Like any big capital city in Asia, there are a few scams in Kuala Lumpur that catch travelers year after year. New arrivals are the most susceptible.
Most scams are little more than harmless nuisances meant to relieve you of that colorful Malaysian ringgit you’re carrying. Don't let that happen before you get a chance to enjoy the many fun things to do in Kuala Lumpur!
A couple of the more nefarious scams in Kuala Lumpur could compromise your identity. Having your ATM card deactivated for fraud will be a major inconvenience while traveling. Fortunately, a little vigilance can really reduce your chances of having to deal with the hassle.
What to Do if You Become a Victim
Learn from the experience, then warn others. Any money lost is probably unrecoverable, but you can report the activity to the tourist police by calling 03 2149 6590 (local) or +60 3 2149 6590 (international).
If you or someone is in physical danger, dial “999”—the emergency services number in Malaysia.
Remember: Scams happen all over the world, and tourists are most often the target. Don’t allow a bad experience to ruin your enjoyment of Malaysia!
Taxi Drivers Drive the Long Way
All official taxis in Kuala Lumpur have a sign on the door that reads “This is a metered taxi. Haggling is prohibited.” But perhaps the sign should be posted where the driver can see it better! The first thing most do is quote a fixed fare that is inevitably higher than what the meter would give.
As with elsewhere in Southeast Asia, you should refuse the price and demand that a driver use the meter. Although tourists are trying to do the right thing, Kuala Lumpur has become the get-driven-the-long-way-around capital of Asia. It happens a lot when changing neighborhoods in KL. Not only is your trip time wasted in traffic, the metered fare often ends up higher than the quoted price once you’ve been driven in enough circles!
Never underestimate the audacity of a taxi driver in Kuala Lumpur. If they see that you’re following the journey on Google Maps, they’ll keep you chatting and distracted. Some will ask to see photos of your family so that you'll have to dig around on your smartphone rather than follow the map.
All roads (and rails) lead to KL Sentral near Little India in Kuala Lumpur. If you’re staying in Chinatown or Bukit Bintang, you can reach both via the excellent KL monorail for $1 or less. The train system in Kuala Lumpur is extensive—take advantage! Unless you're moving around after midnight when most trains stop running, you really can get everywhere by a combination of rail and walking.
Another option for avoiding taxi scams is to install Malaysia’s rideshare app, Grab. Unlike Uber, you can pay the driver directly with cash. Be aware that some Grab drivers will also ask for additional money on top of whatever the app quoted you.
Directing You to the Wrong Type of Taxi
Size matters when taxis in Kuala Lumpur are concerned. “Budget” taxis, the ubiquitous red sedans seen driving around Kuala Lumpur, are the default. But if a minivan, SUV crossover, or larger vehicle answers your call, it’s probably an “executive” or “family” taxi. Executive taxis demand nearly double the usual meter rate for budget taxis. You'll have a lot of room to yourself, but you'll pay a lot more for distance covered.
Not asking about the taxi class is a mistake many tourists make when arriving in KLIA, KLIA2, or at KL Sentral railway station. Unless you specify at the counter or taxi kiosk that a “standard” or “budget” taxi will suffice, you may be sold a coupon for the more expensive “executive” taxi, also known as a “premier” taxi.
Overcharging Tourists in Local Eateries
Nasi kandar / nasi campur restaurants are on every corner in Kuala Lumpur—take advantage! These fun, sometimes-frenetic eateries are the best way to sample delicious local favorites for cheap.
Customers are given a plate of rice and then get charged for what they take from the already prepared meats and vegetables displayed buffet style. Prices usually aren't labeled. Locals know approximately how much adding a piece of meat or ladle of sauce costs; tourists do not. Portions are small (typically a spoonful). The person serving you can double up each. They come across as generous, but you'll be charged for double portions at the end.
Although a majority of the nasi kandar restaurants tend to only round up slightly for uninitiated patrons, a few located in tourist areas really fleece newbies. Prices get made up on the spot, and you're obligated to pay if you've already accepted the food. The "Economy Rice" food counter in front of the Tang City Food Court in Chinatown is one such place.
Fortunately, this scam in Kuala Lumpur is more a nuisance than anything. Eating at these buffet-style restaurants is still an inexpensive cultural experience—take advantage! Remember: Many of these eateries cater to a lunch crowd, so offerings are prepared early then kept warm all day. You'll score the freshest food earlier in the day.
Children Selling Flowers and Begging
While eating or drinking at tables outside, you’ll often get approached by children selling flowers or trinkets. Jalan Alor, the famous food parallel to Bukit Bintang, is worked nightly by begging groups.
Although the scenario can be heartbreaking, the children are often part of organized begging rings. They are forced to turn over money to bosses who abuse them. Giving money or buying flowers supports this criminal practice. Avoid keeping the children profitable.
Card-skimming devices installed on ATMs are a problem around the world. Southeast Asia, in particular, is plagued by rigged machines. Tourists who are unfamiliar with the many styles of ATMs in Kuala Lumpur are susceptible to having their card information stolen.
Here's how it works: Criminals install card skimmers over the actual card slot on ATMs and record your card’s magnetic data as it passes through. Sophisticated skimmers even employ tiny cameras or membranes over the keypad to record your PIN.
