Activity rental scams

Being on holiday in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand the local laws can certainly make you vulnerable to opportunists.

It doesn't matter where in the world you’re holidaying, scams can happen. Some of the most common scams involve activity rentals. The good news is they are preventable if you just stay alert and know what to look out for.

Jet ski scam

The jet ski scam is so popular in Thailand that there are YouTube videos showing you how it works. One misconception is that the scam is about the price of hiring the jet skis and charging foreigners too much. However, it actually starts when you bring it back and they accuse you of damaging it. They may claim you either hit another jet ski or even some rocks, and point out damage underneath the ski or on its nose. They might blame you and say you are liable for the damage, even demanding payment on the spot or they will call the police.

If they do call the police (possibly a friend dressed in uniform) it can just be part of the scam. The “police” may negotiate a cheaper rate for you but they will not help you get out of paying. It also pays not to accuse them of being part of the scam or not doing enough to help you. If you get it wrong, you might find yourself locked up.

In most cases in Thailand, you do not have to enter any sort of hire contract and because of this, typically the owner is always right. Some people are scammed thousands of dollars due to bullying tactics and very aggressive owners.

The easiest way to avoid being scammed is to have a good look at the jet ski before you hire it and take photos before you take it out. You could do some research on the web before you leave or ask your hotel’s concierge for recommendations.

Motorbike and moped hire scams

This scam works in a similar way to the jet ski scam. When bringing the bike back you’re told that there’s damage to the vehicle and some outrageous repair cost is quoted. Again the “police” might be called to assist but they will only help negotiate a lower price.

Another scam involves the moped shop stealing their own bikes back and charging you for the replacement. To avoid this, park the moped where you can keep an eye on it, lock it to something solid or store it in a locked garage, and use a chain and padlock at all times.

Before you drive off, be sure to inspect the bike together with the rental operator, take photos and note any damages.

Snow sports scams

Rental hire scams can happen when skiing or snowboarding. These usually transpire when you hire the equipment and get charged for major repairs when you return them.

When hiring any equipment, you will sign a hire agreement. Make sure you read the fine print and check what is covered, especially for theft and damage.

When you are taking a break from the slopes you’ll need to know where your rental gear is and preferably keep an eye on it at all times. It’s a good idea not to leave things in a sea of other equipment, it can make it hard to remember where you left it or worse, you could accidentally take someone else’s stuff.

Another scam is people scouting the mountain cafés and restaurants stealing skis and snowboards. This may not happen with your average rental hire but if you upgrade to an executive hire where you are renting top of the line equipment, you could be targeted, so keep a close eye on them. If you are skiing with a friend, it can be a good idea to swap one ski of each pair and store them in different places, reducing the likelihood they could be stolen.

Your travel insurance won’t cover damage to sports gear while it’s being used, so be careful with it – stay away from rocks and be careful how you store and transport equipment during your holiday, this includes leaving skis and snowboards locked to the roof racks of your car overnight.

Should you use your passport as security?

Some hire companies will ask for your passport as a security guarantee – handing it over could be a big mistake! If they have your passport they could hold onto it as a bargaining chip until you’ve paid up, regardless of whether it’s legitimate or a scam. Get the operator to agree to a cash deposit instead if necessary. If they won’t accept cash another form of ID to secure the rental, you should find someone else to rent from.

Resort water sports – hire tips

Many resorts have water sports equipment to use or hire and they can be a great way to explore the resort. Make sure you know what is free and what you have to hire, and always check what the liability clause is for loss and damage.

It pays to check the condition of the equipment before you leave. You could be paddling around shallow lagoons with very sharp coral just below surface, risking damage to the equipment. Most resort gear is built tough but it’s worth considering how easily it can be scratched or broken before you embark on your adventure.

If you are hiring any type of sailing craft, such as a windsurfer or hobie-cat, check with the hire centre to find out the best times to take them out. You don’t want to be caught out in an afternoon trade wind that takes you out past the reef. Generally, hire companies will set a limit on how far you can go and will have retrieval craft to offer assistance. Check that there isn’t a penalty for straying too far, or it could become very costly.

If you sign for the sports equipment when you take it out, you need to remember to sign it back in when you return it. If the gear you’re using is lost or stolen, even after you’ve returned it, you are likely to be held responsible, so don’t leave it unattended and make sure the hire company acknowledge its safe return.

Diving trip tips

It is unlikely that you would be scammed on a diving trip, but there are a few precautions you should always take. Make sure you book with a licensed operator and a qualified diving instructor (unless you hold an underwater diving certificate) – it’s a requirement of your insurance and it will help you weed out the cowboys. Inspect the gear you hire to make sure it is up to standard.

You’re going to be underwater for a while so make sure your belongings on the boat are secure. This is more important on the bigger dive boats that cater for large groups of people. We recommend that you don’t take anything valuable and don’t take a lot of cash with you. 

Boat hire tips

If you’re an experienced boatie, speedboats and yachts are a great way to discover marine areas. We haven’t heard of many scams around hiring boats but you do need to be careful and research the company you are hiring from.

You may not be able to check out the hull for damage but if you can, check the prop for dents or polishing, otherwise you could be held accountable if it’s damaged when you return it. If you’re sailing, look at what condition the sails are in. Most importantly, make sure you read the rental contract thoroughly and check the fine print for what you are responsible for if you have an accident. Your insurance won’t cover you if you’re 12 nautical miles or 22.2km or more away from populated land or in a remote area.

Six quick checks to help you stay safe on your travels

  1. Check the liability clause and read the fine print.
  2. Photograph the equipment before you use it.
  3. Don’t leave rental equipment unattended.
  4. DO NOT give anyone your passport as a security deposit
  5. Stay within your abilities. If you don’t ride a moped at home, a foreign country might not be the best place to learn!
  6. And most importantly – have fun! Now you’re one step ahead of any dishonest opportunists.


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