Scams are a reality in many cities and towns that are frequented by tourists. It can be very unnerving for someone who has not experienced these before and can often leave you feeling quite foolish in the end, like I did when I experienced the Milk scam in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The scene is set: A lone (usually) tourist walking around the areas close to Thamel is approached by a woman, usually with a wailing baby strapped to her body, begging for food. She will plead with the tourist, emphasizing that she is not begging for money, but begging him or her to buy a packet for powdered milk for the hungry infant from a nearby store. If the gullible tourist agrees, she will ask the storekeeper for the packet and usually it will be the biggest available packet for a few thousand Nepali rupees paid by the do-gooder.
Once she has bought the packet, she will thank the tourist profusely, and invite him home for tea. While I declined the offer, (yes I was scammed), something did not quite feel right about how quickly everything had happened.
Later, when I described the incident to a fellow traveller, he revealed that he too had been scammed in the same way. In reality, the beggar and the storekeeper worked together. The milk packet that was ‘bought’ by the tourist was usually returned by the beggar to the storekeeper and in return, the beggar received a small percentage of the price paid by the tourist. I felt foolish when I learnt of the reality and also saw the same beggar on the street corner trying to scam other tourists, most of whom seemed smarter than me.
This was the first time I experienced being scammed on my travels and learnt an important lesson- to be very cautious and carefully assess a situation before reacting impulsively. Of course, this is a lesson to be applied to all situations in life, but this can be particularly hard to do when you’re visiting a poor country and want to do your tiny little bit to help someone. The best way to help in poor countries is through a trustworthy organization. Sometimes the intention to do good can actually do more harm than good if your act benefits the begging mafia that exists in many poverty stricken countries.
Have you ever been scammed on your travels? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
For more posts from Nepal, visit the Nepal Travel Blog.