To travel is to put ourselves in a vulnerable position in order to observe places and customs which are not ours. To venture into exotic terrain is also to find ourselves in a place where we become the target of several potential scammers. Here are the most common travel scams.
Top 10 Travel Scams to watch out for
10. Suitcases off the plane or bus
When travelling with lots of luggage, we often find ourselves in a vulnerable position. When we have to put our suitcase in a luggage compartment – on the bus or plane – we find ourselves away from our property, which can be dangerous.
Some bus drivers can leave the cargo door open for their “friends”, who come to take your valuables. (Seen in Vietnam.)
When exiting the bus, the driver takes all the luggage and stacks it near the vehicle; thieves rush on your bags and leave with them. (Seen in the Czech Republic.)
Security at the airport is not always the same from one city to another. Some small airports let people in between the baggage carousels and the arrivals lounge. If your luggage gets to the carousel before you, thieves could leave with it. (Seen in India.)
9. To have something put in your hand
Golden Rule when traveling: if someone insists on putting something in your hand, refuse, even if the person says it’s a gift. This is another one of the travel scams common around the world. Either they will ask you for money, or it is a distraction for a pickpocket behind you! (Seen in Italy, France, Spain, Jamaica.)
8. “Practice English”
Sometimes some people simply approach you to chat. They say they want to improve their English. They might be using this as bait to pull another common travel scam on you. Although some may be honest, others will tell you a sob story and then beg you to help them financially. (Seen in Mexico.)
Others will use this technique to coax you and make you fall into their trap and then pull another scam on you. This next one is part of them.
7. $100 Beer
Gentlemen, these travel scams are directly intended for you. You meet a young woman (or several!) In a bar or a cafe who really wants to know you. After a few minutes, you decide to buy her a drink – or worse, she orders one herself. The conversation takes a rather affectionate twist, and the minutes fly by. You get up to go to the bathroom. Upon your return, the young woman has left. On the table you find the bill, and it is your responsibility to pay it.
These travel scams are perhaps not so horrifying, except that some bars are colluding with these women and the bill may swell rapidly, even to cost $ 100 a beer! (Seen in the Czech Republic, Cuba, Mexico).
And an extreme version of this scam also exists: once you’ve returned to your table and found the bill, you inevitably show your displeasure to the waiting staff at having to pay such a stiff price for your drinks. Once you’ve attracted enough attention, a couple of large men show up and inform you that you need to pay for the time spent with the lady. And they will not let you leave until they’ve squeezed every penny out of you. (Seen in Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovakia.)
6. “It’s closed”
Here’s another classic scam. You arrive at a tourist attraction, a bar, a restaurant or your hotel, and a person with a friendly look informs you that the thing you’ve come to visit is closed today. This same person then offers to lead you somewhere else, saying it is a similar location to the one you chose.
This is the beginning of a downward spiral of possible travel scams. At best it could be a fake tourist guide, a fake taxi driver, a person paid to bring people in a hotel, a store or a specific restaurant; at worst, that person may attack you with a weapon, steal your things, and, in extreme cases, rape you. (Seen in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India)
5. Fake travel agencies
Fake travel agencies are also very common. One of the most famous schemes in the world of travel is in Vietnam, where the best-known tourist agency is named Sinh Tourist. Since this agency is so popular, all agencies, in earnest or not, now call themselves Sinh Tourist or claim to sell Sinh Tourist products, and even own buses clad in the colors of Sinh Tourist!
In the same vein, many scammers are fake tourist guides and even have fake accredited tour guide IDs. Stay alert! (Seen in Morocco, Mexico)
All heavy traffic areas are good for pickpockets. The metro is a favorite spot for these criminals because you’ll inevitably come into physical contact with other travellers, which helps pickpockets do their work subtly (seen in Barcelona). Escalators are also privileged. (Seen in Paris.)
Some pickpockets work in groups. For example, two young women approach you, looking like prostitutes in search of a John, pet you with one hand while they take the items out of your pockets (seen in the Czech Republic); when you notice something’s wrong, their partners have a vehicle waiting; the girls run, hop on the vehicle, and leave with your things. (Seen in Vietnam.)
