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I’m honestly a little confused by the motives of the participants in tonight’s scam, so I turn to the commentariat for insight on who was doing what and how I could have acted differently.

Background

Budapest Honeypot Scam

A well-known scam in Budapest, Hungary is that a girl or girls, ideally pretty, comes up to a guy or guys, flirts with them, convinces them to go to a bar, orders drinks, and then the bill is outrageous. This page describes the scam in full, and the first commenter gives his experience losing $353.

I’m well aware of that scam, and twice in Budapest a few years ago, pretty girls came up to flirt with me on the street.

Of course, I dismissed them immediately because zero times in my life have women come up to hit on me, at least not as blatantly as these two women in Hungary. It was obvious that something was off.

Belgrade Taxi Scam

A well-known scam in Belgrade, Serbia is that the taxi meter runs up much faster than it should. In fact, my American friend and I were in a taxi with a $30 meter after a 3 km taxi ride last year in Belgrade. We got out and didn’t pay. Read the full story here.

Tonight’s Adventure

I was walking along the strip of splavovi (raft night clubs) when I spotted two girls, one of whom was wearing an outfit that made me want to talk to her. They weren’t along the main riverfront sidewalk, they were on a sidewalk that connected that to the road.

I walked up and we started chatting. One girl was engrossed in a phone call, and the other one and I chatted about why I was learning Serbian and how I was progressing.

The other girl gets off the phone and says they are going to a splav called Lašta that is in another area. By this point, the girl I’ve been talking to is loving me, so she invites me to come. I tell them that I really do not want to go because I was planning on going to a splav just a few meters away, but that I have a rule that I cannot turn down adventure.

We walk up to the road and there is a line of taxis. Phone girl goes up to the nearest one and talks to the driver. I am not listening, not that I would understand any way. She breaks that conversation off and goes to talk to the driver of the next taxi. She breaks that off and goes back to the first. Some sort of agreement is reached and we hop in, the girls in the back and me in the front.

Serbian taximeters go up 3 dinar (3 cents) at a time, rather rapidly. I couldn’t immediately tell anything was wrong, but I quickly noticed the meter went over 1,000 and then over 2,000 when I knew the total fare should be under 1,000 ($9.)

During the ride, everyone was having a blast. I was entertaining the girls with my week’s worth of Serbian (guy who doesn’t speak the language correctly is a bottomless comedy well), and the taxi driver was enjoying our conversation and being friendly. The only potentially interesting comment during the ride was phone girl saying I was good looking like a model. That raises the probability she was honeypot scamming me, but not to 100% because that was actually only the second time this week a Serbian told me that, and the first was not scamming me.

Although I noticed that the meter was way too high, we were on traffic-less roads, zipping along way too fast for me to try to get out. I decided the best plan was to get out immediately when we stopped and handle any altercation from outside the car. When we got close, I unbuckled my seat belt to be ready to hop out, and when we stopped I immediately got out and walked a few meters away while the cab driver called, “My friend!” At this point, the meter was over 5,000 dinar ($46) for what should have been a $6 ride.

While I watched, the girls and driver seemed to be having a conversation about the meter. One girl had a 1,000 dinar note out and the other had a different note (200?). I inferred the girls were saying that they would not pay 5,000 and were offering a more reasonable amount. The driver tried to call me over, but I stayed five meters away.

He got out of the car and walked toward me. He was young, but short and chubby. In a fight, I didn’t know who would win, but in a flight, I really liked my chances, so I walked away, trying to keep distance. I walked by the girls and said, “5,000 dinar is insane. It’s a scam. What did you pay him?”

Phone girl said, “He says it is customary for the man to pay the taxi. He wants you to pay.”

He picked up his pace, so I started to jog away. He started to jog, so I started running and didn’t look back. I ran a few hundred meters, looking for hiding places and eventually found a gate to parking lot that was rather dark. When I got into the parking lot, I saw police cars and police men at the edge of the lot conducting sobriety tests. I decided to sit in the lot. I figured if nothing happened for 20 minutes, I could just go to the splav like nothing happened, and if anyone came through the gate, I could walk to the police. After about five minutes two guys came through the gate.

Have you seen that research about how unreliable eye witnesses are? I get it. The adrenaline was pumping, and I really don’t know if either of those guys was my taxi driver, but they seemed to pick up the pace when they saw me, so I walked over to the cops. When I got there and looked back, I didn’t see the two guys any more. I asked the cops how much a taxi from where I started should have cost and they said a maximum of 1,000 dinars. When I said, my meter said 5,000, the guy said “What was the license plate? We will take him to prison.”

I didn’t get the plate, and I didn’t take the cop up on his offer to stick around and watch for the taxi exiting to arrest him. I just hailed a cab and went back to the area where I had been originally. Although this ride was slightly longer in distance because the one way roads were against us, it cost just 692 dinar, less than one-seventh of the scam taxi.

Comment

Were the girls in on the scam? Could I have done anything differently? (Other than not going with two strangers in a taxi because I am going to keep doing that. I think the risk is pretty low based on the valuables I carry, the city I’m in, my ability to read people, my size, and my gender.)

I’ll give my thoughts below, but I don’t want to influence you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think the girls were very unlikely to be in on the scam, but I think they sold me out at the end to make things easier for themselves.

My reasoning is that most people are terrible actors. Atrocious. Not good. Even most people who are professional actors are bad. Most amateurs who “act” like they like you in a honeypot scam are so outrageously over the top and phony. They come up to you, which basically never happens to guys. They give you unwarranted compliments. They are pushy about their plan. They have no coherent back story.

These girls were standing alone a little out of the way. They would have to be very patient to initiate their scam like that instead of going up to guys. They didn’t seem overly into me. Inviting me seemed more like an afterthought. They laughed a lot, but no more than usually happens to me. (It’s hard to describe in words, but I contend 99.9% of honeypot scams fall well outside the reality of most people’s interactions, and this interaction was normal to me.) They talked to two different taxi drivers before we got into one.

Their reasoning for going to the club was that phone girl’s ex-boss was there and invited them. That’s a reasonable backstory, though not so great that I consider it evidence one way or the other.

The girls didn’t notice the insane meter during the ride, which counts against them a bit, but I really don’t have much of a feel for how much most people look at the meter–I am a cheapskate who looks constantly–and this one was mounted very low where they would have had to have leaned forward to see it.

When we got there, the girls seemed to be having a reasonable disagreement where they were offering 1,000 dinar for the ride. Again, I can’t imagine scammers would nail this detail so well, since most people are bad actors.

So, I think the girls were not in on the scam. But I think they sold me out. Instead of saying, “No. Nobody is paying this scam,” phone girl said rather nonchalantly that the driver wanted me to pay. I can’t fully condemn her because my heart was already pumping and English isn’t her first language, so I don’t know exactly what she was trying to convey with that line. But I do think that they had decided, “Well either the driver will scam Scott or not, but either way we aren’t paying, so let’s just get in the club.”

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