Beware these tourist traps

Vanished Booking

"Three years ago, I booked my dream holiday to Cape Town, South Africa, through a South African tour operator. I paid for everything - close to S$10,000 - before I left Singapore. When I arrived at the hotel there, I was told that my reservation didn't exist because of a tecÚ ical error, and that there weren't any available rooms because the hotel was fully booked - it was Christmas season. So were all the other hotels nearby.

After kicking up a fuss, I was given a room in the basement of a home belonging to a friend of the tour operator.

One of the hotel staff secretly told me later that the hotel was probably in cahoots with the tour operator, and likely gave my room to a family because it would have been more lucrative for them - the hotel charged on a per-person basis.

When I returned to Singapore, I engaged a lawyer in South Africa to take action against the hotel and tour operator, and the case was settled out of court eight months later. I did get some money back, but when you factor in the lawyer's fees, it just wasn't worth it. I now handle all my holiday bookings myself instead of going through third parties."

– Ella Sherman, 32, property consultant

Don’t stop for surveys

"I was walking through an open-air market in Barcelona a few years ago when a handsome guy stopped me. He told me that he represented a local travel company and wanted my help with a survey. I obliged, putting my tote and shopping bags on the ground. The survey lasted just under 10 minutes. After thanking me for my time, the guy walked off and I continued browsing around the market.

A stall owner approached me seconds later and asked me to check that my wallet was still in my bag - apparently, the guy was a known scammer in the area. When I rummaged through my bag, I realised that my wallet was gone - I'd probably been pickpocketed by the guy's accomplice. I lost two credit cards, my driver's license, three ATM cards and the equivalent of S$1,000."

– Pauline*, 29, web developer

Hotel horror

"In 2010, my friend and I went to Hanoi, Vietnam. We booked and paid for our accommodation before we left Singapore. When we got to the airport in Hanoi, we were met by a guy who told us that he was sent by the hotel to pick us up. He said that we'd have to stay elsewhere because the hotel was undergoing renovations - he even drove past a building covered in scaff olding, claiming that that was the hotel. We were taken to a similar-looking 'sister hotel', where the room cost each of us an extra US$20 (S$25) per night.

The next day, after doing research online, we found out that the hotel we had booked was not undergoing renovations and did not have a 'sister hotel'. We were fuming and checked out immediately. The hotel wouldn't refund the US$40 we'd paid, and because of the language barrier, we didn't bother arguing with them; we just left." - Amanda Chia, just left."

- Amanda C 38, graphic designer

Credit card scam

"On my second night in a four-star hotel in Boston, I received a phone call to my room at around 5am. A friendly voice told me that she was calling from the front desk and needed to verify my credit card number for administrative purposes. I was foggy with sleep and gave it to her - along with the three-digit security code - without thinking twice.

A week later, during check-out, my card was declined - it'd been maxed out.

When I told the front desk manager about the call I had received, she told me that it's not hotel policy to get credit card information over the phone - and I knew I'd been scammed. Back in Singapore, I discovered that several big transactions in Los Angeles had been made using my card. As I could prove that I was in Boston at the time of those transactions, the bank reimbursed my money - roughly US$2,000 - but it took several weeks to get it back."

- Lydia*, 28, sales executive

Fake cop

"My boyfriend and I were cruising on our rented motorbike in Bangkok when we noticed a car with a fl ashing blue light on its dashboard following us. When we pulled over at the side of the road, a man got out of the car and approached us. He told us that he was an undercover cop, and insisted that we paid, on the spot, a fi ne of about S$100 for speeding or get arrested at the airport when we left Bangkok.

Shaken, we gave him the money. Th e front desk staff at our hotel later told us that because the 'cop' had not shown us any identifi cation or given us a speeding notice in writing, it was probably a scam."

- Mavis*, 26, teacher

*Names have been changed.


Alicia Seah, senior vice- president of marketing and public relations at CTC Travel, shares tips on how to travel safe.

1. If you're not sure whether the item you're buying is genuine, don't buy it at all. Only visit legitimate and authorised shops, or ensure that the shops you go to have a return policy.

2. If you are approached by a "cop" and asked to pay a fi ne, just pay it and leave the area quickly. These con artists may have accomplices hiding nearby, waiting to ambush you.

3. Ask your concierge for recommendations on local attractions - he will likely suggest areas and stores that have a good reputation.

4. Be street-smart, especially when travelling in developing countries. Try to blend in with the locals - when you look and act like a tourist, you are an easy target.

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