Tag Archive | "Scams"

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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 28 June 2012 by Danica

travel the world - havana scam - street band

In this week’s “Travel the World, Just Don’t Get Scammed” series, we are very excited to have Tammy Lowe to share her experience in Havana with us.  It is a story of cigars, a muscle man with lots of bling, a few mojitos and a diamond ring.  Intrigued?  Read on…

That’s Where I am From Too!

“Where are you from?” we were asked by a friendly young Cuban during a stroll through Havana.  “We are from England”, we replied and he got very excited and told us that his friend lived in a town called Bedford.  “No way! What a coincidence, we are from Bedford”, we said.  We chatted for a while and found out that he was an English student.  He asked us what we were planning to see that day and we mentioned a few famous sights.  He asked if he can join us and be our tour guide, free of charge of course, so he can practice his English.  We agreed and had a really nice time with him.  At one stage he asked us if we wanted to go to a local market and if we like cigars?  Not one to miss out on a shopping opportunity at local markets we agreed.

travel the world - havana scam - me with cigar

The Man Nobody Wants to Mess With

So off we went to the outskirts of Havana in what looked like a much poorer district, where he led us into a flat.  That doesn’t look like a market I thought to myself, but then I thought maybe some people just run illegal markets in communist Cuba to make a bit more money.  Inside was a young woman with hardly any clothes on who puffed up the cushions on a mattress on the floor, which was turned into a sofa.  We sat down and all of the sudden this big guy (and I mean really big!) with gold chains and muscles that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger look tiny, entered the room, shouted at the woman to leave, and sat down opposite us.  At that stage we started to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Where are all these colourful, charming handicraft sellers we were used to seeing on the streets?  He asked us if we wanted to buy some cigars, but we weren’t really interested.  He looked a bit puzzled and shouted at our ‘tour guide’ who in a panic said to us that he thought we wanted to buy cigars.  We explained that we were more looking for souvenirs like handicrafts, but inquired the price for the cigars as we felt this situation could soon turn ugly.  The big man said $50 for a big box.  We said that we only have $20 on us, which was true and asked him what we can get for that?  He pointed to a mini packet with five cigars that usually comes as a free gift if you buy a big box.  He looked a bit angry and at this point we started to feel a bit nervous, locked in his house as we were.  Chris was holding on to our backpack very tightly and we looked at each other and said that we will take the small cigars as we only had $20 on us.  He sulked a bit, but led us out of his flat after we paid him.  Our tour guide didn’t follow us.  As soon as we were outside we quickly made our way through the back streets towards the more civilized and touristy part of town.

How I Really Knew You

After that shock we went to the nearest bar, ordered some food and a few mojitos to celebrate our escape.  We reflected on the day and couldn’t quite work out how we fell for the scam.  We kept thinking what a huge coincidence it was that this guy knew somebody in Bedford and was able to describe the sights and how beautiful the river was.  I mean Bedford is not exactly a well-known town in England.  And then it struck us that a few days before we had been asked by some other locals where we were from.  When we told them they just smiled and told us to enjoy Cuba, so we didn’t really think much off it and just thought the locals here are very friendly and curious.  But now we know that they must have all worked together and told each other the intel they received about us.  So when the guy asked us where we were from and we said England he knew full well that we lived in Bedford and had had a few days to research the town online.  So to gain our trust he made up the story about his friend studying in Bedford.

Then Comes the Surprise!

It was our first holiday together, so we put it down as one of those experiences you have as a traveler and decided to enjoy the rest of the night.  We sipped some mojitos and listened to a Cuban band when all of the sudden Chris started to look very serious.  He told me that he was glad our backpack hadn’t’ been stolen by the guy as there was something special in there.  I had no idea what he was talking about and thought maybe he couldn’t handle the strong mojitos very well, but then he took out a small box containing a ring and he popped the question.  Of course I said yes.  If we survived being locked in a gangster’s menacing flat, we can survive anything…

travel the world - havana scam - engaged

About Tammy Lowe:  Tammy is one half of Tammy & Chris on the move.  She hails from Germany, and is therefore both mighty and efficient.  Chris is the other half, hailing from the UK which means he likes to talk about the weather, be polite, or sometimes even both at the same time.  They both have civil service backgrounds, but have left their bowler-hats back in London to go and work on justice and human right issues in Cambodia, and, whenever they get some time off, travel around the world.

Thank you Tammy for sharing your story.  Congratulations, and what an adventure you two survived together!

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!


