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YOUTH BEAT

Experts Tell What Scams to Watch for While Sightseeing

November 04, 1990|LUCY IZON

In 1972, newlyweds Tony and Maureen Wheeler set off on a journey from London across Asia. When they returned, friends asked them for information about the area. Now--18 years and 100 guidebooks later--the Wheelers' company is considered a world leader in publishing advice for young, independent travelers.

What readers of the Lonely Planet series find most valuable is that the books not only provide detailed cultural background information on where to stay and how to get around in various countries, they also provide travelers with assurances that, yes, they, too, can do it.

It's also reassuring that in 18 years of researching this style of travel, neither Tony nor Maureen has ever been seriously ill or robbed in a confrontational manner. "Every time we have had something stolen, we can put it down to being careless," Tony said.

The Australian-based company has listened to a wide range of sad traveler tales from its readers.

Some of the more prevalent problems faced recently by novice independent travelers:

--In Malaysia, travelers have been taken in by airline ticket scams.

--In Singapore, travelers have reported that they were approached in bars or hotels and told that another person is being set up. They are persuaded to play a roll in a complicated card game. They win a little, sign over their traveler's checks in belief that they are set to win a huge amount, and find themselves quickly parted from their funds.

--In India, problems reported are often connected with the buying of gems.

Naive visitors are told that they can make a fortune reselling the gems at home and are shown "references" from hometown stores with familiar street addresses. Although warnings about this con game have been printed numerous times, travelers still get caught.

"If it was that easy to make a fortune out of gems, there would be dealers all the way down the street. If you don't know gems, don't get involved," Maureen says.

Although not a swindle, another common problem is connected with the purchase of Oriental carpets.

Travelers from Turkey have reported that after buying and carting carpets home, they discover that they could have purchased the same rug for less at home.

Although many of the problems can be sidestepped by common sense, more serious difficulties can be avoided by not getting into a vulnerable position in the first place.

Lonely Planet also has received a number of reports on the drugging of drinks on trains, on buses and in bars.

It happens in a variety of ways in a variety of countries. Travelers are befriended, offered a drink and then wake up hours later to find their valuables missing.

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