Travel enriches lives. From endless white sand beaches to crumbling ruins dripping with history the world unfolds. The kindness of strangers across the globe teaches us compassion and understanding of humanity. Sadly, in the background, lurks the dark possibility of travel scams.
Over our decades of travel, we have faced many of the most popular travel scams. Unfortunately global travel scams exist. However we feel just because there might be a weed in the travel garden, does not mean one should miss all the blossoms of exploration.
From our own learning, some of it the hard way, we hope the following ten examples will give you the tools to feel confident in dealing with scams around the world. Common tourist scams are not likely to go away. However, being aware of travel scams to avoid, will help to ensure your safe travel ahead.
10 Travel Scams Around The World
Baby Beggar Scam
On a street corner in Cape Town, South Africa a woman’s pleading dark eyes connect with mine.
“Lady, lady please I need money for milk for my baby.”
She holds a sleeping toddler in her arms. As my heart pains, I realize the women is likely attempting one of the most popular scams. Using babies and small children, gangs gather money from compassionate individuals, exploiting children and sometimes drugging them in these common travel scams.
My look is dubious as the woman becomes tearful and her volume increases.
“Please lady! My baby is very sick. It is her second birthday today.” An extra attempt at eliciting sympathy to add the mention of a birthday.
Both at home and while traveling, when asked for money on the street, we offer food. I tell the woman there will be no money. She agrees to my offer to purchase milk. However once inside a corner store, the woman immediately changes from emotional mother to businesswoman. She demands the clerk retrieve a gigantic container of powdered baby formula from a top shelf.
“I am not buying that.” My stance is firm
“My baby needs it. She is hungry and sick!” The tone is now angry rather than distressed.
“Your baby is two years old and does not require formula. I will buy one container of milk. Take it or leave it.”
Thankfully, I am aware of the practice of selling baby formula on the black market. Formula is stolen and then resold at a cheaper price. It explains why the clerk has needed a step ladder to retrieve it from the shelf.
The woman grabs the milk and without so much as a thank you, swinging her long, dark hair she marches back to the street corner where the conversation first began. It breaks my heart that the child is the pawn in one of the most common scams in the world.
What to do when faced with the baby beggar scam
Think long and hard before giving money to children. Often the child is being exploited. At the very least, they are being kept out of proper care and schools. Give money to local charities, shelters and food banks instead.
Although we went with the woman into a store please do so with caution. Should we be faced with this situation again we would have walked away, hearts aching.
Unlicensed Taxi Scam
Of all the scams to avoid, this taxi scam is one we completely fell for. We feel extremely fortunate to have come away unharmed. Arriving in Toronto, Canada, after a long flight, our bleary eyes give away our sleep deprived state. Plodding out into the airport arrivals area a man approaches us.
“Need a taxi?” Well indeed we do.
“Right this way.” We follow behind like hypnotized sheep.
Finally coming out of my stupor I ask why we are going to the parkade rather than the taxi area at the front of the airport.
“It’s too expensive. I have to pay airport charges.” I ignore the red flag of most common scams at an airport.
As we drive out of the parking garage, and appear to be heading away from the city, alarm bells begin ringing unmercifully in our heads. Now with a dose of fear bringing us to full alert status, my cell phone has 911 ready for dialing. Dave pulls up a GPS map on his phone. We do our best to push away visions of being robbed at gunpoint.
It takes our driver 60 minutes to deliver us to our destination. The taxi scam cost us an additional 40 minutes, some extra money, but thankfully no loss of limb or life. We were idiots, albeit tired ones, to fall for one of the most common tourist scams.
How to deal with an unregistered taxi scam
Never get into an unlicensed taxi. Be wary of individuals approaching you within the airport to offer rides. If you require assistance, seek out the information desk at the airport or call your hotel for guidance. We now use a ride share service, where we can monitor the ride and share where we are with family and friends in live time, or public transport.
Money Currency Scam
“That will be 50.” My head begins to ache in the Vietnamese market. It is the third southeast Asian country we have visited in three weeks. My math calculation wheels are as rusty as if they have been out soaking in the oppressive humidity.
I wonder if the clerk mean 50 US dollars? That’s about 1.1 million Vietnamese dong. Such a handy number to calculate. Or does 50 mean 50,000 Vietnamese dong? That would be just over 2 US dollars.
When paying in US dollars, change is commonly given back in the country’s own currency. It may seem like a great deal to hand over a 20 dollar bill and receive several hundred thousand of the local currency as change. In actuality, you may be short changed in dramatic fashion. Tourist scams involving currency are common.
How to avoid currency travel scams
Prior to your trip, take the time to understand exchange rates of the destinations you will be traveling to. Make notes to carry with you as needed. Don’t feel rushed to accept the change given to you.
If at all possible learn to count in the local language. Although I have only managed it in a couple of countries, it increased my confidence in ensuring we were not being taken advantage of. Vietnam was not one of them.
Helpful Stranger Scam
While traveling, the kindness of strangers has showered us like a downpour on a scorched desert. In countries all over the world we have had a passport returned, a camera and GoPro brought to our hotel (twice in one trip) and multiple train connections made with locals pointing us the way.
However popular scams, especially in crowded, confusing places like large train stations, can give the kindness of strangers a very different meaning.
At a central train station in Rome, Italy, while attempting to use a ticket machine, an individual wearing what appeared to be a uniform but with no official identification, offered assistance. Having read about non-employee scams in Europe and seeing signs in the station warning of this as well, we politely declined.
