Whether traveling solo or with family, staying safe in the world is necessary. Below are the top five travel scams—knowing their signs will help you avoid fraud, identity theft, and dangerous situations.
The Top 5 Travel Scams
Travel scams are unique problems that are difficult to anticipate but usually target fast cash. Opportunistic scammers like to approach tourists, so singling yourself out as “not from here” paints a target on your back. Always trust your gut when in another country—the locals are not your friends.
Worldwide there are ride-share options in the form of taxis, tuk-tuks, Ubers, Lyfts, rickshaws, and more. In Las Vegas, taxi drivers may drive off before retrieving all your luggage; in Greece, the taxi driver may have altered meters, increased fares, or take longer routes to increase costs. Other taxi drivers may drop your change, then pick up a smaller amount, or take you to a local shop where they receive a purchase kickback. However, individuals and families can avoid these scammers by using professional options and verifying the drivers as needed.
Fake Police Officers
No matter where you wander, stay cautious of fake police officers. These scammers dress to look official, making it difficult for the public to notice the difference and nearly impossible for a tourist. They take your wallet under the guise of necessity and remove the money before giving it back to you. Others may tell you there is a problem; you’ll need to pay a fee to fix it. Individuals and families may have a hard time identifying a fake police official when outside of their home country. However, staying aware of your surroundings is necessary. Identifying a fake police officer due to their bike helmet being too dark or incorrect impacts your chances of being robbed.
The art of pickpocketing is often glorified in the media, encouraging attempts by packs of roaming youths looking to fulfill peer-pressured expectations; yet, depending on where you travel, you will run into different versions. In Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro, pickpockets prefer causing “accidental spills,” where you’re suddenly covered in their food, and they’re insisting on helping. Meanwhile, in Rome, Milan, and Florence, you may run into a cloud of children; as they pass, they’ll empty your pockets and send the contents to Cyprus. Individuals and their families can avoid pickpockets by staying aware of their environment and covering their most important items with their hands if caught close to strangers.
If visiting a popular destination, one may be tempted to visit local attractions. In these areas, tourists are easy targets for scammers looking to take pictures or build memories. In Europe, a friendly-looking character may approach you and the family, offering to take group pictures with your phone. In some instances, they might turn tail and run away with it, to sell later, or they may take the picture and then demand payment for the effort. The best way to avoid these scammers is not to interact with pushy locals.
The Most Amazing Merchant
If traveling in the Middle East or South Asia, you may hear your hotel is closed. Don’t worry—a stranger you don’t know has a solution, and they talk you into meeting a “friend.” You don’t know that the “friend” often sells cheap items or hotel space for a huge sum. In some cases, these scammers hire taxi drivers to deliver unsuspecting tourists from the airport to their front door; often, a hotel with a similar-enough name to fool tourists into thinking they are at the correct location. Individuals and families can protect themselves by verifying every step of the way and cross-checking information.
Signs of a Travel Scam
The signs of a travel scam are easy to spot once one knows what they look like. Similar to other scams, travel scams are only effective on those who fall for them; subsequently, the signs make the difference in handing over your phone “for a picture” or keeping it safe. As you travel, look out for these signs and more:
- Obvious distractions or forced interactions, like throwing a baby in your arms
- Finding random “valuables” made of high quality, then convince you to buy it
- Suggestive questions, meant to reveal where you hide valuables on your body
- Items offered “for free,” the scammer shames you into paying their fees
- Scammers offering services and not allowing you time to think about options
- Situational control can also be difficult to notice but glaring when seen
- “Professionals” taking their time at mundane tasks like counting back money
- The encouragement of spending money, buying things, or use of threats
Ways to Avoid Travel Scams
The best way to avoid travel scams is by physically avoiding and preparing for them. Fake taxi drivers, police officers, photographers, merchants, and pickpockets all require the victim to be in the same physical location as them. This means you can avoid falling for these scams by actively taking notes of the world around you. Verify every person you meet, and don’t succumb to pressure. Stay in tourist-friendly areas, but out of big groups if you can help it—and never trust a local unconditionally.
If you still plan to travel, take precautions before you leave. Notify your bank beforehand, plan a travel itinerary for transport plans, and stay consistent with them. Buy clothing that allows you to zip-close if you become surrounded by people and tether essential items to your body. Lastly, register with an identity theft protection plan, just in case.
Invest in Safe Travel and Know the Signs
Proactive measures start at home. Before you book a vacation first you need to take the time to investigate the most common threats in the area. If you become familiar with the various strategies of each scam, you will better equip yourself for a real-world scamming attempt. Traveling is a real joy for everyone and we can meet new people on our way. But if somebody is acting suspiciously and you feel really uncomfortable around, leave the area immediately.
There are a lot of unexpected things that may happen but if you follow at least half of these tips you’ll always travel safely.