As with most places around the world, petty crime can be a problem in some parts of Indonesia. This can include theft from hotel rooms, bag snatching, and pick-pocketing. There are also opportunistic individuals and organised gangs who try to tick, deceive, and scam others in order to have some financial gain. Although tricksters and con artists may target anyone, including locals, they are more likely to prey on unsuspecting visitors. Solo travellers can be particularly at risk of being targeted; it stands to reason that an individual is more likely to fall for a scam than a large group of people. Here are some of the most well-known scams to avoid when enjoying your travels in Indonesia:
Money Changer Scams
Several scams exist related to exchanging money, and travellers are highly advised to only use official currency exchange bureaus or to draw out cash from an ATM.
Moneychangers are ever-present in and around major shopping areas, with boards that usually display excellent rates of exchange. This tries to draw people in. One way that you may find yourself short of money and getting a far less favourable deal than expected is through plain old sleight of hand. Remember, people who do this are experienced and skillful – think of a magician! Although the money may be counted in front of you, make sure you check for yourself whilst you are actually physically holding the money. And, after you have checked, do not allow the moneychanger to handle the money again, for any reason.
A less-common way that moneychangers can come out on top and part people from their cash is to have a rigged calculator. The calculators are set up so as to give wrong calculations in their favour. Do the maths yourself as well and check that the rate and amount actually given is what it should be.
It may also be possible that some dishonest moneychangers give you a totally different currency! Often, this is a currency that has a lower value than the Indonesian rupiah or it is one that is very difficult to exchange (such as closed currencies). Do familiarise yourself with the local currency before exchanging any money!
Touts at the Bus Terminal
Another popular trick in various parts of the world, watch out for “helpful” people in bus stations, train stations, ferry piers etc who try to lead you to a particular company or service. It is likely that you will pay an inflated price and that they will receive commission from the mode of transport. Of course, this is different to legitimate tour agencies who, of course, have to charge commission in order to make a living and be able to operate. Some touts in can be quite insistent and demanding, bordering on aggressive, telling outright lies at times, for example that there are no other options, this is the last service of the day, other buses / trains / boats are full, etc. If in any doubt, look for official ticket counters and purchase from there, preferably after having compared several operators where various options are available.
Rigged Scales in Restaurants
Some restaurants, especially seafood restaurants, charge based on the weight rather than per dish. The concept is really simple – you choose the fish (for example) that you want, it is weighed and then cooked for you, you eat it, and then you pay by weight. However, sometimes the scales may be fixed so as to display a weight that is more than it actually is, thus making you pay more. This is particularly common in places that charge a seemingly amazing price per gram, kilo, or other unit. The base price is low because they know that you will ultimately pay more than the true weight. The best way to avoid this scam is to not eat in places that charge by the weight. However, if the price you are told for your meal is a price that you are happy with, do indulge. Sure, the operation may not be totally honest with you, but it might be that you get to enjoy a yummy meal for a price that you are happy with, that you wouldn’t have been able to get elsewhere so easily.
Be Taken For a Ride: Dodgy Taxis
Taxis can be incredibly pushy in Indonesia, and even after you have said no several times, drivers may still follow you trying to get a fare. It can be infuriating! But, even more infuriating is the large number of scams and tricks that can surround catching a cab.
You may think that if one driver quotes you a high price that you’ll simply move to one close by and try your luck there, right? Wrong. Cartels and monopolies exist in many areas, whereby all the local drivers are in cahoots with one another.
Broken meters are another way that people try to part you and your cash. By having no meter to gauge the cost, taxi drivers can set whatever prices they like with unknowing tourists. Even if you do find someone with a working meter, there is always the chance that the meter has been rigged to display a higher fare! Don’t be surprised to find that added costs are applied at the end of your journey too!
Watch out for the police. Some dodgy officers know that it is easy to get money from foreigners, and even if you are doing nothing wrong you may find yourself in a situation where it is easier to pay a relatively small amount to the officer than go through the inconvenience of going to a police station. Officers play on the fear of people, who may be afraid of the consequences if the (non)matter goes further. And that’s without actually doing anything illegal or improper! Avoid breaking the law in Indonesia – it will cost you dearly!
People wanting donations are common, and servers can be quite insistent on getting a tip. Always beware of services or goods offered for free – they won’t be! Don’t accept any small token bracelets, good luck charms, or the like – they definitely aren’t free!
In some places, it is easy to be convinced that you can only enter if you pay for the services of an official guide. This is especially common at the Mother Temple in Bali. Do your homework first and stick to your guns.
It might seem that there are scams and cons lurking around every corner in Indonesia, and that everyone is out to get you. Whilst it pays to exercise caution and pack bags of common sense, you should embrace the challenges, cater for mishaps, and enjoy discovering this large and captivating country.