Travel & Transportation

How to Avoid Scams When Traveling in the Philippines

Written by Patrick
Travel Insurance

It sucks being scammed by a stranger, especially while traveling in a foreign country.  The best way to avoid scams in the Philippines is to be aware of those that are common so that you recognize them and know how to avoid them.  

We’ve put the following list of the most common scams in the Philippines that you should beware of when traveling to the country so that you’re trip is not ruined by such acts.

1 | Fixed-Price Taxi

Fixed-Price Taxi

While broken-meter is a common scam in other countries, in the Philippines it’s fixed-price taxi in which drivers refuse to use the meter and instead charge a fixed-price that is way higher than metered.

How To Avoid It: 

Don’t take the taxi if it’s charging on fixed-rate. Find the one that uses the meter. Also, if you notice that the fare is increasing unusually fast, let the driver know as some tamper the meter to receive higher fare from passengers. In the airport, choose taxis authorized by the airport to operate to ensure your safety. In tourists spots, take taxis and other transportation authorized by the Department of Tourism as the fare is regulated by the government.

2 |  Lost Taxi

Lost Taxi

There are taxi drivers who purposely take longer routes and claim that you are lost. This means a longer trip and higher charge.

How To Avoid It: 

Know the area you are heading. Use apps like Waze of Google Maps to keep you updated about routes and even real-time traffic. Check The Best Travel Apps of 2020 for the Philippines.

3 | Taxi Spray

Taxi Spray

A driver who is trying to cover his mouth and nose with a towel might spray something that could make you feel dizzy or disoriented upon smelling. When you lost consciousness, you might get robbed, assaulted, and abandoned on the road without your possessions.

How To Avoid It: 

Be alert and avoid displaying your valuables when traveling to prevent attracting robbers. That is one of the most effective ways to avoid thieves scams in the Philippines. Make sure to lock the door and when you notice something suspicious, don’t hesitate to get out of the car. But remember to do so in a public area with people, not a secluded place. Also, let your family or friends know of your destination and taxi details such as name of taxi, body number, and plate number so it can be traced when necessary.

4 |  Planted-Bullet Scam

Planted-Bullet Scam

This scam, which often targets OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) and foreigners alike, happens in the airport. Planted bullets are detected by an x-ray scanner in the luggage of unsuspecting passengers and the airport police will then hold the passenger until the bribe is paid. While this is one of the scams in the Philippines that has been addressed by the government, it still happens from time to time so be cautious.

How To Avoid It: 

Stay alert at all times when in the airport. Secure your bags with lock and consider using bag covers for added protection. Never leave your bags attended and always keep an eye on them especially during inspection. When you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic. Never give in to giving bribes. Call your lawyer instead if you are harassed.

5 | Money Changer Scam

Money Changer Scam

There are lots of money changers in the country especially in areas like Metro Manila. From banks to shopping malls, hotels, and even small foreign exchange businesses which several Filipinos prefer due to higher exchange rate. While there are reliable ones, some will trick you so you will be getting less than your money’s worth. Some of them even give fake money to customers.

How To Avoid It:

Choose reputable money changers such as banks or those in big shopping malls and hotels. Before you proceed with the exchange, clarify the rate as well as the charges. Make sure to count your money before giving it to the teller and right after you got the peso.

6 | Card Skimming

Card Skimming

Credit card scammers use a small device to steal your information such as card number and PIN. Once they get hold of such vital information, they will then proceed with unauthorized withdrawals or purchases which will be charged to you.

How To Avoid It:

Use your card with reputable businesses only. When making payments using your card, never let it out of your sight. Choose to pay in cash if it’s impossible for you to see the cashier when making the transaction. If available with your bank, enroll your card for security measures such as sending you alerts when the card is used.

7 | ATM Skimming

ATM Skimming

Criminals will try to distract you or offer help when you’re having trouble with your transaction. But the motive is to scan your card and memorize your PIN so they can make withdrawals and exhaust your funds later.

How To Avoid It:

Be wary when withdrawing money from an ATM. Never let anyone near you when you are using the ATM and when someone approaches you, cancel your transaction and find another ATM. Always cover the screen and keyboard so others cannot see your PIN or your transaction amount. Keep your cash, card, and receipt right away.

8 | Fake Travel Agencies

Fake Travel Agencies

Travel agencies make it easy for everyone to plan itineraries and book flights, hotels, and airport transfer, often at discounted prices. Most would ask for a downpayment and after getting your money, they’re nowhere to be found.

How To Avoid It:

Transact with reputable agencies. One way to find reputable ones is through customer/client reviews. Ask for their business permit to prove that they are a legit business and if possible, choose ones authorized by the Department of Tourism.

9 | Public Wifi

Public Wifi

Like in other countries, scams in the Philippines may involve the use of technology. Public WiFi is an easy way for hackers to steal your information including your full name, birth date, online account passwords, and banking details.

How To Avoid It:

Always check the name of the WiFi hub before connecting to it. Avoid making a purchase online or accessing your online banking when using a public WiFi. For safer internet access, bring your own pocket WiFi or use mobile data. Also, access sites with https:// at the URL and use VPN (virtual private network) to safeguard your data.

10 | The Beggar

The Beggar

It could be an injured person, a homeless child or an old person who will try to guilt trip you and make you feel sorry about the situation therefore prompting you to give loose change. This is no big deal unless the beggar is in connivance with a pickpocket who’s watching to see where you keep your wallet. Some beggars are even handled by syndicates.

