Philippine Travel Scams To Watch Out For and How to Avoid

Philippine Travel Scams To Watch Out For and How to Avoid

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How to avoid travel scams in the PhilippinesThe Philippines, nestled in Southeast Asia, is home to over 7,000 islands. This tropical paradise boasts a wide range of tourist attractions, from pristine beaches and mountains to bustling cities and vibrant marine life.

Each year, the Philippines welcomes countless tourists who want to spend their vacation in the breathtaking landscapes and explore its top tourist spots, like popular Philippine beach destinations Boracay and Palawan, to historical landmarks like the walled city of Intramuros in Manila.

white sand beaches in BoracayHowever, like any popular tourist destination, the Philippines has its share of travel scams and isn't immune to certain challenges. There are Philippines scams that target unsuspecting individuals, through various deceptive tactics, particularly for travelers who may be unfamiliar with its customs and language. Filipinos are known to be hospitable and friendly, but some locals take advantage of tourists, especially foreigners who are not knowledgeable about the area. 

First-time travelers to the Philippines should familiarize themselves with travel scams to stay vigilant. This guide will provide information about these scams in the Philippines that will help tourists have a hassle-free vacation and knowledge on how to navigate the country safely and confidently.

1. Taxi scams

taxi scams in the PhilippinesTaxi scams in the Philippines are unfortunately common, specifically in Philippine airports like Manila Airport, the main gateway to the Philippines. The usual prevalent scams in taxis are overpricing and the broken meter trick.

Most common taxi scams in Philippine airports involve drivers charging exaggerated fare rates to unsuspecting passengers, especially those who appear to be foreigners or not familiar with the place. This usually happens when drivers refuse to use the meter and instead negotiate a fixed price, often much higher than the standard rate. 

Another tactic some taxi drivers use is telling passengers that the meter is broken. They may intentionally manipulate the meter to show overpriced fares or pretend that it's malfunctioning. Taxi drivers then give passengers a fixed rate, and passengers may end up paying more than the actual fare.

During peak hours, some taxi drivers will inform passengers that they will not use the meter because of the heavy traffic, and it's fair if you negotiate before riding the taxi.

Travelers in Manila should be mindful when taking taxis and be wary of drivers who may look suspicious. It's advisable to only rent cabs from reputable taxi companies or use ride-hailing apps like Grab, which provide transparent pricing and a safer alternative to traditional taxis. Additionally, you can book airport transfers before your arrival, which is much safer and more convenient. 

How to Avoid Taxi Scams in the Philippines:

  • Insist on using the meter to avoid falling victim to overpricing.

  • Don't ride the taxi if the driver says the meter is broken.

  • Make sure that the meter is running and reflects the distance traveled and fare.

  • Check the taxi's plate number and operator number before riding.

  • Download and use the Grab app or book airport transfers in advance with reputable travel agencies like Guide to the Philippines.

2. Money exchange scams

Philippine money exchangeMoney exchange scams are a concern for travelers in the Philippines, particularly in tourist destinations, airports, busy markets, and areas where foreigners frequently visit. These scams typically involve dishonest money changers offering unfavorable exchange rates or shortchanging unsuspecting customers. 

Usually, money exchange scammers may approach tourists and will give you lower rates or show you outdated conversions. If you happen to avail yourself of their money exchange service, they'll count the correct amount of Philippine money in front of you and then tie a rubber band around it before giving it to you, without you noticing that they’ve already hidden some of the cash.

How to Avoid Money Exchange Scams in the Philippines:

  • Read our Philippine money exchange guide and find out the current exchange rates to ensure you receive a fair deal. 

  • Compare rates offered by different banks, reputable exchange counters, and online currency converters.

  • Avoid exchanging money with individuals on the street or in unauthorized establishments.

  • Count the Philippine money yourself before leaving the establishment.

  • Request a receipt or exchange slip with the amount exchanged, the exchange rate, and any applicable fees. This can serve as proof of the transaction and help resolve any discrepancies later on.

3. Pickpocket scams

PickpocketPickpockets are usually found in crowded places like the shopping district of Divisoria in Manila and touristy areas or markets in Cebu. They often work in teams to distract and target unsuspecting travelers. They may use various techniques, such as bumping into victims, creating a commotion, or engaging in seemingly innocent conversations, to divert attention while stealing valuables. 

Sometimes, as they approach you, they will speak kindly and use their charms to distract you without you knowing that someone is already getting into your pockets or bags. Pickpockets work discreetly, making it challenging for victims to notice the theft.

How to Avoid Pickpockets in the Philippines:

  • Keep your valuables secure and close to you. Use anti-theft bags, money belts, or hidden pouches. Instead of placing your bag on your back, put it infront of you where you can see it at all times.

  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or displaying expensive jewelry or gadgets in public.

