13 Most Common Tourist Scams in Australia

Safety at Sydney, Melbourne, Lord Howe Island, Gold Coast, Magnetic Island, Noosa, Brisbane, Perth, Margaret River, Port Douglas, Airlie Beach, Adelaide, Canberra, Cairns, Hobart, Surfers Paradise, Darwin, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Townsville, Geelong, Bondi, Launceston, Ballarat, Fremantle, St Kilda, Wollongong, Toowoomba, Broadbeach, Port Macquarie, Manly, Coffs Harbour, Bendigo, Richmond, Fitzroy, Parramatta, Hamilton Island, Mandurah, Albany, Rockhampton, Canberra

Image source: YouTube – BookingHunterTV

 

G’day mate! Also known as the land down under, or the outback in Oceania, Australia is world renowned for the pristine beauty of its natural wonders and wide, open spaces.

As one of the most urbanised places in the world, Australia is also one of the safest countries in the world for travellers to be in.

However, complacency is the mark of the foolish, and it still pays to be careful in and around the country.

In fact, there are a number of scams which can be financially painful, so read on to find out more!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Tickets bought by stolen credit cards and sold at a discount

Image source: sbs.com.au

 

How it works:

This is a very recent scam targeted at Chinese tourists, as the scam is perpetrated on WeChat, a Chinese social media app / portal.

However, it is still one to be wary of for all tourists as this can easily migrate to other platforms.

There have been reports of multiple tourist attractions in Sydney (e.g Harbour Bridge), Victoria (e.g. Eureka Skydeck, Sovereign Hill, Peninsula Hot Springs, Phillips Island Nature Park) and New South Wales suffering from this.

Their tickets are bought by organized crime syndicates with stolen credit cards and then sold at a discount by Chinese criminals (e.g. real students, Chinese on student visas, etc) on social media.

As these attractions wise up to this scam, many of them are now manually checking tickets and requesting for personal identification along with tickets.

If they do not match, the affected, innocent tourist will unfortunately be turned away.

Do note that it’s not just tourist attractions which are being targeted. Popular events such as Sydney’s Easter Show or Victoria’s Spring Racing Carnival have also been targeted.

 

What to do:

If the price of a ticket is too good to be true, it probably is.

 

2. Rouge tour operators

Image source: australia.com

 

How it works:

This is a problem everywhere around the world (e.g. China, USA, etc).

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources found in a study that Chinese tourists were being ripped off by shady tour operators who exploit their lack of familiarity with English.

For instance, there have been cases where operators charged tourists $100 each to walk on Bondi Beach, which is free.

They do so just by pointing to a random sign and claim that is the fee stipulated by the government.

In other similarly ludicrous cases, tourists have been charged for having their photographs taken in front of tourist attractions, such as the Sydney Opera House or the Parliament House.

They were also provided accommodation which did not live up to initial promises. Or provided accommodation in areas where the tours operators’ associates have their shops at.

Many of these tours promise luxury but are nothing of the sorts.

Be especially careful of trips which seem really cheap. This is because they are likely to involve long bus journeys with little activity and at places where the operators get a kickback.

 

What to do:

Book tours only with reputable agencies / operators.

 

3. Pub crawl organization scam

Image source: wickedclubcrawl.com.au

 

How it works:

There have been reports of this at Surfers Paradise, where tourists were sold a high priced wristband.

This wristband was claimed to allow the user free entry to all clubs at Surfers Paradise and a welcome drink. The starting price they offer is between $100-$200.

However, if you were to negotiate or to walk away, the price would drop rapidly to between $50-$75.

Note however, that the price point is not the scam. The real scam is that for most clubs, entry is free before 10pm.

After that, there is no free entry even if you have the wristbrand.

 

What to do:

Do not buy this wristband.

 

4. Fake monks scam

 

How it works:

Just like in Canada or the UK, there are fake monks roaming around in Sydney.

Some of them might ask for donations, while some might forcefully hand you a charm and demand a donation.

 

What to do:

Do not accept anything or you will be hounded for payment.

 

5. Mildura “fruit-picking” scam

 

How it works:

In Mildura, there is an infamous farm owner “Don”, who offers fruit picking jobs to backpackers.

At his farm, backpackers are lured in by promises of high pay, but in reality are paid pittances while having to pay Don an exorbitant upfront fee before starting the job.

Check out this article for an experience of a victim who couldn’t have said it better.

There are of course good farmers / farm stays, but there have been reports of several bad ones as well. So it is paramount to do some research before taking up any offers.

 

What to do:

Only work for reputable ones, find them through some online research.

 

6. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Although not as bad a problem as in Spain or Italy, you still have to watch out for pickpockets in crowded places in SydneyBrisbane and Canberra.

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 / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another will 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 in a crowded environment.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • 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 securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead instead of the actual one.

 

 

7. “Tax-free” outlets

 

How it works:

Be especially wary when you see shopping trips to tax-free outlets advertised.

This is because there have been many reports of trips to mere suburban warehouses where prices are inflated.

 

What to do:

Do a quick Google search to verify, or check with your hotel / hostel on where to go shopping at (depending on what you want to buy).