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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Danica

Cuba - Around the World Travel

This week, in our second installment of the “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature Kellie Parry, a seasoned traveler and writer in her own right.  This is a cautionary tale about trusting others too quickly in a new place.  Often times, when we travel, we must juggle the balance between being polite to the locals and being cautious of the new surrounding.  This is a story you can not miss.  Read on…

A few years back I worked for a cruise line company in the States. I spent my days sailing down the coast of Mexico and through the Caribbean taking in all the sights. The Caribbean was always my favourite. Such lush tropical settings surrounded by a crystal clear ocean. No wonder everyone who lived there seemed so laid back and unaffected by the stresses of daily life. I made a promise to myself that I would go back one day. Years later that opportunity arrived. I was doing a round the world trip and Cuba was on my itinerary. I was excited to experience the casualness of the Caribbean again.

I arrived in Havana and was dropped by the taxi a fair way from my hotel which was not the drivers fault really. The road was missing. As I struggled with my suitcase past the huge abyss in the road, several people approached me for a chat. Most of them wanted to know if I wanted to stay in their house. Er…no thanks. Others wanted to know if I needed a tour guide while I was here. No thanks again. Fighting off all the overly enthusiastic unofficial Cuban ambassadors nearly sent me and my suitcase hurtling into the gaping hole in the ground.


Eventually I made it to my hotel. Hotel Valencia was beautiful and I was most glad to be staying there rather than in some strangers living room. Once I had settled in I decided to go for a walk and get my bearings. I had not been walking long when I was approached by a tall Caribbean man. He was perfectly polite and introduced himself. He didn’t harass me about being a tour guide or me staying at his house. I kept walking and he kept up with me chatting away. He wanted to know where I was from, if it was my first time in Cuba and all the other standard travel questions. He told me that he was a chef and he worked at Hotel Valencia. He saw me check in and then after he had finished work, he saw me in the street and decided to come and say hi. In hindsight this should have been my first warning. It’s a bit much of a coincidence that not only does he happen to work where Im staying but then he also happens to see me in the street.

Havana Cuba Street - Round the World Trips - Scam

He then asked me if I wanted to see the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Apparently it wasn’t far from where we were so I agreed to go. I figured once I had seen this then I could go on my way. We walked along, through narrow alley ways, around corners and past side streets. He continued to talk to me the whole time and after a few minutes I realized that I was hopelessly lost. I had no idea where my hotel was from here but didn’t panic yet. I could always get a taxi.

We finally arrived at the bar and he ordered a drink for the both of us. Since it was my first time in Cuba he declared that I MUST try a Havana Club rum. This should have been my second warning. After all my years doing bar work I knew that you should never accept a drink from a stranger. But I did and after I finished it I already felt tipsy. Usually it takes more than one drink to get me drunk. He got us another round and I swore to myself that I would leave after this one.

Cuba Havana Club - Around the World Travel

But I guess he had other plans. He then somehow convinced me to go to a salsa bar. “It’s on the way back to the hotel” he promised after hearing my protests. We arrived at the bar and I must admit it was fabulous with its live band and salsa dancers. I bought us another drink as my way of saying thank you for spending the afternoon showing me around and all that. By now I was drunk which was probably his plan all along. We continued on going from bar to bar and then on to a restaurant for something to eat. In my foggy drunken brain I realized that I had paid for everything. I made him buy the next round and he did with some reluctance. But then it soon returned to me paying for everything.

Montecristo Cuban Cigar - Havana Cuba Round the World Trips - Scam

His next plan was to get me some Cuban cigars. Now I don’t smoke and neither does anyone I know but how can one leave Cuba with no cigars? And I had promised my Dad that I would bring some home anyway. He assured me that he had a friend that could sell them to me much cheaper than I would get them in the shops. We headed into the seedy side of old Havana. As we walked through the dodgy streets people stood back and stared at me. After all I was the only white female tourist in sight. Once again my drunken brain tried to set off a warning but it got lost in the Havana Club that my head was swimming in. Next thing Im standing in someones living room while he did some sort of deal. The woman disappeared out the back and came back with two boxes of cigars. I was told that she worked at the factory and had in fact stolen the cigars and she would do me a deal for both boxes. I didn’t want two boxes but I wanted to get out of this strangers house and get back to the familiar tourist area. I gave her the money and we left. Finally after a few more drinks he lead me back to Hotel Valencia.

