As travellers we commonly rely on trains to help us get between states and countries, as a way to view stunning landscapes and to experience different cities. However it’s important to be careful not to leave ourselves vulnerable to scams and thieves. Even the most seasoned traveller can fall victim to an opportunistic pickpocket. Knowing the tricks of the ‘trade’ will help you stay one step ahead of the criminals.
Here are 4 of the most common train scams from around the world, and how to avoid them.
1. Ticket machine ‘helpers’ in Europe
Scam: There are a couple of scams that occur at ticket machines and these can be tricky to avoid. While you’re figuring out how to purchase a ticket - for example, which zone your destination is in, what coins are required, or whether you need to use a credit card - a smiling, official-looking stranger will appear and ask if they can help you. In one variation of the scam, the smiling, but persistent ‘helper’ purchases your ticket for you, using their own credit card. They then ask you to pay them the cash for it. Sometimes they expect a tip for their time. When you then use the train ticket, you find that it is not the correct ticket for your journey, i.e. a one way ticket rather than the return ticket that you needed! The other situation is when a ‘helpful’ stranger offers to help you purchase a train ticket, but once you hand over your cash, they simply run away with your money! In both instances you end up paying more than is required for your train ticket.
How to avoid: Purchasing train tickets from machines is generally quite easy, so refuse help if offered by a stranger. If you’re travelling in a country where English is not the official language, look for an English/translate button. Alternatively, the safest way to purchase train tickets is from an official rail employee at a ticket window. If you’re in a large city for a few days purchasing a weekly ticket will also limit the number of times you’ll need to buy a ticket altogether.
2. ‘Travel agents’ in Delhi
Scam: When in India, it’s a wonderful idea to travel out of the city hub and venture to different regions to see all the beautiful sights on offer. Not only that, travelling by rail in India is one of the most cost-effective modes of transport. But be wary, teams of imposters work together to take your money from you. This is one scam that is commonly posted about.
An official-looking person at the station will ask to see your ticket. They will stop you from proceeding further into the train station and will tell you that either your train has been cancelled, or that you are on a waiting list as your train is fully booked, therefore you will need to book a new ticket. They direct you to take a Tuktuk or taxi to the ‘ticketing office’ or ‘travel agency’ which, unfortunately, isn’t a legitimate ticketing office at all. This false ticketing office will tell you that all trains are fully booked for the day and the following day, so you will need to travel to your destination by bus, hire car or taxi, as they are the only available options. They demand you pay upfront to ensure your reservation.
The problem is, the official-looking person that stopped you getting into the train station doesn’t work there at all. Posing as a railway official, they are actually working in conjunction with the travel agency/ticketing office and have just scammed you by charging you an expensive fee to travel by taxi, car or bus. The trains are still running and are not fully booked!
How to avoid: If you need to purchase a train ticket then ensure you get to the station in plenty of time. If you’re stressed and rushed, the scammers will see this and will take advantage of your distress. Also, take some time to watch where the locals go and check where other people have queued. Another solution is to use cleartrip.com, a private company authorised by Indian Railway to reserve and sell tickets. Long distance trains are open for bookings 60 days ahead of departure but shorter trips generally open 30 days in advance. You’ll need your passport information to book trains in India.
If you are thinking of travelling to India any time soon, it pays to do some homework. Check out www.indiamike.com. This forum specialises in travel information for India.
3. Sleeper stealers in Southeast Asia
Scam: Many overnight trains offer sleeper carriages and are generally a great cheap way to travel. Usually these beds are stacked three bunks high, with the most expensive tickets for beds lowest to the ground and the cheapest beds up top. As it’s common for passengers to get on and off at different stations along the way, it is possible that you’ll board your train to find that your bottom bunk bed is already occupied. When you try waking the sneaky bed stealer they’ll feign a deep sleep or simply request that you climb up and take the top bunk – after all, they’ve already used your sheets.
How to avoid: This scam can be particularly frustrating as it’s really quite simple. This doesn’t mean, however, that you’re not being scammed out of the fare which you paid for. If you’re boarding a train in the dark this can be especially confusing as it may seem almost easier to take the spare bunk instead of disturb someone who is sleeping. To avoid being fleeced out of your lower bunk fare ask the carriage guard to show you to your allocated bed. Depending on the service, the carriage guard will often come and wake you when your stop is approaching, so it’s important you’re in your designated sleeper.
4. Pickpocket teams in Paris
Scam: Pickpockets are found the world over, but in Paris they seem to have it down to a fine art. Commonly a group of young children, but often families, groups of teens or single adults (so, yes, almost anyone could potentially be a thief), pickpockets on the metro/Rer usually operate swindles that move like clockwork. The criminals spring into action when triggered by the buzzer that signals the closing of the carriage doors. They might grab something out of your pocket or go for your entire bag, before darting out the doors as they close shut. There are craftier operators too who may use surveys or fake charities to approach you, relying on slight of hand.
How to avoid: Be wary of anybody standing unusually close to you on the train and make sure you always have one hand over your valuables. If you’re carrying a bag, use one that has a zip, so you can secure it with a small combination lock. If you have internal pockets in your jacket, place your valuable items in them. It’s easy for pickpockets to slip their hands in any big pockets. You should also try and have both hands free if possible, which means having your coffee before or after you’ve been on the train. Lastly, don’t be too flashy. Leave items such as passports, iPod and smartphones locked in your hotel room safe, or a locked bag and don’t make yourself an obvious target by opening your wallet or money pouch on the train or anywhere too public.
When travelling to a country you are unfamiliar with, ensure you do some internet research before arriving. Type in your destination with the word ‘scam’ or ‘safety’. Travellers like to share their experiences and travel tips, so this search can bring up posts that have been written in the hope of helping other travellers avoid the same fate. Make sure you have some time spare to read all the posts!
Trip Advisor is a great website to check out, as many people post their travel advice. http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/