How to Spot and Avoid the Most Common Travel Scams

Travel Tips

While travel brings new adventures and an exuberant happiness you thought was only possible on television sitcoms, it can also be ruined quite easily by falling for a travel scam. It’s human nature to think that we are smart enough to avoid getting ripped off. But, the truth is, it happens to the best of us. Including me!

From being overcharged in taxi cabs to connecting to fraudulent wifi networks, travel scams exist in one form or another all over the world. But fear not, if you educate yourself on them before you take off you can avoid even the most complex ones.

Here are some of the most common travel scams around the world, how to spot them, and most importantly how to avoid them.

Fake ATM

This scam involves taking a real ATM – usually on a main busy street or square – and simply adds a fake magnetic card skimmer on top of the real skimmer. When you insert your card the scammer’s skimmer records all your cards information and also records the pin you punch in. You take out money as usual – since the ATM works normal – and later on (days or weeks later) your bank account is missing hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Avoid it: Guys, this one is so incredibly common – especially in big cities in Europe like Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, and Lisbon. To avoid this, every single time I take money out of an ATM I wiggle the plastic card insert. I even do this in the states and especially New York City – this scam is so common. If the skimmer is fake it will pop off pretty easily. I have taken two off myself and seen multiple people take them off while waiting in line. By the way, if you do find a fake skimmer you should immediately go inside the main bank branch and report it.

Taxi Cab Scams

All around the world taxi cabs are notorious for attempting to rip you off. The most common thing to look out for is the old “my meter is broken” trick. But, you can also find cab drivers explaining we don’t use them here, we don’t use them after a certain hour, or just ignoring the meter (and you) altogether and pretending they don’t understand you. If you do point it out, they assure you their prices is better and more fair, banking on the fact that you are a tourist who doesn’t know what a good price is.

Avoid it: It’s a good rule of thumb to always demand they use the meter before they move the car even an inch. If they refuse to turn it on, get out of the cab and find a new one. The good news is Uber is popping up everywhere – making this scam a thing of the past. I recently used Uber in Colombia and it made my trip so much easier.

Closed Hostel/Hotel Scam

This scam is run by taxi drivers as well, and is targeted at travelers arriving late at night. You get in a cab, tell them the name and address of your hotel/hostel, and they exclaim something along the lines of: “it just closed down, I went there last night with another guest and it was closed. Don’t worry I know a good place nearby.” The driver is assuming you don’t have Wifi to fact check them and they then insist on upon arrival at their great place you are charged way more than you want.

Avoid it: This one seems rare but is actually very common. I’ve had it attempted on me multiple times. To avoid it I always double check my accommodations the second I land using airport wifi. I also always book through Hotels.com or a similar booking engine because they would inform me immediately if the hotel closed down.

Free Rosary/Bracelet/Flower Scam

This scam is run in big cities in their main squares and tends to target females. It also comes in many different forms. A kind stranger – often dressed up in Buddhist robes – will attach a free bracelet to your wrist or hand you a flower or possibly a sprig of rosemary. Once you have it securely in your hands, they ask for money and cause a scene when you don’t give it to them.

Avoid it: Remember when you travel, nothing is ever free. Don’t ever let anyone put anything on your body without being extremely wary of the situation.

Injured or Children Beggars

This scam plays on your emotions. A child, often looking extremely disheveled will approach you asking for money. It’s extremely hard to say no because it’s a child. But, please keep in mind, these children are not keeping the money you give them. They are being used by gangs to collect money.

Avoid it: I admit this one is hard for me. To avoid it, I try and carry small snacks in my backpack and will give those to the children instead.

Let Me Take Your Picture Scam

If you walk around with a huge camera on your neck, beware of this common scam. A kind stranger will ask you if you want a picture of yourself. Once you walk away to pose the stranger runs off with your expensive camera (or phone).

Avoid it: Never hand your phone or camera over to someone – even if you really want a picture. If you want a photo, look for other tourists (I usually look for a family), and ask if they wouldn’t mind taking a picture of you and in return, you’ll take a family photo for them.

Fake WiFi Hubs

This scam involves unsecured, open WiFi networks in big tourist areas. Once you connect to their WiFi they can see everything you are doing and are hoping you log into a bank account or divulge any other private information they could possibly steal.

Avoid it: When I travel I only connect to password protected WiFi provided by hotels and restaurants. You can also avoid this by switching to an international plan that includes data.

