12 Common Travel Scams in The Philippines & How to Avoid Them

12 Common Travel Scams in the Philippines & How to Avoid Them

Avoid these travel scams in the Philippines at all costs!

Travellers, especially beach lovers rejoice when it’s time to go to the Philippines. The country is rich not just in culture but amazing natural wonders as well. But even with the undeniable charm of the country, the Philippines still isn’t perfect. Although Filipinos are generally known as loving and hospitable hosts, some people take advantage of tourists and even locals’ obliviousness. We want your vacation to be as smooth as possible. So we’re here to let you know about the most common travel scams in the Philippines. We’ve also included ideas on how to avoid these troublesome experiences to make your trip to the Philippines hassle-free.

Also read: Travel Scams: 8 Real Travellers Share Their Horror Stories

1. Tanim-bala scam

travel scams philippines

Image credit: Tony Webster

The tanim-bala scammers often target Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and foreigners visiting the Philippines. This is when unsuspecting passengers in the airport have to deal with planted bullets in their luggage that reflect in the x-ray machine. The airport police will then hold the passenger until they receive a significant amount of money. This modus started in 2015 and has died down after extensive media coverage.

However, there has been a case of alleged tanim-bala incidents at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 recently (as of writing). Although the passenger was allowed to board her flight, she wrote a Facebook post that went viral. As of now, the Department of Transportation is requesting the public to refrain from making assumptions while an investigation is still ongoing.

Also read: What We Need to Know About the Recent “Tanim-Bala” Incident in NAIA 3

How to avoid this scam: Always be alert before, during, and after your turn at the x-ray machine. Keep your bags locked and cover it well if you aren’t using a hard case suitcase. Don’t let anyone get a hold of your things and don’t touch other people’s belongings either. If ever you’ve encountered such incident, don’t panic. Stay calm and supervise their checking. Never attempt bribery to get out of the situation. Call your lawyer immediately if you are harassed and won’t be allowed to board the flight.

2. Broken metre scam

Some taxi drivers pretend that their metre is not working. So, they’ll give travellers a fixed price to drop them off to their chosen destination instead. Haley Dasovich posted a video recently about a regular taxi who thought she was a foreigner and refused to use the metre and tried to charge her a fixed rate of ₱500 (US$9.35) instead. She posted the video online which went viral shortly after.

Some taxi drivers also take advantage of passengers not knowledgeable about the area. Instead of taking the shortcut, drivers would opt for the longer routes on purpose. Some drivers tamper their metres which charge faster than the regular taxi metre resulting in higher fare for customers.

How to avoid the scam: Don’t ride a taxi if they say that the metre is not working. Don’t fall for these drivers’ kontrata system. If you’re in a taxi with a metre but notice its unusual charging, let the driver know. Make sure that your driver also knows that you’ve made your friends or family aware that you’re riding his car. Give his name, his operator’s name and plate number to a friend or family member. Only join the official taxi queue if you’re in places like the airport, too.

3. Taxi spray scam

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Taxi spray scam usually happens when passengers are alone. You will notice the driver trying to cover his nose and mouth with a towel. Then he’ll spray something that you will eventually smell and make you feel dizzy or disoriented. If you pass out, you might get robbed, assaulted, and abandoned on the road.

How to avoid this scam: Be alert when riding public taxis. Hide your valuables to avoid robber drivers. Always let the driver know that you made your friends and family aware of your destination and your taxi details. Keep the doors locked. Get out of the car immediately if you notice the driver spraying something and trying to cover his nose and mouth.

4. Hit, steal, and run scam

Some people fall prey to thieves who snatch phones and valuables of passengers, especially during heavy traffic. Sometimes, they pretend to throw something like eggs or any liquid substance on your windshield that will prompt you to get out of the car to clean it. They will use this time to do their job and steal your stuff.

How to avoid this scam: If anyone throws something at your car or windshield while on the road, don’t do anything. Wait until you’re in a safe place to clean it up. As much as possible, don’t let the windows down when travelling. Avoid unsafe and shady areas as well. If you can install a dash cam in your car, then better.

5. Pickpockets

Pickpockets are everywhere, but they’re more rampant in crowded places. They’ll try to distract you with random things like newspaper or coins so they could slash your bags and steal your wallets. Sometimes, they take it straight from their victim’s pockets, too!

How to avoid this scam: Avoid distractions when in a public area. If someone approached you to read a magazine or newspaper, they might be trying to distract you. Stay alert and keep an eye on your valuables. If possible, only bring a small amount of cash when outside if you can’t have an anti-theft bag. Use a money belt, or place your bag in front of you, instead of putting your phone or wallet at the back of your jeans.

