8 Scams to Avoid on Your Digital Nomad Adventure

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Great Palace, Thailand

If you’re going to embrace the life of a digital nomad, well, that’s fantastic. It’s absolutely wonderful to be able to work remotely and independent of any specific location, but it’s important to remember that wherever your wanderlust takes you in the world, you will always be a tourist there.

And being a tourist means being a target.

It might seem as if tourist scams are usually reported in Asia, but that’s only because Westerners find it hard to blend in with the locals and in fact, scams happen everywhere.

Whether you’re a designer, developer, marketer or entrepreneur, being a digital nomad means that your entire life exists in your backpack. Not just your beach towel and bikini, but your computer, your money and your identification. Safety becomes a bigger deal because of this and scammers have no trouble figuring out what you own, and what they can exploit from you.

Let’s take a look at a few scams.

Sorry, Thailand is Closed Today

Since I mentioned Asia, I’ll start with a scam thats especially well-known in Bangkok, Thailand. Basically, someone will tell you that the Grand Palace is closed for some insane reason (like a religious holiday), knowing that you’re none the wiser.

He or she will then (conveniently) offer something even better to do, and before you know it you’re in a tailor shop or a gem store. I suppose the scam isn’t actually that bad if you’re in the market for an overpriced suit or a fake gem, which they’ll claim is worth a fortune in the country that you’re from.

Don’t fall for it!

Wrong Change Scams

Cultural holidays are not the only thing scammers will test you on, there’s currency too. Currency is something I’ve never been able to wrap my head around because I’ve never been amazing at math, but luckily this conversion app has always helped me out.

Always check your change, even in large shops. Foreigners tend to be swindled because they don’t understand the currency and they’ll end up receiving the incorrect change without knowing.

Rental Scams

Here’s another one that’s spotted frequently in Thailand. When renting a vehicle the owner will claim that you dented or scratched it and demand money for the damages. In reality, the owners most likely scratched it themselves and countless tourists before you have already been fooled into covering the damages.

It’s a common scam in Pattaya and Phuket – with jet skis.

Here’s Free Stuff, Now Buy a Time Share

Ever hear the saying, nothing is ever really free?

Well, that’s because it isn’t. I’m not sure if I’d call the time share scam a scam, but there is a catch and it happens much too often in Las Vegas. A hotel will start by offering you either a free meal, free show tickets or a free night in the hotel upon agreement that they’ll take you on a quick tour of the hotel.

While you will receive all of those things, the tour will be three hours long and you’ll be subjected to satirical disrespect and intimidation as you reach the end, as well as multiple attempts to force you to buy a time share in the hotel.

Just say no.

Free Drinks and Wives

Many tourists are not aware of how exploitative Bangkok’s sex trade is until they arrive. It’s quite common to be tempted with tickets to free naughty shows and dirt-cheap drinks, which later on, will turn out to not be free at all. If you refuse to pay, the situation can quickly become violent, especially if you’ve had one too many drinks and are feeling vulnerable. Here’s a tip: always pay for your drinks there and then.

On top of that, those beautiful Thai ladies receive a commission every time you buy a drink for them, but that doesn’t mean they won’t fist-fight another woman for the chance to make you her foreign husband. Western husbands are a sign of wealth and importance, especially if you’re a well-dressed entrepreneur.

Public Transport Scams

All countries have unethical (or even illegal) taxi drivers. It’s best to do your research beforehand and see which taxi company is the most reputable. Not only that, but many cab drivers will “forget” to switch the meter on and charge you whatever they feel like. When in doubt, hail a taxi at an official taxi rank. Bali (Indonesia) is supposedly the worst for this sort of thing.

If you’ve chosen to travel by bus or train, be wary of “official” looking staff that will manoeuvre you into ticket offices and claim that all of the seats are booked up, and the only way you’re travelling to your destination is by booking the coach they suggest. Shocker: it’s exponentially more expensive.

On the whole, be vigilant of who you’re surrounded by, especially if you see somebody ”accidentally” dropping something near your feet or asking for directions. Pickpockets are always around, and they love to target foreigners and expats with backpacks.

Here’s Your Coca-Cola, That’ll Be 15 Euros

Plot twist: the coke you ordered is actually €15 and to show cause for it you’ll receive an entire litre of coke that you can’t possibly finish. Sangria, beer, whatever – the trap is the same. You’ll be lured in with cheap food by a menu that doesn’t disclose the costs of drinks and coaxed onto a table before you’ve even realised what’s going on.

If the front of house is overly friendly and starts to read the menu to you, even though it’s written in 10 languages with an abundance of images to go along with it, it’s a tourist trap. Run away and find a little beauty in one of the side roads.

Free Bracelets and Roses, Don’t Mind If I Do (…Don’t!)

I bet you’ve never tried these two sales tactics. I first encountered (and fell for) the bracelet trick by the Spanish Steps in Rome. Basically, a man offers you a string bracelet and unless you say no in the next millisecond, you’re wearing it.

And of course he’ll want money for that. He demanded €5 and wouldn’t take it back. I offered him €1 because I actually liked the bracelet and I wore it for a whole year before the string frayed and tore apart. He became very angry, so I offered a few obscenities myself, walked away, and he received nothing.

You can avoid these types of awkward situations by being quicker of the market – don’t let anybody wrap anything around you!

Another “no returns” scam is the classic free rose. A lady (it’s usually a lady) offers your girlfriend a rose as a seemingly nice gesture – but then asks the boyfriend for money. Since the rose lady won’t take it back, you’re left with no choice but to drop the rose on the floor. If you hand over money you’ve been fooled!


Whether it’s a carefully thought-out scam or a shifty-eyed fella lurking near the ATM, a scam is a scam and they come in many different forms. Even innocent looking women and children can be culprits in these devilish schemes. Hopefully this article has made you more aware of what really goes on in bustling tourist areas, and more importantly, I haven’t turn you off the idea of digital nomadism. Just be be aware, be wise, be safe.

Daniel SchwarzDaniel Schwarz
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Previously, design blog editor at Toptal and SitePoint. Now Daniel advocates for better UX design alongside industry leaders such as Adobe, InVision, Marvel, Wix, Net Magazine, LogRocket, CSS-Tricks, and more.

digital nomadentrepreneurshipjoelfscamstravel
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