Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Whether you have been a victim of a scam back home or not, while travelling, you need to heighten your awareness. It is somewhat easy to take advantage of a tourist who does not necessarily speak the language or have the mindset of a local. Here are some of the more common scams currently out there.

1. ATM card skimmer
If you follow the advice in the previous chapters about not using ATMs, you should be safe from this one J. However, if you need to use an ATM, make sure you fiddle around with the card reader beforehand to make sure a card skimmer hasn’t been placed on top of it.
2. Egg on the windshield
This is a popular one in Central and South America. While driving beneath a bridge, someone will throw an egg on your windshield (could happen also with a tourist bus). Your instinct will be to use the windshield wipers to clean it, but that smears the egg even more. You stop on the side of the road and then suddenly, thieves appear and you get mugged. To prevent this, drive at least 3km more after being egged and stop on the side or even better in a gas station, but DO NOT use the wipers while driving which will hinder your sight of view.

3. Broken taxi meter
Taxi meters seem to have a way of “breaking” for tourists and result in an over charge. Make sure to have the taxi driver turn on the meter before beginning to drive.

4. Route selection
Another taxi scam occurs when the driver conveniently selects the longer route. This is hard to prevent unless you have internet access and are using a navigation application such as Waze or Google Maps. It is a good idea to ask locals beforehand about approximate duration and costs for a certain route.

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5. Dirty clothes street cleaning service
How about this one! While walking on the street, you will suddenly feel as if a bird pooped on you. Suddenly you will be approached by someone who will offer to clean your clothes for free. In fact, he is really looking to clean out your pockets. Refuse politely and keep walking.

6. Museum closed for a national holiday
This is big in Thailand. You will be told that the museum you desire to visit is closed and your tuk tuk driver will take you to another site, where he is being paid a commission. Your museum is likely never closed, so you should insist. When in doubt, call the museum in advance to confirm visiting hours.

7. Stay away from the flirty women
I know, you are good-looking. However, if you are approached by a flirty young local lady, her intentions might not be your looks, but your wallet. Careful of having a drink with her. You might find a surprise inside your drink.

8. Free offer on the street
There are few free things in this world and when you are travelling, err on the side of caution and assume nothing is free. Once accepting a free gift, you will be asked to pay.

9. Menu with no prices
You may enter a somewhat fancy restaurant and a menu with no prices (or lower prices) will be presented to you. Once you receive the bill, you will see an insane amount (in the hundreds or even thousands of US$). Make sure to ALWAYS ask for a menu with prices first, before ordering. To be on the safe side, keep the menu with you at the table during the meal and say that you might want to order more things later on.

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10. Fake law enforcement
You may be approached by fake law enforcement on the street asking you for your passport and/or wallet. Never submit your wallet or let anyone take your documents out of your line of sight. Unless you have done something, there is no reason at all to present your belongings to anyone on the street.

11. Beggars
They can appear in multiple forms. The idea here is to play on your emotions, have you take your wallet out which will immediately be snatched away by someone else that is waiting for the moment to ambush.

12. Do not ask strangers to take your photo
If you do, you might find yourself without a mobile phone or camera. Thank God for selfie sticks! If you cannot resist, best to ask a tourist like you to take your photo.

13. Public free Wi-Fi
Stay away from free Wi-Fi that you have not been given a password to by a certain establishment. A clever way to steal your valuable information from your mobile phone or computer is by having you connect to free Wi-Fi in a public area and then accessing your information. Best to keep to hotel and restaurant Wi-Fi, or have a local SIM card like mentioned in Chapter 2.

14. Fake tickets
This could happen with plane, train, bus or event tickets. Better to purchase them in an authorized booth than dirt cheap on the street.

15. Hotel scams
You might get a call requesting your credit card information over the phone from the “front desk.” There is NEVER a reason to provide your credit card information over the phone to the hotel front desk. Go down to the desk to sort it out.

16. Luggage on the bus
If you go on long bus rides and your luggage is not with you, make sure to secure it in the compartment below with a cable and lock (necessary in South America).

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17. Drop your wallet?
Someone might drop their wallet near you to give you the feeling that you dropped your own wallet. They will then look to see where you check on your body for your wallet. These thugs are waiting to mug you and looking for the short cut to your wallet.

18. Fake drug deal
Taxi or tuk tuk drivers might offer you free drugs on your way out of the taxi, and as soon as you get out you will be greeted by fake policemen saying they will take you to jail if you do not pay. In general, stay away from drugs, but specifically do not be tempted by this scam.

19. Cashier on the phone
While attending you and once you have handed over your credit card, the cashier will pretend to be on the cellphone. What he/she is really doing is attempting to take a photo of your credit card with their smartphone once you are distracted for a split second. Do not lose sight of your card!

20. Broken camera
Someone might ask you to take a group photo of them and once you return the camera, they will let it fall and break, demanding that you pay for it since it was your fault. Kindly refuse to take pictures for total strangers if you get a weird vibe.

21. Swarming kids
You might suddenly be swarmed by kids wanting to sell you something; however, while some are trying to sell, others are picking your pockets.

There are probably many more as con artists multiply by the minute and techniques become more and more sophisticated. The most important thing is to be alert at all times.

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Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them