  • Be aware of individuals who create unusual situations that could cause a distraction to you while someone else attempts to steal your belongings. 

  • Avoid walking alone in dark or isolated areas, especially at night.

4. Travel package and tour booking scams

Travel package scams in the PhilippinesTravelers may encounter fraudulent tour operators or agencies that advertise too good-to-be-true travel packages through online platforms, social media, or flyers. These all-inclusive Philippines vacation packages often include accommodations, transportation, and guided tours to popular attractions at discounted rates. However, once payment is made, customers may receive inadequate services, encounter hidden fees, or find themselves stranded without the promised accommodations or transportation. 

There could be instances where fake travel agencies will offer you travel insurance by telling you about its affordable coverage and low-priced policies. Make sure to only avail yourself of insurance from trusted agencies and insurance companies to avoid travel insurance scams.

These travel agency scams in the Philippines may be hard to verify since most fake tour operators, especially those who sell on social media, could post fake reviews and ratings that tourists might believe are true. Once they catch your attention and you've already paid for your travel package, there are instances where tour operators will no longer communicate with you or will block you on social media platforms. 

Make sure to only book with reputable and Department of Tourism-accredited travel agencies like Guide to the Philippines. As the largest marketplace for Philippine travel, Guide to the Philippines has the biggest selection of  Philippines travel packages, hotels, flights, ferry or sea transfers, day tours, airport pickup and drop-off services, car rental, and day passes with real customer reviews all on one website. Guide to the Philippines is also the recipient of the TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award for 2023 and 2024.

You can also join trusted Philippine online travel groups where most tourists share tips, recommendations, and legitimate travel agencies.

How to check if a travel agency is legit and how to avoid travel booking scams:

  • Before booking Philippine tours or travel packages, read reviews from previous customers and verify if the users are legitimate. Aside from their own website or social media account, check if they have reviews on Google or TripAdvisor.

  • Check if the travel agencies are registered with relevant tourism authorities like the Department of Tourism and look for accreditation numbers or certifications.

  • Ask questions if the offered price seems too good to be true, especially if it is much lower than those offered by other reputable operators. Unrealistic low prices could be a red flag for potential scams.

  • Review the terms and conditions of the travel package, including cancellation policies, refund procedures, and inclusions/exclusions.

  • Trusted travel agencies have physical offices; you can visit their office for a safer transaction.

  • Use secured and trusted payment methods such as credit cards or online payment platforms that offer buyer protection and dispute resolution mechanisms. Avoid paying in cash or through unsecured channels to minimize fraud or loss.

5. Airport scams

Airport scamScams at Philippine airports can put travelers in danger. One well-known scam is called "tanim-bala," or bullet planting, which involves airport staff putting bullets in passengers' bags or pockets to extort money from them. Many tourists and locals who have fallen victim to the tanim-bala scam were usually foreigners and OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) and were brought to prison without knowing how the bullets ended up in their luggage. 

When this scam happened in 2015, most tourists wrapped plastic and duct tape around their bags and luggage to avoid it. Others also put padlocks on their belongings to secure them. Although efforts have been made to stop this scam, travelers still need to be careful. As of this writing, there are still cases or news reports about the "tanim-bala" scam, so it's advisable to stay vigilant and know how to prevent this from happening to you. 

There's also the risk of bribery during immigration checks, where officials might ask for money to speed up the process. Another problem is luggage tampering, where bags are opened and valuables are stolen. 

How to Avoid Philippine Airport Scams:

  • Keep your belongings secure by adding locks to your luggage. 

  • Place your bag in front of you so you can easily keep an eye on it.

  • Be alert when your bags or luggage go through the x-ray machine.

  • Untuck your clothes when you're at the airport to ensure you don't get a bullet in your pockets.

  • If you still got a bullet in your bag without you knowing, don't touch the evidence. Instead, call your family, relatives, and an attorney. 

  • Don't trust your belongings to anyone in the airport, even if these are airport personnel or officials.

  • Make sure you have all the travel documents you need and don't bribe the authorities to speed up the immigration process.

6. Card skimming scam

Card skimming is when small devices are secretly placed on ATM card slots or payment terminals. These devices capture information from credit or debit cards when they're used. Sometimes, hidden cameras or keypads are also set up to record PINs entered by people.

Once scammers have this information, they can make fake cards or unauthorized transactions. This could lead to them taking money from the victim's bank accounts or making fraudulent charges on their credit cards. 

Card skimming devices are often well hidden, making them hard to spot. Victims may not realize their information was stolen until they see strange transactions on their account statements.

How to Avoid Card Skimming Scams in the Philippines:

  • Inspect the card slot and keypad for any signs of tampering or unusual attachments. If anything looks suspicious, avoid using the machine and report it to the bank.

