Fake gems and minerals sold to tourists in Namibia

More and more adventure travelers are discovering Namibia, a nation in southwest Africa that offers deserts, beaches, safaris, and hikes. Unfortunately this rise in tourism has led to a rise in tourist scams. Namibia’s Mines and Energy Minister, Isak Katali, has warned miners to stop selling fake gems and minerals to tourists. Mining is big in the country, and many miners are independent prospectors who scratch out a difficult and hazardous living from the rock.

One way to make extra money is to sell their finds to tourists. This has proved too tempting for some, and they’re using their specialized knowledge, and the average tourist’s cluelessness, to fob off colored glass as precious stone. While most miners are honest, buying minerals and gems in Namibia has become a tricky game. Mr. Katali says this has already hurt tourism and the country’s reputation.

Namibia is certainly not the only country where cheap imitations are fobbed off to unsuspecting visitors. People will fake pretty much anything if they think it will sell. When visiting the ancient oasis city of Palmyra in Syria, I was offered a “genuine Roman coin” made of aluminum! Back in 2008, Italian police broke up a gang selling fake Ferraris.

Have you ever bought something overseas only to discover later it was a fake? Share your tale of woe in the comments section!

[Image courtesy Arpingstone]

New York cabbies caught overcharging passengers – 1.8 million times

The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission has uncovered a massive scam/scheme in which 1.8 million riders were overcharged.

The scheme netted 36,000 drivers an extra $8.3 million in cab fares, charging passengers about $5 too much for each ride.

The overcharging wasn’t even that hard for them to pull off – the cabbies would simply change their meter to a higher per-mile fare, reserved for rides in the Nassau and Westchester area.

When activated, the meter would show the new fare code, but I doubt anyone sitting in the back would actually notice. Sadly for the cabbies, the taxi commission did notice – and thanks to recording equipment and GPS tracking, they have been able to determine exactly which drivers were involved.

One driver – Wasim Khalid Cheema overcharged his passengers 574 times in one month, and has now lost his taxi license.

Of course, the cabbies are fighting back, claiming it could all just be one big misunderstanding. According to Bhairavi Desai of the Taxi Workers Alliance, the meters are to blame. Other cabbies join her – mentioning how easy it is to press the wrong button, complaining how small the buttons are on the meter.

Soon, New York taxi’s will be outfitted with updated fare warning systems, which will alert riders to the higher fare, and make them acknowledge the fare change on the rear displays mounted in New York Taxi cabs.

Cops scamming tourists at Bangkok airport

Tourists face a lot of scams if they travel in Southeast Asia, but one especially nasty and hard-to-avoid one has been reported by the BBC. At Bangkok’s main airport, cops are accusing international visitors of shoplifting from the airport stores and then extorting money from them to drop the charges. Sometimes a “friendly translator” will help the desperate travelers, and then charge exorbitant fees for his services. This is a variation of the old “zig-zag” scam that is found in Thailand and other countries.

This reminds me of a shake down a couple of guys tried on me in Karachi, Pakistan. I had just left my hotel and was walking along the street when a car pulled up. The driver produced a card saying “Sindh Police” and the other guy said, “Give me your backpack, I need to search for drugs!”

I immediately had my doubts–the card was in English, their vehicle was unmarked, and neither guy wore a uniform. So I replied to them in a very loud voice “Show me some real identification!” They insisted on seeing my bag but neither got out of the car. Since we were on a busy street I kept telling them in a loud voice that I didn’t think they were police and wouldn’t give them anything until I saw some ID. As a curious crowd began to gather they got angry and said, “You better not have any drugs!” and drove off.

I ran back to my hotel and told the manager all about it. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “Welcome to Pakistan.” I had managed to write down the license plate number but he told me the real cops would probably do nothing, so I let it go and continued with my trip.

My tactic worked against this particular trick, but wouldn’t work in the Thailand airport scam since the police really are police. While aware travelers can avoid many of the scams they face on the road, this is a tough one. If the cops are in on it, what can you do except cough up and complain to your embassy later? I guess avoiding the airport shops is the only way to reduce your chances of being robbed.

Have you been scammed while traveling? Tell us your story in the comments section.