An Australian traveller has lifted the lid on a shocking scam in Bali after being tricked out of hundreds of dollars.
Krystal Nikol, from Perth, first sounded the alarm on a Facebook group for Bali tourists and was horrified to learn there were many others who had also been stung.
She claims a local driver/tour organiser, once known for his excellent service, has become notorious for a whole other reason — scamming unsuspecting travellers on the holiday island.
Now, the 34-year-old is determined to warn other travellers about the ruse, which ended up costing her hundreds of dollars. Her friend — who wishes to remain anonymous — was also targeted during the holiday and lost hundreds.
"It was horrible what happened to me, and my friend, and so many others he's scammed," Krystal told news.com.au.
She said her horror holiday experience began when she pre-booked tours and trips for herself and her husband with a driver, who had been highly recommended on a Facebook group for Bali travellers.
However, after demanding — and receiving — an advance payment of A$300, the man allegedly cancelled the tours and failed to refund the couple.
"We have paid for tours in advance through our villas and hotels in the past so, although his needy and persistent demeanour about getting paid in advance rang alarm bells for me, I paid him because he was recommended to me," Krystal said.
"He wanted payment two weeks in advance via wire. I said no way, that I'd pay him when we arrived. He hounded me about when we arrived and what hotel we stayed at. He showed up at the hotel the day before the trip and demanded full payment for two days excursions plus boat transfers for two people (total A$300, or 3 million rupiah).
"He then cancelled the trips the next day and kept making excuses about the weather being unsafe. He eventually agreed to refund us but then ghosted us and hasn't responded to any messages since.
"At the time of our departure from Bali he was still speaking to us and promising refunds but after we flew home he never responded again."
Krystal said the Facebook group's admin assisted by getting hold of the driver, who claimed his son was sick and promised to refund her. But it wasn't long before he blocked the admin as well.
"He seemed very nice and even wrote me a receipt but has since ignored all messages from me, and from admin (on the Facebook group), who gave him three chances to refund me before I made this post," Krsytal said.
"It's been six weeks since this incident and nothing's come of it except my frustration, so I posted about it on two Bali Facebook pages, and the response had been huge. Nearly 1000 people have seen my posts in 24 hours and many have messaged (him) but he still has not contacted me."
The worst part is that she's far from the only tourist to fall for the ruse.
"He also scammed our friend who was in Bali at the same time — in the same way, taking payment then cancelling the trips," she said. "I'd given him (the man's) name before he'd scammed us, so he got us both. My friend is out A$400 and I'm out A$300."
Other travellers responded to Krystal's Facebook post claiming to have also been victims.
"I initially was full of rage, because he played on my empathy, saying his father passed away and he needed funeral money," she said. "I've since read on the threads from my post that he's used this excuse many times over, as well as the Lombok earthquake, to get money from people. I am one of many scammed by him."
And the admin of the group Krystal posted the warning to told its members there are "dozens who have been burnt and thousands of dollars lost".
One traveller said of her recent experience of the driver: "I paid him in advance as he pestered me to and used his dad's cremation as a reason. I am so lucky he turned up, but he didn't end up coming on the boat — he sent his son — but turned up almost three hours late to pick us back up. He was erratic when he did pick us up.
"He also quoted A$95 for a day trip but cancelled on us at the same time he was meant to pick us up. Said he was in hospital. Messed up our plans for that day."
Another commented: "I made his a**hole behaviour public on another page and when they threw him off he messaged me and told me 'karma was going to get me'."
DIDN'T EXPECT TROUBLE IN PARADISE
Krystal is no stranger to Bali and considers herself a seasoned traveller.
"He is a scammer. I can't believe what's happened. I've been to Bali many times and had never been scammed before now. To think he was recommended on here (the Facebook group) makes me sick."
Krystal said she frequents the Indonesian paradise, which is where she met her husband years ago, and considers herself quite savvy.
"I have spent my whole life travelling and consider myself an experienced traveller. I first went to Bali on a solo backpacking trip from the USA (I'm American but now an expat living in Perth), and stopped into Bali.
"I thought it was a beautiful, magical place. I met my husband there on that trip, and we return to Bali about twice a year since. We got married there too. We know the streets and neighbourhoods and feel very comfortable there."
"This is the first time I've ever been scammed … my empathy and sense of morals led me to pay him in advance (as I'd done before); I had a gut feeling about him but ignored it because he came recommended so highly, but I see now I should have listened to that feeling."
So what about taking the matter to the local authorities?
"I didn't report to the police, and I won't. My experience with the police in South-East Asia and especially Bali is that it is highly corrupt and I'd be wasting my time.
"I feel so much better after posting about my experience, as I know now that he's done it to so many others, and I know I'm saving many more people from going through this. He believes in karma, and so do I, so I'm moving on and I feel good knowing I've made a difference by speaking out."
HE WAS A GOOD MAN
Many who commented on Krystal's Facebook post said they were shocked to hear about what happened, as they had had positive experiences with the driver in the past.
One Facebook user wrote: "I've used (him) many times, sad to know he is no longer good news!"
Another said: "I used him last year … never asked for money upfront even when I asked him if he wanted it, he took amazing photos and booked him for airport pick-up (he did send another driver for these) which was no big deal … we even donated to a GoFundMe page when he said his brother in law was in a serious accident (makes me wonder now)."
And another wrote: "I used him last year. Couldn't have been nicer and went above and beyond."
This traveller concludes: "That's a shame we used (his company) years ago and they were fantastic."
HOW TO AVOID GETTING SCAMMED
Travel Insurance Direct's travel safety expert Ash Zaman said travellers need to avoid paying for tours in advance.
"The only sure-fire way to avoid being stung is to insist on paying on the day of the tour as opposed to paying upfront," Zaman said.
"However there are ways to mitigate your risk. If you're staying at a reputable hotel they will often sell tours through their front desk. Buying tickets upfront this way is much safer than buying tickets upfront from ticket hawkers around town.
"Better yet, do some research and consider booking your tours online before you leave Australia."
However, if an advance payment is unavoidable, make sure you do your research.
"If you must pay upfront, once in Bali do some research," Zaman said. "You should be able to find feedback and reviews of the larger more reputable local tour operators in Bali online on places like TripAdvisor.
"If the tour on offer is from a sole operator, the risk of getting scammed goes up. Having said that, there are plenty of honest operators in Bali and unfortunately it's a case of the bad apples in the minority giving everyone a bad name."
And if you do fall victim, will insurance cover you?
"Unfortunately travel insurance generally doesn't cover you if you get ripped off by ticket scammers so buyer beware. If you do find yourself becoming a victim you can report it to the police and for the most part they are helpful but in most cases they aren't able to recoup your losses."
And the ultimate advice?
"If the tour operator accepts credit cards, pay using a credit card. If it turns out to be a scam or they do a no show you can always get your credit card provider to do a chargeback."
The scam also shows you have to be careful of trusting recommendations on Facebook groups.
News.com.au has contacted the driver for comment but has not received a response.