With so many new sights and sensations to experience on the road it’s easy to take your eye off the ball and leave yourself open to being scammed.
The truth is that no matter how prepared you think you are, you’ll eventually fall for some sort of travel scam. But don’t let this deter you from traveling the world. Think of it as a rite of passage.
Here’s a list of common scams to watch out for while on your travels:
* Broken Taxi Meter – Cab drivers near airports or train stations are known to pull this scam, but it can happen anywhere. When you get into a taxi and start to drive, the driver will inform you that the meter is broken and charge you a ridiculous price (to the tune of 100s of dollars if you’re not careful).
* Taxi over charge – This is one of the most common travel scams out there. Either the driver will tell you the meter is broken and try to charge you a huge rate or you’ll see the meter go higher and faster than Superman!
* Hotel are closed or overbooked: 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.
* The fake police officer scam is a popular one in many large cities. Most often, a person will approach a tourist and offer illicit items, like drugs. While conversing one or two other people will approach, appearing to be police officers and flashing “badges.” They will then insist the unknowing traveler hand over their passport and wallet. However, they are not police officers.
* ATM helper – Someone approaches at an ATM cash machine to help you avoid local bank fees. What they really want to do is scan your ATM card with the card skimmer in their pocket and watch you enter your pin number so they can drain your account later.
* Street games – It’s such an old and obvious scam. You’ll see people on the street playing a card game (sometimes known as three-card Monte) or hiding a ball in a cup and someone guessing where it is and winning money. Then you decide to play — and you win! Thinking this is great, you bet more money… and then you lose — and lose again and again. Don’t get suckered into this con. Remember, the house always wins!
* Keep an eye on what you eat and drink – Beware the friendly local who offers food, drink or cigarettes on public transport or anywhere else for that matter. There is probably an ulterior motive to their kindness. Many a weary traveler has woken up woozy after some hours to find all of their stuff goods gone.
* Wrong Change – This happens a lot in countries where the bills look similar to each other. People tend to look at colors first, so when you get a pile of change that is the same color, you think you got the right change — but they really gave you the wrong bills, hoping you won’t notice until after you rush out. Also take care at money changer. Special in Indonesia they try to trick you!
* Beggars – Usually deaf, blind, or pregnant, sometimes accompanied by a “helper”, beggars will ask you for money. Women with babies are common (they might not even be theirs). Children are also frequently used by begging gangs to collect money. Why? Because it’s difficult for most people to say no to the old, injured, or young. Sometimes an accomplice nearby is just watching to see where you keep your wallet so they can pickpocket you later.
* Photo Scam – While hanging out in a busy tourist location or landmark, a local offers to take a group photo of you and your friends. As you’re getting ready to pose for your awesome new Facebook jumping shot, you look up and realize your new friend has completely disappeared. With your expensive camera.
* Fake WiFi Access – While you can find WiFi almost anywhere these days, some of those free unlocked connections might be dangerous. Hackers will set up tempting unsecured wifi hotspots in public locations that unsuspecting victims eagerly connect to — giving the thief access to your computer, passwords, online accounts, and more.
* Free bracelet gifts – In this scam, common in Europe, a friendly person will approach you for a quick chat, then place a bracelet around your wrist or hat on your head, or give you a little sprig of rosemary. Once you have it on your person, they will demand money. When you refuse, they will begin to cause a scene in the hopes you would rather give them some money than be embarrassed. Don’t allow anyone to put anything on your body, and be extremely wary of accepting anything for free. If they put something on you, simply take it off, give it back to them, and be firm about it. Then walk away and move on with your day.
* Fake Petitions – You’re at a popular sight and a woman or kid (often pretending to be deaf or a student) will try to get you to sign a petition. You don’t know what they are saying, and to end the awkwardness, you sign the petition, hoping they will go away. But the petitioner then demands a cash donation. At best, anyone who falls for this scam is out some money; at worst, they’re pickpocketed while fighting with the petitioner.
* Scooter rental – You rent a bike, jetski or a scooter, and then when you bring it back, the owner demands additional payment or expensive repairs because there is some damage you didn’t know about. What you don’t know is that often the owner or his friends who caused a damage or stole the bike from you. This scam a lot in Southeast Asia and other developing regions of the world. To avoid this, take photos of the bike first to document any previous damage. Go around it with the owner so they know what you are taking pictures of.
Hiring a motorbike can be a great way to get around and see more of a country. But avoid giving your passport as security as many travelers have been scammed with agencies claiming damage to the bikes. In this case they refuse to hand back your documents until damage has been paid for.
* Fake Tickets – Someone offers to sell you train tickets at a discount, or avoid the line and pay a slightly higher price. Maybe a taxi driver offers to bring you to his friend who’s a local travel agent. However the tickets they are selling aren’t real, and by the time you figure it out, the scammers are gone with your money.
