How to Avoid the Most Common Travel Scams

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Overseas travel is one of life’s great pleasures, so it’s little wonder travellers are more interested in researching which sites to see and which restaurants to visit than what travel scams they need to watch out for.

In a foreign country people let their guard down, relax, and often behave in a way they never would back home leaving them open to highly organised travel scams.

Travel scams often play on the traveller’s kind and trusting nature, their desire to save on holiday purchases, and their lack of local knowledge.

Michael McAuliffe, executive director at insurance provider SureSave, says it is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of Australians who fall victim to scams overseas as travellers often don’t realise they’ve been caught out until it is too late and many are simply too embarrassed to admit being fooled by a simple con.

“All it takes is a momentary lapse of judgement to fall prey to scammers, and yet you might regret it for a very long time,” says McAullife.

The key piece of advice is to keep your wits about you and learn from past travellers’ mistakes and if in doubt call the police.

1. Fake Police

If a traveller finds themselves being accused of a crime they didn’t commit, chances are they’re dealing with a counterfeit cop. For example, fake police might charge an over the top, on-the-spot fine for putting out a cigarette in public. Always check the officer’s ID and contact the real police if you have any doubts.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Always check an officer's ID. Photo by Scott Davidson.
Always check an officer’s ID. Photo by Scott Davidson.

2. Faux-Gems

On route to their official destination dodgy tuk-tuk or taxi drivers take travellers to stores where they are offered deals that are literally too good to be true. The so called ‘Gem Scam’ can actually involve any high priced or desirable item such as leather goods or “authentic” carpets. Victims soon discover their “jewels” may be nothing more than polished glass and those larger items, well, they never make it back home.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Gemstones might just be polished glass. Photo by Woody Hibbard
Gemstones might just be polished glass. Photo by Woody Hibbard 

3. Distraction

This can be anything from a child waving a newspaper in your face to an old woman needing assistance or a local helping you wipe a mess off your shirt. While you are distracted, a second crook comes in and swipes your stuff. The key to making it out with all your valuables intact is to pay careful attention to your belongings and others around you.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Pickpockets work with distraction. Photo by matias jaramillo
Pickpockets work with distraction. Photo by matias jaramillo

4. Bar Scams

These can take a variety of forms, but the basics involve a traveller, usually male, being approached by local women (sometimes a group of seemingly friendly men) who invite them for a round of drinks in a local bar. After a few beverages the locals are gone and the traveller is left with a ridiculously large bill!

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Be careful who you drink with. Photo by Ty Nigh
Be careful who you drink with. Photo by Ty Nigh 

5. Dodge Taxis

Unfortunately for all the good ones, cab drivers have a bad rep for ripping off travellers, but they do have a lot of tricks associated with their profession. Some of the most common cons are inflating fares or telling passengers their selected hotel/bar/restaurant is closed, but never fear, they know a better one just down the road. Always travel in licenced cabs and, if possible, agree on a fixed fare. Also, insist on going to your original destination and see if it is actually closed for yourself.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Be careful of tricky taxi drivers. Photo by Martin Terber
Be careful of tricky taxi drivers. Photo by Martin Terber 

6. The Struggling Musician

They can pop up anywhere, but are most often found around NYC’s Times Square or on the Las Vegas Strip. CD bullies approach passers-by asking them to check out their music, handing over what appears to be a free copy of their CD. However, once the disc is in your hands, the aspiring superstar (often surrounded by friends) refuses to take it back and expects you to pay for the pleasure of listening to their unsigned gem. Try to ignore these guys, but if one of the ‘musicians’ does manage to get a CD in your hand and refuses to take it back, gently put it on the ground and walk away.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Be careful of free CDs. Photo by Jonas Strandell
Be careful of free CDs. Photo by Jonas Strandell 

7. Photo-Ops

You’ve just arrived at an amazing site and are snapping away happily, trying to get that winning shot, when a local in costume or with an intriguing prop shows up and offers to pose for a photo.
They aren’t just doing this for a bit of fun, this costumed conman is after your cash. Once the photo has been taken they’ll demand a crazy amount of money off you. Even worse, if they had a partner who took the picture he might not return your camera until you’ve paid up big time.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: 'Gladiators' at the Colosseum, Rome
‘Gladiators’ at the Colosseum, Rome. Photo by Adam Kahtava 

8. Packed Trains

All ideas of personal space are thrown out the window when riding a train crowded with people. You tend to ignore passengers bumping and knocking into you and it’s in this environment where you have to pay extra attention to your belongings – was that an accident or someone going for your wallet?

The busy public transport networks of New York, Paris and London are particular hotspots, but light fingered thieves can be found around the world.

One particular scam is common in certain parts of Italy. Your train pulls into the station so you jump aboard; however, there are a few minutes to wait until it is due to depart. In this time dozens of what seem like passengers squeeze their way into the carriage, but just before the doors close and the train leaves the platform they jump off taking the valuables of unsuspecting travellers with them.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Busy trains are a pickpocket's dream. Photo by Ted Sullivan
Busy trains are a pickpocket’s dream. Photo by Ted Sullivan

9. Where Are You From?

Wandering through an Eastern marketplace you’ll know there’s going to be haggling in store. However, what you might not know is that store keepers start working out how much to charge you from the moment you open your mouth.

Almost every shop owner will start a conversation with ‘Where are you from?’ and you need to be careful with your answer.

If you say something obvious like England, America or Australia they will assume you have a lot of money, and as a result will instantly push up the price of their stock.

The best answer to give is something a little obscure such as the name of your city or suburb. This will throw the seller and leave you to haggle on a level playing field.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: Stall owners will adjust prices to your nationality. Photo by Tinou Bao
Stall owners will adjust prices to your nationality. Photo by Tinou Bao

10. Bracelet Scheme

A charming person comes up to you offering directions or sightseeing advice when, suddenly, they tie a woven bracelet around your wrist in a double knot then demand payment. If you refuse, the scammer starts yelling that you’re stealing the bracelet. Victims are often so shaken by the experience that they end up paying the perpetrator.

Be wary of overly friendly people offering services you neither want nor need and tell them to remove the bracelet before you call the police.

How to Avoid The Most Common Travel Scams: "Friendship" bracelets. Photo by PV KS
“Friendship” bracelets. Photo by PV KS

Main Image by Roger Price

Be prepared for your travels and don’t let travel scams to change your plans.

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Also, check our 7 Most Popular Travel Scams Infographic and How to Avoid Them.

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How to Avoid the Most Common Travel Scams was last modified: June 27th, 2019 by Kara Segedin
Author: Kara Segedin (50 posts)

Writer, traveller, Tweeter, blogger and part-time adventurer. A kiwi living in London off to explore the world! I can never travel enough!