Police Caught On Video Extorting Tourist In Bali

Tourists around the world have been easy marks for scammers. They’re in a new place, don’t know the area or its customs, and often don’t know the language either. Whether it’s the Paris ring scam or the Chinese tea ceremony we look to local police to be arbiters and protectors of the innocent (and gullible).

But what if the police are in on it, working with the scammers? That was the charge at the start of the year by a television producer who visited Mexico and sat in a jail there, saying that no he didn’t run up a $300 bar tab? Or what if police respond when you’re presented an inflated bill after a Chinese tea ceremony and insist that you pay?

And what if it’s the police doing the scamming? In a video shot last year, that only recently went viral, Bali police officers are videotaped extorting a Japanese tourist.

The visitor was driving a motorbike without its headlights on, which is required both day and night in Indonesia. The maximum fine is less than US$7. However the officers demand one million Indonesian Rupees in cash (about ten times the maximum fine). Since the man didn’t have that much, they haggled and accepted a lower amount. And by the way the officers who approached him aren’t even traffic cops.

The good news is it’s Indonesia and everything is cheap. I figure if you’re extorted by law enforcement and it costs you only around $60 you’re doing fairly well. Several months ago I told the story about bribing a U.S. border official as a teenager, so this isn’t entirely a ‘third world phenomenon’. But that cost less than $100 as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. – Generally, I would advise against of renting scooter or even a car in Bali. While it was more or less OK 10 years ago, now traffic is terrible. I was also told about several scams. Just get a driver with an air-conditioned car and you will be 100% fine.

  2. Years ago in Mexico (when it was sort-of safe to drive there) I was pulled over for not signaling to go straight ahead where the road officially went to the left, so straight was technically a right turn. The cop probably made a living at that intersection and he told me I would need to follow him all the way to the police station which he explained was very far away or we could deal with it another way. I guessed that he couldn’t ask for a bribe so he needed me to suggest it so I pretended not to speak hardly any spanish. After about 15 minutes he got so frustrated with my ignorance of the language he just gave up and let me go.

  3. Last year my wife and I were in Bali, being driven by our regular driver/guide when we came across a “checkpoint” on a main road. Our driver spoke with the young cop who motioned us over, pointed to another cop while speaking, then our cop waved us on. I asked what was happening and our diver said that the police were looking to pick up some extra money through bribes and that he told our cop that the one in charge that our driver had motioned toward was our driver’s uncle. After some further questioning, I was told that being in the police in Bali is quite lucrative.

  4. Went to Bali summer before last. First time ever in Indonesia. Made it the year before this crappy pandemic.Overall nice people, but taxi drivers ripped us off. Based on our experience, I tend to believe this story.

  5. When the police tells you “I help you” you should be in high alert. It means i help you part from your money. LOL.
    Also quite famous jetski scam in Thailand,they also work with corrupt police.

  6. I had pseudo traffic stops in Nicaragua a couple of times when driving a rental car. The roundabout on the highway between Managua and Granada seems to be a fertile hunting ground for motorcycle cops who park there. Supposed improper use of the traffic circle. First time cost me $20. Second time I showed them that I had only $5 cash in my wallet. If you refuse to pay the fine they say they’ll take your license so you’ll have to go to a distant police station to retrieve it; taking an expired license to give is one option.

  7. I’m still waiting for the story about “how [you] couldn’t answer ‘are you a citizen,’” that you teased in your linked article about bribing a border official.

  8. This is why I hire a car/driver in 3rd world countries.

    @M: you tend to believe this story???? it’s on video. in Bali. not hard to believe at all!

  9. A few years ago, I had plenty of time and only one bag so I took an autorickshaw to the airport. This was in India. An Indian employee of my colleague spoke with the driver beforehand and agreed on a price.

    Upon arrival at the airport, the driver insisted on a “fuel surcharge” that was the equivalent of about $3. That almost doubled the agreed upon price. However, things being cheap in India as in Indonesia, I was not about to be stabbed over $3. I let the driver know that I disagreed with the charge but paid it. (The driver lost his tip that I was planning to give him). Bottom line, don’t get stabbed over $3.

    (Another time, the auto rickshaw driver got lost. He didn’t demand more money. He spoke Tamil. I don’t speak Tamil but I used sign language to direct him to my destination. Ha, I knew (sort of) how to get to the right neighborhood then figured out where the destination was.)

  10. This kind of stuff happens all the time in third world countries because the police are very poorly paid and supplement their income by looking to collect unofficial taxes to support local law enforcement living expenses (also commonly known bribes :)). If you are going to drive a motor vehicle, whether you are a local or a tourist, you can expect these unoffical tax collection road stops to happen. The key is to just negotiate them down. The Japanese tourist unfortunately was not aware of this practice and didn’t know how to negotiate the cost down. He should have just said, “no too much” and handed over 100,000 ($6.77). The cop will probably ask for more, then say “OK, 200,000 no more”. The cop will then probably come down in price and you will then end up paying him significantly less than what he originally asked. Another way to do it is if you are stopped and you think the cop did have a valid reason to stop you, just include a folded 100,000 bill underneath your drivers license. Sometimes they will just take it, give you a short lecture, and let you go on your way. The cost at road side shakedowns in that country are very low, so just pay them and move on. Trying to fight it is way costlier than just paying the small amount of “unoffcial tax”. Everything in third world countries is cheaper 🙂

  11. @ Gary 🙂 Let’s just say that I have some of those ‘forgotten’ nights from TJ as well. In fact, I think I still have some residual whiplash all these years later from my head being pulled back violently for the poppers. And when I re-crossed the border, I claimed that I wasn’t a U.S. Citizen, “I’m a New Yorker!” 😛

  12. @Jeff: True. Although these days, especially this year, how many things do we see on video with our very own eyes that get interpreted so many different ways by so many people or media outlets?
    Seems like nothing is as obvious as it appears anymore

  13. When I overstayed my visa in Bali in February (11 days due to cancelling a trip to Kuala Lumpur because of Coronavirus fears; that would have re-started my stay) I was pulled out of the departure line and sat waiting to be interviewed by an immigration official, who insisted I owed a little over $1,000 in fines. After I picked myself up off the floor, I told them I couldn’t access that much after banking hours. They arranged for my flight to Singapore to be cancelled and rescheduled for two days later. .. When I returned two days later with 16 million IDR, I showed my passport to a different officer, she looked at it, stamped my visa and waved me through. The exchange rate back to USD outside the departure lounge cost me $60, which I accepted with no complaint. And yeah, the non-Bluebird cabbies will all try to rip you off.

  14. @M – Bluebird cabs are pretty honest, so stick with them. One alternative is to hire a car and driver for the day for about $50.

  15. It was a feature of life in Thailand for decades. Still happens but now a bit more discreet. ( unless of course you’re an heir to a 20 billion $ poisonous ‘energy’ drink fortune who’s killed a cop with your Ferrari while high on drugs; in that case the whole system, including the police and the govt , conspires to let you go free)

  16. Vietnam is not different. Cops will stop even local Vietnamese people on their motorcycle/moped/scooter. Awhile ago it was standard practice at the Ho Chi Minh airport to put $5 in your passport when you arrive with so many boxes and another $5 when you leave because you don’t want to miss your flight. However they only targeted Vietnamese travelers.

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