Travel scams can ruin anyone's vacation. We have collected a list of 15 travel scams and offer tips to help you avoid them. Be aware & be safe.
If it is one thing that we have learned, it is that scams and shady people are everywhere. For some reason, tourists and travelers seem to be the favored targets for these scams. We want to help you avoid scams by sharing some of the most common ones used. It happens to everyone and has happened to us. So, we share our knowledge so you can stay safe and avoid getting ripped off while traveling.
We have noticed that other websites and travel guides offer advice about avoiding scams, but we felt because of how common it is, the topic deserves an article of its own. We have either been a victim of or know people that were victims of stolen credit cards, overcharged taxi rides, and currency exchange scams. Sadly, they exist all over the world, even in places thought to be paradise, so it is essential to be prepared in the event you face any of these situations.
Here is a lit of the most common scams used on tourists and travelers today. Even after all the years of travel under our belts, we still get caught off guard sometimes too. Knowing the scams is not a guaranteed way to avoid them, but the more you know, the safer you'll be.
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1. The Broken Taxi Meter:
Taxi drivers that wait around airports and bus or train stations are known to pull this scam. Once they start driving, they inform you the meter is broken and you end up paying some astronomical charge. Drivers in Central American countries are famous for pulling this scam and we fell for it on our first visit there. But, never again.
Now we negotiate rates beforehand or check that the meter is working before getting in the car. Drivers have told us it is cheaper without the meter, but do not believe them, get out, and look for another taxi. There are plenty of honest drivers out there.
2. Overbooked Hotel:
Taxi drivers are again the common culprits of this scam too. On the way to your hotel, they inform you it is overbooked or closed with the intention of taking you to a more expensive place.
Typically, they are already in partnership with these hotels to receive a commission. To avoid this, call your hotel ahead of time and see if they offer shuttle services. If your taxi driver tells you it is closed, insist on going there anyway.
3. Spills On Your Clothes:
We have heard stories of a common scam in Europe, where travelers feel something land on their shoulders, such as bird poop or a condiment. A stranger approaches to wipe off the mess and plucks your wallet away from you.
This has never happened to us, but we know friends who have experienced this. The best solution is to decline help and find a restroom to clean yourself off instead.
4. Free Bracelets:
This is a popular scam to pull on women. A friendly person approaches and puts a bracelet on you or hands you some rosemary for good luck. They then demand payment and cause a scene when you refuse. Gypsy women in Madrid are famous for this and have approached us many times before.
Do not allow anyone to put anything on you, and if they approach you to talk, ensure a safe distance is maintained. Do not accept anything that is supposedly for free, and just walk by ignoring those with these special offers.
5. Closed Attractions:
Locals like to try this on tourists by telling you the place or attraction you want to see is closed. These locals always speak very good English and will instead guide you to a different attraction where you have to pay a large fee or purchase something.
We have been told that places we want to see are closed for religious ceremonies or are under construction. We have also been told that shops are closed. As helpful as many locals can be when you get this advice, it is best to check things out on your own.
Either ask someone else or head to the destination anyway to see for yourself.
6. Child Beggars:
Children, injured parties, pregnant women, and blind individuals are known to ask for money in all countries. Children frequently ‘beg' in gangs to collect money in larger cities. We understand that it is difficult to say no to an injured or sick person or a child, but you need to be cautious.
We can attest to the fact that is is almost impossible to tell which people are legit and who is trying to scam you. We learned never to give cash and instead buy food or give them old clothing instead.
7. Friendly ATM Helper:
We almost fell for this scam a few years ago. A friendly man approached us insisting on helping us to avoid ATM fees, but what he really wanted to do was scan our card and watch us enter the pin number.
He had an accomplice pretending to be the next person in line who vouched for what he was saying, which is why we almost fell for this scam. When he canceled the transaction and asked us to start over, we realized what was going on.
Always cover the number pad when entering your pin and never let anyone handle your ATM or credit card either.
8. Fake Police Officers:
This is a scam that many fall for because we have a natural trust for officers of the law and a fear of not being compliant with the law. This scam is common in larger cities.
We have friends that this happened to. They were approached by a young man who offered them illicit drugs, and even though they were refusing to buy them, officers approached during the conversation almost immediately. Or at least they were pretending to be officers.
They demanded that our friends hand over their passports and wallets. Thankfully, they asked for identification and did not hand anything over, which is the best advice we can offer if you are ever in this situation.
9. Fake Wi-Fi Hubs:
Wi-Fi is everywhere these days but some hubs are not secure. Free hubs are frequently set up by hackers trying to lure tourists and once logged in, they gain access to your financial information, passwords, and personal devices.
We always use guest services in hotels rather than free Wi-Fi hubs throughout the city. Always avoid unlocked connections or encrypt your online activity with a virtual private network (VPN).
10. Group Photo:
Locals love to jump in and offer to take pictures of your group. We have experienced this countless times. While not everyone is out to scam you, there are some who are taking the opportunity to run off with your camera.
The only times we ever give our camera over is when we ask favors of a passerby and not when they come up asking us. This can be a tricky situation to read so we advise that you remain cautious and trust your gut.
11. Bike Rental Scam:
While in the Philippines, we fell prey to this scam. After renting a moped, it was damaged during the night and the owner demanded we pay for it. The seat was cut with a knife and we were told to buy a new seat for the bike.
Always take a photo of the bike after you rent it and use your own locks rather than those provided by the rental person.
12. Fake Hotel Call:
You get a call in the middle of the night from the hotel front desk, asking to confirm your credit card, only it is not the hotel.
In our experience hotels staff will never ask for credit card details over the phone, so you can ignore this anytime it happens. Then you can always check with the desk in the morning to see if there really was a problem.
13. Fake Tickets:
We had a taxi driver try this on us but thankfully we did not fall for it. They offer to get you discount tickets to shows, or for a train or bus. They may even offer to take you to an agent selling discount tickets, but they are not real and your money will be gone while you are left with fake tickets.
Always buy tickets for travel or to destinations from an authorized website or ticket office.
14. Luxury Deals:
A local will approach you telling you of their business selling jewelry, gemstones, or even carpets, and mentions that they sell them successfully to the United States. They will offer you a special deal on luxury items, but you need to be aware that these will be fake.
The best advice is to remember that if it seems too good to be true, then it is, and you are going to be scammed.
15. Flirty Local Women:
In a new country, if you notice that local women are paying more attention to you than you get back home, you need to be cautious. This scam is usually tried on men, but we have seen it happen to women, too.
They will invite you to a bar or club and one of several things can happen. You end up drugged, robbed, or stuck with a very expensive bill.
Friends of ours fell prey to something similar in Panama, where a group of women tried to get their attention and while they tried to avoid them, their laptop got stolen from their backpack.
If local women are being overly friendly or aggressively trying to get your attention, you are better off ignoring them and moving on to a different spot.
The truth is that scams happen everywhere, all the time. We have fallen for few and chances are that you have also. It is nothing to be embarrassed about because sometimes the scammers are really good. They can catch anyone off guard.
The best thing you can do is be cautious of others when you travel. Worldwide travelers like us have a few scam stories to share because it is essentially a right of passage for all travelers. They are learning experiences and with awareness and being prepared, you can become an expert at spotting them and staying safe.