The Most Frequent Travel Scams, and How to Protect Yourself

On the National Mall in the spring of 2019, I saw a young man dressed like a Buddhist monk approach a visitor. A petition to construct a temple was presented to him, and a bracelet of prayer beads was placed around his wrist. When the guest reached for his wallet, I interrupted and told him the truth: he was the victim of a fraud.

Scammers are as blatant here as they are when they claim to be a Nigerian prince offering you a portion of his wealth. But when we’re in a different country, we’re easier to fool. Maybe our Spidey senses have been dampened by jet lag, or maybe we just don’t know the local customs and don’t want to upset anyone.

“This is a universal, global problem, especially in cities where you have crowds and people let their guard down,” said Michelle Bernier-Toth, the managing director for Overseas Citizen Services at the State Department. As one officer put it, “people don’t report it to the police or us because they feel foolish and embarrassed.”

Bernier-Toth, having spent time in both Africa and the Middle East, understands the plight of those who fall prey to scams. She herself has been one twice in her life. She was getting cash out of an ATM in Johannesburg when a stranger approached her and asked if she needed assistance. In an instant, he had her card in his hand, having sneaked past the friend who had been assigned to keep an eye on her. The second time it happened, she was taking a taxi in Istanbul and the driver gave her unusable currency.

She admitted, “I was schnookered.” “Scams like these have been around forever.”

Scams target various types of vacationers and can happen anywhere. Bernier-Toth suggests the following methods for minimising your vulnerability to con artists: “Be polite, but wary; trust, but verify, and just say ‘No, thank you.'” You should also look at the travel warnings for your destination country on the State Department’s website. For tourists to India, the State Department issues the following warning: “Major airports, train stations, popular restaurants, and tourist sites are often used by scam artists looking to prey on visitors, often by creating a distraction.”

We’ve compiled 10 of the most widespread hoaxes from around the world, along with advice on how to avoid falling for them. We also reached out to the Department of State and the travel safety organisation Global Rescue to get a selection of countries where these scams are most prevalent. Keep in mind that the goal of these relatively minor scams is still to get financial advantage at your expense. They are usually peaceful, yet they can nonetheless put a negative mark on your holiday (and your pride).

Lyft and Uber drivers who are corrupt

The taxi driver (or tuk-tuk driver) will say the metre is broken and then charge you a ridiculously high fare. The taxi driver tells you that the hotel, temple, museum, or teahouse you want to visit is full or closed, and instead brings you to his friend’s place. He profits from your increased fare and commission. The driver takes a circuitous path that significantly increases the fare.

The solution is simple: never flag down a cab on the street. Get a taxi by calling one from a trustworthy business or by booking one at a regulated location. Find out how much the ride should cost in general (you may do this by asking the hotel concierge or using a fare calculator website) and make sure the metre is functioning properly. Get the location’s address and operating hours ahead of time. If the driver insists on going somewhere else, state your destination again forcefully or get out of the car. Keep the driver honest and on track with Google Maps. If you want to avoid dealing with taxis, utilise a ride-hailing service instead, like Uber or Lyft.

Since no actual currency is exchanging hands, no more scams can occur. If you want your friends to know where you are, turn on the Follow My Ride (Uber) or Share My Ride (Lyft) feature.

Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, India, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Serbia are just a few examples of dream vacation spots.

Pretend mishaps

The con artist sprays you with some kind of liquid, condiment, or pretend bird poop. While you focus on the spot, your accomplice steals your wallet. As a further distraction, the squirter may attempt to clean the area. The old collapsing, the mother throwing the baby or the cat at you, or the tourist picking up a wallet and being accused of stealing its contents are all examples of diversionary tactics. Someone on a scooter or in a car deliberately collides with your vehicle, then tries to settle the dispute by demanding money.

Prevent this by securing your valuables before you leave the house. Wallets, for instance, should be stored in lockable, slash-proof bags or concealed pockets to prevent theft. Ignore your instinct to be a good Samaritan and leave the scene without retrieving anything of value. If you are involved in a car accident, you should wait for the police to arrive. Contact the U.S. Embassy if you find yourself in a country with dishonest law enforcement.

Locations like Rome, Istanbul, India, Paris, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Egypt, Chile, and Ghana are just a few examples.

Gifts at no cost

The con artist, dressed as a Buddhist monk, approaches you and offers to put a bracelet on your wrist. A random person hands you a rosemary sprig. Flowers or henna are presented to you by a female. A person who is “disabled” offers you some Kleenex. Do you think a simple “thank you” will do? Nope. If you receive something from the “gift-giver” and then don’t pay up, the person will make a scene. Another classic con involves someone finding a gold band on the street and asking if it belongs to you. You politely decline, but the other person insists and then starts harassing you for payment.

