Top 9 Common Scams to Avoid in the Philippines

Scams are prevalent in the Philippines, where local con artists always seem to be one step ahead of visitors. Here are the top scams to watch out for.

The busy streets of Quiapo in Manila, Philippines Photo © iStock/holgs

The Philippines is a beautiful country, filled with natural wonders, adventure and cultural discovery. But, as with most travel destinations, it’s not without risk of danger and the occasional crime. As long as you pay attention to your surroundings, avoid dangerous areas and take appropriate safety precautions, you’ll decrease the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime, and be able to enjoy this beautiful country safely.

The Money Changer

Tourists and balikbayans (Filipino expats) are often attracted to dodgy foreign exchange money changing businesses, in out of the way places, by their large brightly colored signs advertising exchange rates which are better than those offered in banks, shopping malls and hotels. Sometimes these operators will use touts to lure in unsuspecting customers.

The saying of "If it's too good to be true, it probably is" applies to this situation.

The money changer will count the Filipino Piso out in front of you and, while counting, use a sleight of hand trick to make some notes disappear. Some will state they only have notes of small denominations, count them in small batches in front of you, take them back while making a few fall out when they hand the total back to you. Other times, they will count the money so slowly that you lose patience and ask for the money, not realizing you won't have all the money.

Always use reputable exchange places, with clearly posted rates, in well-lit areas, hotels, malls or buy from a bank. Count your money before you leave the exchange.

Card Skimming and ATM Fraud

Not all ATM machines can be trusted. Some don't work properly and may chew your card, others have devices attached to them by criminals to collect your information for their own shopping spree. Even some shopkeepers are in on it, taking their sweet time giving you a receipt while they copy down your details. Alert your bank to your travel dates and look out for any unusual transactions during and after your trip. 

Bullet in a Bag

in this scam, airport employees plant live bullets inside luggage; when the passenger puts their bag through the x-ray scanner, it triggers an alert to airport staff, prompting a search and accusation of carrying live ammo and firearms. This can tie you up for hours, and a bribe is often demanded to make it all go away.

Make sure your bags are securely locked, consider using bag covers/wrapping, and always keep an eye on your luggage.

Free Public WiFi

Free WiFi hotspots are not always secure and can lead to hackers accessing your passwords and banking information.

Always check the name of the Wi-Fi service before using it. Many airports do have free WiFi, but if you aren't sure, ask at an information desk. If you plan to make a purchase or transact online, make sure the site is safe and fully encrypted with https:// at the beginning of the URL.
Better still, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to encrypt the traffic from your computer to other sites, or don't do online banking on a public network.

Always have some kind of security on your laptop/ipad etc, such as a firewall and antivirus.

Drug Plants

Travelers have reported falling victim to Laglag Droga (drug planting). Unsuspecting victims have drugs planted in their luggage, or have a welcoming flower necklace laced with drugs put around their neck in the airport by a scammer wearing gloves. 

Always check your luggage in case you have had drugs planted on you, and use padlocks, bag covers etc to secure your bags. And those flower necklaces, politely refuse them.

A Familiar Face

One of the more popular cons involves someone approaching a tourist and claiming to recognize them, often under the guise that they work at the hotel they’re staying at. Coincidentally, when they “bump into” them, it’ll just happen to be their day off. They’ll offer to show the visitor around and offer a free tour. Don’t fall for it – it often ends in a robbery. Manila is a hot-spot for this scam, so be on the look-out.

Filipino For Love

Travelers holidaying in the Philippines are charmed by locals, either in person or online, with promises of love. What they are really looking for is financial gain and a quick way to get citizenship in another country through marriage. There are plenty of red flags to look for: professing their love for you quickly, asking for funds for their family/flights/education, and repeated requests for money. Never give or send money online.

Taxi Drivers

Make sure the meter be used to avoid being ripped off. It’s illegal for taxi drivers to solicit at airports, so if you are approached, the driver isn't legal. Avoid hailing taxis that are already carrying passengers as it increases the potential for crime.

Horse Trading

You may see a lot of horse-drawn buggies in the Manila area. It may seem like a charming way to see the sights, but often the horses are poorly treated, abused and pushed to their limits in the heat and traffic pollution. Throw in the loud noises of a city and that can cause any horse to become spooked and decide to bolt. There are better ways to get around town safely.

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26 Comments

  • Thomas Higgins said

    If one does find oneself involved in a driver/guide switch, at this time the agreed price should be verified between all old d/g new d/g and you. If it's a legit switch then alright. If you don't feel comfortable about new driver/guide then get out right then. Offer part payment for part ride claiming you forgot other plans/sudden feel sick/etc. If they say no or are too insistant you get back in, pay full agreed fare, apologize and walk away. Better a lost ride then empty wallet or worse.
    Of course this should be attempted only in a well trafficked area. If this is happening in an out of way area you might already be in too deep play along until safe to get away.

