Falling trap to a scam can turn a dream holiday into a complete nightmare. Here are 5 common tourist scams to watch out for this summer.
No matter where you go, travelling can be tricky. There’s often an entirely new language, a new culture, and tons of confusing directions. Even finding your hotel on the first night can be challenging, with unfamiliar modes of transportation and trying to handle a foreign currency while remembering the conversion rate. So it pays to keep your wits about you, and while you’re at it, be on the look out for classic tourist scams.
1. THE BROKEN TAXI METER
Too many cab drivers will prey on tourists with this common scam-especially near airports and train stations. Once you get in the cab and start to drive, the driver will tell you that the meter is broken. In turn, you’ll end up paying an exorbitant price nowhere near what the locals pay. This scam is common across Asia, but it can happen absolutely anywhere. When taking a cab in a place you’re unfamiliar with, your best option is to negotiate a set rate ahead of time or make sure the meter is in working order. If a driver refuses to turn on a meter or tries to tell you that fare is cheaper without the meter, simply find another driver. In many countries, Uber and other driving services have been gaining popularity over taxi services for reasons such as this.
2. THE OVERBOOKED HOTEL
This is another common scam that involves taxi drivers who work in cahoots with hotels. In this scenario, on the way to the hotel, the taxi driver will tell you that your hotel has been closed or is overbooked or just a bad hotel. They will then take you to another, more expensive hotel, where he will also get a nice, big commission.
This is a scam that is very easy to avoid as long as you’re aware of it. Call your hotel ahead of time to make sure they are still open. In some cases, a hotel will even offer a free shuttle service from the airport or transport station. Simply tell you cab driver that you would still like to go to your original destination–even saying you have reservations already may help. If the driver becomes too insistent, it may be easier to simply find another driver.
3. THE COMMON PICKPOCKET
Pickpocketing, especially in areas with high concentrations of tourists, is very common. You may get jostled in the crowd you’re in, and someone is in turn taking the wallet out of your back pocket. Or, someone may drop something in front of you. When you bend down to pick the item up, you will be unaware that your cell phone is being taken. Maybe someone will throw something into your arms, and when you’re too distracted boldly empty your pockets and run off.
If you look like you are a tourist in a popular destination, you may be a target for pickpocketing. However, you can take a few steps to make sure it doesn’t ruin your vacation. Keep your money in a safe place. Some suggest a travel money belt, which can be handy when you don’t want to worry about a purse or wallet in a crowded area. Also be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets can range from beggars to small children. As long as you remain observant, your chances of being scammed are low.
4. THE FAKE POLICE OFFICER
This is a scam that is more popular in larger cities with known tourist areas. In this scenario, a person will approach a tourist and offer to sell them some illegal items, such as drugs. While the man is talking to the tourist, two other men who appear to be police officers will approach and possibly flash badges. They will insist the unknowing tourist hand over their wallet and passport. These are not police officers and your wallet and passport will be stolen. In another scenario, a “police officer(s)” charges you a fine on the spot for a crime you didn’t commit and demands you pay right away.
Never hand over any of your valuables – cell phone, wallet, passport, etc. – unless absolutely necessary. In some cases, hostels or hotels may have legitimate reasons to hold a passport. In this case, you would want to ask the police officers to show identification that you can see. If necessary, you can even call the emergency police number to ask if the men are officers. You can also lie and tell the men your passport is not on you. In this case, they may say they’ll accompany you back to your hotel–simply walk away and call police if necessary.
5. THE CONCERNED LOCAL
In this scam, ‘friendly’ locals will act concerned and warn you to store your bag in a safe spot. After they see where you stash it, however, they’ll steal it. Another type of concerned local scam is when you attempt to use an ATM, someone will approach and tell you they can help you avoid the local bank fees. In reality, they have a card skimmer in their pocket that when close enough to your credit card can scan your card and steal important information about your account. The local will stick around just long enough to watch you enter your pin number so they can clean out your account later.
This is another scam that, when you know about it, is very easy to avoid. Using ATMs in foreign countries should not be a scary endeavour – make sure no one is nearby when you’re completing your transaction, at least not near enough to pickpocket you or read over your shoulder. It’s also good practice to cover the number pad when you’re entering your pin number. If someone approaches to help, tell them you’re fine on your own. If they refuse to go away, simply take your card and walk away. There are plenty of ATMs in well-lit areas – some even with privacy rooms – that are typically safe to use. If you are still concerned about credit card information being stolen, there are plenty of great credit card protectors available that block RFID scanners.
If you spend too much time worrying about everything that could go wrong, you’ll miss all the great stuff right in front of you. As long as you practice common sense and stay aware of your surroundings, you’ll be on your way to skipping the scammers and having the time of your life. Knowledge is power after all.
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” –Virginia Woolf