5 Best Known Scams to Avoid in Bali

Things to Know Before You Go to Bali

Bali is a dream island destination blessed with highlights and experiences not found elsewhere and one of the safest places in Indonesia to spend your holiday. Nevertheless, as in any corner of the world, there are always opportunistic individuals who conduct dishonest practices for personal gain, taking advantage of new and mostly unsuspecting visitors. Below is our small list of the most well known scams to avoid while in Bali, so you can enjoy your Bali holiday smoothly and not fall victim to petty tricks.

Most scams are rather obvious, from simple tricks to outright rip-offs. But travellers new to the scene and eager to explore Bali’s sights and scenes may easily fall into these traps then feel miserable for the whole span of their holiday once they realise what had just happened simply due to jetlag or slight confusion on their bearings and directions. Best precaution is to keep your common sense, and by openly answering "No, thanks" whenever your radar beeps.

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    1. The Money Changer Scam

    What this scam is about:

    After some time out shopping for souvenirs and striking a great bargain at one of Bali’s art markets, you realise you’ve run out of Rupiah (IDR) notes for the taxi fare back to your hotel. Money changers are ever-present in and around Bali’s major shopping areas, with whiteboards listing amazing exchange rates and boasting ‘No Commission’ on them.

    After the clerk counts the notes in front of you precisely and convincingly, he hands them to you with one hand while simultaneously flicking or letting an IDR 50,000 or 100,000 note fall behind the counter, all in a split second.

    Tips and How to Avoid:

    In this day and age, an internet-enabled mobile device (a smartphone at least) can prove an indispensible tool which helps a lot in easily checking out the latest rates for general comparison. Most money changers are self-titled ‘Authorised’, but you can never be so sure. Some are very small kiosks and outright dodgy, but tempt the gullible with boards listing rates too good to be true (because they usually are!).

    Figure out the general rate versus the advertised rates, and if you encounter a higher offering, verify whether they apply a commission. When ‘no commission’ and high rates go together, usually it is not a good sign. Also, flip out your calculator app to make some quick comparisons, as some scams involve rigged office calculators, though in very isolated and rare cases.

    The many changers at the departure and arrivals of the Ngurah Rai International Airport are good, where rates are okay and normally competitive. Reputable names in the money changing business in Bali include PT Central Kuta, Wahana and Dirgahayu Valuta Prima, with branches located around Kuta and Legian. The rules, however, apply to all.

    You may or may not recount, and the clerk might return any discrepancies, only to repeat the trick once more. When you recount and persist, usually hostility ensues, telling you to take your money elsewhere (which was the idea in the first place!)

    2. The Taxi Scam

    What this scam is about:

    Monopoly, no taxi meters, longer routes, no change and extra charges. These are some to look out for when going for a taxi in Bali. Ngurah Rai International Airport has its own ‘official’ taxi service, run by the Ngurah Rai Taxi cooperative, which controls a monopoly of the taxis at the airport.

    Some individual drivers may offer you their services, but to avoid haggling, proceed to the counters just outside arrivals. Rogue porters may rush to help with your luggage but charge an exaggerated fee once they load and close the trunk. The drivers are usually complicit.

    Tips and How to Avoid:

    Whenever possible, arrange for shuttle services provided by your hotel or villa (mostly free for certain distances and areas), including airport transfers depending on your booking details. Politely refuse any porters, or if no other choice, agree upon a reasonable amount up front. Outside the airport, go for metre taxis only.

    Airport taxis are without meters, and are prepaid or use predetermined vouchers which you pay the driver upon reaching your destination. The rates are flat based on distance zones, and generally higher than meter rates. A ride to the neighbouring beach resort areas of Kuta, Jimbaran and Seminyak, range between IDR 80,000 to IDR 100,000 while the farther areas such as Sanur and Nusa Dua from IDR 125,000.

    Outside the airport, you have choices of meter taxis run by numerous operators. These include the reputable Bluebird. Rule of thumb is always ask whether there is a meter to save yourself the haggling, right after flagging down one on the street. If your trip includes the new Bali Mandara toll road (mainly to Nusa Dua and Sanur), ask for the receipt at the toll gate, which should be IDR 10,000 for cars, one way.

    Always be ready with small Rupiah change, as it is all too common for drivers to say they don’t have change for your IDR 79,300 fare for instance, and you’d be ‘forced to’ pay with IDR 100,000 note and give up the difference, unwillingly treating it as a tip. Best travel in a group, and refuse when offered a ‘per person’ fare. Fares should disregard luggage in the trunk. The key is to be firm and agree upon fares before hopping in for the ride.