Also read: 8 Simple Ways to Avoid Pickpockets When Travelling

6. Credit card scam

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Credit card scammers have a small device that steals information from the credit card holder including the PIN. From then, they can make unauthorised purchases that will be under the card holder’s name.

How to avoid this scam: When making payments with your credit card, stay alert and never let the card out of your sight. Opt for paying in cash if you won’t be able to see the cashier make the transaction.

7. ATM skimming

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Even ATMs aren’t safe these days. They are popular spots for potential robberies. There may be onlookers as well who will try to distract you. They could pretend that you dropped some bills so they can memorise your PIN and drain your account later.

How to avoid this scam: Get someone to accompany you when withdrawing your money from an ATM. Double check if there is a card reader set up on the machine to capture your card’s details. Cover your hand while entering your PIN. Beware of “friendly” people near the machine. If possible, look for an ATM inside a bank to make sure that you’re in a safe environment.

8. Budol-budol gang

Budol-budol gang members have different ways to take advantage of their vulnerable victims. Sometimes, they’d sweet talk you or make up a sob story. Many years ago, I was on my way home from school when a woman approached me. She said that someone took her “daughter’s” money and placed it in my bag, so she wanted to check. She tried to take a look at my wallet, but I only had a purse at that time. When she said that her “daughter’s” money wasn’t with me after all, she warned me about my gold ring instead. She instructed me not to wear it in public and put it in my purse before I go home. For some reason, I kept following her instructions. Nothing else happened after that. But when I arrived home, I realised that my purse wasn’t with me anymore. It was gone along with my ring.

How to avoid this scam: Listen to what your parents told you. Don’t talk to strangers! If possible, avoid wearing pieces of jewellery when you’re commuting.

9. Spiked drinks

If you’re going out for some drinks, make sure that you’re not alone. If you’re travelling solo, always be aware of your surroundings as you might be a potential victim of a robbery or even rape. The bad guys sometimes lace other people’s drinks to take advantage of their tipsiness.

How to avoid this scam: Don’t leave your drinks unattended. If you can buy a bottle, the better. It’s much more challenging to tamper. Don’t accept drinks, especially bottled drinks that are already open, from strangers if you have a gut feeling that they can’t be trusted. If you accept, don’t finish it at once. If you feel off after drinking, let a friend know immediately.

10. Public WiFi

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Hackers can quickly get into unsecured WiFi connections. They can have access to your personal information in merely 20 minutes. From birth dates to online account passwords, they can pull out your details, and that will jeopardise your accounts.

How to avoid this scam: Avoid connecting to suspicious WiFi hubs. If possible, bring pocket wifi or go on your mobile data. Otherwise, double check the official SSID before you use it. Be wary especially if the connection doesn’t require a password.

11. Fake travel agencies

Travellers often fall prey to fake travel agents and agencies online because of their cheap deals. Sometimes, they even offer packages inclusive of transportation, accommodation, and meals at a low price. However, after payment and when it’s already close to the travel date, you won’t find any trace of them again.

How to avoid this scam: Don’t fall for deals which look too good to be true. Only transact with reputable travel agencies and find authentic and positive reviews. Make your reservations with agencies with a physical office. Ask for their business license to prove that they are a legit business.

12. Money changer scam

There’s a wide availability of money changers in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila. Exchange rates in the black market offer attractive prices, but you should be careful of the tellers. Some tellers will steal a few notes when counting the money for you with a sleight of hand trick. Others also replace the bills with a smaller amount.

How to avoid this scam: If you can’t just withdraw from your ATM card, have your money changed in safe and well-lit areas. Double check the conversion as well before transacting as they may use a fake calculator, too. Clarify commission charges before you proceed with the transaction. Count your money before giving your currency and right after receiving your peso.

travel scams philippines

That’s quite a lot of scam practices, don’t you think? It’s unfortunate that there are still some people who take advantage of clueless individuals to earn money and feed their families. But don’t let these travel scams in the Philippines change your mind in visiting this beautiful country. The Philippines is so much more than these travel scams. Don’t let the negatives ruin your vacation!

About Author

Stella Marie Encina
Stella Marie Encina

While devoting her daytime in managing their family business, Stella spends her nights carefully planning her next adventures and composing short stories. She is in love with hole-in-the-wall destinations and writes about her quests on her online journal Her Brave Soul.