And How To Avoid Them
While traveling we’re especially vulnerable for scams, and no matter how well we have prepared the trip and how well-experienced we are, people trying to take abuse of you are usually one step ahead. And for that reason exactly we want to share some well known scams around the world, to make it possible to avoid them. It’s difficult, but important to find the balance between being open minded and friendly towards locals, in trusting strangers, but above all in recognizing when someone is trying to take advantage! Here are a few recommendations to follow to make sure you’re not being too trusting. These are the 19 most common travel scams, and how to detect and avoid them.
#1 – The Confused Traveler
The best thing you can do as a traveler is to be well aware of your surroundings. Your attitude is important, and will be noticed! Although thieves are willing to take risks, they are repelled by self-assured and conscious travelers. The more nonchalant you look to strangers, the easier you will be seen as their possible victim. In addition to this, confused or drunken travelers, and overly anxious first-timers are also asking to be abused.
Besides this, the chances of a traveler being robbed increase enormously in very dense tourist locations. It is therefore vital to be prepared: keep your valuables close to you, or make sure they are not visible. Watch out for strangers who are remarkably interested in you or your personal stuff, and let them know that you have seen them.
#2 – Remarkably Friendly Locals
Of course it would be a bad advice to say you should ignore all friendly locals. Usually, people that you approach yourself first, do not immediately have bad intentions. When people spontaneously approach you however, and when they are remarkably friendly, you should pay extra attention. Don’t immediately assume that they want to attack or rob you, but know they often are friendly because they want something from you in return.
People will often say they want to practice their languages, or want to know more about your country. But after you have talked a little, and you start feeling familiar, they advise you to go to their stall or shop with them. You may feel obliged to be nice to your new friend and you soon notice that you have to buy art or jewelry in a high-pressure sales situation. The key is to always follow your feeling: when people are nice, be nice in return, but do not feel pressured, and always remain confident and firm.
#3 – Bump and Grab
Probably the most common travel scam is the bump-and-grab trick, where a thief or a gang of thieves will distract you with a push and meanwhile steal your valuables from your pocket. Even though we all know this trick very well, it often succeeds: the thieves benefit from those few seconds of confusion. This method is particularly popular in the metro or in shopping streets and markets. Victims are often overwhelmed by different people working together. A similar trick is to grab the wallet or luggage from someone near the doors of public transport, and getting out of the vehicle at the moment the doors close and you take off.
The best way to avoid this travel scam is to be one step ahead of the thief or thieves. First of all, spread out your valuables: never store all your important documents, cards and money in one place only. Second, never put a wallet or something of any value in your back pockets. In addition, travelers should always choose for crossed body clips with zippers, worn underneath your clothes.
#4 – ATM Scams
ATM skimmers can use different methods to steal your card or your relevant bank details. A skimmer is a small device that can be attached to the slot of the ATM. So check the slot of the ATM, and look for irregularities. Always use ATM’s in known banks, and if the cash machine picks up your card, go to the bank immediately or have your card blocked asap. Any minute can be valuable!
Another technique is to place something in the slot, getting your card stuck in the machine. A good soul, so to speak accidentally there to help, could suggest that you call the telephone number mentioned on the machine, often a fake number, for help. Never give your personal pin to someone in person or on the phone. If you eventually lose your card, ALWAYS call your bank immediately and block the card.
#5 – Sorry, It’s Closed For Today
This is a common trick in South East Asia. The locals will try to talk your original attraction out of your head, and take you to another, often more expensive, cheap replacement. Always look and see for yourself, if something is actually closed or not. If it’s closed, look for an alternative yourself, don’t let strangers advice you alternatives. If you stay true to your own initiative, little can happen. Be strong, be yourself!
#6 – If It’s Too Good to Be True, It usually is…
This will seem familiar to many travelers: someone offers you a ride for a price that seems too good to be true. However, you just bite, and jump in the taxi or tuk tuk that stands in front of you. Instead of taking you to the requested destination, your driver will take you through the whole city and stops every two minutes at jewelers, tea houses and other stores.
You end up in the completely opposite direction from where you asked to go, and suddenly the only way to get back is a very pricey ride, which more than compensates for the previous ones! The best way to avoid this travel scourge is to know the approximate level of your taxi fare before boarding. Negotiate before you get in, not when you are already in the vehicle, or are already on the road. And if the price sounds too good to be true, that’s probably true. Do not be tempted too quickly.
#7 – Prepaid taxis
This scam is a bit of a combination of #5 and #6, and is common in countries like India. The scam goes as follows: after you arrive at the airport or at the train station, often when you are exhausted, rickshaw and taxi drivers will come towards you and offer their services to a hotel. After you arrive at the airport or the train station, you are exhausted and at an impossible time. Rickshaw and taxi drivers will meet you, even before you are outside, and offer their services to a hotel.
They will tell you that the prepaid taxi-stand is closed, or that there is none. They try to put you under pressure, and know that you are tired and want to be in your hotel or hostel as quickly as possible. However, take the time to look around yourself, and ask other people where the prepaid taxi stand is. You will pay a fair price, and avoid being overcharged or taken to the wrong hotel. What you can also do, is to ask your hotel in advance if they have a shuttle, or just take public transportation. In some countries Uber can offer a solution.
#9 – The Ring
I once experienced the ring-scam in Montmartre in Paris, just outside the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. When you are walking along a street, suddenly a ring or another piece of jewelry falls in front of you on the floor. A person comes to pick it up to ask if it is yours. Sometimes instead of dropping it in front of you, they’ll use a trick where you are wearing it on your finger before even realizing it. The scammer offers to sell it to you, and when you turn it down, he or she will start to harass you until you hand over some money. Don’t let yourself be intimidated, as this is what they are trying to achieve!
