Romance Scams That Target Solo Tourists

If you’re lucky, whether you travel solo or with a company is completely a matter of preference.

You might be the sort of traveler who enjoys going on a trip alone and completely untethered by a partner—or maybe you’re heading off on a soul-searching journey that’s, in part, defined by solitude.

Either way, choosing to travel by yourself has a ton of perks! However, whether it’s your first time abroad or you boast passports with filled up pages, sometimes loneliness sets in.

And if that feeling of not having someone to share a special moment with wasn’t bad enough, you should know that there are particular types of scams designed to take advantage of your misery.

These types of scams have a million faces, but it comes down to one thing: the pretense of flirtation, company, or intimacy to distract you from realizing you’ve become a cash cow until it’s too late.

Scams That Solo Male Tourists Should Watch Out For

When considering the dangers of traveling alone, men tend to feel less at risk of running into trouble. However, there are still plenty of scams that target solo male travelers—with many using an attractive female as bait.

These scams tend to be “short-cons.” Often surrounding bar scenes or an evening’s entertainment, scammers will target you and try to take your money within the period of a single night.

The Club Scam

You’re out on the town, feeling great and ready to explore a new city’s nightlife. A man approaches you and, after confirming that you’re a solo tourist, asks if you want to have a drink or check out a cool club that he knows.

You’re up for anything and agree. So, you and your new buddy walk for a bit, likely turning down several streets, before arriving at the promised spot. He’s been friendly the whole way, building up a report, and likely has better-than-average English skills.

You feel totally at ease and are probably already congratulating yourself for making a friend and saying yes to the adventure that’s to come.

One of you orders a round of drinks—whatever’s on tap since they don’t have menus. Then, your friend excuses himself to the restroom but fails to return. A short while later, an attractive woman asks to join you, and you continue to order drinks.

Once the bill does come, you’re in for a surprise. Drinks are priced at $25–$30 US each, which is ten to fifteen times their expected cost – even at a tourist spot.

The waitstaff insists that you pay, and may even accompany you to the ATM in a threatening manner to ensure that you don’t skip out. Of course, the local who brought you to the club and the woman who appeared at your table are nowhere to be found.

Your Clue for Spotting the Club Scam

Often found in Turkey, specifically, Istanbul, this type of club scam is also popular in Eastern Europe.

The easiest way to avoid this scam is by confirming the cost of any beverage (or meal) before your order. If an establishment doesn't confirm the price upfront, then they likely have something to hide, and you should take your business elsewhere.

See Also: Don’t Panic: What to Do If You’re Robbed While Traveling

Scams Surrounding Prostitution & Sex Work

Sexual tourism is big business, and in some places, a legal one. However, in countries that consider prostitution illegal, sex workers are often forced to work closely with criminals of worse sorts, and engaging one for services puts you at risk of a variety of scams including:

  • Leading you into an armed robbery.
  • Drugging you before a robbery.
  • Having an accomplice go through your clothes while you are out of them.
  • A bogus outraged family member or fake police officer who appears and must be bought off.
  • Hidden cameras used for future blackmail.

Even bringing a prostitute to your hotel can lead to theft or worse. For example, in China, prostitution is illegal, and hotel staff may have the local police arrive at your room not long after you check in with one.

How to Avoid Scams Related to Prostitution?

The easiest answer would be not to engage. However, should you find yourself seeking paid-for companionship, the safest (albeit not completely safe) option is to visit an establishment instead of following a stranger or bringing them back to your room.

How to Avoid “Short-Con” Scams?

If you’re approached while out and about, mention that you have a few friends who’ve gotten ahead of you. Attempt to defer the situation by suggesting that you meet up later and avoid anyone who pressures you to come alone.

Similarly, if you’re interested in chatting with a new friend, suggest a nearby place to grab beverages. If they insist on taking you to a particular location that they know, that’s likely your cue to leave.

If you think you’re being scammed, don’t be afraid to be impolite!

Often, our gut instincts know that something’s not right, but we’re too worried about causing offense to take action. Instead, excuse yourself and get away by saying “Sorry, I can't right now. Bye!” and simply leave.

Romance Scams That Target Male Tourists

Romance scamming is best described as an emotional manipulation, in which the scammer creates a sense of adventure before beginning to slowly work on their target for financial gain.

Unlike short-cons, romance scams involve working someone for money over an extended period. Those affected often find it difficult to extract themselves due to the humiliation of admitting that the entire relationship was just a ploy for profit.

The Girlfriend Scam

On rare occasions, life emulates the movies—you travel to a far-flung location, meet someone, and fall in love. Leaving is difficult, but you promise to stay in touch and make every effort to do so.

Several weeks after you separate, you receive a message asking for financial assistance. Perhaps your romantic interest needs a new laptop to stay in touch or help with medical bills for an ailing family member. Another common request is money to get the visa necessary to visit.

Whatever the reason (though those three are fairly common), it’s difficult to call this long-game an outright scam since any money you to give is sent willingly.

But cultural attitudes towards money in exchange for companionship aren’t universal. In poorer countries where young, uneducated women aren’t left with a whole lot of options for careers, what we’d consider “gold digging” isn’t outright disgraceful.

With that perspective, whether there is a genuine emotional connection or the feelings are feigned as part of an outright con, understand that it’s totally possible that these pleas for funds are part of a long-term plan to extract ongoing financial assistance under the pretense of a relationship.

