When you're in a new, unknown place, it's easy to fall for a scam you'll never even consider at home. Here are some of the most common travel scams ̵
Whether it is your first visit to a city, or if you are in another country using a different currency, the disruption of your usual routines and expectations makes you an easy destination when traveling. Let's look at the most common scams used by unscrupulous locals on tourists.
Taxi fraud has a long (and lucrative) tradition. They are one of the most common scams that go, and you can fall for them as soon as you arrive. There are a few different categories.
The simplest thing is that the taxi driver overlaps you ridiculously. He can quote a flat fee that is significantly more than the ongoing price, use a sketchy meter that goes up too fast, or take a roundabout route.
Another way to pay for taxis is by including extras, such as tolls or airport charges. And they charge them twice: once automatically on the meter and again at the end of the trip.
Especially in Asia, taxi drivers can tell you that your hotel, tourist attraction, shop or restaurant is closed, either permanently or at lunch / siesta / Wednesdays. But the good news is that he has a friend who rents a room / knows an alternative, and he takes you there with pleasure.
Of course, your hotel is not very closed – he just wants to overcharge you, take you on a tour of the city where you are pressured to buy things, and then take a look back at what businesses you visit.
How To Avoid Taxi Fraud
Taxi fraud is easy to avoid with two simple rules:
- Use only licensed taxis sourced from an official taxi point or by someone you trust. Taxis did not come from the street, or worse, go in an unlicensed taxi. When you do, you run the risk of being scammed. Get a taxi from an official taxi spot instead, or ask your concierge / waitress to call you.
- Know how much the trip you are going to cost. Ask the concierge or waitress about what the trip fee should be, or check online. This way, if the driver tries to charge you more or if the meter goes up suspiciously fast, you may require to be let out. You can also use Google Maps to make sure you get the most direct route to your destination.
- Avoid taxis altogether. Services like Uber, Lyft, and Grab are available in many parts of the world, and because you pay with a credit card, it's harder to be fooled.
Fake Tickets and Sketchy Listings
The guy who sells cheap Hamilton tickets on Craigslist because he can't go on short notice? He is lying. The super cheap apartment in a great location? Also a lie.
Counterfeit tickets to events and attractions (or real tickets sold for double price) are another common scam victim too. If you are planning to visit the Louvre and someone is offering you € 10 off street tickets, it is tempting to buy them. When you get to the Louvre, you will find that the tickets are fake and you are out 10 euros – plus the cost of the real tickets. Or, some may offer you 10 tickets to the British Museum, but once you get there, you'll find out it's free.
Airbnb has also conditioned the idea of renting accommodation other than hotel rooms. Two apartment listings scams I've personally experienced are:
- Non-existent listings on Craigslist. The fraudster asks for a bank transfer or Western Union deposit, and then never answers. When you arrive at the building, everyone is confused. This happened to my stepmother in New York.
- The owner of the property wants to "cut out" Airbnb. When you order, the "owner" contacts you with a direct message saying that she has a dispute with Airbnb and will "cut them out." She asks you to pay a deposit through another website and disappears.
How to Avoid Counterfeit Tickets and Sketched Entries
Only purchase tickets for events through official sources, such as the website, at the ticket counter or from the hotel concierge. Never buy discount tickets from people on the street.
Only book your accommodation via reliable sources with some protection, such as the hotel's website, Airbnb or Hotels.com.
Currency Traps  Scammers want your money. If they can trick you into giving them directly, they will. And when you're not familiar with the currency you use, it's even easier to be fooled.
Counterfeit banknotes are a problem everywhere, so look at the change you receive, especially if you pay with a large bill. If you are unfamiliar with the currency, you probably will not notice that you received fake cash before trying to use it.
The inverse of this is when you pay with a large banknote and then are accused of spending fake money. They can even swap it for a fake patch when you don't see. In this case, they will insist that they legally confiscate the fake patch – and you still owe them money.
If you use a currency exchange on the street, they can only trade real dollars for fake.
You must be especially careful when using a card abroad. Tourists are easy targets for card runners because they tend to have money, and if the skimmer waits a few days before trying your card, you will probably have left the country and will not be able to take legal action. My brother (he is Irish but lives in Alabama) was frothed at a bar at JFK Airport when he flies home for Christmas.
How to avoid currency traps
Familiarize yourself with the local currency when you arrive. Get a sense of what it looks like, what the different denominations are, and so on. You will never be as comfortable with it as a local, but at least know what the person on the front of each bill looks like.
Carefully check the change. Make sure it is the right amount and that the banknotes are genuine.