How To Avoid It:

Place loose change in your pocket so you never have to take out your wallet in crowded places. If you really want to give, it is better to give food instead of cash which other beggars use to buy drugs, liquor, or given to syndicate bosses.

11 | Sad Story Scam

Sad Story Scam

A stranger approaches you and asks for directions to a radio station or police station because he got robbed and needs to report the incident and also to ask for help since he no longer has money for food and fare going home. The sad story will make you feel guilty and persuade you to give loose change. After receiving money, he will apply the same trick to other unsuspecting victims.

How To Avoid It:

When someone with a sad story approaches you to ask for direction, just give direction. Be cautious and avoid taking out your wallet to get money for him.

12 | Freebie in Malls

Freebie in Malls

Inside a mall, insurance agents will ask you if you have a credit card and offer you a freebie because you have one. They will then invite you to their kiosk or office where they will surround you and aggressively present their products. Next thing you know it, you are already signing some documents and giving them your credit card details which they will then use to charge you fees.

How To Avoid It:

When someone approaches you to ask if you have a credit card, stay away from that person immediately, although he’s offering a gift. Asking about someone’s credit card is already a red flag. Turn down the offer when it’s requiring you to divulge your personal information and credit card details.

13 | Free Bracelets or Rosary Beads

Free Bracelets or Rosary Beads

Someone will approach you to offer a free bracelet or rosary beads and even say a prayer to bless you. While there’s no harm with the deed, they will eventually ask you for payment and could be used to distract you while an accomplice pickpockets you.

How To Avoid It:

Turn down the offer as much as possible and always be alert when someone tries to approach and offer you something.

14 | Budol-Budol Gang

Budol-Budol Gang

This is one of the most common scams in the Philippines that happens not only to tourists but locals as well. Their techniques to take advantage of people varies but the most common one is to talk you into joining the get-rich-quick business they offer. They’d persuade you to withdraw whatever you have in the bank and after receiving your money, they’d take off leaving you with nothing but an envelope that contains a bunch of garbage which they made you believe was money. Some victims even claim that they feel like they were hypnotized by these criminals.

How To Avoid It:

Stay away from anyone who just walks up to you and offers you business. Showing a little bit of interest will only make them try harder in order to persuade you and might even use hypnosis to make you bend to their will.

15 | Motorbike Rental Damage

Motorbike Rental Damage

The owner of the motorbike or scooter you rented claims that you damaged the vehicle and will then charge you for it. In reality, it is already damaged prior to you renting or it was damaged by his accomplices or the owner himself.

How To Avoid It:

Thoroughly check the vehicle prior to using it. In case you notice any damage, inform the owner and take pictures of the vehicle particularly the damaged part. Use your own lock and if possible, never let the owner know where you are staying.

16 | Drugged Drinks

Drugged Drinks

Someone will drug your drinks so you become tipsy and will then take advantage of your situation. You could end up being robbed or raped and abandoned in a secluded area. While this is one of the less common scams in the Philippines, it can possibly happen so it’s better to be informed about it.

How To Avoid It:

Go out for a drink with the people you trust. If you are traveling solo, be alert and never leave your drinks unattended. Buy bottled beer and don’t accept drinks, especially bottled ones, that are already open, especially from strangers. Drink slowly and if you feel off after drinking, let a trusted friend know immediately.

17 | Too Friendly Locals

Too Friendly Locals

An attractive woman will approach you, make friends with you, and even flirt with you. She will offer to go to a bar or nightclub with you and when that happens, you’ll end up with an exorbitant bill. Some would even offer “love” but what they’re really after is financial gain and citizenship in another country through marriage.

How To Avoid It:

Be careful when dealing with women while traveling and avoid those who try to hit on you aggressively. Never give money.

18 | Buy for Charity

 Buy for Charity

Someone sells you items such as delicacies, bags, or pouches for charity. More often, the items are overpriced and the institution doesn’t exist at all, or is not legal.

How To Avoid It:

Ask for their permit or any proof that they are legal. If they have nothing to show or if something looks suspicious, avoid buying anything. If you must buy, buy in small quantities only.

19 | Donate for Religious Endeavors

Donate for Religious Endeavors

While riding a bus or eating al fresco, they will hand you a white envelope for you to place your donation. They will then preach about the word of God and will gather the envelope when they are done. The religious group could be non-existent and some members become aggressive or even mad when they get nothing.

How To Avoid It:

Again, ask for their permit or any proof to show that they are legal. You can also ask if they have a physical address in which you can visit in case you decide to make a donation.

20 | Immigration Officer Bribe

Immigration Officer Bribe

A person posing as someone from the immigration will hold you citing issues with your documents. You will only be allowed to leave once the bribe is paid.

How To Avoid It:

Ask for their ID to make sure that you are dealing with authorized personnel. Don’t attempt to pay the bribe but instead call your lawyer or ask help from the embassy.

21 | Planted Drug

Planted Drug

Just like with planted bullets, they’d plant drugs in your luggage or give flower garlands laced with drugs. This one of the scariest scams in the Philippines as it can get you locked up instead of enjoying the beach and sun.

How To Avoid It:

Keep an eye on your bags and make sure to lock them and use bag covers to ensure that nothing can be planted on them. You can politely refuse garlands to be safe.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, scammers are out there, but don’t let that discourage you from traveling and exploring the Philippines. Be aware of these situations when traveling, and you will most likely avoid scams in the Philippines.

How do you Avoid Scams & Thieves in the Philippines

About the Author


Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

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