Like other Third World destinations, the Philippines is a fascinating yet sometimes difficult place to explore. Visitors need to take steps to protect their health from natural threats including typhoons and mosquitoes. Filipinos are generally very friendly and kind, yet in a city the size of Manila (population 11.8 million) you may run into some unsavory characters. In 2013, the Philippines' per capita GDP in 2013 was just US$2,790, and acts of desperation are a consequence of the widespread poverty. This article looks at common scams and crimes which may affect those visiting the Philippines.

Distraction theft

Many travelers to the Philippines have been robbed after being distracted. This kind of crime takes various forms. Sometimes the robber's accomplice pretends to pick up a coin you've dropped, getting your attention while your pockets or bag is emptied. Alternatively, one person may spray or spread something nasty on your sleeve (dog feces, mustard, chewing gum or mud), and while you're busy trying to clean it off, another individual lifts your wallet. Be especially careful on jeepneys (jeep-type minibuses, like the one pictured here), where thefts are most likely to occur when you indicate you want to get off.

jeepneyCredit: Wikimedia Commons

Protecting yourself against this kind of crime isn't easy, as you need great presence of mind to avoid reacting to these situations in a way that's natural and normal for 99% of people. It's therefore very important you keep your valuables firmly attached to your person, or buried beneath your clothes in a money belt.

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Fake friends

Perhaps most confusing are the individuals who come up to you claiming you've met before or that they recognize you from somewhere. Perhaps they say they work in the hotel where you're staying, or live just around the corner. A good way to find out if they're lying is to tell an untruth yourself. Look them in the eye and say confidently, "Oh, you work in the Dragonfly Hotel?" when in fact you lodge in the Bumblebee Hotel. If your new acquaintance answers in the affirmative, you can assume he's up to no good. Or she - criminals often choose a woman to make the initial approach as they assume, often rightly, Westerners are more likely to talk to a female and fall into their trap.

Once they've established contact, what is a fake friend likely to do? They may invite you to join them for a soft drink (it could be drugged so they can rob you). They may suggest a visit to less well-known attraction, and a number of visitors have been taken in by talk of a "stunning waterfall" or "excellent but cheap restaurant" known only to locals and not listed in any guidebook. Ask yourself: In your home country, would you ever set off to an unfamiliar place with someone you've known for less than an hour?

A special difficulty in the Philippines is that many citizens are genuinely and selflessly friendly. More than a few are eager to befriend Westerners because they know some of their compatriots target tourists and expatriates. They want to get to know you a little so they can warn you about hazards you may face. These good-hearted men and women may even offer to go shopping or check out apartments with you, to protect you from overcharging and scamsters.

Conventional crime

Normal crimes - by which I mean robbery and burglary - are depressingly common, but you shouldn't let your fear of crime stop you from visiting this awesomely beautiful country. The good news is you can minimize your risks by being sensible. As in many other parts of the world, don't flash lots of cash around; don't get intoxicated outside your home or hotel unless there's someone you completely trust to drive/carry you back later; and if confronted by criminals, don't escalate the incident by fighting back or showing defiance. No amount of money or pride is worth serious injury or death. Some people, usually those who've had bad experiences, wear fake watches and rings so they can hand them over to muggers who'll then scarper, temporarily satisfied.

For more advice about avoiding trouble in this Southeast Asian nation, please see my article Traveling Safely in the Philippines, Part 1.