    Reply

  • Michael Z said

    Thanks for the tips. This can be more or less the same excellent advice in most Asia nations - especially where I avoided a horse trading scam in Chiang Mae, Thailand and a taxi scam in Hanoi, Vietnam. Everywhere these scams happen, the local police must make a very serious effort to round up the bad guys, lock them up and prevent tourists from not only being robbed but going home with a negative experience and having nothing good to say about the city and it's lack of police enforcement to safeguard tourists. So, where are the under police to to lock them up?

    Reply

  • Janet said

    After all this, I just wouldn't go there!

    Reply

    • Beth said

      I've been to Chiang Mai and it was wonderful. I felt safe, enjoyed the sights, rode an elephant (at the patara elephant farm where elephants are extremely well treated), took a bike tour, perused the markets, etc. I was a 60-year old American woman traveling alone. I never felt scared or threatened. Of course I kept my guard up, I'm not stupid. But please don't stay home because something bad might happen; bad things can happen in this country, too.

      Reply

      • JR said

        "But please don't stay home because something bad might happen."

        I couldn't agree more.

        Reply

        • stuart hemingway said

          I also know Chiang Mai very visited many many times and never seen or heard of this scam also remember it tends to be only stupid none thinking people that get scammed
          If it feels wrong it probably is wrong don't do it

          Reply

      • James said

        If you rode an elephant I can guarantee they were not well treated.

        Reply

        • TravelCatScribe said

          Please don't ride elephants in Asia or Africa!

          Reply

  • rick be said

    Common sense should be your guide even in Europe or the USA.

    Reply

  • Michael Quane said

    The PHIlippines is well worth visiting, with its stunning scenery, friendly people and favorable exchange rate. That's why so many Koreans, Chinese and Japanese go there to shop in Manila's immense malls. And despite what their president says, the Filipino people overwhelmingly sand genuinely like Americans. once while arriving late at night, I had a cabdriver (after I had gotten in) tell me the rate from the airport to the hotel was $40. I told him I'd been there before and I knew the rate was about $5. He smiled cause he knew he tried. He didn't argue and was pleasant on the journey. When we arrived I gave him $10, which was too much, but I compared it with what it would have cost between JFK and Manhattan. I didn't mind giving him something extra for his family.

    Reply

  • Andre said

    Taxi scams are common in many, if not most developing countries I've travelled to. When it comes down to it, I've found the most effective way to avoid drastically overpaying when you reach your destination is the one way that westerners often feel too uncomfortable to use: the threat of violence. It's extremely common that a driver will want to scam you. It's just as uncommon that the same driver will actually risk a physical fight to do so. Just offer the driver an appropriate fare and tell him that you'll kick his head in if he wants more. Please understand, I'm not even slightly joking, it works every time. The more weakness you display when traveling, the more you will be taken advantage of.

    Reply

    • Derek said

      You are so right. I told the first dodgy driver in Manila I would choke him out if he didn't stop the taxi immediately. The next one (about 15 minutes later) waited till we were on the expressway to turn off the meter. He turned it on again after I looked at him and said some very nasty things. My advice is when you find an honest driver, get his number or just use uber.

      Reply

  • Bruce said

    another scam i fely was goint through a local booking agent in manila i asked fora hotel bechfront in the Batangas area , ended up in Laal lake front hahah and the booking agent passed ti on to Agoda , which i have used on the internet incurred booking twice and wont even say how much agaoda charged , i did get a partial refund but will always book myself on line , this local agent a friend of a friend hmmmm

    Reply

  • Tony said

    I fell for the horse trading scam a few years ago. My biggest fault was not negotiating the price up front. The guide took me around Manila for about for an hour and then at the end of the trip, his "boss" jumps on.

    The boss sets the price of the trip at 3000 pesos (about $60), I refused and told him that I didn't think the price was fair. After some back and forth, we settled on 1500 pesos. I was immediately dropped off.

    I think that foreigners are way too comfortable in the Philippines and should be more vigilant. I do not condone fighting in a foreign land but you have to let these scammers know that you will not tolerate being abused.

    Reply

  • Sarah said

    What a hasty generalization, XXXX. Surely, you haven't been to many places in the Philippines.

    Reply

  • BHanna said

    I agree with Sarah, XXXX. You need to experience the beauty of the country and its people.

    Reply

  • JC from Holland said

    On my website http://leavingholland.com I show the true Philippines, in articles with trustworthy titles.....scams happen everywhere, even when you are safe at home using the internet, so this article to me is very stigmatising. I live in the Philippines, I disagree with the writer.

    Reply

  • Pngmwk23 said

    We visited Manila from the US. We experienced both the taxi and kalesa scams. They just asked for ridiculous fees up front and we said, “No thanks!” No big deal. It’s part of the experience. If you’re worried, then always hire a private driver from your hotel. Their contracted rates are expensive locally but by US standards are still super cheap. You can ask them to pick you up at a certain time/place and they will be there.

    Reply

  • <a href="https://www.cebutours.ph/">Cebu Tours</a> said

    The Philippines is well worth visiting, with its stunning scenery, friendly people and favorable exchange rate. That's why so many Koreans, Chinese and Japanese go there to shop in Manila's immense malls. You just have to be extra careful and besides, in every country there are people who are consumed by the devil and does evil things. It's not the country's fault or the President.

