It wasn’t so long ago that we heard of a case where some Singaporeans entering Bangkok were made to pay fines for allegedly exceeding their personal alcohol carry limit. The group of 14 travellers had six litres of alcohol between them, but were penalised because only two members were carrying all six bottles. The law states that you can only carry one litre per person.
This story illustrates two things: One, the importance of sticking to the letter of the law when flying, and two, scams can happen even at the airport, so it pays to be vigilant the moment you step off the plane. In this case, the group (and whoever else that were also targeted) fell victim to an alleged extortion scheme.
While unfortunate, travelling does carry a slight risk of being tricked, robbed or scammed, making us lose money and valuables, and ruining the holiday in the process.
Despite the harrowing nature of such incidences, it is important to remember that the vast majority of holidays, getaways and trips are completed without incident. Also, since most crimes that target travellers are crimes of opportunity, preventing the opportunity from arising in the first place is often a good deterrent.
The next time you’re going on a holiday, be sure to keep these safety tips in mind.
1. Don’t Sleep in Airports
It may be tempting to switch off and relax once you’ve completed your check-in at the airport. Having endured the long lines at immigration, it’s time to find a cozy corner in the transit area, plug in your earphones and get some shut-eye. Right?
Well, doing this opens up all sorts of gnarly situations. For one, you may be targeted for theft, or some pervert might take photos of you while sleeping. You could also be marked for a drug plant, where criminals plant illicit substances onto you. Although it’s not absolutely certain that last one is simply an urban legend, it is not difficult to imagine some corrupt airport officials working in cahoots with local gangs to target travellers for blackmail.
If you absolutely have to take a nap, be sure to take turns resting (if you have travel companions). Otherwise, choose a resting place with high people traffic. Or, whip out your credit card and see if you are eligible for entry into the transit lounge.
2. Beware of Theft on Airplanes
While theft on airplanes are relatively difficult to pull off (the thieves have to bet on the victim not discovering the theft until they get off the airplane), they do still happen, especially on long haul or red-eye flights.
As a general rule, keep your passport, money and other valuables on your person at all times (yes, even when you go to the toilet). If you must keep your stuff in the overhead stowaway, make sure your carry-on is secure and lockable. Investing in a good travel bag with sturdy locks and cut-resistant material is a good idea.
3. Make Use of the Safe in Your Room
Remember that throughout the duration of your stay, others will still have access to your hotel room or Airbnb accommodations. It’s always a good idea to keep your valuables in the safe, if your room comes with one. Also, please be more creative with your passcode — easy codes such as 0000 and 1234 won’t deter a chambermaid with criminal intentions.
When you’re going out for the day, bring only what you need, and lock up the rest. Identification documents should always be locked up, unless you need them at the bank or when registering for certain services. You can also use a bicycle lock to secure your bag to the bedpost.
4. Check for Hidden Cameras in Your Room
When news broke of over 1,600 hotel room guests falling victim to voyeurism earlier this year — in South Korea, no less — it highlighted the need for greater vigilance when staying in strange accommodations.
Yes, it’s a pain, but you should definitely conduct a sweep for spy cams in your room as soon as you get entry. There are three primary ways you can accomplish this, but be aware that no one method is 100 per cent foolproof.
Firstly, you can sweep for radio frequencies (RF) using an RF scanner (available for under $100) that will tell you if any hidden devices are operating and/or transmitting.
Secondly, you can search for the telltale camera lens that all spy cams have. To do this, plunge your room into complete darkness. Then look carefully for any unexplained LEDs. Next, use a torch light or your mobile phone’s light and do a complete sweep of your room — you’ll want to check for the reflections that hidden lenses will give off.
Thirdly, physically investigate your entire room for spy cams. Some of the most likely places for spy cams are objects or decorative items that can be easily picked up and positioned. Others include smoke detectors, appliances, wall hooks and even behind mirrors. If a mirror seems suspicious, press a fingertip to the surface. There should be a gap between your fingertip and its reflection. If there isn’t, you’re staring into a one-way mirror, which could be hiding a camera.
5. Double-lock Your Door and Check Your Windows
Another way to ensure the sanctity and security of your accommodations is to double-lock your door.
Most hotel rooms should have a security lock that you activate by twisting a knob or switch. At the very least, you should be provided with a door-chain. If you’re staying at an Airbnb, you can ask your host to provide an extra padlock for an added layer of security.
And don’t forget to close and lock your windows before you go out or retire for the night.
6. Drop off Your Key Card at the Counter
When you’re going out, consider leaving your keycard with the hotel’s reception as a preventive measure. Otherwise, if you happen to be pickpocketed, or otherwise lose your key card while out, you run the risk of having your room ransacked by whoever picks it up. Especially so if you also lose the paper envelope with your room number written on it.
If you’d rather have your key card with you, make sure to keep it safely in your purse or wallet, and not slipped carelessly into a backpocket or something.
7. Stick to Ride Hailing Apps or Registered Taxis
Generally speaking, Grab, Uber or any other established ride-hailing service offers the safest option for getting about the city. The vehicles ferrying you are tracked, and you can send out an emergency alert through the app on your phone if necessary.
Not only that, ride hailing services are often the most convenient, saving you the hassle and frustration of haggling over price. True, they don’t offer the cheapest rides, but the extra dollars are often worth it.
If ride hailing isn’t available in your destination, your next best best is to stick to registered taxis. It can be hard to tell which taxis are registered or not, so be sure to check with nearby security guards or police.
You could also ask your hotel concierge, or the pub, restaurant or cafe you patronised to get a reliable taxi for you. It’s not advisable to approach just anyone off the street to get a ride — or you could be getting more than you bargained for.
8. Change or Withdraw Money only at Banks
If you’re short on cash, you should go straight to the bank to change money or withdraw more cash. This way, you’ll avoid any number of scams, schemes and cheats that moneychangers have been known to use to target vulnerable tourists (fake currency, palming notes and confusing you with small denominations are just some of them).
Another good reason to stick to the banks: You can never be sure if the ATMs located outside the petrol kiosk had been tampered with, and whether using them will cause your bank details to be stolen, rendering you a victim of credit card fraud.
9. Don’t Use Public WiFi
If you find yourself needing to login to your email, bank account, or work account, never do so using public wifi spots. Scammers can scan and intercept data sent over public wifi hotspots, which means you’re delivering your passwords and other critical information to shady individuals.
And don’t think you’re safe in your hotel lobby either — the wifi provided there is usually an open network, which means you’re taking on the same kind of risks. Wait until you login to your in-room wifi, and always connect through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for added security.
10. Keep it Hidden
It can be easy to forget that sometimes the mobile phone or DSLR camera in our hands can feed a family for weeks, or more. That’s why when you’re out and about, you should be sure to keep your valuables tucked away.
Keep your wallet in your front pocket, and sling your bag on your front. Use your mobile phone only when necessary; it’s a good idea to duck into a convenience store or relatively crowded shop before taking your phone out.
Be sure to stash your shiny new DSLR camera safely in its camera bag until you’re ready to take photos. And when you’re shooting, stop between shots to make sure there aren’t any suspicious characters lurking about.
And if you’re going out partying, leave excess cash and flashy jewellery behind. Go cashless whenever possible, and never leave your drink unattended. When in doubt, order a new drink.
Written by Chip Chen, June 2019, Images: Shutterstock
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