought to a secluded place with a higher fare demanded.

There is also a risk of robbery or sexual assault.

 

What to do:

Avoid.

 

5. Overcharging taxis

Image source: jamaicanrastafarian2

 

How it works:

There are several ways a taxi can overcharge, for instance:

  • Charging an inflated flat fare
  • Taking the scenic route to extend your trip fare
  • Driving into traffic jams to extend your trip fare
  • Adding a bag fee
  • Claiming the fare should be denominated in a more expensive currency
  • Or claiming the fare should be per pax, not for the whole group of passengers

 

What to do:

Always negotiate the fare before getting into a taxi. Agree on the currency, price, and that it is for the taxi, not per pax.

To estimate the fair price for any route, check with your hotel / hostel staff, use an online taxi fare estimator, or use a taxi app such as Get There, Cool Ryds or Ride Jamaica.

 

6. Corrupt traffic police

 

How it works:

Like other countries like in the Caribbean (e.g Dominican republic), you may encounter corrupted officers along the route from the airport to town.

For instance, you may be stopped for supposedly over-speeding.

The traffic police will threaten to issue an arrest warrant that would lead to your detention in Jamaica or prevent you from ever returning to Jamaica if you didn’t pay a fine.

 

What to do:

If you drive, follow all laws and make sure to bring your driving license along.

Hide your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This will allow you to negotiate the bribe down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Rouge money changer

Image source: jamaicaexperiences.com

 

How it works:

Rogue money exchanges are common globally (e.g. Argentina, Poland, Indonesia).

In Jamaica, tourists can get scammed in two ways.

Firstly, if you hand the money changer 5 notes of $20 each for instance:

  • The scammer will throw them into a huge pile on his desk and then pretend to count them.
  • He will claim that you only gave 4 notes as he has already hidden one note.
  • You will know for sure you gave 5 notes but there is nothing you can do about it.

The second way is for an accomplice to distract you:

  • They will give less notes than the exchange rate requires. Should you do a recount and find it out, the money changer will take the money back to recount.
  • The accomplice will distract you now so that the money changer can take some notes out.
  • He then passes you the missing amount in a separate pile, hoping that you would not recount the first stack of notes.

 

What to do:

Only change at legitimate places, such as official money exchange sites, at the bank, the airport or your hotel reception.

When changing, watch carefully, and always recount.

 

2. Hotel break-in

 

How it works:

There have been reports of hotel and resort robberies at night as tourists slept in their rooms.

 

What to do:

Always lock all windows and for doors, deadbolt it and put on the security latch. Also lock up all your valuables in the safe.

To further secure your room and safe, consider using hotel safety tools such as a portable safe, a hotel safety lock, an extra door lock or a door motion alarm.

Finally, get travel insurance for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any losses.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

3. Kidnapping

 

How it works:

Like in Mexico, kidnappings in Jamaica are carried out by different players for different motives and with varying degrees of professionalism.

Some target individuals of high value who use sophisticated methods of collecting information, surveillance, snatching, and holding.

They will then contact your family for huge ransom amounts.

The other variation are express kidnappings, where gangs may kidnap a random tourist with the goal of using your credit cards or draining your bank account using your ATM cards.

 

What to do:

Avoid the danger zones such as:

  • Montego Bay: Flankers, Cantebury, Norwood, Barret Town, Glendevon, Clavers Street, Mt Salem, and Hart Street.
  • Kingston: Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, West Kingston, Grant’s Pen, Arnett Gardens, Denham Town, Harbour View, August Town, Denham Town, Hannah Town, Mountain View, and Cassava Piece.
  • Spanish Town

Also, avoid carrying too many valuables out. Leave them in your hotel / resort / apartment and secure them further with hotel safety tools.

Finally, we stress again the need to get travel insurance for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any losses.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

4. LGBTQ safety

Image source: observer.com – Paula Duran

 

How it works:

Not technically a scam, but a safety issue to be careful of.

Jamaica is gay unfriendly and very homophobic. Harassment, violence, acts of arson and even murder of gay activists is not uncommon.

