Travel, travel, oh travel… It’s never complete without at least a single story to share, right? Even more exciting when that story you’re most eager to share is actually not a good experience. But, of course as travelers, we felt the same way as other fellow travelers about one travel disease, getting ‘scammed’. Yes, travel scams are everywhere, almost like a very good friend of traveling.
Although we had prepared for everything for our trip, doesn’t mean we’re ready for all things. Some countries you visit might need more attention about safety, such as third world countries. It’s not that when you travel there, you will surely get scammed, it’s just you probably will.
We had our scammed experience in Vietnam where the first scam effort happened right after we land. But you know what, it’s been quite a funny experience, given the amount of money they successfully got from us. It’s just not really significant when converted to our currency compared our daily life expenses here. 😂
We did our research, of course, for our Penang trip. All we got, is only some articles about taxi scam in Penang. Yeah, the classic taxi uncle who use no meter, way overpriced fare, etc. You probably know this general taxi scam, it’s pretty common.
Now what I want to share in this post is quite a unique scam, which you might not be familiar with. It’s not really an advance scam, but I think it’s worth to share. If you’re a vigilant traveler, which everybody should be, then you might not get into this. Okay, so let’s start the story.
The “Sifu” Scam
It was on our third day when we’re out hunting some street arts across George Town. We’re going for our last street art, the Boy at Prangin Canal and the Penang Past, Present, Future mural. They’re both located close to each other, Jalan Magazine and Jalan Prangin. It’s quite a walk from our hotel, around 20 minutes.
Shortly we got what we want, those two murals. Which is a very satisfying feel, it’s like mission accomplished. We’re strolling around to look what’s there. It’s quite a busy late afternoon, there’s traffic jam around Komtar, which looked like a normal day in this area.
Until we walk around Komtar. I remember that I can see Komtar at my north-east side, we’re walking on the left side of the road. Here’s to give you a visual of where it has exactly happened. This exact spot right before the corner.
We’re walking casually when suddenly a middle-eastern or European (He looks like one, with a curly quite long dark hair) guy, an Indian woman, and a Malay girl around 8 – 9 years old coming to us. They either coming from across the street or they’re kinda waiting behind one of the pillars, I’m not sure.
But here’s the conversation;
Guy: Excuse me… Excuse me…Hello! *while walking towards us.
Can we ask you questions? Where do you come from?
Leo: Yeah? Mm.. Indonesia.
Guy: Oh, Indonesia…! Very good. Bali is beautiful. Love Bali!
Us: Oh, yeah… Bali… It is! You should try to visit Bali. Have you?
Guy: Yes, yes. It’s been a while, we would love to visit there again. We have a friend who’s in Bali right now.
Leo: Oh, really…? Nice… Bali is a must when you visit Indonesia. Good.
Guy: Anyway, please introduce my wife and kid. *shaking our hands and introducing his ‘wife and kid’
Us: Hello, how are you… *trying to be nice
A little bit more chit chat about casual thing when finally
Guy: We’re not from around here, do you guys know where the money changer is? We’re out of Malaysian Ringgit, we need to find a money changer.
Leo: Mm… I’m not sure. I haven’t seen any nearby.
This is where the wife started a conversation with Steffia, together with her kid, talking about her kid. So they took us one by one, some sort of distraction, I guess. I’m started to raise my awareness to the max when this happen. It’s weird because they kinda talk non-sense. They change subject fast and confusing.
After some short discussion, about they ran out of RM and what they need to go back to their place. They advance to a more confusing part, they add math.
Guy: Do you know how much RM for 1 dollar?
Leo: Ummm… Around 4 or 5 RM?
Guy: What is your currency?
Guy: How much is it in US dollar? *wtf
This time I’m trying to give a code to Steffia to walk them off. But I heard some of their conversation too, the wife bomb her with questions, she’s the more obvious one. Like trying to distract Steffia jumping from one question to another question so quick, and totally unrelatable. Here’s a bit from Steffia;
She talked about her sister was going to Bali last time and showed her sister picture. Then talking about Bali, I say it’s really beautiful and they should go there again.
After that, she start asking about gold price in Bali, wtf. And tons of weird unrelatable questions.
“Do you know how much gold cost in Bali?”
“What is this?” (pointing to something Steffia carry)
“How much is that?” (suddenly asking camera)
“How old are you?”, etc.
So freakin’ random and fast, almost like a psychopath.
This is when I knew and started to look hisway and saw that the husband hold his waistpack that is still attached to him. *Double wtf.
I was already spectical too with that kid, too close of a distance.
Wtf, right? Even I notice those questions was way too much and way too weird. Now back to my conversation with the husband.
Leo: 13,000-ish. I don’t know.
Guy: How much rupiahs you get for RM 1?
Leo: That’ll be 3,500-ish?
Guy: Do you have rupiah with you?
Guy: Could you show it to me? What is it like?
Leo: Open my wallet, looking for a piece of Rp50,000,- note. *curious how’s he gonna do this, game on
Guy: How much is this in dollar?
Leo: About $3.
Well, that’s not so much for him to just get lost with that, right? 😂 He proceeds to ask me another rupiah, I told him there’s Rp100,000 note. He asked me to show it to him, I told him I don’t have it while actually there’s some in my wallet. He gave me back my Rp50,000, maybe it’s just too small for him. Lol!
Guy: Do you have some RM or dollar?
Leo: Yes, of course.
Guy: Let me see yours.
