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Nairobi: Two-Part Tourist Scam

by Dzony B
(London)

I got caught in the fist part of a two-part scam in Nairobi.

A middle-aged man approaches me in the street and begins to chat. He is very polite, very educated and after a while he suggests that we sit down for a cup of tea in a nearby cafe. He knows a lot about Kenyan politics and comes across well. As I have nothing else better to do and as the man is actually quite interesting, I agree and go with him to a local cafe.

In the cafe he tells me a story about being a teacher of displaced people in Kenya and having not been paid for several months meaning that he cannot afford the bus fare home.

After a long discussion about honesty, belief in humanity and so on he asks for 3,500 Kenyan Shillings. Trying to be optimisitic about his claims, I eventually agree to give him 2000 (about 30 Dollars).

At this point he quickly disappears and two men suddenly come over to the table saying they work for the police and he is a bad man and that I should not be talking to him.

I realise at this point that this is a two-part scam so I ask for their IDs. One of them gives me a fleeting glimpse of some ID or other but it is not convincing. At this point I tell them that I don't trust them either and they get quite nasty. Hence I say my goodbyes and quickly depart.

It seems this is a common scam in Nairobi so please be aware.

I would say the best advice is to be polite to people in the street. But if a stranger is coming after you looking to talk and be friendly, they are probably not to be trusted. BE AWARE!!

Ed. Note: Dzony, many thanks for sharing that experience and forewarning other travelers. Isn't it a shame that we need to be suspicious when we meet new people? I'm often torn by this. I too have been scammed by people who posed as nice, interesting men - and women.

On the other hand, I have also met many 'real', interesting people on the street, in public places, restaurants and many other venues who turned out to be just what they said they were.

Unfortunately it's often impossible to tell. I tend to simply walk away if I'm asked for money. Invariably, the times my acquaintances have been bona fide interested individuals, money has never been discussed. In Istanbul once I was approached by a young man wanting to practice his English. We went to a tea shop and he refused to let me pay for my pastry, even though I clearly was the wealthier of the two. After we spoke for about half an hour, he politely shook my hand, said he'd watch the window to make sure I was safe on the street, and that was the end of it. A polite, intelligent student happy to practice his English with an older (than him, anyway!) woman.

In other cases, conversations that started off well soon veered towards money: at this point I usually get up, apologize that I've just remembered a pressing appointment, and walk off quickly. I've never had a problem with this approach, which works best when carried off with the element of surprise.

A final note about Nairobi: it is sad to say but it is definitely one of the cities where low-level scams are most prevalent. I backpacked across Africa for a year, across Nigeria for two months, and across North Africa for a month. The only time I was well and truly scammed? Nairobi - though I did come close in Lagos a few times. Shame.

Comments for Nairobi: Two-Part Tourist Scam

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Nov 30, 2014
Nairobi scam
by: MC

We have also experienced a particular Nairobi scam, twice in the last year. This is how the scam goes: You go to a restaurant or shop, give the waiter or sales person the amount for the food or product (say 10,000 Kenyan Shillings). They walk away with it, then come back with nine 1,000 Shilling notes, and one 100 Shilling note, claiming that you only gave them 9,100 Shillings instead of 10,000. And then it's he said, she said. How do you prove that you gave them the right amount? Even if you counted it out yourself, more than once? This has happened to us twice - once in a very well-known restaurant, frequented by expats (Mediterraneo in Westlands, at the 9 West building) and another time at Airtel (Sarit Center), when we bought a phone.

One (Kenyan) person even told us that the Kenyan people think Westerners have money, so it's ok to steal from us (this culture of stealing is justified on the basis that we're "Westerners" and therefore "have money").

My suggestion for these kinds of situations: Take the money to the counter or till yourself. Don't give it to a waiter or sales person to "take care of it" for you.

Dec 23, 2010
Use your intuition
by: Erin Woods

We had a similar experience in Vietnam, and it seems the most effective (although by no means fail safe) approach is intuition and politesse. If you get a funky vibe, trust it. You won't always be right, and you won't always catch a scammer, but it's as trustworthy as any other 'profiling' approach. And being polite is always appropriate.

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