It seems to be a given that, while traveling, you will at some point run into a scam.
It may be an actual planned scam, or it may be a vendor simply giving you a higher price because you are obviously not from the area.
You can easily find long lists of the scams you may encounter. Some of them are dangerous, some nearly laughable. It’s a lot to remember.
One scam I’ve only been hearing about recently is the “friendship bracelet” scam.
It’s one I ran into last spring when I was in Athens, without having any prior knowledge of it.
I was wandering around near the Plaka area of Athens, just under the shadow of the Acropolis. There was a young man with a fistful of bracelets in the square I was walking through, and he started to talk to me as I went by.
At first, I tried to avoid talking to him. He was being a little pushy for my taste, and I didn’t want to stop and chat. Plus, his actions were making me feel like it was definitely the start of a scam.
But he pushed the issue, complaining that I was being rude, and saying that he works for a club nearby, and was only trying to drum up business for them.
Red flag #1: Don’t let someone guilt you into stopping and talking to them. Whether it is someone “just trying to do my job”, or a beggar woman with an infant, if you want to leave, or feel you should leave, just do it.
You should always make an effort to not be rude, but my rule of thumb is usually that if someone is rude to me, I have the right to be rude back, at least enough to remove myself from the situation.
So I chatted with him, heard his story, etc.
The claim was that he worked at a club nearby. He kept talking about a party that night, and how he was trying to get people to come for the party. He pulled a bracelet out of the bunch he had, and started to put it on my wrist.
Red flag #2: If the person is a stranger, the general rule is that nothing is free. I had sellers in the market who would give me extra fruit and veg for free when I was living in Ooty, but they were people who recognized me, and were treating me as a local.
However, I didn’t think that much about it, because as he was putting the bracelet on me, he kept saying that it was basically a wristband for this club he worked for, and all I had to do was show them the bracelet, and they’d let me in without the cover charge.
I told him that I wouldn’t be coming to the party, because I already had plans for the night (explore the city until I got tired/it got too late, then go back to the hostel and read. Those are plans, right?). He kept telling me to take the bracelet, basically saying that I may as well, in case my plans changed.
He tied a pretty firm knot, then started to ask me for money.
Ah…there it is.
I suppose you could consider this Red Flag 3, but at this point, it was probably beyond flags…
So there I was, wearing this bracelet that I’d not asked for, and faced with a very cross, pretty big guy, who was demanding money for the bracelet. And he didn’t just want a little bit of money. If I recall correctly, he was asking 10 euros for it.
I told him I wasn’t going to pay.
He said I had to.
We argued for some time, and I even started to undo the knots in the bracelet. He panicked a little at that, insisting that I had to keep it, because it was a sign of our friendship.
So I began to walk away.
He chased me for a while, still trying to convince me that I had to pay.
The interesting thing was, I was in the middle of this square, with loads of people passing by, with this big guy scolding me, but not a single person stopped. You always sort of expect that you’re safer when you are around a lot of people, but that isn’t necessarily true. People don’t want to get involved.
One thing I have learned is that, if you are facing someone you believe is scamming you, threatening to call the police will typically make them back down.
Personally, it would take a lot to get me to actually call the police for real. Getting the police involved while I am in another country is not something I want to do. But if you say it with confidence, while storming off at the same time, it at least makes them pause.
As I walked away, the man followed a little bit more, back on his earlier tack of “You’re being very rude!”
I snapped back that he was being rude, and continued to walk. Apparently I reached the edge of his “territory”, and he dropped back to try to drum up more business.
In all, it wound up being nothing but a somewhat amusing story. No harm done. And I hope that others in the square saw our exchange and managed to avoid him.
I’ll post more later about other scams I’ve run across while traveling.
Have you dealt with any scams in your travels? How did you deal with it?