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Beirut Airport Touch Prepaid SIM Card Scam

They got me. Hardcore.

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BEIRUT, Lebanon- I’m laughing as I write this as I think about what I would have done if this happened ten years ago.

Ten years ago I would have freaked out, reported people to the police, did a series of thorough reports complete with photographs and video on this blog.

Today, I just shrugged and ordered a beer.

I was foolish and I was robbed — let’s drink beer now.

When I got off the plane in Beirut I went through the usual ritual: immigration, customs, ATM, telecom shop. Everything went smoothly, and I was imagining a clean transition from plane to street. But the line at the telecom shop was long. It was the official Touch shop at the airport, and seemed to be the only place to get a SIM card.

I waited.

I waited for the people in front of me to get their cards.

Then I noticed something: the guy in front of me scoffed about something and angrily put his phone back in its case and stomped off. WTF? This guy had been waiting in line for 15 minutes, why would he do that?

I should have taken the hint.

When it was my turn I asked the price:

$75 or 120,000 Lebanese pounds for a six gig prepaid plan that would last a month. A 1.5 gig plan was being sold for $70.

I stepped back. That seemed like a lot. Too much. All over the world prepaid data plans are cheap. In Malaysia you can get unlimited 4g for $15 per month. This guy was trying to get more money for a prepaid plan than I have ever heard of.

But I had been waiting in line for 20 minutes, I’d been traveling all day, and I was up late the night before. I was tired and wanted to go to my hotel. I needed the SIM card so I could call an Uber.

I also didn’t want to deal with the potential hassle of having to find a prepaid card in the city. Often, this is easy to do, but sometimes it is isn’t. In some countries foreigners can only get SIM cards at the airport.

I didn’t want to screw around with this — I had work to do.

The guy behind the counter explained that the cost was so high because there were only two telecom companies in Lebanon and they both were owned by the government.

I nodded and continued my stand, watching other customers pass over the exorbitant fee. I realize now that they could have been in on it. If they were, it worked. I assumed that they knew more than me. What do I know about Lebanon? Nothing — it’s my first time here.

I paid up.

As soon as I got my car the driver asked what I paid for my SIM card and then politely laughed when I told him.

“That may have been a little too much.”

I had been had.

The prepaid plan that I paid should have cost $26. I was jacked $50.

No joke. I wad ripped off $50.

I, Wade Shepard, world traveler for 19 years through 89 countries, was scammed.

I now sit here in Beirut drinking my beer almost impressed that these guys at the telecom shop were so bold. To jack travelers five or ten bucks per pop is one thing — that’s standard fare — but $50, now that takes some very big balls.

I shake my head and laugh. When a traveler lands in a country they are vulnerable, and there are always going to be people who both offer hospitality and help, and those who exploit that vulnerability. When you enter the country you need a data plan — you’re lost without one — and those guys at the Touch shop — a government company, apparently knew this well.


Outside of tourist areas the times when you’re going to be scammed are rare. So rare that as I don’t often find myself in places that are heavily visited by foreigners that I don’t really think about being scammed or cheated anymore. Seriously, it has been years since I was noticeably ripped off or overcharged. I eventually realized that what I stand to lose from scams that rarely occur was simply not worth crowding my head with a constant stream of suspicion.

Do you know what happened?

I became a friendly person and ended up having more fun on my travels.

Imagine that.


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Filed under: Lebanon, Travel Problems

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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