    Reply

  • Kai said

    Thanks for this amazing post! To avoid scams, never trust strangers and follow your instincts. Anyways, I stumbled on a very nice website, be sure to visit this site guys! They offer a lot of great stuffs!
    https://www.cebutours.ph/package/car-and-van-rental-for-provincial-tours-and-transfers/
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    Reply

  • Mark said

    Here is my story of a scam

    http://mark24609.blogspot.com/2018/06/scams-in-singapore-jacky-tabanag.html?m=1

    Reply

  • joan said

    What scam? Just because the other person got the better of you, doesn't mean you got scammed.
    Sour grapes, better luck next time, Tony. David just happens to be better!

    Reply

  • John and Juanita said

    we have had similar experiences in Manila over the years.
    once I totally lost control and said every swear word I knew. Then offered to fight him as well, he readjusted his fare.

    Another time travelling alone I jumped out of the taxi when the drivers partner in crime entered the cab ,
    However in the Provinces I have been ok with Taxi drivers and feel confident there.
    There are a lot of locals who see foreigners as ATM.s including close family.
    It was a struggle in Davao to avoid being ripped off.
    Incidentally I lived I KL for many years and from time to time a Taxi driver would try it on too.
    I advise expats with kids never to let them travel unsupervised in KL.

    Reply

  • wary traveler said

    You don't know who on here is legit and who is in denial to lie to bolster travel to the PI.

    Reply

  • Sav said

    In Manila as we speak = nightmare!!

    Reply

  • mike t. said

    I have been to the P.I. many times and love it, but like in any other 3rd world country you must be cautious but you should not be paranoid. One of the worse class of scammers are the terminal 3 taxi drivers. They are pros at scamming you, and I mean that some of them are very good. Once I got dropped off at the wrong terminal. If you know the manila airport, you know that you can't just walk over to the right terminal, too far and too complicated.

    The best thing to do, in my opinion, that if you have a particular hotel in mind, find out how far it is from the terminal and offer the driver a flat rate. That does not mean that he will still try to scam you, but it may help. If things start to go south, just bail from the taxi.

    Once I needed a ride from a hotel to the bus station. I was given what sounded like a reasonable rate, only to find that the bus station was one block from the hotel, easy walking difference. Both the taxi driver and I laughed about it, he scammed me but since I had arrived at the hotel late at night and did not check out the distances, it was my fault.

    With that being said, the most honest business guy I met in the Philippines was an independent taxi driver. He had snuck into the the airport taxi line, he gestured to me, I went over and got in, the other "official" taxi drivers were yelling their fool heads off and pointing at us. We took off at a high rate of speed and he delivered me to my hotel for practically nothing, it was close. I was so impressed with this guy, I had his card and called him to have him meet at my hotel and gave him some real American silver dollars as a reward.

    The people there are generally more friendly there, but keep in mind that you are pretty much viewed as a walking atm. Heck, if you had the money to get there, you are automatically "rich". I don't mind being scammed a little, sometimes it is just a game. Other times, you have to play hardball to get out of a bad deal.

    I picked up some fake Rolex watches and Ray-Bans sunglasses for like $5 each. It was fun to show it off and wear the sunglasses around the states. But after a week the winding stem fell off plus it had already quit working. The Raybans lasted longer but eventually the lens popped out. So you can have fun a little, even with the scams and scammers.

    Their attitude is something like you can afford to be scammed. But not everyone there does it. I found the marketplaces for philippinos the least scam-able places, because the prices are posted right on the item, the merchants cannot just change the price right in front of you.

    Overall, I enjoyed the Philippines to be the best 3rd world country to visit. Most of the people there are genuinely friendly... as long as you don't get drunk and stupid, insult them, etc. Common sense and courtesy goes a long way there.

    Also, remember that in many places it can be very hot in temperature, so keep that in mind, that your hotel has "aircon" (air conditioning). Check to see that it works when you first go into the room. Do not leave valuables out in the open should you go out for a while. I had some friends get around $8,000 in money and jewelry stolen within 20 minutes after they left the hotel. They were coming back right away, so no big deal, right? The thing is that in some hotels, the "maids" will decide to clean your room, and really clean your room (out), or others involved with the motel will enter your room while you are gone.

    Common sense. Courtesy. Be polite. Smile a lot. Be friendly to the locals. Don't get off the beaten path unless you have a trustworthy guide. It is more than worth it. It is easy to find love. The girls are young and the older you are, the better, because it means those love of your lifes count on you kicking the bucket sooner than later. But use caution as far as finding your eternal love there. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is just a scam. Remember, the younger and prettier the girls are, the better the chances of a scam is in the making.... even if they swear to "love you loooongtime"! The best ones to seek romance with are the ones with jobs. Do not western union them money from the states (I wish I had followed my own advice on that one), even if their pigs/relatives are sick or need emergency operations! Every philippino, even the poorest, has PhilHealth for real emergencies. Remember, real love has no price. I love visiting the Philippines!

    Reply

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