Travel Tips aims to help you travel better, safer and more prepared than ever.
It’s almost inevitable for those who travel frequently to come across a scam or two at some point in their travels. We have come across many over the last seven years of travelling in Europe, the USA, Asia, New Zealand and Australia. However despite this we’ve never been the victim of any of them.
So why is it that despite us coming across some of the biggest travel scams there is, we’ve managed to come out on top each and every time? It’s simple really. We follow our natural intuition, are well informed and remain vigilant at all times when travelling.
Here are our top tips on how to avoid travel scams and six of the most common types of scams with examples that are occurring around the world.
How to Avoid Travel Scams
Follow Your Gut
You don’t have to be sceptical and un-trusting of every person you meet when you’re travelling. You just have to follow your gut. If your gut is telling you that something doesn’t seem right or that it’s too good to be true then the likelihood of it being a scam of some sort is greater.
If you decide to continue with something that gives you a bad feeling then proceed with absolute caution, always having a plan of escape.
Know Your Stuff
Scammers will prey on the language barrier or the fact that you’re in an unfamiliar place. Being well informed about local customs, procedures and knowing a little about your surroundings will help you to avoid these types of scams. Read up, even just a little, about your destination before arriving and you’ll be less likely to fall prey.
One of the most popular ways scammers work is by distracting you or creating some sort of diversion. Keep your wits about you at all times, know where your personal belongings are and make sure that they are close to your body or securely fastened to something solid.
Some of these types of scams can be elaborate and prey on your emotions or natural reaction to do good. Of course don’t shy away from helping the old lady who has just fallen right in front of you, but do it only after you know your belongs are secure and safely away from fast hands.
6 Common Travel Scams Around the World
The “Free” Gifts
There are so many variations of this scam around the world but here are a few of the most common.
- You’re out with your female travel companion and a person approaches, handing her a rose or similar flower. The person then turns to you asking for a ridiculously expensive price for this flower and when you refuse they proceed to make you feel bad for not treating your “girlfriend” to the beautiful flower.
- Someone approaches you offering a friendship bracelet swiftly grabbing your wrist and tying it on before you have a chance to say no. They will then demand payment for this piece of string that can now only be cut off and will proceed to pester you until you pay up.
- A man approaches you while relaxing on the beach asking if you want a massage. You politely decline but he proceeds to offer you a free trial which leads to him pestering you for money for something you didn’t want in the first place.
Avoid It: If someone tries to give you something don’t take it even if they say it is a free gift. Keep walking, don’t engage with them in an argument and if they continue to harass you, walk into the nearest hotel and ask for assistance.
Distraction is a common thing scammers will do to pickpocket you of your valuables. Here are few of the most common ways.
- The simplest form of pickpocketing occurs when you’re in a crowd, maybe on a train or bus, and lots of people are bumping against you. A pickpocket will take advantage of this situation by lifting your wallet from your back pocket or dipping their hand into your open handbag or backpack.
- A women walks up to you and throws what looks like a baby (usually a doll) at you. Your instinct is to grab it and while your hands are full the women’s accomplice is lifting your wallet from your pocket or valuable from your backpack.
- An apologetic local will spill something on you as they pass you in the street instantly jumping to wipe it off while they, or an accomplice, take whatever’s in your pockets.
- Your standing on the escalators and a person walking past grabs your drink from your hands. You’re shocked and kind of confused as to why they want your drink. All the while their accomplice is rifling through your backpack taking your valuables. (This one happened to us but because we were prepared, we had no valuables in the accessible pocket on our backpack, all they got was rubbish.)
Avoid It: Don’t keep valuables in the back pocket of your pants or in accessible pockets of your backpack or handbag. Make sure you know where your personal belongings are at all times and before you react to any unusual circumstance check that your valuables are safe and secure.
The “Friendly” Locals
There’s no reason to think that every local you come across on your travels is trying to scam you, most will be genuinely friendly people who just want to help. However there are a few common scams that you should look out for.
- A man drops his shoe shine brush in front of you making it look like a mistake. You bend down to hand it back to him and he thanks you profusely by offering you a shoe shinning. What might seem like a free gesture turns into him pestering you for payment at the end.
- An elderly women approaches you on the street and hands you a sprig of rosemary saying it is a sign of friendship. When you put your hand out to take it she will grab and proceed to read your fortune. She’ll then insist on payment for the palm reading and when you don’t pay up, she will shout curses at you.
