Posts Tagged ‘travel scams’

February 1, 2014 8:24 am

Protect Yourself: 10 Common Travel Scams

We hear about travel scams, thieves and con artists, but we usually brush the tales aside, convinced that it couldn’t possibly happen to us. Unfortunately it can happen to us, and chances are it will – but it doesn’t have to. You don’t have to be a victim, but awareness is key to protecting yourself.

To keep bad fortune at bay and enjoy your vacation, take a look at the top 10 most common travel scams and learn how to avoid them.

Avoid these common travel scams

Overpriced Taxis

The inflated taxi ride is so common when you travel abroad. Airport taxis often charge much more than the average taxi to take you to your destination. Taxis are also notorious for taking the scenic route, which costs more money. This common scam preys on your unfamiliarity with the location and the naivete of tourists.

The best way to avoid this common tourist trap is to check the rate and agree on a flat rate when you first get into the taxi and before you drive away. If you are familiar with the area and prepare directions ahead of time- even better!


You may have several family members who own a timeshare. Perhaps you’ve used them several times to save money on hotel costs. You also may have received unsolicited phone calls stating you’ve been selected to go on a cruise or vacation for free – the only requirement is attending a presentation.

Most legitimate timeshares – especially the free stays offered by friends and family – don’t require you to attend the sales pitch, but they will push it or make it seem as if it’s a requirement. Forget the offer of a free gift card or meal. Timeshares are notorious for their sales tactics. Ignore all unsolicited offers. While some are legitimate sales schemes, others may result in kidnapping or ransom.


The tale of the pickpocket may seem like an urban legend, but the threat is real. Think of the pickpocket as a well-trained magician. The thief, like a magician, is a professional and the trick or scam is well orchestrated.

To avoid this scam, create obstacles between yourself and the pickpocket. Put your purse in your lap while sitting to eat, or avoid carrying a traditional wallet or purse altogether.  Invest in one of the many travel passport and money carriers that slip around your neck and hides away under your clothes.


When a policeman tells us to do something, we usually listen and comply. Criminals know this and use this to their advantage. Imagine a local policeman stops you, finds a troubling but small problem and expresses concern. He offers to handle it for you if only you pay him a sum of money and you’re on your way. The cop may even ask for your wallet for inspection.

If this happens to you, insist that you accompany him to the station to clear everything up. If it’s a scam, any fine will suddenly be forgotten. Above all, don’t hand over your wallet. Instead, ask specifically what documentation he needs.

Closed Shop or Attraction

You want to go to a restaurant, attraction or shop, but are told it’s closed. Sometimes the messenger is your taxi driver, the staff at your hotel, or a helpful local. They tell you that particular establishment you’re interested in has gone out of business. But fortunately, the helpful local has another option for you – typically to a place they own or owned by someone they know.

Rental Car Damage

Many of us rent cars on vacation, whether it be for a quick excursion or for the duration of our trip. You’re offered insurance on-site, but you decline. You drive off after a quick inspection and return the car thinking all is well. The rental car agent notices damage and you’re left with the cost of repairs. The damage is usually located somewhere that you wouldn’t give a second glance before taking the car.

Pay close attention when renting your car. Look everywhere and note everything- inside and out. Also, consider talking to your insurance agent (or credit card company if you’re opting for insurance through them) before you rent a car to find out about your specific coverage rights.

Bar Scam

You’re on vacation when a local strikes up a conversation and suggests you go to a local bar. You follow along and all is well. The bar and its patrons look like any other. When it’s time to pay up and leave, you’re presented with a large bill. Not only were the drinks overpriced, but you’ve unwittingly bought drinks for everyone. If you refuse to pay, you’re threatened with the cops (who may be in on the scam), and so you pay up and leave.

Don’t go to unfamiliar places with strangers. If you do, confirm every drink price and do not start an open tab. If possible, order drinks directly from the bar and pay for each drink at the point of sale, with cash.

Order In

It’s been a long day of sightseeing, you’re hungry and you’ve decided to order in. After browsing the collection of flyers and menus left in your hotel room, you make a selection, call to place your order and pay over the phone. Time goes by and your food never arrives. The scammers have your money and you’re left hungry.

Don’t trust flyers left in your hotel room or slipped under your door. If you must order in, choose room service. Room service may be a little pricey, but you won’t go hungry.

It’s been a long day of sightseeing, you’re hungry and you’ve decided to order in. After browsing the collection of flyers and menus left in your hotel room, you make a selection, call to place your order and pay over the phone. Time goes by and your food never arrives. The scammers have your money and you’re left hungry.

Slow Count

The slow count scam is a simple one. It happens when a bank or shop worker counts your change back slowly, with longer than normal pauses or mess-ups in the count, hoping you will be naïve or impatient enough to stop the count and take your money as is, without double-checking the amount.

If this happens, don’t rush and be vigilant. Know the currency and count along. Offer to help if you want, but don’t assume the change is correct and that the problem is with the person counting it back to you.

Accidental Spill

You bump into someone or someone bumps into you, and a drink is spilled. As you help clean up or offer an apology, you let your guard down and an accomplice snatches your purse or luggage.  This scam is closely related to the pickpocket scam, except there is not one single performer. This scam usually involves at least two scammers – one to distract, and one to take your things.

When traveling or otherwise, be aware of your surroundings. Keep your possessions close by and on you (if possible) at all times.  Avoid using a purse or wallet and use a document carrier specifically designed for travel.

While many of these scams can be easily avoided, our pride sometimes gets in the way. We may think that it couldn’t happen to us because we’re too clever to fall for it. Know what to expect be prepared and outwit would be scammers. Knowledge is power.

Have you been scammed? Tell us your story!

Sara Herrara works for a consumer protection agency. Her job is to unearth scammers and fraudsters to help keep people safe.  When she isn’t conducting research, Sara is sharing her tips online.  For example, she recently wrote this blog post about how to get your money back from online scams.