Ha, I think I might have the most interesting scam of them all, happening in the most interesting place of them all.
Way back in 1994 my brother and I happened to pass through the mainland part of Equatorial Guinea, a country so obscure at the time (this was before oil was discovered there, and just after a brutal dictatorship had been toppled, a man who had managed to kill of more than a third of his fellow countrymen before he was brought down), that few people knew about it and less travelled through it. So you can imagine that we weren't really that concerned about being scammed, after all, what are the chances in a country without tourists?
Nevertheless, we were still on guard, but the man who eventually managed to make us part with our money was better than us (I will freely admit that). What happened? Well we were walking down the street of Bata, a town of about 50000 inhabitants, when we were approached by a fellow claiming to be working for the newly set up ministry of tourism. He asked us what we were doing here, because the country had only just opened up and we were, more or less, the first visitors he had seen. He actually thought we were foreign contractors, until we told him we were travelling through, because they were at that time the only white people who had started dripping in.
So, since we were tourists he asked us if we would be interested in helping him out. The country wanted tourists, but didn't know how to go about it. They had just set up a new National Park in the interior of the country for lowland jungle gorillas, elephants and other assorted jungle creatures. His question was, would we be interested in going there with him, and giving feedback on our experience afterwards which they could use to figure out what exactly a tourist would expect when taking a tour of the jungle, what would be a good price and what should be provided for said price. Now, he told us, he couldn't give it to us for free, but we could get it at a reduced price. We would be in the jungle for 5 days or so, with a guide, accommodation and food, for 50 dollars each. Now, that is a bargain really, so we were tempted.
Yes, tempted, but not stupid. We didn't quite trust it completely, nor did we quite trust him, despite the fact we were in Equatorial Guinea. So we said we wanted to think about it. No problem he said, he understood. In the meantime would we be interested in a free guided tour of Bata? Sure, we would. So he took us around, explaining about their troubled history and their new found freedom and how they were trying to promote tourism. He brought us to this hotel which was being built at the beach, and all the workers were basically grovelling at him as he talked to them. We couldn't understand what he was saying, but it was clear he was a man of some standing. Next he dropped by what he claimed was a good friend of his, the manager of the only bank in town. They talked, and again, it just confirmed in our minds that he was genuinely somebody important. And so it went on and on, and yet, we still didn't take the bait.
We told him we would sleep on it and give him an answer in the morning. He said, it was alright, whatever we wanted, he didn't seem that bothered. So we talked about it in the evening between ourselves and eventually decided that it just was a good opportunity and he seemed like he was exactly who he said he was. Next day we told him we would take the tour. He brought us to his office, and there were tourist folders on his desk, posters on the wall, all kind of paperwork, basically everything you would expect from such a place. Again, it made us feel more comfortable with our decision. He asked for our passports, but not our money to start with. He would bring back our passports in the evening, and we could pay him then. He needed to fax our details through to his direct boss in Malabo the capital and arrange everything, so we left him at it and walked around a bit during the day.
That evening he came by our hotel, handed back our passports and a itinerary of our tour and a receipt with the costs for it, as well as some folders on the park. We payed him, he told us we would be picked up at eight the next day, so be ready.
Next day at eight, there was nobody. But we weren't worried yet, after all this was Africa and nobody ever was on time. But by twelve we started getting this sinking feeling that we had been had. And so we passed by the office, it was empty! And we knew we had just lost 100 dollars between the two of us. We went to the bank manager to ask him about his friend. He told us this guy wasn't his friend at all.
He had come into the bank, claiming to work for the two of us. He had told the manager that we were foreign investors and he was representing us, hence the bank manager had been very friendly to him and treated him with the utmost respect. Of course, since he had been talking in the local lingo, we couldn't understand what was being said at the time. He had been very clever. As we retraced our steps we realised he had done this with everybody we had met. At the hotel he had told them we were the foreigners who were paying for it to be built and again he our representative, hence their grovelling towards him.
And so ends the story of two travellers being duped in the most unlikely of countries. But we wished him well in the end anyway, after all, with the amount of effort he had put into this scam, he actually deserved it.