How to deal with the helpful stranger travel scam
Be wary of anyone who offers to help you use your credit card as it can be scanned or stolen. Besides these credit card scams, the kind stranger once having given assistance, may demand money. Never hand over your credit card to a stranger, kind or not. If you require assistance go to official help desks and those with proper identification.
Timeshare Travel Scams
Stepping out of the customs area in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, the noise is deafening. Shouting from individuals dressed in crisp shirts and name tags, bellows forth from both sides of a corridor in a choir of chaos.
“Where are you going?”
“I can take you to meet your driver!”
“Don’t go our that door you’ll never meet your driver. Stay here!”
Even to the most seasoned traveler, the demands and questions can be overwhelming. You are bearing witness to one of the best scams in airports. Upon accepting a ride, you agree to listen to a timeshare presentation. What is billed as a short talk, turns into a high pressure, relentless half to full day of sales tactics.
How to deal with the timeshare scam
Organize your transportation from the airport to your destination prior to your arrival. Research exactly where in the airport, or outside the airport, you will be getting your bus, shuttle, taxi or rental car.
Walk confidently, and be firm and clear with a “no thank you.” Despite the piranha-like feeding frenzy, where the latest scams snap wildly, no means no.
Red Rose Tourist Scam
The gentleman thrusts a red rose toward me. “For you beautiful lady.”
It is a hot and crowded day in Venice, Italy. I don’t feel beautiful and luckily I’m not much for roses. Should he have presented me with a cold beer the story may have ended differently.
This romance scam often comes in the form of a red rose. Once the flower is taken, the generous person who has given it will demand money in exchange.
“Sir you would not buy this lovely lady a single rose?” His tone showers guilt over the partner as if he has the worst boyfriend/ husband/spouse on the earth.
Should you try to the return the rose once taken, this business scam is having none of it. You took it and it is yours. Try to walk away and an angry tirade continues to follow until you pay up. The same tactic is used with bracelets, ornaments and nic nacs of every description.
Tips for dealing with the rose scam
Nothing is for free. Never take anything that is handed to you by a complete stranger. I often walk with my hands behind my back or my arms folded in crowded cities, so that by instinct, I don’t grab something thrust in my direction. Politely decline and keep walking in a confident manner.
Telephone Travel Scams
“It’s the front desk calling and we need to confirm your credit card information.”
It seems like a reasonable request but you feel uncomfortable as you are wary of credit card scams. Thinking you are being proactive, you decline and tell the person you will call the front desk yourself.
However the person who called does not hang up. You may get a recorded dial tone, making you believe you have a new connection but in actuality you are still on line with the phone scam individual.
How to avoid a telephone travel scam
Under no circumstances should you give your credit card information to an unknown caller. If a hotel is requesting the information, proceed to the front desk in person. If you feel compelled to solve a situation over the phone, use a different telephone to ensure you are not the victim of a phone scam.
Brand Name Clothes Scam
Walking along a sidewalk the man thrusts a purse toward me. “Gucci purse for good price.”
I smile and politely decline, moving on. Leather jackets, scarves and watches are high-end designer items offered for unreasonably low prices. The seller may say he obtained them from a store that closed out. Or was in town for a fashion show and can’t take them back to the cost at customs.
What to do when offered designer items on the street
The old saying of it’s too good to be true is suitable to this situation. Know that you could be buying stolen property. Most likely this is a fake brand name scam. Buy at your own risk.
Crowd Distraction Scams
Of the scams to avoid while on the road, this one can happen in a matter of seconds. A crowd of children, often begging for money and holding a piece of fabric or cardboard, surround you.
Being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and noise, you won’t notice your pockets being emptied by fast fingers.
Another situation may happen with adults who begin arguing with one another. As your attention is drawn to the loud confrontations circling you, a super-swift pick pocket relieves you of your valuables.
How to avoid crowd distraction travel scams
Always be alert to what is going on around you. If you see a crowd headed your way do not allow your self to be pulled into the center of it.
Keep your valuable safe at all times. Never carry your wallet in a back pocket or a fanny pack on your back. We use a money wallet and in more notorious destinations we will carry a fake wallet in a front pocket as our own distraction.
Never wear expensive jewelry and dress to blend in with the culture of the country.
Overcharging Taxi Scam
We will never know if we were victims of this taxi scam or not. Arriving after more than 24 hours of travel to Sydney, Australia, we stumble into a registered taxi. Waiting in the official airport taxi queue, the driver was welcoming and pleasant.
Watching the meter add up I realize our hotel is some distance away. Understandably this cab ride was going to relieve us of a substantial amount of Australian dollars straight away. At the end of the trip I calculated a tip suitable for a North American cab ride.
The taxi driver advised their would also be a 20 dollar additional fee.
We ended up paying over $80 AUD. Doing some research later it appears we may have paid almost double the cost. Our ride share cost back to the airport was under $30 AUD.
What to do to avoid the taxi scam of overcharging
If you must take a taxi, rather than public transport or ride-share, which will almost always be more economical, do some research ahead of time.
Prior to departure inquire at your accommodation what you can expect a taxi ride to cost. Are there any additional fees such as tolls or airport fees? Always be sure to use a registered taxi and discuss the cost prior to beginning your ride.
We would love to hear your experiences and tips for safe travel. Have you encountered any travel scams?
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