* Fake hotel call – While staying at a hotel, you get a call from the front desk in the middle of the night to confirm your credit card details. Only it isn’t the front desk calling, it’s a scammer who will drain your accounts when he makes a copy of your card using the details you give him over the phone.
* Stolen luggage — It sure seems convenient to not have to hold your heavy suitcase or backpack for that long bus or train ride, but consider who might be rummaging through it in the baggage compartment while you nap. Secure your luggage and keep your luggage in sight at all times.
* Bar tab scam — Popular in gentlemens bars, strip clubs and even in some restaunts in East Europe and Asia. Gentlemen, the girl is just not that into you. She gets paid a commission on your drink sales, or is being forced to coerce drinks out of you. Girl or not, check the drink prices before you order, and don’t drink to the point where you won’t remember what receipt you sign.
* Shopping deal scam – A local man casually brings up his lucrative side business of buying jewelry, gemstones, watches or carpets then selling them back in your country for a fat profit. He offers to share how he does it, and shows you where to find the best deal. The only problem is that these products are fake.
* Telephone seller – If you receive an offer by phone or mail for a free or extremely low-priced vacation trip to a popular destination (often Mallorca, Hawaii or Florida), there are a few things you should look for:
- Does the price seem too good to be true? If so, it probably is.
- Are you asked to give your credit card number over the phone?
- Are you pressured to make an immediate decision?
- Is the carrier simply identified as “a major airline,” or does the representative offer a collection of airlines without being able to say which one you will be on?
- Is the representative unable or unwilling to give you a street address for the company?
- Are you told you can’t leave for at least two months? (The deadline for disputing a credit card charge is 60 days, and most scam artists know this.)
If you encounter any of these symptoms, proceed cautiously. Ask for written information to be sent to you; any legitimate travel company will be happy to oblige. If they don’t have a brochure, ask for a day or two to think it over; most bona fide deals that are good today will still be good two days from now. If they say no to both requests, this probably isn’t the trip for you.
Unlike most products, travel services usually have to be paid for before they are delivered. This creates opportunities for disreputable individuals and companies. Some travel packages turn out to be very different from what was presented or what the consumer expected. Some don’t materialize at all!
Some other advice:
* If you are told that you’ve won a free vacation, ask if you have to buy something else in order to get it. Some packages have promoted free air fare, as long as you buy expensive hotel arrangements. Others include a free hotel stay, but no air fare.
* If you are seriously considering the vacation offer and are confident you have established the full price you will pay, compare the offer to what you might obtain elsewhere. Frequently, the appeal of free air fare or free accommodations disguises the fact that the total price is still higher than that of a regular package tour.
* Get a confirmed departure date, in writing, before you pay anything. Eye skeptically any promises that an acceptable date will be arranged later. If the package involves standby or waitlist travel, or a reservation that can only be provided much later, ask if your payment is refundable if you want to cancel, and don’t pay any money you can’t afford to lose.
* If the destination is a beach resort, ask the seller how far the hotel is from the beach. Then ask the hotel.
* Determine the complete cost of the trip in dollars, including all service charges, taxes, processing fees, etc.
* If you decide to buy the trip after checking it out, paying by credit card gives you certain legal rights to pursue a chargeback (credit) if promised services aren’t delivered.
REMEMBER: If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
Online Travel Scams:
Think twice before clicking on that enticing banner or emails for a free luxury, all expenses paid vacation. Many internet users are targets for scammers from all over the world. Scam victims are often getting tricked into paying money up front while the scammer simply takes the money and disappears without a trace. Millions of dollars are being earned through scamming via email, phone calls, banners, and even postal mail. Of course, there are genuine travel offers that exist but they are being shunned because there have been an increase of reported cases of fraud and scam.
In some cases, the travel packages offered do go through, however, they are lacking components that it had originally promised. There are some smart tips to keep in mind the next time you or anyone you know are confronted with these travel offers. First off, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is! If you have not entered any travel contests and you are being communicated to about winning a wonderful vacation package, it is more than likely, a scam. Some legitimate travel agencies do require an initial lump sum amount so do your research carefully and if any red flags are raised, proceed with caution. Secondly, just as a good salesman would do, the scammer might give the potential scam victim pressure to make the decision. A legitimate travel agency operates during regular business hours, so another red flag would be receiving phone calls late at night.
It may seem like common sense, but believe it or not, people still continuously fall for these traps. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical of these travel deals, especially when it is your wallet’s money on the line. If you have kept all these tips in mind and feel that it is a legitimate travel deal, it is always a great idea to pay by credit card. Many major credit card companies welcome any dispute cases, especially if you do not get what you paid for.
Another major tip is to make sure you get a receipt in printing or writing. Definitely do not be shy about asking for specifics such as the name of the hotel, airline, and so forth. You have the right to know the details. Another rule of thumb that is found across the board when purchasing anything online or in-store, always have a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies. Also, stick with a reputable travel agency or online travel site. Booking for a vacation should be exciting but do not ruin the fun of it by falling for scams!
Don’t forget travel insurance!