 

8. Forced purchase scam

 

How it works:

There have been reports where tour operators have kept passports / travel documents of tourists.

These are only released when a certain amount is spent at the bogus, back street shops which they bring you to.

 

What to do:

Only book your tours through a legitimate, reputable agency / operator.

Also, do not pass them your essential documents before or during the tour as there is no reason for them to collect the documents.

Report to the authorities if you ever find yourself in such a situation (police number at the end of the article).

 

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging / long hauling taxi drivers

Image source: governmentnews.com.au

 

How it works:

What’s new? You can find rogue taxi drivers all over the world, especially at airports, and many have been reported at Sydney.

Drivers may claim that the meter is down, or take a longer route to your destination.

Some may claim that their EFTPOS terminals aren’t working, and swipe your credit card through the old fashioned manual machine (seems to be common in Melbourne).

If you are not looking, he can easily flip your card and note the 3 digit number behind it for future use.

Finally, there have even been cases of drivers using receipts from earlier trips with higher fare and then charging you for it.

 

What to do:

Before travelling, research the rough price it will cost to take a cab from the airport to your accommodation. You can do so by using online taxi fare estimators, Uber, or check with your hotel staff.

Avoid paying with a credit card as well. However, if you have no cash on hand and had your credit card swiped through that machine, do remember to check your credit card statement.

Also, keep your original receipt so that you can contest such charges if needed.

Examples of fraud companies that have been reported on credit card statements to look out for: Black / Yellow Taxis Nth Melbourne AU; Cab Account Aust Brunswick AU

Finally, do check your receipt at the end of a trip.

If needed, take a photo of car plate number and the driver’s license so that you can identify the driver if anything goes wrong.

 

2. Vehicle break-in / snatch theft

 

How it works:

Although Australia is not renowned for petty crime, car break-ins or snatch thefts do occur if you are not careful (e.g. at King Cross).

if you leave your valuables lying around in your vehicle exposed, an opportunistic thief can grab it easily through your car window, or break-in when you are not around.

 

What to do:

Ideally, leave your luggage in the hotel or if in transit, keep it hidden in the boot.

Do not leave any valuables or items marking you out as a tourist lying around exposed in the car.

Instead, keep your valuables hidden securely either in an anti-theft bag or a money belt or hidden pouch that you can carry around.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Kangaroo essence

 

How it works:

Claimed to be made of the testicles and penis of kangaroos, this is frequently promoted to tourists as a product for sexual enhancement.

However, the many claims of its benefits are as yet unproven. FDA laboratory analysis further warned that:

Australia Kangaroo Essence contains sildenafil, the active ingredient in the FDA approved prescription drug Viagra, used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED).

 

This undeclared ingredient may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs such as nitroglycerin and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

 

Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates.

 

What to do:

Avoid buying / using.

 

2. Timeshare scam

 

How it works:

Timeshare scams happen almost everywhere around the world (e.g. Thailand, Hong Kong, etc) – the difference lies in how it is executed.

In Australia, timeshare scammers operate at the major theme parks such as Movie World or Sea World at Gold Coast.

They dress up to look like park staff which many people fall for, and then tell you that a certain ride is down.

In the meantime, they ask if you would like to try out a scratch card and win a prize as “compensation”.

Next, you obviously win, but to redeem the award, you will have to head down to their office with them.

Over there, you will be kept for 90 minutes to undergo a timeshare presentation and subject to high pressure sales tactics.

 

What to do:

Timeshare options are almost never a good idea, avoid.

 

3. General crime at entertainment areas

 

How it works:

More of a crime and less of a scam, this is still something to take note of, due to Australia’s boozy culture.

Generally, the country is safe. However, in and around entertainment areas such as Sydney’s Kings Cross, downtown George Street, Hyde Park and Centennial Park as well as Alice Springs, there have been reports of bar brawls, robberies, harassments, assaults, spiked drinks and what have you.

 

What to do:

Besides avoiding these areas, it is best to keep your cash safe and secure.

Only carry small amounts of cash around with you in a cheap, spare wallet. Avoid carrying the purse or wallet in the back pocket.

For other valuable, either hide them in a money belt or hidden pouch, or store them in your hotel / hostel safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: murrayvalleystandard.com.au

 

  • Police / fire / ambulance: 000
  • SES assistance in floods and storms: 132 500
  • Police assistance: 131 444 (all states except Victoria)
  • International incident emergency helpline: 1300 555 135 (within Australia)
  • Outside Australia – external site: +61 2 6261 3305

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2 Comments

  1. Ros Bromwich

    Beware of those rouge tour operators!

    Reply
  2. Graham

    The Kangaroo essence is the tip of the iceberg of many fake vitamin products, others include swisse chlorophyll and nature’s way vita gummies just to name a few that have no real evidence for being true to how they are marketed, vitamins are policed by the thereaputic good administration (TGA) which only goes on a trust based system that these companies hold evidence to support how these products are marketed, thus they can get away with selling “snake oil” its better off if you do very hard research if you want to purchase these items

    Reply

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