You will not get impartial assistance from the authorities either as they too discriminate or are derogatory against those who have different sexual orientations.

 

What to do:

Avoid any displays of affection in public places if you belong to the LGBTQ community.

 

5. Rigged ATM / ATM robbery

 

How it works:

Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

 First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • As for the pinhole camera / keypad overlay, it is used to capture your PIN but in different ways.

Second, the card trap:

  • Scammers can use cheap tools to rig the card slot to trap your card.
  • When you find your card stuck, they will come over and act as a helpful soul, and ask you to retype your PIN to make the card come out.
  • Obviously, your card will still be trapped, but the scammer will have now seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank or somewhere else to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only those in controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area as well for any suspicious looking characters, and cover your PIN when typing it in.

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.

 

6. Credit card skimming

 

How it works:

Skimming rings here have been known to recruit restaurant staff to skim customers’ credit card.

They then either use your information to buy stuff, or sell your information to other crooks.

 

What to do:

Avoid leaving your credit card out of sight when making payment. Also check that it has not been swiped twice.

If you feel something is amiss, check your credit card statement or check with your bank.

 

7. Fake beggars

Image source: jamaica-gleaner.com

 

How it works:

There are fake beggars in Jamaica who are fully bodied yet will feign disabilities, as there is a legislative gap that allows them to thrive.

They have mastered the art of contorting their bodies to appear disabled but if you follow them after the begging you would notice them walking away healthily with all limbs intact.

You will find them along the Half Way Tree area.

 

What to do:

Avoid donating.

 

8. Land sale scam

 

How it works:

There is an infamous scammer called Rico Fullerton in Jamaica who approaches tourists and claims that he has land to sell.

Should you fall for it, you will come to discover that you got fake land documents on your hands when you visit the lands office to pay land taxes.

 

What to do:

Decline such offers. If you wish to buy, go through official sources instead.

 

9. Lottery scams

 

How it works:

This is one extremely notorious scam that targets US citizens. But it can happen to anyone during or after your stay in Jamaica, and the extortion can go on for weeks.

This scam involves scammers posing as officials from betting companies like Lotto who call to inform you that you have won a huge sum.

All you need to claim the prize is to part with a small processing fee, to be paid via Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot prepaid card.

Your contact details are usually bought from call centers, hotel receptionists, bank tellers, drivers, the police, and others who may have come into contact with your personal details officially.

Those who refuse to pay the processing fees may get threatening messages such as describing your home and telling you they will find you there.

 

What to do:

Ignore such calls and be careful whenever you are asked to provide personal particulars.

 

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: high levels of drug and gang related violence, not targeted at tourists but you may be caught in one.
  • Hazards: marijuana use is widespread.
  • Hotspots: inner city neighborhoods of Kingston and Montego Bay.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations can occur.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim.

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Avoid these hotspots unless necessary:

  • Kingston: downtown (Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Arnett Gardens), Standpipe, Grants Pen, Cassava Piece.
  • Montego Bay: Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, Hart Street.
  • Spanish Town
  • Mountain View area on the route between Kingston and Norman Manley International Airport (use Humming Bird route instead).

 

2. Medical care

Image source: loopjamaica.com

 

How it works:

There are good medical facilities in tourist areas and in Kingston, but it is limited elsewhere.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, chikungunya, dengue.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, leptospirosis.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies, ciguatera poisoning.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV, tuberculosis.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance, 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, 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: in an active seismic zone. Earthquakes can trigger tsunamis.
  • Hurricanes: June to November, can trigger flooding and landslides, especially in mountainous areas.

 

What to do:

Check the latest media reports and weather forecast. Three good sources are:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting adequate travel insurance protection.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road conditions are adequately safe along coastal areas, but less so in the interior, a couple of factors to watch out for:

  • Speeding and not adhering to traffic rules.
  • Drink driving.
  • Poorly maintained, narrow, winding roads.
  • Unlit roads.
  • Weather conditions can make certain roads impassable.

 

What to do:

Check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

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

Again, we can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance in case anything goes wrong.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: loopjamaica.com

 

  • Ambulance and fire: 110
  • Police: 119

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