How Bali robbery scams can get pretty elaborate
IT WAS just a normal night out with my friends on holiday in Bali.
A few drinks in and my friends are in the party mood, but I wasn't feeling it. One of our friends had mentioned going to the villa they'd just rented for a few drinks and a chilled night, so I decided to cut my night short and go find their place.
There are three identically named resorts, one of which my friend was staying at.
A short walk down Legian Street - the main road where all the bars are in Kuta - and I realise I've gone to the wrong one. A local moped driver, seeing I looked lost, asked to help me and after telling him what the situation was he said he knew the right place and could take me there.
After haggling a price I accepted his offer and hopped on his moped. It only took all of 10 seconds to feel my phone fall out of my shorts' pocket.
I got him to turn around and go back but by that time my phone had vanished. Fearing the worst, and now in a mixed state of panic and regretful hindsight, I asked if my moped driver could ring my phone and see who had picked it up.
In broken English, he said he didn't have a phone and needed to ask his group of friends for a phone. After a few minutes, his friend asked me: if someone knew where my phone was, how much would I pay?
Instantly I knew he knew where it was - and it all became clear that this group was trying to extort me.
But I had to continue to play the dumb tourist, so I told him I'd pay whatever it took. A minute later, my moped driver said he'd been contacted and I needed to pay three million rupiah ($A300).
I agreed, so I could get a chance to snatch my phone back.
He told me to get on his moped and that he would take me to my phone. After a few hundred metres we stopped and he asked again if I would pay. I said yes and he sent a text.
Seconds later he got a reply and told me I needed to pay 3.5 million ($A360). I agreed, but said I needed to see the phone first before I paid.
Two minutes later, one of the group I had been standing with came by on a moped and we followed. They flashed us the phone while riding along and then zoomed off.
Knowing I needed to get close, I said that it could be anyone's phone and I needed to see the photo on the front screen.
The driver caught up with his friend and found somewhere to stop. We all got off the mopeds and my moped driver asked to inspect the phone (the trust of handing over the phone easily confirmed that they were in it together).
I seized the moment, ran over, tussled with my moped driver, grabbed my phone and sprinted down the alleyway, shouting for help at the top of my lungs - while passersby neglected to help.
Looking behind me I could see and hear six mopeds follow me down the alleyway, keeping a distance, almost waiting for me to run out of steam. Luckily, my adrenaline levels were through the roof.
My moped driver drove up beside me and told me to get on. At first I told him where to stick his offer - but upon realising I was close to slowing down, and not fancying my chance of taking six people on, especially because I didn't know if they had weapons, I stupidly took him up on the offer.
I told him I'd give him 100,000 rupiah ($A10) to get me away from the rest of the gang. Having driven a fair few streets without being followed, my moped driver decided to try and renegotiate, demanding one million rupiah ($A300).
When I told him no, he started to get angry, and I realised I was going to have to jump from his bike.
I finally had a bit of luck and saw a taxi up ahead so as we got close I shimmied off and jumped from the moped and made a dash for the taxi.
The taxi driver seemed calm about the situation, like he'd seen it happen before, and he started driving. We suddenly got overtaken by the moped driver, who tried to block our path and demanded we pull over because I owed him money.
The taxi driver found a way through, and after a couple of minutes being followed, he gave up.
My taxi driver talked me through how he was also police and gangs of thieves were everywhere on Legian Street, waiting to take advantage of single travellers walking alone.
I would say I've actually been lucky in my situation because there were so many points where it could have got a lot nastier, if you got into trouble with more violent types.
I think, looking back on it, some of my choices were poor and I was lucky that my actions didn't leave me in a worse situation. My desperation to get my phone back clouded my judgment and I didn't evaluate the situation properly. If
I could go back and tell myself anything it would be let it go, insurance covered me - so, like a gambler chasing a win, I should have known when to walk away and cut my losses.
You'd be surprised just how large these gangs actually are. It's not just a few people but hundreds that split into opportunistic groups.
Despite this incident, I still loved Bali. The people as a whole are generally lovely and I'd still recommend travelling there as it has some great sights to see, places to visit and it's culturally fascinating.
If, though, you are going just to party, keep in mind these are the main areas thieves will target, especially if you are by yourself. So stay aware, alert and in groups if you can, if you are going there just to drink the nights away in Kuta.
Dave Stokes, 28, from Southampton, UK, is currently travelling the world and spent four weeks in Bali in November.