Once we got there he told me that he had no where to go and could he please stay with me. Was he kidding? But by now I was so drunk and all I wanted to do was pass out. I threw a pillow on the floor for him and told him if he moved or touched me I would kill him and I slipped into a drunken coma. I woke with a start a couple of hours later. For some reason he was in bed beside me. He was on top of the blankets and still had all his clothes on (including his shoes) so I guess he just wanted somewhere more comfortable to sleep. All the events of the night before came crashing down on me. All of a sudden I felt sick. I woke him up and told him to get the hell out. Once he was gone I sat on the bed and tried to remember everything that had happened. With a sinking feeling I grabbed my purse to see how much money I had left. Nothing. I had spent it all. Luckily in my drunken state I had locked my purse in the safe but he didn’t need to steal from my purse. He had already taken US$500 off me. All the drinks, dinner and then of course the cigars which Im sure he got a cut from. I locked myself in the room for the day nursing a hangover and kicking myself. How could I be so stupid?

Cuba Apartment - Havana Round the World Trips - Scam








The next day, I ventured out to try and get more cash which in Cuba is not easy. ATM’s were a rarity. I finally found an money exchange where I could get a cash advance on my credit card. Once again I kicked myself for being so stupid. On my way back to the hotel I passed a cigar shop. Out of curiosity I went in to see how much cigars actually were. Once again I felt sick. A box of Monte Cristo’s like the ones I had bought was $50. I had paid $300 for two boxes so I had literally paid triple what they were worth.

Apart from this incident, the rest of my time in Cuba was amazing. It’s a beautiful place and it’s definitely worth seeing. I still to this day cringe at the thought of what could have happened to me that night. When I think of all the seedy places we went to and the fact that I let him crash out in my room, Im glad that all I lost was $500….


About Kellie Parry: Kellie is a travel writer who is currently based in Darwin, Australia. She spent 18 months working as an Assistant Bar Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. During this time she had the fortune of working on 5 different ships within the company, with each ship taking her to a new exotic location. It was here that she found her passion for travel and has spent the last 6 years criss-crossing the globe on her own.  Kellie documents her travel adventures at www.meandmypassport.com and facebook.com/TravellingKellie.  She can also be reached at kellie@meandmypassport.com.


Thank you Kellie for sharing!   We have learned a great deal from your experience as well.

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!


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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in London!

Posted on 14 June 2012 by Danica


Travel the World - Just Don't be Scammed in London Big Ben Horizontal

In our first “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature our first guest, Ele Pranaityte.   This is her little misfortune in London.   Read on…

When I volunteered a post for a feature about scams I had this one particular scam in mind. The interesting thing is that now, when some time has passed, I am not so sure it was a scam proper. Yes, you might ask, how can a scam be…not scam?

I went to London in 2008. It was my first time there and I planned my routine very carefully and I was sure to include all the major tourist sites. And so, here I was, walking towards the Houses of Parliament, aiming to take a good photo of Big Ben on a clear August day. There I was approached by a woman. She complimented me on my headwear (I was wearing a crocheted cap that keeps my hair safe from wind and is also pretty, obviously) and aksed me where I was from, etc. Then she said she wants to give me something as a sign of welcome, and she stuck a flower pin to my top. I reckon it must have been a daffodil or something. I was like eeee….ooohhhh…..ooookkkkkeyyy…. And then she said she was raising money for charity and it would be nice of me to donate some money for the cause. Translation: I had to pay for the flower that was supposed to be a gift from what I understood.

Travel the World - Just Don't be Scammed in London House of Parliament

I have just browsed Wikitravel.org and in the section for common scams it was written: “Another similar scam involves overly pushy people who pose as collecting money for charity. This is particularly common in developed countries. Usually an old woman will approach you, tie a small flower to your shirt and expect you to “donate” money. They never say the specific charity, they often say “for the children.” Inquiring about the specifics of their “charity” may help scare them off. Typically, if they have no name badges or even a charity name, it’s probably not a real charity.“ This was exactly my case but I think she was wearing a sort a banner rather than a badge. Now, coming back to my initial doubt, what if there is a slight chance this was really, really, really for charity? I turned out to be a stingy sponge of a tourist, didn‘t I?

Another story is in my home country but launched on a larger scale, so I take my chance to warn you now. Women of Roma origin with bunches of roses stand on the middle of pavement and hand out flowers to pedestrians. They like to aim at young couples and single women. When you accept the gifted flower, they ask for a few coins. The reason is again for charity. I have seen people hand back their flowers and walk away. Even the police advises to stay away from such flower sellers, so doubts of real charity in this case are waived.


About  Ele Pranaityte: I am a traveller, teacher, and tourist guide. I have discovered blogging only about a year ago and I am still on a steep learning curve. I especially want to promote tavelling in one’s own country and set myself a goal to see my country a lot.  My travel blog is at http://www.kootvela.blogspot.com

Thank you Ele for sharing!   We encountered that as well on our travels.  Best advice?  Never accept “candy” from strangers, even when they say it’s free.

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!


If you like this post, subscribe via email or RSS so you don’t miss an update!

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