Common Scam Tricks In Fiji

Fiji has it's share of scammers. In fact, I had one tried on me only last night, which is what prompted this page. So let’s take a look at two of the more common ones, both of which I have had personal experience with.

The Short Change Scam

4.30am this morning I had a craving for some Macdonalds. So grabbed a taxi in Nadi (you can find a taxi at any hour here) and went to the drive thru at the Nadi Macdonalds.

I paid for my $15 order with a $100 bill (only note I had), and was given change for a $50. An oversight maybe, accidents can happen right? No, because he claimed I only gave him a fifty, yet the receipt showed 100. So he knew full well what note he was given, but wanted the till to balance. Had he genuinely been mistaken, the receipt would have shown I paid 50.

The hope was that I would be gone by the time I noticed, or I might think I had dropped it. Luckily, I saw the "mistake" before we left, but still had to work hard to get him to give the correct change. But I did get it back, with no apology of course, somebody less observant would have been 50 bucks out of pocket.

This happens far too often, and tourists are often the target as they aren’t always familiar with the currency, or in a hurry. In fact, when I'm in town it usually happens multiple times per day. Perhaps I just look stupid? A tourist is perhaps less likely to notice than a local that accounts for every last dollar spent. So you have been warned, check your change carefully before leaving the premises.

It was the very next morning I stopped in to grab a sandwich and bread roll at a local shop. $7.50, handed over a $20 and got $6.50 change. But she does that to me every single time I go there, so I was always going to check. It gets annoying after the first few times.

The Ripoff Souvenir Sellers

These guys are prevalent in most of the tourist centres, and Nadi is no exception. I was approached by one just a few days ago, and generally when I respond to them in (rather rude) Fijian they get the idea that I am probably not their ideal target.

However, on this occasion he was very persistent, so I decided to go along with it to see for myself just how persuasive these guys can be. I have to say, you will almost certainly end up with a pile of poor quality overpriced junk.

Overpriced tourist souvenirs

How This Scam Works

You are in the main street minding your own business, and are approached by a friendly local… "BULA sir!! How are you enjoying your Holiday? Where are you from?" etc.

The best thing you can do is DO. NOT. ENGAGE. Keep walking, or if you feel you have to be polite, then give some excuse about being late for something, and move on quickly. Once you stop to chat, the trap is sprung… it’s all over apart from the inevitable opening of your wallet which will follow later, as sure as day follows night.

I went along with it this one time just so I could see how much pressure is applied to tourists, and believe me, it is a LOT. If you can walk away without buying something, you are exceptionally strong willed. So here is my experience with this… I suspect the scammer in question will feel aggrieved if he ever reads this (unlikely), but perhaps he should have listened when I said I was not a tourist and did not want to buy souvenirs.

Step One: Get The victim back to the shop.
I was persuaded to go back to his shop, which was down a narrow street a few blocks from the main road. Once you are invited inside, the "kava ceremony" begins. Now, I have drank enough kava in my day to know exactly how this works, and by giving you a ceremony, they feel you are now obligated to repay their hospitality by purchasing something (at highly inflated prices (up to 300% above the normal retail price is typical).

I did remind them several times that I had said I would not be purchasing souvenirs, but it seems that fell on deaf ears. After the kava, I was invited to look at what they had because they had very few sales that day, and it would really help them out. Guilt trip.

Step Two: Pile on some guilt.
After making it fairly clear I would not be buying, they changed tack, telling me how the souvenirs were handcrafted in their village (might be true if his village happened to be in China), they were higher quality than you could get at the souvenir markets in town (they aren't), and that proceeds go back to help the village (and of course they don't). When I mentioned I knew the price of souvenirs, and that their $55 tanoa bowl was the exact same one as the $20 ones in town, the tone changed somewhat. From friendly and cordial, to overbearing and intimidating.

They gave up with trying to get me to buy, and instead a kava "donation" bowl was put firmly in front of me. This was mentioned time and again that a "small donation would help the village", even though I said I hadn’t brought any money with me. In the end they wore me down and I gave them a few dollars in change and left as soon as I could.

So watch out for these people, if you are approached by a friendly stranger asking where you are from, how long are you in Fiji, just walk away. Alternatively, just tell them you’re not interested… even better if you can say it in Fijian - "Au sega ne vinikata" These people leave a sour taste in the mouth for tourists. I understand that people have to earn a living, but borderline extortion is not a legitimate way to do that. IMO.

If you want fair priced souvenirs then there is a good market just off the main street, as well as "Jacks of Fiji".

The handicraft market in Nadi
The handicraft market, on the main street of Nadi

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