You can’t help but meet new people when traveling. I have met some interesting and enriching folks on my travels, and inevitably our conversations turn to the scams we have come across. After an incident of identity theft years ago, I am hyper-vigilant when it comes to scams. Here are just a few to watch out for as you travel around.
Begging children, pregnant women, or women with babies will tug at your heartstrings. Often times you’ll see kids who are blind, deaf or mute begging for money. It’s hard to say no, and they know it. One child will distract you, while the other ones steal your valuables. They will also watch where you pull your wallet from and nab it at some point.
Tip: Do NOT give money to children. Most of those children, pregnant women or women with babies belong to organized gangs. They don’t even get to keep the money you give them. Giving money perpetuates the scam. If you feel bad for them, provide them with food.
Whoops! Someone “accidentally” spills their drink/condiment on you. The clumsy person profusely apologizes. It was an accident! Next, a good Samaritan (the accomplice) swoops out of nowhere to help you clean up the mess. While one is distracting you by cleaning the stain, the other is picking your pockets!
Tip: Don’t let strangers encroaching on your personal space. When the bumbling person apologizes, wave them off. Cleaning up the mess yourself might be inconvenient but having your wallet go missing will be much worse.
One of the most common travel scams in the world is the overpriced taxi. The cabbie is well aware that you are in a foreign country and that you probably don’t know much about the fares or the laws. There are six common types of cab fare scams…
1. The taxi driver will tell you the meter is broken.
2. He’ll try to convince you it’s cheaper without the meter.
3. The meter price goes up unusually fast. This is especially popular near airports and train stations.
4. Cabbies who don’t respect the rate negotiated beforehand and take a longer route.
5. The cabbie who claims your hotel is closed. He just so happens to know another one, “that’s even better” (and turns out way more expensive). If he can get you there, he’ll get a nice kickback.
6. Sometimes a cabbie will propose taking you to a tourist destination and wait to bring you back. Only pay for one half of the trip at a time. If you pay it all upfront, the taxi will take off, and it will not come back for you.
Tip: Stay vigilant. If a taxi driver tells you your hotel is closed insist on going anyway You have a reservation, so check with the hotel itself. Research on how much the ride should theoretically cost before taking the taxi. If you aren’t sure, ask your hotel what the average fare is for where you are going. If the fare on the meter seems to jump too fast, ask the driver to stop and get out. If he doesn’t want to put the meter on, get out. Apps like Uber are helpful. Scams are much more difficult as the price set in advance. Finally, public transportation is always an option!
A guy walks past you and drops his wallet on the ground. You picked it up to give it back to the man. The guy feigns relief and checks his wallet, to make sure nothing is missing. What? His money is missing! Pretty soon a “police officer” (accomplice) arrives and asks what is going on. The native man “explains” and accuses you of stealing the money. You are threatened, either pay up or get locked up in jail! Out of fear, you pay the “missing” amount.
TIP: See a wallet on the ground? Don’t touch it. If you saw someone drop it, just give a shout and point it out to the dropper.
This scam is particularly prevalent in Southeast Asia. When you return your rented motorbike, the renter claims it’s damaged. They insist you have to pay for expensive repairs! Sometimes they’ll even go so far as to send someone to damage the scooter or steal it.
TIP: Thoroughly inspect the scooter before you take possession. Take photos of the scooter before leaving in front of the renter! Stay vague about your itinerary. Park the scooter in a safe place and use your own lock.
This scam is usually aimed at men and is very effective. A beautiful woman approaches you in the street. You talk and begin to feel a connection. Next, she asks if you’d like to get a drink. She’s so charming, it’s hard to resist. You join her in a bar, after a few drinks the girl says she needs to use the ladies room but never comes back. You are then stuck with the bar tab. There is a variation of this scam where she drugs you so you don’t feel well. She helps you back to your room and robs you as soon as you pass out.
Tip: Be wary of gorgeous women (or men) hitting on you a bit too aggressively. If you must have that drink with them, you pick the bar.
Scams Popular in India
There are so many travel scams in India. In Jaipur, a local might accuse tourists of not wanting to talk with the locals. His objective is to make you feel bad so he can lure you into his shop.
Another scam is keylogging. Someone will ask if he can borrow your laptop because he needs to do something urgent or important on the internet. When you look away from the screen, he installs spy software on your computer which records your keystrokes including account numbers and credit card numbers.
A tuk-tuk has been known to stop before the end of the ride, and demand you pay for two rides.
Tip: Stay hyper-vigilant and don’t let others borrow your electronics.
More Travel Scams
There are so many scams it is hard to keep track.
How about the inflated prices at the restaurant because you’re a tourist? Or those restaurants adding dishes on the bill? Or those who make mistakes when giving you back your change?
Monkeys in Tajikistan are trained to steal tourists’ valuables, followed by locals demanding money to get your stuff back.
“Good Samaritans” at the ATM will watch your PIN number and scan your card with the card skimmer in their pocket.
Fake police officers will demand bribes or payments.
Someone will tell you that the free tourist attractions aren’t free, donations are compulsory, or that having a guide is required (not true!).
While there are dozens of travel scams, don’t let it put you off. Be vigilant. The more experience you have, the easier it gets to spot a scam. Here are a few more tips to help you plan your best trip.
Don’t ever give your passport to a stranger, even if the guy claims he’s a cop, hand him a copy, and tell him your passport is back at the hotel (even if it’s not true).
Avoid paying the tourist’s price, by watching what the locals are paying, and pay the same amount. Don’t ask “How much is it?“ and when possible give the exact change.
Don’t give strangers your itinerary, purposely stay vague.
If you are traveling in an unfamiliar country make sure you have the contact information for authorities you can trust ahead of time.
And lastly, but not least, purchase travel insurance. Guard yourself against loss.
What scams have you encountered? Let us know in the comments below so we can help others to avoid them!