Travel truly is a beautiful thing. When you travel, you meet amazing, kind-hearted people who will bend over backwards to help you on your journey, you experience new cultures and alternative ways of life, and you develop an appreciation for history. However, despite all the good, every now and then you meet some people just looking to make a buck off you.
Let’s face it, nobody wants to think about all the ways they could possibly be scammed before they head out on a trip, but being prepared and aware of the most common travel scams could save you a lot of money and a huge headache.
10 common travel scams – and how to avoid them
1. Corrupt Cabbies
The cabdriver (or tuk-tuk driver) claims the meter is broken and quotes an outrageously inflated price … The cabbie informs you that your destination – a hotel, temple, museum, teahouse – is overbooked or closed and takes you to his friend’s lodging or attraction. He charges you a higher fare, plus earns a kickback … The driver takes a convoluted route, jacking up the rate.
Never hail a cab from the street. Ask a reputable establishment to call you a cab, or hire a licensed taxi through an official outpost. If the driver attempts to take you elsewhere, firmly repeat your desired location or terminate the ride. Use Google Maps to keep the driver honest and on course. To avoid cabbies entirely, use a ride-hailing service such as Uber or Lyft.
2. Fake Accidents
A passerby squirts you with a liquid, condiment or fake bird dropping. While you inspect the splotch, an accomplice pickpockets you. Other distract-the-tourist ploys include an elderly person falling, a woman tossing a baby or cat at you, or someone dropping a wallet and accusing you of pocketing the contents after you pick it up. In a similar vein, someone on a scooter or in a car intentionally crashes into your vehicle and tries to resolve the incident by demanding cash.
Secure all of your valuables before heading out for the day. For instance, stash wallets in slash-resistant bags that lock or in hidden pouches – any strategy that will thwart sticky fingers. Ignore your good Samaritan impulses and do not retrieve any valuable objects, including people, from the ground. In the vehicular accident scenario, wait for the police to arrive, assuming you can trust law enforcement. If you are in a country with corrupt cops, contact your embassy for help.
3. Money Changing
The good old note switch-a-roo happens everywhere. The shop keeper or taxi driver gives you less change than you are supposed to get. Or they will quickly switch a 50 for a 5 and then claim you haven’t given them enough. You approach the foreign exchange booth and ask to change money. During the changeover, the clerk switches similar notes and you end up with less than you paid for.
Make sure you check your money before you leave and don’t let them rush you during the process. It’s vital that you keep your eyes peeled, as many currencies have denominations which appear similar in color and design.
4. The Sauce Trick
Essentially, the method is to divert your attention away from your valuables and onto something else. The crook squirts or spills sauce on you. They then point it out, offering to help clean it off you. Meanwhile they fleece you of your wallet or their accomplice does.
Other ways pickpockets will trick you include being jostled by local kids, someone faking falling over, being wooed by a local or having a cat/baby thrown at you. The trick here is to treat anything unusually diverting as a pickpocket attempt.
5. Fake Cops
Fake cops appear to be everywhere around the world and travelers will often be scammed by these faux authorities to make a quick buck. Most of the time their modus operandi is to ask you for your personal ID and then issue you a fine for no good reason, indicating that it can be paid on the spot or asking for a bribe to get your ID back. Because you don’t want to get into trouble you naturally pay up. Sometimes they are uniformed, other times they are plain clothed.
Real police may ask you for your personal ID but they will never ask you to pay the fine on the spot. If you are approached by someone looking official, show them your ID but never give it to them. Ask for their ID too. If they issue you with a fine, tell them you will go to the police station to deal with the matter. The fake ones will usually hightail out out of there.
6. ‘Free’ gifts
A man in Buddhist monk attire ties a bracelet around your wrist. A stranger presents you with a sprig of rosemary. A woman offers you flowers or henna. A “disabled” person hands you a pack of tissues. Think a thank-you will suffice? Nope. The so-called gift-giver wants money, and if you don’t pony up after accepting the item, the individual will cause a scene. In another tried-and-true scam, a person finds a gold ring on the ground and asks whether it is yours. You say no, but the person gives it to you anyway and then badgers you for money.
Never accept unsolicited gifts. In fact, don’t even look at the item, or you could suddenly find yourself with a friendship bracelet wrapped around your wrist. Return the item and walk away.
7. Damaged goods
You rent a motorbike, car or water scooter and are accused of damaging the vehicle. The rental firm demands money for the repairs. Be aware that the damage could be real, though you were not to blame. An employee might have trailed you and bashed up the rental when you were out of eyeshot.
Rent through a reputable company. Take photos of the vehicle before you leave the premises and keep an eye on your rental at all times. If the disagreement escalates, contact the police or embassy.
8. Your accommodation is “closed”
Another cab driver scam: your driver will try to tell you your hotel or hostel is overbooked or even closed. It’s not. I mean, you wouldn’t have booked it if it was, right? Just ignore them and insist on going there. If they keep trying, continue to insist. They will usually shut up about it.
9. Petition Scams
A petition scam is when someone comes up to you either on the street or at a tourism site and asks you to sign his or her petition. Once you do this, they ask you for money to help support their cause.
To avoid a petition scam, never sign a petition abroad, especially if you are given little information about the cause or what the petition is supporting. If you’re looking to give support to a cause or give to a charity, it’s best to do some research first.
10. Street Games
Commonly found around tourism hot-spots, the street game gamble is when scammers ask tourists to play a game of cards, dice, or cups for money. Of course, the game is rigged from the start, and the tourist will lose their money.
Simply don’t engage with anyone on the street asking you to play a game.