12 Tourist Scams in Hong Kong – and How to Spot Them

As one of the most crowded places in the world (not only because of the residents but also because of the tourists), it is quite understandable if some tourist scams in Hong Kong still exist.

After all, the place is swarmed with different kinds of people – some are totally innocent and unsuspecting travelers.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t travel to Hong Kong without having to constantly be worried about your own safety, but knowing the signs can help you spot on the scams and avoid them.

You can still enjoy your travel to Hong Kong without letting your guards down.

Money Switch

This is one of the oldest tourist scams in Hong Kong that usually involves unsuspecting travelers who aren’t aware of the bills.

You are paying a cashier or a driver, thinking that you have handed them the right money, but it turns out that you are handing them the smaller bills and you need to add up the short.

First of all, you need to really know the bills and the detail of each bill. When you are about to pay, make sure that you hand them the right amount and bill.

It would be better if you can count in front of them before handling it to them, so they won’t switch it secretly and then ask you for more.

If you want to pay, make sure to do it in a well-lit environment and you pay a very close attention to the bills.

Fake Monks

You may see monks here and there in Hong Kong, but be aware – some of them aren’t even the real ones. These fake monks may wander around the street, giving and offering blessings to innocent travelers and then ask for donations.

Another scheme involves them offering talisman or amulets to tourists who will gladly accept because they think that those amulets are free. But in the end, the monks will ask for donation in the exchange of the amulets.

If you want to avoid this situation, make sure to avoid the monks whenever you see them on the street. If you do want to get blessings from monks, you can go to the temple where the real monks reside – not roaming on the street.

In the event that you are approached by monks on the street and they are offering you something or a blessing, simply say no and walk away.

This is a common scheme at Ladies Market, Tsim Sha Tsui, Temple Street Night Market, Lan Kwai Fong, and Causeway Bay.

Accommodation Touts

You are on your way to your hotel and meet someone who claims that the hotel you are heading to is closed.

In the midst of confusion of where to stay, the person offers you another hotel that is claimed to be pretty close by and cheap.

You are interested in going there only to find out that the place is a dump. Or the place may be a bit nice but it has so many hidden costs.

This is why you should book your accommodation with the reputable and trusted names only. When it comes to the place where you stay, you can’t take chances. You need to make reservation and keep the proof.

Never make any money transfer first. It would be best if you can choose trusted online platforms offering buyer protection rights, like booking.com.

Market Massage

This one of the tourist scams in Hong Kong usually takes place in markets where there are a lot of people going around.

You may see touts or ads offering low price service for a massage. But once you have the massage, the price is different – it is usually inflated. They may claim that the price is for another one and not for the one you already get.

If you don’t want to fall in the trap, make sure that the price is for the massage you get and ask for the details. Record the touts when you are getting the details.

Ask them what will happen if you get another kind of service that the one claimed by the touts. And when you go to the shop, tell the person doing the massage about it. 

Another one is to simply choose the reputable parlors only. You can do your own research and only get the service from that parlor.

Timeshare Scam

This scam isn’t only annoying but it is completely a waste of time. Be careful if someone approaches you, claiming that they are from a department or a company doing a survey and you will get a scratch card for your help.

If you go along, you will scratch the card and win a prize. But to get it, you will have to attend a timeshare pitch (that usually goes for 1 hour to 1.5 hours) and you will deal with high pressure marketing and sales tactics to buy the products. And you won’t get the prize or whatsoever in the end!

Use your head. No one would ever give anyone a free stuff so the idea that you can win something without doing or buying anything is ridiculous. It is just a trap to set you up. And the claim of doing a survey is definitely a bull.

The best thing to do when you are offered the survey chance is to say no firmly. Never be tempted by prize or something like that because there has never been such a thing – especially for free!

Taxi Scam

This is one of the most common tourist scams in Hong Kong – and it comes with different schemes and methods.

The first one is not to use the meter (claiming it to be broken or not working) and then you will be charged with an exorbitant amount of money.

The second one is to add an excessive surcharge. 

The third one is to perform the money switch.

The fourth one is to take you around with longer routes while there is actually a shorter and more direct route.

The fifth one is to ask you whether you have the new currency. If you say no, he will offer you to exchange the money. Never do this because there is no new currency or whatsoever. Even if there is, you can do it at banks instead of in a taxi. 

The sixth one is to intercept you (this usually takes place in airports), saying that there is a long line of people for the taxi. Then you are pressured to take the taxi but with inflated rate.