    3. Unnecessary Guides

    What this scam is about:

    Rogue and unlicensed guides, commissions, and fees for services you didn’t ask for. There are many unlicensed tour guides around, living off commission by taking you to ‘recommended’ shops, restaurants or ‘more interesting’ places other than the one(s) you actually intended. They will usually even try to convince you about a restaurant or site being closed or out of business, and divert you to their commission-based ‘alternatives’.

    Some of the largest temples in Bali, especially those in far-flung and poorer regions, such as Besakih in the Karangasem regency, have their own local guides in place, who are mostly unregulated or trained, and in very isolated cases have known to charge exorbitant fees for ‘temple tours’ aside from the already paid, fixed ticket price.

    Tips and How to Avoid:

    Be careful when booking a freelance ‘driver + guide’ in Bali. You might end up with one clueless about the route or sites, or simply unable to effectively communicate. Always book from a trusted agency or through your hotel tour desk/concierge, to which you can file a complaint in case issues occur.

    For local temple guides, even though it helps the local economy in a way, you shouldn’t be paying over IDR 50,000 for such ‘services’ in any case. What seems to be an included service up front could easily turn into haggling for a tip or fee to continue halfway through your ‘tour’. In most cases, you don't really need a guide or buy anything.

    The only things required in any Bali temple visit are your respectful attitude and attire, basically a sarong and a sash around the waist (usually available for rent anywhere between IDR 10,000 to 25,000, or included in the ticket price).

    4. The Timeshare Scam

    What this scam is about:

    The worldwide trend of timeshares spread to Bali over the past two decades. Legitimate ones are actually a good idea when sold properly, offering great holidays together with investment opportunities. The bad news is there are not many legit ones around. Efforts to sign up new customers take on many forms, with most common being upfront selling on the streets around packed areas like Jalan Pantai Kuta.

    A friendly guy or lady approaches you on the beach, carrying out their mild sales pitch and presenting a ‘lucky scratch n’ win’ of some sort. Seems ‘nothing to lose’ and you have a go, and just happens you are ‘very lucky’ and win! But to claim the prize, you must go to a certain place with them, which could be a nearby booth, office, or a far hotel, taking a chunk of your precious holiday time.

    There they record your name and contact details, and a long presentation on timeshare resorts ensues, together with all the hard pitches and special hard-to-resist discounted prices. If you don’t buy in then and there, they still have your contacts and you’ll hear from them again sooner or later.

    Tips and How to Avoid:

    Better to just continue on your way, enjoy your precious holiday time as you intended, and firmly and simply say, ‘no thanks’.

    5. Some Forms of Extortion

    What this scam is about:

    Extortion comes in many forms, from charging you just for taking photos, being asked to pay up for damaged rental items you never caused, and even bribe money for a monkey! Here are just a few scenarios.

    - Taking photos is truly part of the holiday experience, especially in exotic sites, such as the terraced rice paddies of the central highlands. Just be sensible about where you point your lenses. That old woman with a heavily wrinkled face carrying a basket on her head might pass for a cover shot for National Geographic, only to approach you afterwards for an exorbitant ‘model fee’.

    - You have an international driver’s license and would like to discover the Bali outback on a rented scooter (those ubiquitous Japanese brand two-wheelers). Returning the bike after your big day out, the guy checks it and charges you extra for some ‘dents’ and ‘scratches’. Worst case, the price of a new bike, since it got ‘stolen’!

    - Visiting exotic temples or sites such as Uluwatu, along with its hordes of grey long-tailed macaques can be fun, until these natural-born pickpockets snatch your beloved anniversary necklace or purse. At times there are little boys around these sites who know their way with the monkeys, and can easily get your items back… for a big fee, that is.

    Tips and How to Avoid:

    Just photograph the temples, mountain and paddies… not any old woman or children. When renting a bike, car, scooter, jet ski, or just about anything that moves, be sure to thoroughly check its condition. If you spot any scratches, damages, or anomalies, report it and ask for a better unit. For the ‘loss and theft’ scenario, never leave your rented scooter parked unattended – some syndicates rob their own with a master key.

    When visiting monkey forests, or temple sites with monkeys, avoid wearing loose items, excessive accessories or jewellery. Also, avoid anyone handing you packets of sliced cassavas, peanuts or bananas and forcefully putting them in your hand and gesturing you to feed the monkeys. These morsels aren’t for free.

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