  • Cover the machine keypad with your hand or body when entering your PIN to prevent hidden cameras or keypad overlays from capturing your PIN information. 

  • Never let your card out of your sight when making purchases in stores, restaurants, or malls with your credit cards or debit cards.

  • Whenever possible, use ATMs and card terminals located in well-lit, secure areas, such as inside bank branches or reputable establishments. Avoid using standalone ATMs in remote or poorly monitored locations, as they are more susceptible to skimming devices.

  • Always check your personal bank online app and statements for any unauthorized transactions. 

7. Car or motorcycle rental scams

Car rentalIn the Philippines, tourists may encounter fraudulent car and motorcycle rental operators who lure unsuspecting travelers with attractive deals on vehicles for exploring the islands. However, once the rental agreement is signed and payment is made, customers may encounter a range of issues, including hidden fees, poorly maintained vehicles, lack of insurance coverage, or unauthorized charges.

Similar to travel booking scams, car or motorcycle rental scams may also ask you to pay in advance or for a downpayment before they deliver the unit, and then no car or motorcycle will be delivered to you. 

You can book car rental and motorcycle rentals from trusted agencies or rental companies to avoid these kinds of scams. 

How to Avoid Car or Motorcycle Scams in the Philippines:

  • Before booking a vehicle rental, research recommended rental companies with positive reviews and established reputations. 

  • Avoid deals that seem too good to be true, as they may be indicative of fraudulent practices.

  • Carefully review the contract or rental terms and conditions, and pay attention to insurance coverage and any potential additional fees.

  • Inspect the rental vehicle for any pre-existing damages or mechanical issues before accepting it. It will be better if you document any discrepancies with videos, photographs, or written notes to avoid disputes upon return.

8. Horse-drawn carriage scams 

Horse-drawn carriage in IntramurosTourists may encounter horse-drawn carriages known as "kalesas," usually in Intramuros, Manila. These carriages offer a unique way to explore the cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture.

However, some kalesa drivers may engage in scams, like horse-drawn carriage scams, commonly known as "kalesa" scams. These scams typically involve dishonest kalesa drivers taking advantage of tourists, especially foreigners, who are not aware of the pricing.  

The scam happens when drivers don't tell tourists the price until the end of the tour and then charge an overpriced rate. Usually, if tourists pay for the kalesa ride before the tour, they are provided with limited time, tours, and historical insights. Sometimes, kalesa drivers will give you a rate before your trip. Then, they will let you know that it is just a starting fare and that you should pay for additional charges.

How to Avoid Horse-Drawn Carriage Scams in the Philippines:

  • Negotiate fares beforehand.

  • Clarify the route and destinations to kalesa drivers before paying for the fare to prevent unexpected detours or extra charges.

  • Be wary of suspicious behaviors that could pressure you into additional services.

  • Research or seek recommendations to other tourists who have availed of a horse-drawn carriage tour.

9. Budol-budol scams

"Budol-budol" scams are a common trick or deception in the Philippines that target unsuspecting individuals. Scammers often work in groups, approach victims in public places, and pretend to be friendly strangers or representatives of legitimate organizations. They use persuasive techniques, such as flattery, charm, and false promises, to gain the trust of their targets.

Some "budol-budol" incidents also happen when they are keeping eye contact or physical contact with you, which could hypnotize people and make them fall into their tactics. Once they've gained trust, they trick victims into giving them money, valuables, or personal information. 

Common tactics include offering fake prizes or rewards or posing as charity workers soliciting donations. Victims may be tricked into handing over cash, jewelry, electronic gadgets, or even their bank details, only to realize later that they have been deceived.

"Budol-budol" scams do not only happen in public places but also at home, where you can be tricked via phone calls or messages, and shopping delivery.

How to Avoid Budol-budol Scams in the Philippines:

  • Exercise caution when approached by strangers offering unsolicited deals or requesting personal information. 

  • Avoid eye and physical contact, like handshakes to strangers.

  • Maintain awareness of common scam tactics and avoid overly persuasive strangers to help you protect against falling prey to budol-budol schemes.

10. Love scams

Love scamsLove scams are deceitful practices in which individuals show emotional connections to defraud victims of their money or personal information. In the Philippines, as in many other countries, these scams typically occur online, often through social media platforms or dating websites. 

Scammers use stolen photos to create fake profiles on dating apps, websites or social media. These Filipino dating scams can also happen in public places like tourist spots, bars, or beaches, where scammers will approach you and start a conversation. 

After forming a connection, the scammer tricks their victim by pretending to love them and gaining their trust. They make up detailed stories about tough times or urgent needs for money, making the victim feel worried and emotionally weak. Eventually, they ask for money, pretending it's for emergencies, trips, or investments.