If you want to use the taxi service fair and square, avoid those with the claimed broken meter. Even if you go with the one with working meter, make sure that the meter runs normally.

If it goes too fast, take the picture of the driver, the plate number, and record the abnormal running meter. It would be better if you can install a GPS or a traffic app on your phone so you know when you are taken around instead of going directly.

If this happens, tell the driver that they are going around and around. And when you are about to pay, make sure that you know the bills. You can do the tricks to avoid money switch.

It doesn’t hurt to do your own research about the standard fare whenever you are about to go to places. It gives you idea of how much you will have to spend on every taxi trip so you can avoid spending too much money.

And when someone intercepts you, just walk on. There is no need to stop and follow the person. Just keep on walking.

Fake Beggars

Begging is actually considered illegal in Hong Kong. If you don’t want to get into trouble, it is best not to give money to anyone – no matter how pitiful they may seem. Beggars in Hong Kong are usually a part of a syndicate.

The best way to avoid the beggars is to avoid them altogether. If you encounter them on the street, just walk away and don’t give them any money.

Compulsory Shopping

Be aware if you join in a daily tour from unreputable service – they usually offer a very low rate. These tours are usually set up so they will go to shops where the participants are ‘forced’ to buy something.

If they don’t buy anything, they will be kicked out from the group and left stranded. It is always a good idea to join a credible and trusted tour service. If a tour service offers you a very low rate, be aware.

And if you are already involved in such a shady tour, make sure to record everything, including the plate number, the guide, and everything. You can report them to the police as this is illegal.

Electronic Duty Free Gadgets

Don’t be easily tempted by the large sign in front of electronic stores stating that all of their gadgets are duty free.

Unsuspecting travelers would think that they get a good bargain while they are actually not.

Hong Kong only tax four items: methyl alcohol, hydrocarbon oil, tobacco, and alcoholic beverage. Electronic gadgets aren’t included in it.

Fake Entertainment Tickets

Be careful when you buy entertainment tickets, such as Ocean Park or Disneyland. Make sure that you only buy from credible spot or directly from the company.

Avoid buying from the online sources where you are required to transfer the money and then the ticket will be sent to you. They may offer very low rate – much lower than the real one. But you should know better, right?

Chinese Herbs

If you are into Chinese herbs, this is one of the most common tourist scams in Hong Kong. There are some shady spots that may do some tricks.

First, they may have a confusing price tag. When you think that you are getting a very cheap offer, it is actually for a very small portion.

The second one is to tamper with the scale, especially the traditional one with weights.

Third, the seller may quickly grind the herbs when you are only asking around for a herb. This is done to pressure you to buy because it involves an irreversible process.

If you want to avoid the scam, go to only reputable shops – you can perform your own research. And when you go to the shop, look at the scale. If they are using electronic one, it is okay.

But if they are using the traditional one, look at the scale without the weigh. If it looks odd, walk away from the shop.

Go to registered practitioners or shops only – they usually have the logo of Quality Tourism Service on the banner.

Nathan Road Shopping

Be careful when you are going to Nathan Road or Jade Market to do some digital shopping activity. The scams are coming with various schemes.

The first one is the sellers would advertise popular items in low price. But when you want to buy it, suddenly they say that they are out of stock. And then they offer a replacement which is actually lower in quality but sold at the same price.

The second one is to offer items without any price label. If you ask for the price, they state confusing price like fourteen fifty. You may think that it is $14.50 but they actually mean $1,450 and they charge it on your credit card.

The third one is that they would replace the item you have bought after you pay. They would go to the back, claiming that they are getting you a newer one. But they actually replace it with an older version or they may take some accessories.

Be aware when you get a sealed package after you pay. It is always a good idea to check it while recording it.

Keep the receipt handy in case you have to make a complaint. Make sure to do your digital shopping at reputable shops. Don’t be easily tempted by overly low price. If the seller quotes you a price, get the details.

For instance, if they say its two fifty, make it clear whether it is two dollar fifty cent, two hundred and fifty dollars, or two thousands and five hundreds.

And if they claim that they are running out of the items you want (but then they offer you a replacement), just refuse and walk away. It is too obvious for a scam.

In the end, as long as you aren’t easily tempted by very low price and you know the signs, you can avoid being trapped in tourist scams in Hong Kong – without jeopardizing your travel enjoyment.

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