Leo: Well, here it is. Some of my RM. RM 5, RM 2, RM 1…
I literally open my waist pack in front of him, and kinda showed him the RM. There’s not much anyway, just a couple coins, less than RM 20 in small fraction, some tickets, boarding pass, etc. This time I can feel his frustration knowing he’s trying to scam a wrong tourist. Tourist who have no money. 😂
Guy: Is that all? Do you have anything else? Show me…
Leo: Nothing else. This all we got.
Guy: Do you have dollar? Can I see? *what a stupid criminal yet persistent one
Leo: No, I don’t have my dollar with me right now.
Guy: #!$%^&*( *starts mumbling in foreign language
Leo: Mmm. What? Sorry I….
Guy: (*&^%$%^&.. Sifu (Shee-fuu)? *with hand gesture picturing a bill of money
Leo: Umm.. No.. I don’t know. Sorry…
Guy: Sifu… Sifuu…?
This is the most obvious one, he seems out of words for a creative conversation with me, so he started to made words up. What the f*ck is sifu? Obviously, his trick doesn’t work on us, he’s started to rush things. While he’s ‘sifu’ing me, he kept his motion as if it is to distract me or trick me into something. (I believe that’s some hypnotizing he’s trying to do there)
All of a sudden, his hand reach my waist pack and start to search for ‘sifu’ there. But too bad sir, there are no ‘sifu’ inside.
Guy: Only this? Is this all you have? *eyes on me and my waist pack in turn
His hand still in the position of holding my waist pack, searching through every piece of paper inside, and I help him to search paper by paper. 😂 I’m confident enough with my waist pack because there’s literally nothing valuable inside. It’s in my backpack. Sure we have more RM and USD also, but it’s inside Steffia’s waist pack in her backpack.
Guy: No? Sifu..? Sifuuu…. *keep saying sifu for quite a while
Leo: What is sifu? I don’t know what are you talking about… What do you want? *start to scrunch my eyebrow
Guy: Sifuuu. Sifuu… *nervous *desperate *hopeless
Judging by his face, he surely is desperate. Wrong tourist, this one is poor. 😂 At least that’s what I thought he had in his mind. What a waste of 10 or 15 minutes. Until finally Steffia leave the ‘wife’ in the middle of her sentence and ask me that we should go. Looking at our reaction, the ‘wife’ end this by popping a question.
Wife: You look beautiful, can I take picture? With my daughter? *push her daughter to Steffia and me in turn, taking photo with her phone.
Thank you… Bye…
She showed us the photo from her phone and then she left. That guy also said thanks and the whole team left. Bravo! 😂
Oh boy, poor scammer. He’s still got some mercy for me, though. Looking at my money left, he decided to spare me. Ouwww….. So kind.😱
In summary, this scam scenario would be like:
- Family Cover.
They came as a family, although they are a strange one. Middle Eastern husband, Indian wife, and Malay kid, wow really? That is the most mixed race small family I’ve ever seen. If that alone cannot tickle your sense of ‘what the heck is this’, then you really need a vigilant travel companion.
- Conversation & Question.
They will start with a casual conversation, of course, they gonna ask you where do you come from to confirm that you are a tourist. They ask you about moneychanger, currency rate, your local currency, and start to distract you with confusing questions. In my case, it’s the currency conversion.
- The Split.
They will take you one on one if you’re not alone. That why they work in a team (family). Just to split you from your friends or spouse. That way, you’re less focus.
Everything they do, they have one purpose, to distract your focus. Questions, gesture, eye contact, multi-language, movement, everything to bring you ‘deeper’ into their tricks. We call it a hypnotize, something pretty common happened in Indonesia, especially big cities.
- Using The Kid.
They succeed, you got scammed. They failed, they have an excuse with that ‘family cover’. I guess that kid part was to help them escape if something wrong happened with them.
As A Disclosure
You guys might question what the hell am I doing answering them in the first place, even when things started to look very suspicious. Even more, I let him touch and look inside my waist pack. I guess I just wanted to see how far this trick would go, how he do it, and how the scenario played.
Never in my interest to sorta play with danger, except when I’m sure that I got it. In this case, yeah… It is. That’s why you kinda have to make sure everything else before you want to ‘play’ with scammers. Extra caution is always good, you should get a protection to ensure you are covered when traveling.
This is our final blog post from Penang, do check our Penang travel journal if you haven’t. The next series will be from Malacca. Hopefully, this scam story from our experience can help you be more careful whenever wherever you travel. Better be safe than sorry, always watch out for scams. This is a tough world we live in, everybody is trying to survive. Not everyone is bad, but keep in mind also not everyone is good. Stay vigilant, folks!
Thanks for reading! Check these links below if you want to get some deals on your next trips, as well as we will get something in return to keep us on track. 😉
- Book your next flight to Penang!
- For you guys Indonesian, book your flight here with promo price.
- Check the price for Chulia Mansion, great location, great price, and great breakfast.
- We want to try the Golden Sands Resort by Shangri-La at Batu Feringghi, but because a thing or two we didn’t. It’s a great resort for holiday.
- Or if you’re looking for another stay in Penang at a discounted price.
- Claim your $26 for free when you book with Airbnb.
- Book your airport transfer pick up $17 only.
- If you plan to go by bus to Penang, check out busonlineticket.com or easybook. They both are recommended bus and train booking site for Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand.
- Enjoy the beautiful landscape of the city from Penang Hill for only $26.
- Explore George Town with a guided half day tour for only $19 or a heritage tour for $27.
- If you want some culinary experience, try this Heritage on a plate tour for $50.
- Capturing your best travel moment with the best camera for you.
- Safety first people, get a travel insurance if you’re traveling.
- Check more on our resources page!
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