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It seems as though entire economies are founded on purse-snatching, phony ATMs, hotel theft and crooked taxi drivers. The number of poverty-stricken people packed together makes crime not only easy, but an economic fact of life throughout Indonesia.
The good news about crime in Indonesia: it's largely non-violent. The bad news: where thieves lack in physical aggressiveness, they make up for in ever-more cunning ways to separate you from your money, jewelry, personal electronics or IDs.
Common sense rules apply in Indonesia. Always assume that at some point during your travels through crowded tourist areas, somebody will try to stick his or her hand into your pocket. Someone on the street will start chatting you up in order to get your money, whether of your own volition, or by distracting you while a friend takes your stuff.
Most thieves caught in the act will simply run away, so the trick is to carry everything you have (camera, phone, wallet) somewhere that ensures you catch any thief in the act of attempting to steal it. A pouch around your neck works, as does a fanny pack.
Keep in mind that pickpockets often work in pairs or groups. One person will seek to distract you, while the other subtly steals your valuables.
If a stranger approaches you for a chat, be alert and pay attention to your surroundings. If you get a suspicious feeling, politely tell the would-be con artist that you have to go because you're late for an appointment/dinner/meeting a friend.
Some pickpockets go so far as to lace drinks with powerful narcotics. They will offer you a drink, perhaps in a bar or on a plane, and this drink will cause you to pass out. Then, they take everything from you. Obviously, never take drinks from strangers.
The most common place travelers lose their valuables is in transit. The public transport system in Indonesia's cities – buses, trains, cabs, tricycle scooters (bajaj), motorcycle taxis (ojek) – can be a little daunting to first-timers. It's also handy to know a little of the local language to make things a little easier while getting around such as phrases, greetings and numbers.
Everything moves so fast, and nobody seems to pay any attention to pedestrians, traffic lights or those darn honking horns.
While you'd like to sit back and enjoy the ride to your next destination, you should always be alert, and watch out for dodgy passengers.
If you need to exchange money, only use official foreign exchange places or an ATM. Scams generally happen when the money changer counts the money back to you. A slip of the hand and the money disappears but seems correct. Always count your money before you leave the exchange. And if that rate looks too good to be true, it usually is.
Try to avoid using your credit card to make purchases in Indonesia, even if a storefront has a card reader. Use cash when you can. Some business owners have few qualms about looking at your card, writing it down or memorizing the number, and using it to make purchases in the future.
Other forms of credit card fraud include items installed on ATMs to read your card information. You can prevent this growing trend from happening to you by actually entering a bank to get cash rather than just off the street. Make sure the hotel, bank and other businesses you deal with are reputable. Withdraw your cash during the day, so the risk of being robbed is minimized.
If you do decide to use your credit card, make sure you monitor your balance very closely. If you see any unauthorized purchases, cancel the card immediately.
Heaven help you if you feel the need to gamble or buy drugs over there. These industries are illegal throughout the country and are, by and large, run by organized crime syndicates whose sole economic purpose is to siphon money through extortion, bribery and any means possible from those who have it.
Many of the police officers are in on the crime game. They offer to look the other way when a dealer sells illegal drugs, in exchange for the opportunity to bust you for possession and demand a hefty bribe or a sentence.
Furthermore, if a syndicate is in trouble, they will have no remorse turning you in, even if you only made one purchase or played one round of cards. This could land you a lengthy prison sentence – not exactly the excitement you wanted from your trip to Indonesia.
Like many other countries, some officers within the police aren't always the honest types. Policemen are paid meager wages, which they often try to supplement by intimidating foreigners with made-up offenses, and asking for bribes.
The best way to get out of this situation is to act like an Indonesian – smile, nod, pretend you don't understand, nicely ask for them to write up an official citation and be as polite as possible – the crooked cop should go away.
If it doesn't work, or if you'd rather just pay your way out, the going rate for police bribery is about 50,000 - 100,000 Rp (about US$5.50 - $7.50). It's handy to keep a small pouch of change separate to the bulk of your money should you need to pay a bribe. It's likely you will be asked for a bribe by police if riding a motorbike or scooter without a helmet and/or a license.
Make sure you research reviews of the accommodation you plan on staying at before you book a room, as some "hotels" or "hostels" are little more than opportunities for theft.
Keep a close eye on all your bags, and don't let them out of your sight as you go from your taxi or car to your room. Baggage handlers at disreputable hotels in Indonesia won't think twice before taking your bags through an employee-only area of the building, opening them up and rifling through your belongings.
On a related note, don't leave any personal valuables in your room while you're gone. Even if the room has a safe, insist on using the hotel's safety deposit box. Bring your own lock as many hotels and hostels do not provide them.
If a hotel seems unprofessional and run down in appearance look for other accommodation. Indonesians running legitimate businesses are very proud of that fact, and will display it openly through professional kindness.
If you plan on selling, buying or doing drugs in Bali, even if it's just marijuana, know that police are cracking down on any, and all drug-related crimes. Visitors to the Bali or Jakarta airports are greeted with a sign saying, "DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS." That sentiment, unfortunately, extends to drug users as well.
Once upon a time, it was a common street scam for someone to sell you drugs on the street, then give your name to a crooked cop. The cop would catch you and demand bribe money, and it was a lucrative con for both cops and drug dealers alike.
Now, however, turning drug users in is more attractive to cops than your bribes ever were, meaning you're looking at jail time in some of the least-maintained prisons in the world, rife with hunger and disease.
Don't think you're safe even if you're in a "secure" hotel room. Undercover cops are common, and many hotels install CCTV cameras in the rooms to prevent drug trades from taking place.
Most Bali drug trafficking takes place in the southernmost section of the island around the cities of Denpasar, Gianyar and Kuta. These are the most popular resort locations, so be wary of anyone selling any sort of narcotic substance and just say no.
Over the past decade, there have been a number of major terrorist bombings and attacks on nightclubs, bars and hotels in South Bali. These attacks have been religiously and culturally motivated, and they have specifically targeted Westerners and the forces of Westernization as a whole.
The problem of terrorism is not easily solved by any government, but Indonesia has been cracking down and there are signs that the major organizations like Jemaah Islamiah are severely compromised following federal raids.
Several governments report that travelers need to exercise a high degree of caution while traveling throughout Indonesia which is the second lowest level of warning.
The standard M.O. of terrorists seeking to cause mayhem, is to drive a car filled with explosives along the street next to a club or bar, then to blow it up. If a place has a street-side entrance or street-side parking and you're severely worried about terrorism, perhaps seek different accommodation or clubs.
It is important to note that of all the risks listed here, terrorism is least likely to be an issue in Bali. For every night with a terrorist incident in the past ten years, there have been hundreds passed in good, incident-free fun.
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