Wednesday, 28 September 2016

MOROCCO: Be Aware, Tourist Scams In Morocco

Travelling to Morocco is really one of a kind of experience. It is a simple, laidback life yet with excellent food and marvellous scenery. You have the Sahara desert, interesting Mosque architecture, riads (traditional Moroccan houses), treasure hunting at Medinas, mint tea, palaces, carpets and many more.

However, scamming IS a national sport here. Many you meet on the street will only be interested in your wallet. There are so many fakes, so many scams, that it is a contender to having the most number of scams in the world. Check out this article today to learn how to protect yourself and enjoy the marvellous experience Morocco has to offer!

Due to the low minimum wage in Morocco (100 DH for 8 hours), there are many who resort to pushing their help even if unrequested for in exchange for a sum of money. For instance, if you happen to look lost at a busy market, a nice guy will approach, point out and guide you to where you want to go. He will then demand a sum of money even if you did not request for it, which can be anywhere from 20-50% of his minimum wage, see the attractiveness of it now?

There are so many possibilities with this scam. For instance, a “nice guy” sees you taking photos. He then points you to a spot with better viewpoints and he will demand money for it. The smarter ones would not demand for it straight away. Once you accept their help the first time and trust is build, they will continue helping you with more tasks and eventually ask for money. At this point, most tourists would part with a bit of their money as they might guilty otherwise.

Unfortunately, the police cannot be counted on in such situations. So to be safe, avoid help from such nice guys, and only seek help from legit ones such as police officers or shop owners.

Just remember, the wider the smile, the sharper the knife.

Highly reported in Jemna El-Fna, Marrakech’s main square, you will find many ladies here who force their henna ink onto tourists sneakily. When you realize, they will apologize and offer to do a full henna tattoo instead. It seems like there’s nothing to lose at this stage, but when the job is completed, money will be demanded.

Worst of all, they don’t care how the henna tattoo turns out, as long as they get it done.

Again, in Jemna El-Fna, Marrakech’s main square, you will find people carrying animals such as snakes or monkeys. What they will do is place the animal on you, snatch your camera and take a photo for you in exchange for a tip/donation.

Simple and easy advice would be to stay away, or if you don’t mind, just pay up, which is actually a rather small sum.

Should you take a photo of these people or of their animals, they will demand payment from you as well so watch out.

The same thing can happen with scammers who carry Moroccan costumes around and throw them on you.

Also, be careful if someone offers to help you take a photo with your camera, as he might simply grab your camera and bolt off.

Similar to the live animals/costume photographers, the water sellers are dressed in traditional Moroccan grub. As the name suggests, they sell water in the past via their costume, but they do not do so now. Rather, they operate by charging an amount should you take a photo of or with them.

Similar to tuk-tuks in Thailand, get on a horse/camel, the service operator might bring you someway far away from town and demand for additional money.

Other operators might demand for an over inflated fee right at the start.

Never buy drugs here, as it is too high a risk to take (you shouldn’t even be taking it in the first place!) Morocco is taking a tough stance against those in possession of drugs – if you’re caught, be prepared to end up in jail.

This is similar to most other countries but the reality is, there are dealers and police members who work together to set tourists up. There are also undercover police who do so to catch tourists.

This is extremely common in the touristy parts of Morocco. What these scammers do is to first befriend you, give you some tips to build trust, and as you walk towards a certain destination, the scammer may claim that the place or lane is closed.

The place is closed scam is easy to spot, as it is common around the world where the scammer will simply introduce another place and a series of things happen, which is well described in this post on scams in Thailand. If they use the lane is closed scam, it is much more convincing and they will simply ask you to take another path.

Like clockwork, you will meet another passerby (accomplice) who corroborate the account that this path or place is closed and then lead you to a tannery. There’s usually a lingering smell which messes with you and many small roads making it akin to a maze. Once you’re in, it’s difficult to get out unless you buy something.

It’s unlikely the police will help when you get caught in such a situation as they would most likely have already been paid off Mafia style.

Such items (carpets, ceramics, Argan oil) are obviously fake at the major touristy markets, and tourists know it. Claims such as this carpet is 50 years old or from a certain tribe are obviously nonsense. However, there is a more effective way which scammers use to trick you into buying the fake ware as shown below:

For this scam, you might be approached by someone who speaks impeccable English and claims to be from your hometown/country. He then introduces himself and his goal in Morocco, that is to buy rugs/ceramics/Argan oil and sell back home for a handsome profit.