When handing over your money or debit card, be aware. This will not necessarily stop a skilled scammer, but if they see that you are following them, they are much less likely to try anything. There will be another mark soon.
When withdrawing money or exchanging currency, simply do so in a bank or other official currency exchange. A bank ATM is much less likely to be outlined than one in a local bar.
Guilt Trips are not technically a scam, but rather a difficult situation. Some will approach you on the street and try to give you something, such as a friendship bracelet, rosary or Buddhist charm – and they can be quite powerful. After you accept, they will insist on payment. If you refuse, they become loud, aggressive or insistent on hoping you pay them to prevent a scene. Whatever you pay will be far more than the tackle was worth.
This has happened to me sometimes. Once, a monk (or rather, a scammer dressed as a monk) put a charm around his neck and insisted that I pay him for it. On another occasion I was on a train, and on each seat was a small package of disposable tissues. I assumed it was an advertising campaign, but a few minutes into the journey a woman demanded that everyone who had taken the tissue pay her for them.
A similar scam is run in some stores. The staff offers you a cup of tea or a drink while you surf. If you try to leave without buying anything, they accuse you of abusing their hospitality and try to blame you for making a purchase.
How to avoid guilt trips
Don't accept anything for free from anyone, especially on the street.
If someone apparently gives you something for free, but insists that you pay for it, give it politely. If they start making a scene, you can ignore them. Most locals will know the scam and assume you are right.
When renting a car, motorcycle, Jet Ski or anything else abroad, conceivable damage is a scam you must look out for. This is what happens.
You rent the vehicle and leave in your merry way. When you return it, the person at the rental company points out some scratches, dings, dips or imaginary damage, and insists that you caused it. Of course, the cost of repair is exorbitant.
How to Avoid Damaged Rentals
To avoid this scam, film a video of all vehicles you rent from all sides. If there are scratches, dents or dives, you can call them out in the video. If you can, you can have the rental company with you while you do this. This way, when you return the vehicle, you can prove that the damage was there when you rented it.
When renting a vehicle, never leave your passport or ID as security. They have the full right to request that information and copy it, but if the option is to either pay a large deposit or leave your passport, you must pay the deposit. If they have your passport, they can keep your ability to leave the country hostage until you pay up.
While pickpockets are straightening thieves instead of scam artists, the two overlap when a scam is used to distract you so someone can pick your pocket. For example:
- Some people play the three-card assembly or the shell game while a pickpocket works the audience.
- A street performer or bushes plays while a pickpocket (possibly independent) works the audience.
- Someone spills her drink on you. As she taps you and apologizes profusely, she also picks her pocket.
- A well-dressed tourist asks you for directions. While helping, he picks his pocket.
- Someone asks you to sign a petition campaign. As you do, your wallet is stolen.
- You use an ATM and local deals to help. She'll disappear with your cash.
How to avoid pickpockets
Pockets are hard to avoid when they go up to you. Take extra care when invading your personal room. The man who asks you for directions can be real, or he can also take a wallet. Similarly, if someone spills something on you, you can go back and not let them pat you down. Maybe they're just clumsy and you can clean it up yourself – or it was a distraction so they can swipe the wallet.
Be careful about how much money you have in your wallet and where you keep it. It is better to use a money belt. Also, make sure you leave a backup credit card in your hotel room. This way, if your wallet is stolen, you still have access to cash.
This may surprise you, but stalls in street markets are not official Nike retailers. It is also not the kind man who sells real Ray-Ban's (75% off) from a rug next to the road. Almost all (let's be honest – that's all ) the brands for sale in street markets are knockoffs. If they are real, they are stolen.
Another scam from the market draws you in with things like handmade rugs, high quality silk, local goods and so on. You inspect them and think they're actually well made. You buy one and it is taken out again to be packed for the flight home. When you get home, you think you've bought a cheap polyester rug or an otherwise fake product. The genuine article was exchanged when it was sent for packaging.
How to avoid fake goods
Don't buy brand name products in a street market. No, it's not a cheap Rolex for sale. No, it's not the Nikes – the logo is facing the wrong way. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
When you buy something genuine, handmade or local, do not let them pack it in such a way that you cannot inspect it. Insist that you can do it yourself; in this way they cannot replace the product after a forgery. If you can't pack it yourself, don't buy it.
Tackling scams is an unfortunate part of the journey. In Europe or Asia you will almost certainly come across someone who will try to take advantage of you. With a little knowledge and common sense, however, you will do well. Make it clear that you know what they are doing and they will look for a simpler brand.