Travel Scams – How to Avoid Them and What to Look Out For

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When traveling abroad to strange, far off countries it is often difficult to tell what is real and what is fake. If you’re new to a country it can be hard to tell what the social norms are, and because of that it can be hard to tell when someone’s trying to scam you. As a foreigner, you’ll naturally be seen as an easy target, and a source of wealth. Here’s a list of the most popular scams being used today:

Widely Used Travel Scams

When drinking out at a bar, always keep your drink with you, never leave it unoccupied and don’t accept drinks from strangers. Drink spiking is becoming more and more common, and if your drink is spiked you’ll most likely wake up with your phone, wallet, watch, jewelry (and anything else you have on you) all missing at the very least.

One scam that is widely used (that seems utterly ridiculous that it would even work) is for people to give you the wrong currency when you’re changing money over. Sometimes they’ll just give you a completely different currency (i.e. one that is worth less than what you’re paying for due to the exchange rate) and other times they’ll just give you the wrong amount when the notes have lots of zeros on them. For example, Turkish Lira comes in notes of 500,000 and 5,000,000, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other. Whenever getting money changed over, always count it in front of the cashier before walking away to double check they’ve given you the correct amount (and the right currency!)

Pick-pocketing Scams

pickpocket travel scamsPick-pocketing is common all around the world and the majority of pick-pocketing is done by a group of people, where one person will create a distraction while the other one helps themselves to your valuables.

For example, a woman is walking down the street and trips over. Naturally you help her up and make sure she’s okay. While this is happening, someone could easily be going through your bag.

Other distractions that can lead to pick-pocketing are people ‘accidentally’ spilling their drinks on you or child beggars in the street asking you for money.

Some pick-pockets don’t even bother with unzipping or opening bags – they just slash them open with a knife as it’s a lot quicker. One way to counteract this is the line the inside your bag with chicken wire. This might seem a bit extreme, but in areas where pick-pocketing is rife it can be necessary.

Travel Scams Done By the Police

A lot of scams are actually done by the police (or by people impersonating policemen). They may try and fine you for imaginary offences, such as walking on the wrong side of the road. If they’re only asking for a small amount of money, it’s a good idea to just pay them and be done with it. If they’re asking for an extortionate amount, tell them that you’ll happily pay them back at the police station. They’ll usually agree to settle for a smaller fee after this (either because they don’t want the fuss or because they aren’t really police officers).

Another variation of this is the police stopping you and asking to see your passport. If you don’t have it on you, they’ll want you to pay a fine. Again, use the same guidelines to paying fines as stated above.

Oftentimes the police will work with in conjunction with drug dealers. After you buy drugs from the dealer, the dealer will then tell the policeman (who’s usually waiting round the corner) and the policeman will come over and want to search you. In some countries, being caught with drugs can lead to life imprisonment (or worse), so the policeman may give you two options: Go to jail for life or go with him to the ATM, withdraw all of your money and pay him to let you go free.

Transportation Scams

Taxi drivers can be notoriously hard to deal with, as they’ll often tell you anything to get you to into their cab/tuk-tuk/cyclo and then another thing when you arrive at your destination. Because of this, ALWAYS agree on a price beforehand (unless they have a working meter).

tuk-tuk travel scamsSome taxis can be hired for an hour (or for a day), and they’ll just tell you to pay them whatever you think is fair at the end of the allotted time. You might not know what a sensible rate is, so it can be easy to over-pay them. Some taxi drivers will be more than happy to argue with you for half an hour – trying to get more money from you. Agreeing on a prearranged price is the best way to solve all of these problems.

After leaving an airport or a train station in a new city you’ll probably decide to jump in a taxicab or a tuk-tuk (depending on where you are) and get a lift to your hotel. Upon telling them where you want to go to, they may tell you that the hotel you want to go to is full (if you tell them you haven’t booked in advance). They’ll also tell you that they know a great place that’s clean, inexpensive and in a great part of town. No-doubt they’re working for this hotel in some way and are getting money for bringing customers there. You may decide to believe them and try out there hotel, but you should tell them you want them to take you to your original destination first, just to double check. Often-times you’ll find out that the hotel you wanted to go to wasn’t full, and they will tell you that they were ‘mistaken’.

You may find yourself being approached by a porter as you’re on your way out of an airport or a train station. They’ll ask if you want a taxi to take you to your hotel, and they’ll offer to find one for you. The problem here is that they may guide you to an unofficial taxi (probably owned by a friend or a relative of theirs) and you’ll be charged more than you’d have to pay if you were using an official taxi.

For more information on how to avoid taxi-scams, read this article on how to haggle like a local.

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