Avoid having your card compromised while abroad by only using ATMs in well-lit areas, preferably with guards or a 24-hour human presence. The machines inside bank branches, the airport, or busy transportation hubs are most ideal. Avoid street ATMs in dark kiosks where someone could install additional hardware without being detected.
As banks take countermeasures, the criminals up their game. Skimming devices can also blink with LEDs now, just as the actual card slot. Along with choosing machines in safe locations, try wiggling the card slot to see if anything feels "funny." You can also ensure nothing rests on top of the actual keypad. Cover your hand while punching in the PIN.
Selling Fake Electronics
Malaysia is one of the top hubs in the world for manufacturing semiconductors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find bargain prices for electronic devices.
That ridiculously low price you get in a mall for the latest Samsung or iPhone unfortunately is too good to be true. Shops are filled with well-made fakes. The smartphones, laptops, and tablets are $100 cheaper than at home for a reason. The size and quality of a mall storefront are not reliable indicators of whether or not the devices for sale are fake.
If you plan to purchase pricey electronics, stick to authorized stores (e.g., buy that Samsung phone directly from the Samsung store) rather than third-party sellers. Even a big shop in an upscale mall could be selling fakes.
Another good reason not to buy tablets, laptops, or pirated software in Kuala Lumpur is that much of it has been hacked or modified. Those cheap software DVDs have been modified to also install malware or a potential backdoor on your computer. Some phones and tablets have been "rooted" to report back your activity and keystrokes.
Tip: Know how international warranty claims are handled before you commit to a purchase abroad. You may not be able to get support or service for a device not purchased in your home country. If you do buy something, add some extra time at the airport to recover tax at the GST window before departing.
Cheating You at the Checkout Counter
Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown in Penang have a running trend of minimart cashiers finding ways to first distract then overcharge customers. The problem isn’t just at small, independent shops; the workers at well-known chains pull the same scam, particularly at night.
When checking out with the cashier, don’t allow yourself to become distracted. Clerks may begin a friendly conversation, asking you many questions throughout the transaction. The scam then unfolds in one of several ways as they never miss a beat.
They close the register drawer, insinuating that you’ve already received your change and put it absentmindedly into your wallet. Another trick is to scan a different barcode behind the register (instead of the one on the item) that costs a little more than whatever you are purchasing. Some experienced at this con will accept your payment, don't open the register, distract you, and then pretend no payment was received. Sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised at how easy it is to question yourself. Pros are convincing enough to get you to pay a second time!
Foreign travelers rarely speak up about the small difference in price from false scans. Many are afraid to create a scene by questioning the cashier's integrity and just pay up.
Sketchy SIM Card Purchases
Some of the employees in cell phone kiosks and shops have perfected an easy bait-and-switch scam. They will ask how much pre-paid credit you want added to your newly purchased Malaysian SIM card. Sometimes top-up credit comes in the form of scratch-off cards or receipts with a code on each that needs to be typed into the phone. They'll usually apply the credit to your phone as part of their service.
Employees sometimes charge for 1 GB of data service but actually only set your phone up for 500 MB of credit. You can guess who keeps and uses the additional data credit!
Rogue Wifi Hotspots
More and more rogue Wi-Fi hotspots are popping up around Kuala Lumpur. In public places, knowing which Wi-Fi networks are safe and which are not is becoming more difficult. The rogue access points are set up on laptops by people nearby to capture your login credentials by acting as a "man in the middle."
Just because you happen to be in the airport, an SSID such as “Free Airport WiFi” may not be the real deal. These hotspots sniff traffic as well as provide fake DNS information to redirect clients to fake versions of real sites. Once you log into the simulated Facebook or Gmail page, your password is harvested to sell later. You get redirected to the real site without ever realizing what happened.
Only use Wi-Fi signals that can be trusted. If something feels “off” (e.g., a site’s login page looks funny or images are broken, find a secure connection and change your password immediately. Another indication may be the need to log in twice, even though you're sure you typed in your password correctly the first time.
Tip: Remember that SSIDs are case sensitive. “Starbucks” is not the same as “StarBucks” or “starbucks.” Hackers often utilize nuances in case when choosing fake SSIDs.
Monkeys Around the Batu Caves
The macaque monkeys around the Batu Caves just outside of town are well-practiced tricksters. They're among the cheekiest in Southeast Asia, perhaps only beaten in cheekiness by their cousins in Ubud's Monkey Forest.
Beware of macaques that like to snatch sunglasses, water bottles, and anything else within reach on the many tourists who climb the stairs to see the caves. They wouldn’t think twice about grabbing that expensive iPhone from your hands as you lean against the railing for a selfie. It happens.
To stay safe around monkeys, finish any snacks or drinks at ground level before starting the climb up the stairs. Don’t carry food in your daybag—they can even detect an unopened bag of nuts! If a monkey grabs anything on your person, you’ll unfortunately need to let it go to avoid a potential bite or scratch. Playing tug of war with a determined macaque is a losing battle. If bitten, you'll have to go get a series of painful, expensive rabies shots. Even a scratch merits antibiotics.
If the monkeys grab something valuable, don't panic. They'll sometimes grow bored of inedible objects and drop them. Don’t chase the monkeys; doing so will make them run farther out of reach or climb higher. Wait, watch where your item was taken, then seek help from someone who works around the caves.
Don’t encourage bad behavior by feeding or interacting with the monkeys!