13 Most Common Tourist Scams in Australia

Safety at Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney
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.

 

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

 

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 being a target of this scam.

Their tickets are bought by organized crime syndicates with stolen credit cards and then sold at a discount 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 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.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Viator (largest globally and in Australia).

 

2. Rouge tour operators

Bondi beach

Bondi beach

 

How it works:

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, by pointing to a random sign claiming 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.

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 cheap – it likely involves long bus journeys with little activity and at places where the operators get a kickback.

 

What to do:

Engage a licensed, reputable tours and activities 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 Australia with low price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operators: 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.
  • If using an online platform, do not make payment off the platform.

 

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 with good reviews.

 

6. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Although not as bad as in Spain or Italy, you still have to watch out in crowded places in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, and in Cairns.

A non-exclusive list of pickpocket hotspots include:

  • Crowded streets: Sydney’s George Street, the Rocks, Canberra’s Capital Hill.
  • Train stations, transportation hubs: Sydney’s Kings Cross, Melbourne’s St. Kilda, on trams.
  • Markets, shopping malls
  • Tourist attractions: Bondi Beach, Hyde Park, Centennial Park, Gold Coast, Darling Harbour
  • Hotels, restaurants
  • Nightspots

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 you a question / survey / drop something and ask you).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and 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:

  • 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) which covers loss of valuables such as electronics, passport, etc.

 

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

If you find researching too time-consuming, other options available include:

  • Using local connections: get a local to bring you around.
  • Shopping tour through Viator (largest platform of day tours globally and in Australia): get a professional guide to bring you around.

 

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

Melbourne city

Melbourne city

 

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 estimate the fair price of any route by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like GoCatch, Uber, Taxify, Ola, DiDi, HOP, InGoGo.

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.

In fact, 10 seconds are all that they need.

 

What to do:

Ideally, park your car in a paid lot that has security cameras instead of in open car parks.

Also, back your car into the parking lot to make opening the trunk difficult.

Even when you are in the car, ensure that your car doors are locked and windows are up.

Do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

Finally, get travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet) for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any loss of valuables.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

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:

Don’t waste your time.

The prize you win, will likely a stay at one of the timeshare resorts, subject to many onerous terms and conditions of course.

 

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 / apartment safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

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

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: occurs, but not targeted at tourists. Watch out more for petty crime and scams.
  • Hazards: drunks and racists in certain suburbs.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: threat remains with several plots disrupted over the years.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur.

 

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: rah.sa.gov.au

 

How it works:

High standards of medical care.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, dengue, Japanese Encephalitis.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV.

 

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.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis (outdoor activities, remote areas), rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving 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: may occur as the country is located in a seismic zone.
  • Bush fires: October to April, when there is little rainfall.
  • Flooding: may happen without warning.
  • Cyclones: November to April, generally in the coastal areas of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.
  • Dust storms: regular, but only in outback areas.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance 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.
  • Bush fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.
  • Cyclones: 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).
  • Sand / dust storm:
    • On foot: wear a mask (or use shirt sleeve), cover eyes, seek shelter (building / landform / camel) / high ground (if no lightning), don’t move through the storm.
    • In vehicle: if no visibility, pull off road, turn headlines, brake lights and turn signals off. If can’t pull off, keep lights on, move slowly and sound horn periodically.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Driving conditions are safe, and the public transportation system is efficient and extensive.

However, a couple of factors to watch out for:

  • Roads and streets are generally narrow.
  • Highways are generally two lane roads with great distances between adjacent points.
  • You might encounter wild animals along roads in rural areas.
  • Be wary of road trains.
  • May encounter unexpected hazards in remote outback areas.
  • Inclement weather may cause certain roads to be inaccessible.

 

What to do:

Make sure your travel insurance covers travel accidents.

Driving:

  • Only get a rental car 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.

 

E. 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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