He then either offers to bring you around the souks and shop or simply ask if you’re willing to join him in touring the city. Regardless, you will end up at a carpet/rug shop and due to his connections and persuasion skills, you will get a huge discount for a carpet/rug, which are obviously fake.

You might not meet someone who speaks perfect English, but you may come across people who claim to be students who would like to practise their English with you. The outcome is the same.

If you really want to buy, begin bargaining from ¼ of the price, as the first price quoted is often nonsensical.

What’s worse than buying fake rugs is thinking you have bought a great carpet/rug only to have the vendor swap it with one that is of a poorer quality.

Generally, an accomplice will distract you, and the vendor will do the swap and he IS fast. So never let your attention stray, and if you are suspicious, check the rug again after they have packed it.

Money can be swapped as well. For instance, you pay $50, the vendor drops the bill accidentally, swaps it with a smaller note and then demand that you top up the difference.

Believe it or not, there are vendors who set the price of something at $x, and once you use it, they change tack and charge you double the price instead!

This is pretty similar to the fake nice guy scam, though somewhat different. The modus operandi of this scammer is to claim to be an official guide who is being paid by the tourist board, to put you at ease regarding payments or tips. He will not demand money for you, but will bring you to the famed carpet/rug shop in town and pressure you into getting one at an inflated price..

There are also of course who would demand payment from you at the end of the “tour”.

As with all scammy taxi drivers in the world, there are unlicensed cab drivers here and also many cab drivers who do not turn on the meter, all in the hope of demanding a much larger upfront fee from you.

Also, never pay any fare upfront when booking or making an arrangement with a taxi driver to turn up later on in the day. They will not once they get their money.

Also, beware of taxi drivers at airport who are the most aggressive ones. Some will charge a nonsensical amount – it should not cost you more than around 70 Dirham (give or take) in the day and 150 Dirham at night to the Medine. Some will not allow you to share cabs. Some will even jack up the price once you are out of the airport.

Besides the inflated fare, there are taxi drivers who will lie through their teeth to bring you somewhere else from your intended destination, that is to a shop where they can earn commissions. Why? Because commission in Morocco is big business, where shop owners can earn up to or even more than 50% of items you buy at these shops.

Blatant lying is not uncommon here, where some restaurants have even resorted to using two different menus! The cheaper one will be for when you first enter, and the more expensive one will be when it is time to foot your bill. Thus, always check your bill lest you overpay.

Good news is that the police knows about this sneaky scam and rough which restaurants do it. So you are covered in a sense.

Another way restaurants cheat is by claiming the bread and water are included as complimentary items, but are charged in the final bill. Thus, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it never hurts to always check your final bill. There are even restaurants which add extra items which you have never ordered into the final bill.

These beggars are not fake in the sense that they act as beggars, but they are fake in the sense that they act as if they have some ailments such as being blind or being unable to walk.

Hotel Amira et Vacances. Reports of racism found at this hotel. Where a plaintiff’s Senegalese friend was asked to leave even after having paid for his stay.

There are hotels which hire people to approach tourists on the streets to encourage them to stay at a hotel where they provide a glowing recommendation. An example is Pension Talaa in Fez’s Medina. These are hotels of poor quality at inflated prices.

The scam goes like this. A stranger puts something into your hand, and when you try to return it, he will claim that you have just robbed him. At this moment, a fake policeman walks by..

You will be asked to pay or threatened with arrest.

Similar but slightly different to scam #5 above, a musician may pass you a CD, asking you to check out his music. Should you accept, payment will be demanded. This can happen for any thing, as long as it is a physical item.

Note that you do not have to pay to use the public toilet! There are scammers who plant themselves at the entrance and demand a small fee which most tourist pay as they do not know + it is a small sum.

In the same vein as scam #7, there are scammers who demand for an entrance fee at the Medina and Tannery, which are obviously, free.

Avoid using those ATMs you find on the streets, as there’s a higher likelihood of getting your bank card swiped.

Also, be wary of strangers or beggars hanging around these ATMs, as there have been cases of robberies reported.

This is more so for Westerners in North Africa, as several state departments have warned, though more so along the border and southern regions. Avoid hanging out alone late in the night or trekking in remote mountain regions.

Western Sahara’s landmines. This is not technically a scam, but something to be wary of.

Emergency numbers:

The number to dial is 190, but operators usually do not speak English.

Also, dial 15 for firefighters and 150 for ambulance services.

Tourist police (Brigade Touristique)

Number to dial is: 0524 38 46 01