Editor's Note: The following article was written by Cody Martin of Option Gray. Cody spent more than 11 years in law enforcement, including time as an undercover officer, executive protection agent, and instructor of firearms and survival courses. We've shared the post in its entirety with his permission. For more of his articles, check out OptionGray.com.
Bribery is a form of corruption that's illegal in a lot of places and plagues societies at every level. Many people use bribery as a way to push agendas, manipulate established practices, and coerce folks into doing things they wouldn’t normally do. Money is the driving force. Factor in things such as a third-world location, impoverished living conditions, and societal breakdown, and you have a situation ripe for bribery. Let's take a look at 15 tips you can use to avoid or get out of paying a bribe.
The first thing to remember and your best option is to avoid being in a situation where you may need to pay a bribe to someone. However, if you find yourself in one of these situations, there are many methods, techniques, tips, and tricks that can be used. We are just scratching the surface in this article. However, what I've listed below will have you well on your way to understanding what is going on during a bribe and how you can take steps to control the situation.
1. Maintain your situational awareness
Situational awareness is paramount and transcends all aspects of life. In order to avoid falling victim to bribery, you have to be able to spot it. The common culprits while traveling abroad are the police or sometimes military who are conducting “traffic” enforcement or manning roadblocks. Be aware of the areas you are traveling and the corruption that is common. Be cognizant of all your actions and be sure to conduct yourself accordingly and well within the law.
Common techniques used in shakedowns may be:
2. Be familiar with and follow local laws
Piggy-backing off of point #1, be familiar with the laws particular to the area you are traveling. Every place has that one weird law that’s hard to believe exists. Don’t fall victim to your own ignorance and avoid the stuff that’s easy to avoid. A lot of travelers bring trouble onto themselves by being in vacation mode and dropping their guard. Don’t be that person.
3. Have all your travel documents squared away
This is another easy one. Make sure all your travel documents are in line well in advance of your trip. It seems silly, but a little research can go a long way. Simple things like the expiration date on your passport, the proper types of visas, etc., can make a break a trip. They can also provide ammunition for someone looking to make a quick buck off of you.
4. Never give out original documents
If at all possible, never hand over any of your original documents. Any paperwork required for you to conduct yourself abroad should be copied for daily use. Handing over your passport and then having someone hold it ransom until a “fine” is paid could be a nightmare situation. Try to avoid this by using copies if feasible.
5. Use an International driver’s permit
If you are stopped and are asked to hand over your identification, it’s best to have an international driver’s permit to hand over as opposed to your original license from back home. In case this permit gets “held” or confiscated you are not out the hassle and inconvenience of losing your original.
6. Don’t stand out
If you are trying to avoid paying a bribe by saying you are broke while you are wearing a $10,000 Rolex, you may have a hard time getting someone to believe your story. The same thing goes for wearing fancy clothes, openly carrying expensive electronics, etc. Depending on where you are traveling, it may be a good idea to employ a gray man approach to your clothing.
When you are out and about, pay attention to those around you and what they are wearing. What stands out? Is it their shoes, shirt, handbag, hairstyle, etc.? Be cognizant of what draws your attention. Make a mental note and be sure to avoid those triggers if you are trying to avoid unnecessary attention.
7. Stay in public view
If you are being stopped or detained for any reason, try to keep your presence in a public place. If you are on foot, avoid being led into isolated or out of view areas, and if you are driving, stop where you are and keep your engine running. It’s even better if you are causing a congestion and drawing attention. Their inconvenience may be a factor in determining you are not worth the hassle.
8. Be polite
Be polite and courteous throughout the ordeal. Even if your blood pressure is through the roof because of this person’s audacity, you need to maintain your cool. They are in a position of power and you are somewhat at their mercy. You will get nowhere by getting into a heated argument while you are being detained. Remember how social engineering plays into human behavior and use it to your advantage.
9. Don’t use the word “bribe”
The term bribe may invoke negative emotion and cause the situation to become worse, so try to avoid its use. This person knows what they are doing is wrong and so do you. Calling it what it is will only backfire if you are trying to diffuse the situation. Keep in mind, you are trying to talk your way out of paying a bribe and you don’t get extra points for pointing fingers.
10. Stay calm
Stay calm, and if you can’t stay calm at least give the appearance of it. When we display fear, anxiety, or worry it only lets the person know they have the upper hand. It also contradicts tactic #11…
11. Act like you don’t understand and “play dumb”
The language barrier may be a legitimate thing depending on where you are traveling and you may not understand all of what is going on. Use this to your advantage. At some point, you will hopefully realize what is happening and that’s a good thing. The sooner the better. However, acting like you have no clue what they are asking for can work exceptionally well.
12. Don’t immediately pay
The longer it takes for them to get what they want the better. Use their impatience to your advantage. Most folks are looking for a quick buck and for targets of opportunity. The longer it takes for them to get what they want out of you the better.
13. Deflection or redirection
Redirect the conversation by asking directions, showing them maps, asking complicated questions, etc. This tactic plays off of #12. The longer you can draw out the interaction in terms of time between the “bribe” and paying the better off you will be. Again, they are looking for quick and easy money. Check out our article on Gray Man Communication: How to Talk to Anyone for information on deflection and redirection.
14. Ask for a written ticket and a receipt
If you aren’t getting anywhere in terms of getting out of paying, ask for a written ticket and for a written receipt. This can be seen as an inconvenience and they may want to avoid the hassle. It can also be a roadblock to the behavior because it documents the behavior, which may be bogus to begin with. If they are trying to make a quick buck they want to avoid all the legalities and formalities of the legitimate process.
15. Give the appearance of compliance
Even though you are trying to circumvent what is truly going on, give the appearance of compliance throughout the whole ordeal. This helps them maintain their position of authority and gives you the upper hand during negotiations. Feed off of that and use it to your advantage.
Take a few minutes and watch the video below. It’s a good demonstration of how to deal with a shakedown or a request for a bribe. A lot of the tips listed above are effectively utilized, especially during the last interaction at the end of the video.
Editor's Note: For another real-life example, check out the reader-submitted story Mozambique Mayhem.
There may be times you are forced into paying a bribe due to a shakedown or other activity by corrupt government officials, police, etc. Safety is your number one priority. So, if there is ever a point where things are getting questionable you need to do what you can to defuse the situation. With that in mind, you may have to pay a bribe as a last resort.
If this is the case, you need to have a way to pay. A $20 bill in U.S. currency will usually be more than enough to do the trick, but sometimes it may take more. On the other hand, a lot of times it can take way less. Be familiar with exchange rates and how far local money will go. You have to weigh the situation for yourself, but it may be worth it to be out the money and be on your merry way. Keep in mind, paying a bribe just continues the cycle of corruption.
A bribe could be your best course of action and could be something that prevents a bad situation from being worse. In a lot of places, bribes aren’t considered illegal or unethical by many and are widely accepted as part of life. That doesn’t mean we have to like it or accept it, it merely means we should understand the dynamics of the situation and how they play into our course of action.
Paying a bribe should not be your first response, but if there is no way around it you should be ready.