- You trying to take a family photo or your couple taking a selfie. A friendly person approaches and offers to take the photo for you. Your thankful and pass them the camera. While you’re setting up the pose the so called “friendly” person is taking off with your expensive camera.
- A friendly tuk-tuk or taxi driver tells you the place you want to go is closed but offers instead to take you somewhere else. When you get there the drivers equally friendly friend shows you all these amazing looking diamonds, gems or carpets in their store and won’t let you leave until you have been drained of all your cash, leaving with worthless junk.
- You’re struggling to use a foreign cash or ticket machine and a friendly local approaches offering assistance. While they might seem really helpful, they are actually memorising your pin number so when their friend pickpockets you later on, they can access all your money.
Avoid It: If a complete stranger is offering you something as a gift of friendship completely out of the blue, chances are it is a scam. Keep walking and don’t allow them to take your hand. Never give your expensive camera to a stranger. Insist the driver show you that the place you want to go is closed or get out and take another taxi. Never allow anyone to see your pin number, instead go into the bank and ask for assistance from staff.
The Fake Policeman
A number of different scams involving fake policeman can occur around the world. Here are a two of the most common.
- What looks like a policeman approaches you stating that fake money has been doing the rounds and that they need to check yours to make sure it is real. While one is checking and switching your perfect good bills for fakes, the other is distracting you.
- You’ll be approached by a policeman who asks to see your passport or ID. Once you produce it, they will pretend there is something wrong with it and “fine” you for breaching the law.
Avoid It: If you are approached by a policeman for any reason whatsoever, you are entirely in your right to ask to go to the nearest police station before doing anything that they ask you including showing your passport. Once you tell them this, scammers will disappear pretty quickly.
The “Hotel Staff” Impersonators
Hotels are perfect targets for scammers because most people think they are in a safe and secure place. Most of the time you are but here are two ways scammers can get to you in the comfort of your hotel room.
- You get a call, usually in the middle of the night, from someone who says they are from reception and that there is a problem with your credit card. They ask for you to provide them with the details again right now over the phone. Because you are half asleep and don’t want to get out of bed you oblige over the phone and go back to sleep. The next more you realise your credit card has been drained of all your funds.
- Two people dressed as hotel staff knock on your door requesting to inspect your room. One will chat to you making you distracted while the other wanders around the room doing the “inspection”, pocketing whatever valuables they can.
Avoid It: Never give your credit card or personal details to anyone calling you over the phone. Instead go to reception to sort these matters out. If “hotel staff” come to your door, ask to be taken to reception first before allowing an inspection to occur. Usually they will disappear pretty quickly.
The Dropped “Valuable”
- Someone drops a ring right in front of you and asks if you dropped it. You pick it up, say no and try to hand it back to them. They then try to sell it to you, saying it’s very valuable, throwing ridiculous prices at you.
- You see a wallet discarded on the street. Your first instinct is to reach for your own to make sure it is still there. A pickpocket is somewhere close by watching you and taking note of where your wallet is so they can relieve you of it further down the street.
Avoid It: If someone drops something that may look valuable in front of you, don’t pick it up and keep walking. Don’t carry valuables, like your wallet in a place that can be easily taken.
My fellow travel bloggers have come across many travel scams over the years. Here are a selection of their posts to inform you on what to look out for.
A Happy Victim of a Bangkok Gem Scam on Where’s Sharon?
Scam Alert in Kathmandu on The Boho Chica
The Most Dangerous Place in Bangkok on Venturists
Beware the Taxi Scam in Belgrade, Serbia on Dream Euro Trip
Avoid the Baby Milk Scam in Siem Reap Cambodia on Teacake Travels
Sri Lanka Scams on Travel Scamming
Getting Scammed by Tuk Tuk Drivers in Bangkok on Be My Travel Muse
Scammed in Arraial do Cabo, Rio De Janeiro on Quarter Life Epiphany
Surviving Egyptian Scams at the Giza Pyramids on Journey Wonders
Fake Monks in Southeast Asia on SeeYouSoon.ca
The Trap on the Cambodian Border on Around the World “L”
How to Get to The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu on Nomadic Boys
For more posts like this, check out our Travel Tips page.
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Over to you!
What travel scams have you come across in your travels? Did you become a victim? Or how did you manage to avoid it?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.