How to protect yourself: Never take freebies. Don’t even bother looking at it, or you might find yourself wearing a friendship bracelet. Send it back and go without it.

Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Paris, Cairo, Rome, Kuala Lumpur, and Barcelona are just a few of the places you may go.

Product damage

The con works like this: you rent a bike, automobile, or water scooter and afterwards get in trouble for destroying it. The property management company requests maintenance fees. Though you did nothing wrong, you should know that actual harm may result. It’s possible that an employee followed you and smashed the rental when you weren’t looking.

Renting through a reliable firm is one way to avoid this. Before you depart, make sure to take pictures of the vehicle and keep a close eye on your rental car. If things get out of hand, call the police or the embassy.

Several possible vacation spots include: Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Greece, the Bahamas, Italy, and Mexico.

The Problem with Fake Money

The scam involves a currency exchange booth that delivers you fake or outdated currency. A cab driver, restaurant owner, or shopkeeper accuses you of paying with counterfeit money and switches your actual bills for counterfeit ones. Alternately, you may be given (not-so) phoney currency.

What to do instead: Get to know the currency and only trade money with reputable establishments like banks and hotels. In case the worker swiped a few bills, you should always double-check the cash amount with the receipt. Use smaller bills and never be in a rush to buy something: Check your change and make sure all the bills add up as you pay. Use an ATM or prepaid card to withdraw local cash to avoid dealing with currency exchange. For the latter, have a friend act as a security guard while you withdraw money and check the machine for password-stealing skimming devices.

Colombia, Vietnam, China, Turkey, Egypt, and Argentina are just few of the places you could visit.

Suspicious requests for help or invites

A local asks you to help them with their English or to practice their letter writing skills. The person takes you to a store where a salesperson aggressively tries to make a sale. You receive a mysterious invitation to a bar, cafe or teahouse. The waiter hands you an outrageous bill at the end of your dinner or drink and demands immediate payment. Someone pretends to be disabled or to work for a charity and asks you to sign a petition and make a donation; while you do so, an accomplice steals your wallet. A bogus travel agency promises a trip or safari that never takes place.

How to protect yourself: Never talk to someone who approach you out of the blue, offer to translate, or have a clipboard in their hands. Make sure your tour company is licenced before booking.

Countries like China, Thailand, Turkey, Spain, Malaysia, India, and Tanzania are just a few examples.

Misleading claims

The con artist signals for you to pull over, saying your vehicle is having mechanical difficulties. If you stay put, you’ll get robbed. Someone on foot or in a taxi points you in the direction of a railway or bus ticket office that actually sells counterfeit tickets. A mutual acquaintance operates the phoney booth and they share the earnings. Someone calling themselves a hotel employee claims the front desk is having trouble charging your room and requires your credit card information again. Someone posing as a police officer gives you a fake ticket for some petty infraction.

To avoid this, you should not pull over unless you hear an alarm or see flashing lights. If you have to pull over, do it in a crowded shopping district. Don’t allow anyone mislead you about where the ticket booth is located. Know the local laws and request to see the officer’s credentials.

India, Sicily, Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa, Colombia, Great Britain, and Mexico are just a few examples of dream vacation spots.

The game of shells

The con: a game master engages in a round of hide-and-go-seek using three cups and a ball. The position of the sphere is the subject of wagers. Partners posing as tourists make the right guesses, or the ringleader lets a few honest players cash in. The con artist will either take the ball away or pay the winners with fake currency. There are also pickpockets in the crowd.

Avoid it by not even bothering to watch or play.

Locations like Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Vienna, Tehran, and Milan are only a few examples.

Substitution of goods and reproductions

The con artist displays an expensive good, such a leather wallet or purse, and you negotiate a fair price for it. Seller gives you a fake when you pay for the real thing. It’s also possible that the product was never legit to begin with. A historically significant antique was created only yesterday. Or a priceless jewel may be discovered to be fake.

Avoid falling victim by not purchasing antiques or trendy accessories from unknown vendors or stores. Never buy something without first verifying its validity with the seller.

Some places to visit are China, Italy, Turkey, and Paris.

A total stranger who won’t aid you

The con artist approaches a family or couple and offers to take their picture for free. You trust a stranger with your camera or phone, and they quickly make off with it. Someone from the neighborhood approaches you, asking whether you need assistance with the ATM.

Avoid this by keeping your camera and phone out of the hands of strangers. If you must, you can use a selfie stick. If you feel unsafe using an ATM alone, have a friend or family member stand guard while you make your transaction.

Cities like the Vatican, Paris, Rome, Budapest, Prague, Johannesburg, the Philippines, and Nicaragua are just a few examples.

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