For many travelers, no trip is complete without a visit to the local bars. Local bars are a great place to engage with the locals, find the best places to eat and shop, and lets you really get to know the people at your destination. However, not everyone in bars is there to make new friends. Some people in bars, on both sides of the counter, are out to relieve people of their cash and if you’re not careful, you could be next.
Just remember that many times these scams have been well-rehearsed, and there’s no way to catch them all. Try not to get too upset and focus your energy on mitigating your losses. Sometimes you just have to take a loss as a lesson learned. Here are some scams common scams and tips on how to avoid them.
You’re walking down the street in a city that you’re visiting and you bump into a guy. After a short conversation, he says that he knows a really cool bar and the first round is on him. You go to the bar and he orders the first round, while you chat it up. He says that he has to go to the restroom and to order another round. After a while, you notice that he hasn’t come back yet. That’s when the bar says that you owe an exorbitant tab. And that’s how they get you. Don’t expect much sympathy from the bar because there’s a good chance that they are in on the scam.
You and your friend leave your hotel and jump into a taxi. This is your first time in the city and you don’t know where to go, so you ask the driver for a suggestion. The driver drops you and your friend off at a nondescript bar that he assures you is the best in town. You have a couple of drinks and decide to head somewhere else because the place is pretty dead. You get the bill and it’s extremely high for the couple of drinks that you and your buddy ordered. Now you’re being walked to an ATM by a rather large local to get the money to pay the bill.
You’re sitting at the bar and an attractive local comes and sits by you. You talk for a little while and she asks if you can if she can have a drink. You say yes and she tells bartender her order in the local language that you don’t speak. You talk for a while longer, have a few more drinks, and now you’re ready to leave. You get the check and it’s outrageous. If you don’t have the money, this is probably going to end with a burly local walking you to an ATM.
You stop at a bar (open-air bars are prime for this scam) for quick mid-day drink to beat the heat. You’re scrolling through your phone looking at the pictures that you took earlier that day. You are approached by a man selling watches, a woman with a petition, a child asking for money, or someone wants you to have a friendship bracelet (there are too many versions to keep going, but you get the picture). You put your phone down to try on the watch, sign the petition, give the child money, or let them tie the bracelet. You finish, they thank you, and when you turn back around your phone is gone.
You’re out at the bar having a good time. While you play pool with some people you met earlier, you have a couple of drinks. The next thing you know you wake up in your hotel room the next morning with a headache. Maybe you had one too many last night. You check your phone and the first thing you notice is the emails from your credit card company about the huge amounts charged to your card in the last 24 hours.
Everyone loves a good drink, but don’t overdo it. Even more so if you are in an area that you are not familiar with. Drinking too much can make you an easy mark for scammers. If you’re visibly drunk, you could also be making yourself a more likely target.
Cash and Carry
Pay for your drinks in cash and pay each time you order. Using your card makes life easier, but especially when you’re drinking, it also makes it easier to forget your card or miss fraudulent charges.
Price Up Front
Ask the price of the drinks before you order. Definitely do this if you’re thinking about buying a drink for the cute girl that has been chatting you up. There’s a chance that she actually works for the bar and her drink prices may be significantly higher than yours.
Know Where You’re Going
Know where you want to go before you get in a taxi. Taxi drivers sometimes get kickbacks from some clubs or bars for dropping off passengers there. These clubs and bars may not be the most reputable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had taxi drivers put me on to some real gems. But from a general safety standpoint, it’s better to know where you’re going instead of being directed somewhere by a stranger.
You can find more tips for avoiding taxi scams here.
Watch Your Drink
Never take your eyes off of your drink. If you end up having to set it down, then just go get a fresh one. If someone offers to buy you a drink, go to the bar with them to order it and get it directly from the bartender. And for the love of it all, putting a napkin over your drink while you go to the bathroom isn’t going to stop anyone from slipping something in it.
If you’re in a situation where you’re being walked to an ATM by a big hulking bouncer, just pay the money. Most times, these guys don’t really want confrontation and will back down if you buck up. However, there’s always the chance that you are in a place where they have no problem taking you into the back alley and beating the snot out of you or worse. It’s not worth the risk. Once you’re away from the situation, call the police and contact your bank. If you are in a foreign country, make sure you contact your embassy or consulate.
If you can avoid it, don’t go into a bar with a lot of bags or packages. Seeing this may make you appear to be a good target for scammers. If you’ve been out shopping or have your backpack with you, it’s better to take them back to your room before you enjoy that beverage.
Tourists are a prime target for scammers because they may not know the area, the language, or who to contact when they run into trouble. They are less likely to target people who look like they belong. Try to dress like the locals, practice local customs, or order your drinks in the local language.
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
If someone seems like they are trying too hard to keep your attention, it may be time to perk your ears up. Many thieves are like magicians using sleight of hand. You look over there, while they operate over here. Often they work in pairs or teams. So, while one scammer has you distracted, another takes your stuff.