Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Honey Pot Gets Ugly. Bait Confounds Travel Pro- How to Avoid Scams in Budapest

I'm in excellent mood, practically skipping down VĂ¡ci Street, the prime touristic area featuring Western style prices in this otherwise inexpensive city. I'm waiting on a couple friends who are still working on Pacific Coast America time, and thus have problems rousing themselves. Still, even for them, they're taking forever. As I gaze down at my phone wondering if I missed a text, I hear a feminine voice angled in my direction.

I look up, one girl blond, looks haggard and worn, her posture is slightly hunched over. The other is prettier, dark-haired, likely half-Asian. She's showing a bit of cleavage.
"I don't speak Hungarian," I respond.
The blond girl motions to her unlit cigarette and asks in English for a light. "Don't smoke," I reply.
They then engage me in an English conversation, telling me they're hairdressers from Croatia here for a convention. They ask me if I know of a good bar, I'm surprised by the question, but tell them I don't.

this is bait?  
I look down at my phone hoping for a text message from my amigos, there is none. They say they're going to go get a drink, and ask if I want to join. I consider for a moment, I probably have at least 20 minutes to spare I've met so many people in a similar manner, most of whom I've initiated the conversation, some who approached me, so I know what's it like to just want some company in a new city.
Unsurprisingly there is a bar nearby.
"Is this okay?" they ask.
I shrug my shoulders. We walk down a set of stairs to a nearly empty bar. It's dark, but honestly, it looks nice, and although the emptiness of it raises a flag for me, it's still very early in the evening.
We sit at a circular table. They ask me if I want a traditional Hungarian drink, "Okay, sure."  I'm easy going enough. They utter something in Hungarian to the male waiter who immediately brings shots of reddish-brown liquer and three tiny bottles of champagne.
It crosses my mind how quickly the drinks arrived. Something feels off. I look to grab a menu to check on prices, but they are stacked across the room. I look at the girls, and frankly, one of them is just flat out ugly. Why would a bar use a girl that ugly to scam people? It just doesn't make sense. No, this has gotta be okay.
They down their drinks quickly, and order another round.
"Where did you guys say you were from?"
"Southern Hungary," comes the reply.
"I thought you said you were from Croatia?"
"No no, very near the Croatian border," comes the reply.
Red lights continue to go off. I like at the cleavage from the prettier girl, it distracts me. They want to order a third round, I'm feeling the affects of the alcohol already, I'm a lightweight as I don't drink often.
"I'm done," I state, "I know my limit."
The bill arrives instantaneously, and naturally, is placed in front of the guy. I open it and rub my eyes. I do the math again, yup, they want $220!
Literally it hits me the moment I see the bill. I start laughing, almost uncontrollably, for about a minute straight, before the following words emerge out of my mouth. "I just got scammed."
"It's not funny!" admonishes the Asian-looking one, as the other pulls the equivalent of $40 from her purse, and with a mystified look throws it on the table. It throws me off their scent for a second, again the question comes into my mind how they could use such a terrible looking girl to get any guy in here. I was being NICE to begin with accepting their invite for Christ's sake.
I call the waiter over.
"The bill is way too high. You're overcharging."
"The bill is right," he retorts.
"There is no way you can charge $40 a drink. No way."
"I can sell you a cigarette for 1 million dollars," if I want, yells the waiter.
"Not if you give it to me, have me smoke it, and then tell me the price!" I retort.
"It's all right there in the menu," he states, "Look."
I'm sure it is. The question now is how do I get out of here for the cheapest amount possible. It's not worth getting bruised up. I take out 20,000 Forinth out of my pocket, the largest denomination they have in Hungary, the equivalent of $73.
That's all I have, I tell the waiter.
"You have ATM card."
"That's all I have," I say flatly. My initial amusement over the situation is quickly wearing off.
He yells something in Hungarian at me, I'm fairly certain it wasn't very nice. It gets me to stand. The girls implore me to pull out more to ease the situation.
"That's all I have," I repeat my fib again.
He goes over to the bar and makes a phone call. I sit there glaring at the girls. 90% sure they are in on it, but not 100%. They sense this and go to the bathroom. I wait outside for them, wanting to see how they behave.
In retrospect, it was mistake. My goal should have been merely to leave.
They emerge from the bathroom and start walking towards the exit. We walk silently out.
"I guess you go back to your hotel," one suggests.
"I guess I will," I dryly answer.
Two steps later, the ugly one seethes, "How do you only bring 20,000 forinth on a night out."
For a second I'm stunned by the question and I answer it literally. "That's a lot here for Budapest." Moments later it dawns me, it's not 90% they were in on it, it's 1 million percent. Her anger stemmed from her smaller than expected commission for her efforts. They're a few steps away from me.
"How much of a commission did you take?!" I snarl.
"None!" the semi-attractive one lies back to me.
And there I stand, practically motionless, the rare feeling of anger coursing through me. I got freaking scammed, and was partially oblivious, cause WHO WOULD TRY TO RUN A BAR SCAM WITH AN UGLY GIRL AS THE BAIT??!!!
Granted, the other girl, physically, was bearable, but come on.

me and my so-called friends in Budapest I was waiting for
it's their fault this whole thing happened
So, there you have it, scammed is scammed. For someone who has prided himself on spotting them before they take place, and avoided many, it was a big let down for the ego.

Sadly I was considering spending longer in Budapest, and spending a lot more in town than $73. Instead, I leave 30 hours later, meaning the law abiding citizens of this beautiful city who stood to gain economically from my continued stay, paid the ultimate price for the dishonest denizens looking to make a quick buck.

So, a tip for travelers reading: How to Avoid the Budapest scam-

1. Always ask to look at the menu, the prices before you order.
2. Specifically in Budapest, if there are stairs down leading to the bar, beware.
3. If you see an ATM in the place as well, just get on out of there.
4. If you sense anything amiss, don't be afraid to be "rude."
5. Don't underestimate the potential of the uggos. It's like a change-up in baseball, meant to throw you off your rhythm.

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