Take Thai bar girls, for example. If you’ve never been to Thailand, you might think that phrase is patronizing or misogynistic, but there are literally hundreds of scantily clad go-go dancers working customers, dancing, or trying to pull in new business on every street that boasts nightlife.

Related: Watch Out for These 6 Red Flags When Dating Online

Each year, countless farangs (foreigners) travel to Thailand and become smitten with a Thai bar girl. The girl will reciprocate while you’re there, and even promise to quit the seedy bar or club job after you leave… should you promise a little ongoing financial assistance, of course.

But, no matter how much money is sent, some bar girls don’t quit. Adding insult to financial injury, it’s not unheard of for bar girls to collect multiple male sponsors sending monthly payments, which adds up to a pretty healthy income.

How to Avoid Girlfriend Scams?

We don’t mean to cast doubt on every instance of blossoming long-distance love. That being said, consider the circumstances in which you and your new girlfriend met and be wary of any requests for financial assistance, or you might find yourself unwittingly set up to be a knight in shining armor making a lifetime of monthly payments.

Romance Scams That Target Female Tourists

Being a solo female traveler can feel like wearing a stamp on your forehead that screams “easy mark.”  Not that we’re less wise, on the contrary; if anything we’re more prepared because we’ve carefully done our research, knowing that people might mistake us for soft targets.

But no amount of researching exchange rates, taxi routes, or hotel ratings can prepare solo female travelers for one type of scam that’s being reported with increasing frequency from exotic destinations around the world: romance scams targeting women.

Related: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Taxi Scams

Romance scamming is also called Bezness, which combines the German word “beziehung” (relation) and the English word business. Especially in touristy areas, like in some parts of Egypt, Tunisia, the Caribbeans, and even Ghana, Bezness has become an industry on its own, as Romeo con men target lonely hearts in an attempt to get sex, money, and even citizenship via marriage.

How Romance Scams Sweep Solo Female Travelers Off Their Feet

If you’ve never been to Petra, the only heartthrob that might come to mind in association with the ancient city is probably Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. But in recent years, visitors to Petra are more likely to spot Jack Sparrow lookalikes. Bedouin men, with eyes smeared in kohl liner, have begun mastering the art of “fishing for tourists.”

It starts when a Bedouin man approaches a solo female traveler to give her a private tour. After the tour, he’ll take her to the caves in the mountains to see the beautiful views. Perhaps he’ll make a fire to cook, introduce his family, dance, drink, watch the sunset and sunrise on a blanket under the shooting stars.

See Also: The 4 Most Popular Tourist Scams in Rome

According to Safety in Petra, the Bezness aren’t just after a night of romance, but also to set up an ongoing source of financial assistance—but only after the woman has returned home.

Eventually, this Romeo will write to say that he needs money to get him out of trouble. Common reasons that tourists report are:

  • A donkey/mule/horse died, no more way to generate income at Petra.
  • A family member is in a hospital, and there isn’t enough money to pay for treatment.
  • Business is not going well, and it’s impossible to pay the rent.
  • There was a fire in the cave, personal belongings were burned.
  • They use a friend’s phone to tell their victims their own phone got stolen or broken. In reality, they sold it for cash.

They’ll request that assistance be sent through the Western Union, and may continue asking for help on a monthly basis until the cash runs out.

Understanding the Recent Boom In Romance Scams Targeting Women

Romance scams aren’t limited to Petra by any means. The Canadian embassy has warned female travelers to be wary of Egyptian men. Beyond Northern Africa, there are reports of burgeoning romance scam “scenes” targeting female tourists in Turkey, France, Italy, and Spain.

See Also: Medical Tourism 101: Costs, Risks & Popular Destinations

The concept of romance scams targeting women is fairly recent, but growing rapidly as women become increasingly likely to travel solo.

But the real reason that women are now being targeted as cash cows has more to do with increasing independence, financial self-reliance, and in some cases, evolving motives for travel.

See Also: 13 Safety Tips for Females Traveling Solo

The Fine Line Between Female Sex Tourism and Sweetheart Scams

Put bluntly, thanks to top sellers such as Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, an increasing number of female travelers are heading off to underdeveloped countries with the hope of experiencing a romantic relationship.

For example, tens of thousands of single women throng the beaches of Bali in Indonesia every year.

Young Balinese men have taken advantage of the laid-back atmosphere to find love and lucre from female tourists of all nationalities, giving rise to a newfound phenomenon called the “Kuta Cowboy.”

Affable playboys who spend the day hawking sodas, surfing lessons, and a side of romance to foreign women, Bali’s Kuta Cowboys don’t dole out attention for free.

To quote one Kuta cowboy in the above video, “If the money’s good, the face doesn’t matter” – not exactly a sentiment that’s seeping with genuine romance.

How Solo Tourists Can Avoid Romance Scams

Long-con romance scams are harder to spot up front. Both men and women who’ve fallen prey to girlfriend or boyfriend scams state that it was difficult to come to terms with their own gullibility, and mention feeling ashamed, guilty, and angry at the idea of being used.

If you find yourself being presented with pleas for financial assistance from someone that you’ve met while traveling, try to stop yourself from becoming even more emotionally involved.

Ask yourself why this person has no one else to go to or no other means of financial support. Equally important, ask a trusted friend or family member for advice.

As difficult as it is to admit that the relationship was started under false pretenses, the faster you do, the sooner you’ll be able to move on with your life—and avoid financial ruin.

More on Travel-Related Scams:

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.

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