Generally, Japan is an incredibly safe country in which to travel—theft levels are low and crime is rare. Regardless of the shining reputation of the country, there will always be the exception to the rule and many times scammers are responsible for tricking foreigners into giving up their cash or picking their pockets. You can avoid meeting the same fate by becoming familiar with some of the most common scams used in Japan. As always, stay vigilant when in public and if you get a weird vibe or feel like you’re being led down a sneaky path, trust your instincts and leave. Don’t worry about politeness if you feel you are in danger, leaving is your safest bet.
This one is less likely to affect short term tourists and is more likely to affect people staying in Japan for an extended period of time or someone moving there permanently. In this elaborate scam, a con artist indiscriminately cold-calls phone numbers until they find someone that they think can be tricked into handing over money. Since Japan’s society is largely cash-based it makes this scam more effective as the scammers can’t be tracked. Some of the con artists will even pose as police offers and demand payment for damage from a friend’s car accident.
Taxi drivers, waiters, shop keepers, and more will “accidentally” drop your change and pick up similar looking (though considerably less valuable) coins or notes instead. This is somewhat common in Japan but also throughout Asia.
As you walk along the street a beggar –typically an old or pregnant woman—will catch your attention and try to guilt you into giving her your loose change. On the surface, this doesn’t seem terribly bad as more often than not you can either hand them a few coins to get them to stop hassling you or simply continue on your way, but sometimes there is a pickpocket nearby who is watching you to see where you keep your wallet. This way, they have prior knowledge of its placement and can more easily plan to get it off you without you noticing.
You’ll be walking around town, talking to your travel companions in English when a group of school kids or young adults excitedly approaches you. They will not be obviously looking for anything but instead will express interest in connecting and practicing their English with you. They’ve been studying it in school, after all, and their teachers said practicing with a native speaker is the best way to get better. If you agree, they will offer to show you around the city in exchange for the practice. Eventually though, you will end up in a café where you’ll enjoy tea, snacks and more….then you’ll be presented with a bill for hundreds of dollars and your English-speaking student will be nowhere to be seen.
Keeping your eyes peeled will get you far when travelling in a new country, but it can’t hurt to have a Plan B in the off-chance a master manipulator gets your wallet or other belongings away from you. More often than not, when people in Japan approach you it will be to offer assistance if you look distressed or to return a misplaced item. Travellers to Japan consistently come back with story after story of the kindness, respect and helpfulness of the locals and how they can’t wait to return. While you most likely will not encounter any of the low-lifes in Japan, you should consider travel insurance from Cover-More and compare their plans to find the policy that best suits your need. You’ll pay for the cover you need without the fluff you don’t need.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Thompson Sa.