There are dozens of scams. Another common example: you quietly walk the streets of a beautiful city and bird droppings – a white, staining liquid – falls on you. Immediately, someone comes to your rescue and tries to clean the stain – that he presumably caused himself. Meanwhile, two other small hands take what’s in your pockets. (Seen in Italy.)
A street entertainer is doing a magic trick that requires your full attention. Meanwhile, the magician’s friends search your pockets. (Seen in Mexico.)
You walk quietly in a small busy street. Then, before you, the flow of pedestrians is at a halt. You go along, try to make your way through, and you find yourself between four burly men who force people to pass between them one-by-one. When your turn comes, the first two men let you pass, the second row block your way, all the while the first two forcefully stick their hands in your pockets. (Seen in the Netherlands.)
In Indonesia, some travel scams include trained monkeys that steal what’s in your bag!
The police are probably the most dangerous scammers for any traveler. In some countries, corruption is so rampant that the police will use all possible threats to scare you and get a little baksheesh.
A policeman accuses you of some small mischief. He brandishes his gun, screams and shouts and tries everything in the book to intimidate you physically and verbally. After several minutes of this little play, one gestures with his hands asking for a bribe. (Seen in Mexico.)
You drive a rental car. A policeman, who seems to run a routine roadblock, beckons you to stop and says that your papers are not in order, even if they are. He steals the keys off of your vehicle and puts them in his pockets. He then says he must pay the fine immediately, cash money only. If you say you do not have any money, he will even escort you to the nearest ATM. (Seen in Costa Rica, Indonesia.)
You are caught without a ticket on a tram. You’re obviously not from the city, and the officer knows that he can’t mail you a fine. The policeman asks how much money you have on you. When you pull out your wallet to count, he rips it from your hands and goes away. (Seen in Austria)
This is one of the best-paying travel scams, and is not intended only for tourists.
You buy something, you pay with a large bill and the cashier gives you less change than required. You tell him he’s wrong, ask him to give you the correct change, and he refuses to rectify, accusing you of lying, gets angry and screams and makes a scene. (Seen in Slovakia.)
You’re a little drunk in a club and the waitress is trying to take advantage of this fact. The place is very busy, she is very busy behind the bar, the sound from the speakers is deafening. She gives you the drink you ordered, takes your money, takes off, never to return, and keeps the change. (Seen in the United States.)
You are in a market or a bazaar, or a medina, and you want to buy a lovely little item. The seller returns your change in counterfeit money. (Seen in Serbia.)
Taxi drivers are the most common scammers, the most brazen, most aggressive and harder to avoid, and that’s a true fact everywhere around the world. We’ve all had the experience of a taxi driver who decides to take a path that’s a little longer in order to get the counter to roll for a few extra kilometers. But some taxi drivers – or minitaxi or motorcycle taxi or tuk-tuk, or autorickshaw – will do anything to empty your pockets.
When you go to an airport or a train station, dozens of taxi drivers – legit drivers or illegal drivers – assail you, yell at you, make grimaces, clap their hands to get your attention, sometimes grip your arm to get you into their car. (Seen everywhere!)
You put your luggage in the trunk, sit, get to your destination, pay, get out, and the driver speeds off with your suitcases in the trunk without returning. (Seen in Venezuela)
When travelling in a remote location for a festival and official taxis are rare, local vehicle owners and drivers offer rides that cost up to 10 times the normal fare. (Seen in Thailand)
You ask a driver to take you somewhere not too far that you know well. He turns around and heads in the wrong direction, locks the doors, ignores your demands, pretends not to understand what you’re saying; you then try to get out of the taxi, and the driver refuses to let you leave without paying, even if you’ve further away from your destination than when you first hopped in the cab. (Seen in Vietnam)
You find a taxi, get in the car, state your destination; somewhere along the ride, a second person enters the taxi, the driver claiming that “this person is going to the same place as you”. Get out of the taxi immediately as this person might be there to help the driver mug you. (Seen in Mexico)
You enter a taxi, ask the driver to put on the meter; once at your destination, the driver presses a button on the meter and the total is immediately doubled. (Seen in Vietnam, India)
And these Top 10 Travel Scams to watch out for are just the tip of the iceberg…