Scam City – A peek at the underbelly of tourist scammers

Randomly came across this show on National Geographic the other day and it’s quite fascinating – Scam City features its host Conor Woodman heading to ten different countries across the globe to take a behind-the-scenes look at the various tricks and methods used to scam tourists.


I watched the end of the Rome episode (click the link for a video clip), where they showed how these ‘gatherers’ who peddle their tours on the streets are willing to tell you anything to close a deal, and we’re not talking white lies or half truths, but outright bullshit lies they try to get away with. You would think in this day and age with more savvy travellers and the internet, scams wouldn’t work so well, but obviously tourists through the ages remain gullible and these scams continue strong today, or have evolved in to more sophisticated operations.

I think I’ve been fairly lucky so far, the closest I’ve gotten to a scam was while heading up to my hostel in Barcelona. Me and my travel partner R had just walked in the front door and were waiting to take the lift up. A guy passed us in the doorway, then turned around and called out to me that I had birdshit on my backpack and offered to help me wipe it off. I was pretty tired from the train travel and walking and was about to take out my backpack and the sling bag I had across my chest, when R sensibly pointed out that our hostel was just upstairs, so it could wait.

And a good thing too! When we did settle into our rooms and I was cleaning off my bag, I noticed that the ‘bird shit’ was in an odd location on the side of my backpack. What’s funnier is that as we wiped it off, it gave off a sweet smell like chocolate. I guess I’ll never really know what the guy wanted to do, but R and I suspect he wanted me to take off my sling bag which had my important documents in it and sprint off with it. I’m still grateful that R had more common sense than I did that day!

I don’t actually have any decent pix of the hostel for some reason! I wasn’t so snap-happy back then – this is literally the only shot of the hostel I had, and only because i found the old-school lift fascinating.

One thing I’ve learned is that a lot of these scams can be avoided with some good ol’ common sense – just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean your brain should be switched off! Because running into any scam can spoil a good vacation – while I didn’t get scammed ultimately, my first impression of Barcelona will always be that I nearly got scammed – so just make sure you don’t make yourself a bright and obvious target for scammers.

Check out the original Scam City page on T+E here. For those in Asia, NatGeo currently airs this show on Tuesdays at 10pm.

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