Rental Damage Scam

This scam is common in South East Asia, particularly when renting motorbikes. But, do be aware, I’ve also seen it happen when renting a scooter, car, or even jet ski. When you return your rental, the employee points out a huge scratch (or dent, or chip) and says this wasn’t there when they rented it to you. They then charge you a ton of money to repair it.

Avoid it: Whenever you rent anything I can’t stress this enough: Always, always, always take your own photos of the rentals scratches and dents. Also, make sure to receive a copy of the scratches and dent report before you leave. I use another, I’ll admit, borderline obnoxious tactic to avoid this scam. During the initial pickup, I will point out, photograph myself, and make sure they mark down every single tiny scratch. I do this hoping it will deter them from scamming me.

The Animal Scam

A stranger walks up to you and quickly puts an animal on your shoulder. This actually happened to me in Morocco with a sad looking monkey in chains. Before you know what’s happened they have encouraged your travel partner to take some pictures of you and the animal and are now asking for money in return.

Avoid it: First, I’ll say this, please don’t take pictures with animals on the street. These animals often live in horrible conditions and brutal training has made them nice enough to pose with humans. If you do take a picture with animals, negotiate the price before you begin.

Wrong Change Scam

This isn’t a scam persay, but it is something you will see often and can cost you a ton of money. When you go to buy something (food, a train ticket, water from a vendor) they will give you the wrong change back. They hope that since you are a tourist and maybe not familiar with the local money, you don’t even notice. Usually, it is only off by a couple of coins, but it depends what country you are in. Really watch out for this in places like Japan or Colombia where their currency is extremely different from ours. For example, while in Japan I was supposed to be given a 5,000 yen note in change and instead received a 500 note back. Had I not noticed (I did) the 4500 yen difference is a loss of $42 US dollars!!

Avoid it: Always be hyper-vigilant when paying in cash. Before you buy anything try to work out the change you should receive back. Don’t be afraid to take your time counting your change and double checking you received the correct note value.

High Bar Tab Scam

This scam is most common in touristy bar areas like Phuket Thailand and is run primarily on young men travelers. You’ll be at a bar, having a crazy night out, and beautiful women are paying you or your group a lot of attention – too much attention. They tell you about their favorite bar and you follow them there where you buy them them drinks without looking at the prices. By the end of the night, you have a huge bill in front of you and they are nowhere to be found. The girls are typically scammers working with the bar. They receive commision for every overpriced drink they sell.

Also note, this scam can be taken a step further with getting you drunk and ushering you off to a hotel room or their local apartment. You pass out and wake up to your phone and wallet stolen and oftentimes a huge room bill.

Avoid it: I know it’s every man’s dream to be on the receiving end of attention from beautiful women while in a foreign country. But, you need to be extremely wary if this attention is overly aggressive. Especially if this sort of attention isn’t a normal occurrence for you back home.

You look lost let me help scam

Unfortunately, some countries are full of people just trying to make a buck. This scam preys on tourists who look lost. A kind stranger gives you directions and then takes it a step further and offers to walk you to your destination. Along the way, they point out historical sights and give you a nice compact history lesson. Once you arrive at your original destination they demand a large sum of money for the “tour” and make a scene if you don’t agree.

Avoid it: When traveling, even if you’re lost, walk confidently! If you do need help finding your way it’s best to go into a local store or coffee shop and ask someone working for directions. If someone on the street does help you, insist that you can walk yourself there.

The Menu Scam

While looking for somewhere to eat you find a place near the main street that is a third cheaper than everything around you. Awesome, right? You order, eat, and when you receive your bill the price is double or triple what you initially read. When you complain, they hand you a menu and the prices aren’t the same as the first menu you saw – they are much higher now.

This actually happened to me in Morocco. Thankfully, I had been taking pictures of all the menus for blogging purposes. When they gave me the new menu to check my bill with I had a picture of my original menu with the original prices.

Avoid it: Remember, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. You can also avoid this by taking pictures of menus before you order.

Final Thoughts

While there are many travel scams out there, please don’t let this lengthy list deter you from traveling! The more you educate yourself on scams the easier they are to spot. And no scam is worth missing out on seeing the world.

Coming Up

Being a full-time travel writer, I am constantly looking for the next awesome travel deal, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Join me next time for a look on exactly how I find these insane travel deals.

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