Many scams happen around famous tourist sites, in Paris such as Notre Dame and the Sacré-Cœur, but in other countries in their most touristic hotpots. So always be aware of the most popular touristic destinations.
#10 – Fake money
This type of scam is most common in restaurants and in taxis. At the end of the meal or ride, you give the employee a bank note. The employee will claim that it is in fact fake, gives you back the note, and ask you for another type of payment. The deception is that you gave him actually a real note, and while you did not look, exchanged the real one with a fake note.
The best way to avoid this kind of scam, before you start traveling around, familiarize yourself with the local currency, and pay close attention when paying. When possible, pay with your bank card.
#11 – Fake Officials
Personally, I find this scam to be one of the most disturbing, and possibly the hardest to recognize. One would expect to be able to rely on police or security services. Fake officials often ask for your documents and refuse to return them. To get them back, they ask for bribes. How to avoid this one? Never hand over your documents if you are not completely sure or if you feel something suspicious. Ask them instead to take you to the police station, and tell them you will show your documents there.
On trains in India, for example, you sometimes have official-looking workers boarding the train, complete with notebook and badge and uniform, asking for your tickets. When you give them your tickets, they will take them. Only later, when the real officials come by, you realize that have been fooled. India is a very confusing and busy place, especially the train stations and carriages, and it is very difficult to always be alert. Sometimes you are supposedly in the wrong train compartment, and fake officials will try to charge you an upgrade.
Because sometimes the trains are overbooked, but people do not show up, it is actually possible to be upgraded into the 2nd or 1st class and pay for the upgrade. However, if you want to do this, ask at the desk in the station what this can cost. Officials will never ask for more money than they are supposed to.
#12 – The ‘You Have Something On You’ Trick
It starts with someone smearing something, such as mayonnaise or ketchup (or worse), on your clothes or luggage. The substance can smeared onto you, or be thrown at you from a distance. After this, a seemingly innocent bystander will approach you and offer to help you. The goal of this scam is to get you to take off your backpack, purse or camera. When you do, they will steal it, and run away. When you are approached like this, always keep very tight on your stuff, and pay attention!
#13 – The Beggars
This happens in many countries, but I have seen it mainly in India. People come towards your tuktuk in front of the red-light, approach you on the street or even hold on to you when you pass them. People are often very poor looking, or handicapped. Sometimes even very young girls with a baby in their hands. It can be a real baby, or a doll, but they probably received it from a network of criminals that sends these young girls and handicapped people out to respond to the emotions of tourists. Don’t support these networks, instead of helping the beggars you are supporting the criminal groups. Also don’t give money to children, never. You will be supporting child abuse instead. If you persist on supporting the good cause by donating money, find a charity yourself.
#14 – The Pickpockets
The most classic tourist scam, and known all over the world: pickpockets. The scammer sees you surrounded by a group of people. It’s busy and everybody is bumping into each other. While the scammer distracts you, others run through your bags and take what they can use. Ultimately, the best thing you can do to avoid this travel scam is to be prepared. Keep your bags close, in front of you, and use bags with zippers to make it less easy to grab things. Besides this, never leave on a vacation without a good travel insurance!
#15 – The Group Photo Offer
While you are visiting a touristic hotspot, a local offers to take a group photo of you and your friends. While you’re posing for the shot, you look up and realize the local ànd the have both completely disappeared. Busy city attractions are the most risky places for this scam, and it happens all around the world. If you really want the group shot, just ask fellow tourists instead and return the favor for them.
#16 – Fake WiFi Hubs
Everything knows progress, and therefore also scams. You can find WiFi almost anywhere these days, but some of those connections could be dangerous. Hackers will set up an unsecured wifi hotspot in a public location, and unsuspecting victims will connect to it, giving the scammer access to your computer, passwords, and so much more. The best way to avoid this is to ask the hotel, bar or airport which wifi connection is the official safe one. You can also encrypt your online activity, by using a VPN (virtual private network), like ZenMate.
#17 – Motorbike Rental Damage
After you have rented a scooter, or even a car, it gets damaged or stolen. The rental will demand additional payment or expensive repairs as compensation. I had it once in Menorca where the mirrors of the scooter were stolen overnight. It seemed to be a common scam. What you don’t realize is that it was the rental company that caused the damage. It is recommended to take photos of the bike at the time you book it. Always try to use your own lock, and not one provided by the rental company, since they may have a second set of keys. Don’t tell the company where you’re actual residence, and make sure there’s a safe place to leave the bike when you are not using it. If damage does occur, take it to a repair shop recommended by someone other than the rental company.
#18 – Fake Hotel Wake-up Call
While you are staying in a hotel or hostel, you suddenly get a call in the middle of the night, to ask you for your credit card details. Because you have been woken up, and because you are tired and confused you give them the details. The scammers ahve until the morning to abuse your credit card credentials. There is a golden rule to avoid all credit card abuse: never give out your credit card details over the phone. Simple as that. Always go down to the front desk in person if there is any problem.
#19 – Flirtatious Local Women
You travel to a foreign country, and you start to realize that the local women pay more attention to you as back home. Maybe a woman starts flirting with you, and invites you to a bar or a club, and you end up in a hotel. The next morning she disappears, and you’re forced to pay an overpriced bill. Or maybe you are even drugged and robbed. The only reason to avoid this, is to stay realistic. Be aware of women paying too much attention to you, and ask yourself what level is normal behaviour.
If you travel a lot, sooner or later you will be the victim of a scam. Because you can’t always be focusing, in the end you are there to relax and to enjoy, and because the scammers will try their best to mislead you, it’s not unthinkable that you will actually loose some money or some stuff. Have you ever been scammed? How and where did it happen? Tell us in the comments below, and help others to avoid going through the same!