Traveling to new places is definitely fun—regardless of your reasons for traveling—especially if you get to meet and befriend wonderful locals and fellow tourists. But sometimes, as a tourist, you’re an easy target for scammers. We want to make sure you know the top travel scams to avoid on your next trip.
Getting scammed isn’t something travel insurance can protect you from, and that’s why it pays to always be aware of your surroundings and be prepared for the worst. If you’re paying attention and are aware of these scams, it will be way less likely for you to become one of the scammed.
The first step to protecting yourself is to know the most common travel scams and how to avoid them. Below we’ve listed out the common travel scams that we know about and have seen in action while traveling. Familiarize yourself with these scams so you know what to look for.
»» You might also want to read our guide: 50 Things to Know Before Traveling Overseas
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Common Travel Scams to Be on the Lookout For
Scam #1: Getaway Taxi Driver
How the scam works: When you arrive at the hotel, the taxi driver is in a rush to take your luggage out of his car simply because he wants you to leave your hand-carry bags inside the car. As soon as he’s done, he’ll drive away fast with your bags full of gadgets still in his car.
How to avoid it: Never leave any of your valuables inside the cab, as you’re getting out of the car. When traveling, keep your hand-carry bags close to your body and keep your gadgets protected at all times.
Scam #2: Taxi Ripoff
How the scam works: When travelers are in a country where they don’t speak the language, they often accept taxi rides without asking how much the ride will cost. The taxi driver will then “forget” to turn on the meter (if there is one) and the ride will cost you way more than it would cost a local or someone who asked for the fare amount before hand.
How to avoid it: Always ask for the fare amount before you get into a taxi or accept a ride. If the driver doesn’t understand what you’re asking, see if someone around you can ask for you. If not, try another taxi. We prefer to use services like Uber, Lyft, and Gett to avoid this scam. With those services, you will be told in advance how much the ride will cost.
Scam #3: Fake Tickets
How the scam works: When you’re queuing for tickets, a person will try to convince you to buy a ticket from him instead of waiting in line for hours. Thinking that it will save you time and effort, you’ll eventually fall for his trick. When you give your ticket to the staff of the attraction, you find out that it’s fake.
How to avoid it: Never buy tickets from scalpers! You may have to fall in line for a long time, but at least, you’re sure that the ticket you’re going to pay for isn’t fake. This can also happen when buying tickets from a third-party online. It’s always best to purchase tickets from the actual vendor.
Scam #4: Dropped Wallet
How the scam works: As you stroll around, you’ll notice a dropped wallet somewhere. Of course, your first instinct is to check if your wallet is still in your pocket or bag. What you don’t know is, there are people spying on you, trying to figure out where your wallet is located, so they know where and how to pick your pocket.
How to avoid it: If you saw a wallet dropped by someone, get it and hand it back to him. But if you’re not sure who the owner of the wallet is, don’t assume right away that it’s yours. Look for people around the place looking for their wallet. If you see no one claiming the wallet, pick it up and hand it over to an officer.
Scam #5: Street Photographers
How the scam works: A street photographer or just a passerby will try to convince you to let him take your photo. At first, you may think that it’s for free, but after a few shots, he will ask for a high fee in exchange for his service. He won’t stop bothering you until you give what he’s asking for. In another variation, the street photographer will take off with your camera after taking your photo.
How to avoid it: Learn ways to take beautiful travel photos by yourself and just bring a tripod to avoid asking other people to take your photo. Never entrust your valuables to people who are just acting nice just to earn your trust.
Scam #6: Fake Police Officers
How it works: People pretending to be police officers will warn you about fake money. They’ll ask you to hand your wallet to them for checking. By the time they return it to you, they have already stolen some of your money. Sometimes, they would even ask for your passport, telling you that you’ve made a violation and try to extort a big amount of money.
How to avoid it: Whenever so-called officers approach you for something you don’t know or didn’t do, always ask for their identification card and look at their badge. If they invite you for a small chat somewhere regarding your violation, politely suggest that you talk in the police station instead.
Scam #7: The Attraction is Closed
How it works: As you approach major tourist attractions in busy cities, people in official-looking dress will attempt to tell you the attraction is closed today, then offer to sell you tickets for tomorrow instead. Of course, the tickets they sell you are fake.
How to avoid it: Ignore anyone who calls out to you on the street before or as you approach the attraction. The only way to be sure if the sight is closed is to check for yourself. See Scam #3. Never buy tickets from an unknown person on the street.
Scam #8: Distractions
How it works: This is one of the most common scams being performed on the street in busy cities. Someone will cause a distractions – bump into you on the left, while someone else takes your phone, wallet, or something from your purse, on the left.
How to avoid it: Be aware that any kind of distraction could lead to pick pocketing. If someone bumps into you, or you feel a tap on your shoulder, or someone asks you a question, all of these situations could lead to possible pick pocketing, and you likely won’t feel it happening. You can avoid it by securing your things. Don’t put your phone in a pocket where it’s easy to take. Always zip your purse. Wear your wallet in the front pocket. When someone distracts you, get in the habit of clenching your things.
Scam #9: The Gift
How it works: I’ve seen this in many different cities, usually around major tourist attractions where there are a lot of people gathered outside. Someone will approach you with a gift – a bracelet, a flower, a CD – and when you take it, they’ll demand money for it. If you don’t pay them, they’ll make a scene until you do. People are often too nice to turn away the gift and then they’re too flustered to just give it back.
How to avoid it: Don’t take things from anyone on the street. No matter how nice that person looks, or how much they say it’s just a free gift. Just say no and walk away. Don’t let someone force you to take it.
Scam #10: Too Good to Be True Offers
How it works: Someone approaches you while waiting in line for an attraction and offers you a deal that’s a little too good to be true. This type of thing happens all the time and the offer is always different. Either they say they are a tour guide and can get you into the attraction by skipping the line, or they offer you tickets to a 2 for 1 dinner, or to sell you jewelry or high priced items for a low price.
How to avoid it: We all want a good deal on things we’re planning to do or buy, but it’s not a good idea to buy things from anyone on the street, or a even a vendor who is not directly associated with the attraction. Don’t accept any offers on the street.
Final Thoughts on Travel Scams
In all our travels, we have come across every single one of these common travel scams. They are all around you. You shouldn’t let that scare you. They’re easy to avoid, as you can see above.
When you’re visiting a foreign place, everything may be unknown and new to you, but don’t let it spoil your trip. The key to a great travel experience is to enjoy and of course, keep yourself safe by being aware of the potential scams that await you and how to avoid them.