Unfortunately, many victims fall prey to these scams, sending money or sharing personal information with the scammer, only to realize later that they've been duped. Love scams can have devastating financial and emotional consequences, leaving victims feeling betrayed, embarrassed, and financially drained.

How to Avoid Love Scams in the Philippines:

  • Be careful when forming online relationships, especially with individuals you've never met in person. 

  • Be wary of money requests or financial assistance from someone you've only recently connected with online or in person. 

  • Verify the identity of the person through video calls or other means that can help confirm their authenticity. 

  • Be vigilant for red flags, such as inconsistencies in their stories or reluctance to meet in person that can help identify potential scammers early on.

11. Spiked drinks

Spiked drinksDrinking in the Philippines is one social activity you shouldn’t miss during your vacation. However, be wary of a scam called spiked drinks, also known as drink spiking, which is a concerning issue in the Philippines, as it is in many other countries. This act involves adding alcohol or drugs to someone's drink without their knowledge or consent. Drink spiking can occur in many places, including bars, clubs, parties, and even social gatherings.

Victims of spiked drinks may experience loss of consciousness, memory lapses, dizziness, confusion, and other adverse effects. In some cases, drink spiking can lead to more severe consequences, including robbery, sexual assault, or other forms of violence.

How to Avoid Spiked Drinks in the Philippines:

  • Never leave your drinks unattended.

  • Do not accept drinks from strangers.

  • Remain vigilant, watch out for suspicious behavior, and trust one's instincts. 

  • If you or someone suspects a drink has been spiked or if you observe suspicious activity, seek help from friends, bar staff, or authorities immediately.

  • Travel in groups and look out for one another.

12. Public WiFi online scams

Public WiFi scams in the PhilippinesPublic WiFi scams happen when cybercriminals use public WiFi to steal important information or deploy various fraudulent schemes. When connected to public WiFi hotspots in places like cafes, airports, or shopping malls, users may unknowingly expose themselves to these scams.

One common tactic is the creation of fake WiFi networks. These accesses usually have names similar to legitimate ones, then trick users into connecting to them instead. Once connected, cybercriminals or hackers can monitor users' online activities, steal login credentials, or inject malicious content into their browsing sessions. 

Another scheme involves the use of phishing websites or fake login pages, which look like legitimate services, to trick users into entering their personal information. Online scams in the Philippines can happen anywhere, so make sure you don't connect to suspicious public internet or WiFi.

How to Avoid Public WiFi Online Scams:

  • If possible, avoid connecting to public networks or WiFi, and bring your hotspot or use your mobile data instead.

  • Avoid accessing or opening sensitive information, such as online banking or personal emails, while connected to unsecured WiFi.

Emergency Contacts in the Philippines

Having access to emergency contacts is crucial in situations involving suspicion of scams or other fraudulent activities. If you encounter anything suspicious or feel you may be the target of a scam, knowing whom to contact can help you seek assistance promptly. Here are essential emergency contacts to keep when you are traveling in the Philippines:

Emergency Hotline: 911

Philippine National Police (PNP Nationwide Hotline): 117

Department of Health/Ambulance: 1555 

In case of Fires, call: 160/ 911

How to Report Travel Scams in the Philippines

How to report travel scam in the PhilippinesTraveling in the Philippines is fun, but in case of any suspicious activities and scams, it's best to know how you'll handle these incidents and report them to the authorities. Most of these travel scams happen during the holidays in the Philippines or during peak and summer vacations. 

To report travel scams:

  1. Act promptly and provide detailed information to the appropriate authorities.

  2. If you've been a victim, start gathering as much information as possible about the incident.

  3. Contact the local authorities, such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), through their hotline number 117 or visit the nearest police station to file a report.

It's also advisable to report travel and cyber scams to the Department of Transportation or DOTr with commuter hotline 09209643687 and hotline 1326. You can also send a message and report to the official page of the DOTr Special Action and Intelligence Committee for Transportation (SAICT). 

To deal with travel scams, it's best to do research on the travel agency and make sure to only trust reputable ones. Don't pay for anything if it seems suspicious, and trust your instincts. As much as possible, visit the main office of the travel agencies for safe transactions. 

Have a fun and safe travel experience in the Philippines

Chocolate Hills in BoholThe Philippines is an ideal destination that offers a wide range of experiences and top attractions to cater to every traveler's taste. From its stunning beaches perfect for relaxation, eco-friendly tours for nature enthusiasts, thrilling island-hopping tours, and challenging hiking tours for the adventurous to its vibrant cities for urban explorers, the Philippines truly has something for everyone. 

However, amidst the beauty and warmth of the Philippines, tourists need to remain vigilant and cautious of scams and suspicious individuals. By staying informed, exercising caution, and trusting their instincts, travelers can explore the wonders of the Philippines safely and make the most of their exciting vacation experience.

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