There are so many amazing things when it comes to traveling, but unfortunately, there can be bad things that can happen too. There are a lot of scams that happen without you even knowing. Sometimes when you realize it’s happening, it’s too late.
I don’t say these things to scare you, but I bring it up to raise awareness so you can look out for these scams and know how to avoid them. When you are aware of the most common travel scams and become alert, careful, and wise, you can easily avoid being scammed and placed in these difficult and unfortunate situations.
Reminder: not every situation is a scam and not every single person is bad. A great thing about traveling is meeting so many nice and helpful people. You get to open your world to so many amazing people and experiences. Although there are many situations and many people who are nice, there are still scams out there and it’s essential to become aware of them.
Here are 15 scams to look out for while traveling and how to avoid each one. There are many other scams that are not listed, but here are the most common scams to become aware of and avoid:
1. Hotel is closed
This is a scam that is important to pay attention to and make sure it doesn’t happen to you. Unfortunately, a lot of people fall for this scam. In this situation, a taxi driver will insist that your accommodation is closed or is fully booked. They will then tell you about another hotel that is great and has openings and will take you there instead. You will end up having to pay for an expensive hotel stay and end up having to pay for your original and new accommodation.
To avoid this scam: talk to your accommodation beforehand. Confirm your reservation. You can even coordinate transportation through your accommodation. Especially if you’re traveling solo, it’s smart to arrange transportation through your accommodation. This ensures your taxi and transportation are legitimate. If you can’t arrange transportation ahead of time, tell the taxi driver to still take you to your accommodation no matter what.
2. Wrong amount
When you’re traveling to other countries, it can be hard to know how much each bill is. They all look similar and sometimes the numbers can be confusing. When you are buying something, they will sometimes give you back the incorrect change.
Similarly, when you are paying, they might say you gave a 20 instead of a 200 bill *or any amount*. Even if you’re positive you gave a 200 bill, they might argue with you and say you gave a 20. If you’re not paying attention, you might confuse yourself and won’t be confident in the amount you gave.
To avoid this scam: pay attention to your money. Count the money in front of them and make sure they know you are giving the correct amount. When they give you the change, count the amount before you take off. Make sure you have the correct change before leaving.
3. Meter isn’t working
This one is a very common scam that a lot of taxi drivers do. They will say the meter isn’t working and will not use it. Majority of the time, the rate they give you will always be more expensive than if you had the meter on.
When my friends and I were in Thailand, we had to take 2 taxis. One car would always ask for the meter and the other car didn’t. Every single time, our amounts were significantly different. You always want to ask for the meter.
To avoid this scam: ask for the meter. They will try and say it’s broken or they will refuse to. Insist on it. Eventually, they will turn it on and if they don’t, get out of the car and find a new taxi. You can also ask your accommodation how much it costs to get where you’re going so you have an idea of how much it’ll cost.
4. Add more activities to your tour
When you hire a driver to take you to places or go on a tour, the driver might add more stops and activities for you to do. This might seem like a generous and kind thing they’re doing for you, but they’re actually going to charge you more for it later.
To avoid this scam: agree to the places that you are wanting to go to ahead of time and agree to an amount. If they take you somewhere you didn’t agree to, tell them no. Be very adamant about it if you don’t want to go.
5. Fast grab on the street
When you’re walking around, it’s common to have your phone out. If you’re trying to find how to get somewhere, it’s even more common to have your phone out while looking at the directions. If you’re not careful with your phone, someone can drive by on a scooter and take your phone out of your hand in a blink of an eye. A few friends I met while traveling got their phones stolen this way.
To avoid this scam: put away your phone! Do not walk around with your phone in your hand. If you’re standing on the street or on a corner, have your phone in your bag. Don’t become an easy target where people can easily take your phone from you.
6. Distract and steal
This scam is one of the most common ways people scam tourists – distracting and stealing from them. They can do this in a variety of different ways: street performers, commotion, showing you souvenirs, shoving maps or a sign in front of you, and any sort of distraction to get you to not pay attention to your belongings.
You might be thinking “well, duh, I know not to fall for those”, but a lot of the time, they do it so sneaky and so fast that you don’t even realize it’s happening.
This happened to me when I was in Spain. I was sitting at a cafe and someone came up to me and shoved a sign in front of our table. My sister quickly realized what was happening and grabbed my phone and belongings before they could.
To avoid this scam: always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your belongings close to you, zipped away in an anti-theft purse. You can also tell them no, refuse and walk away. Be very careful of anything that you think would try to distract you from your belongings.
7. Be careful of damages
Renting a motorbike, scooter, or car is a great way to explore the city you’re traveling in. When you’re done renting it and it’s time to return it, sometimes the owner/scammer will point out damages that you most likely didn’t do. They will demand you to pay for the damages.
To avoid this scam: whenever you are renting something, always take pictures of what it looks like. Take note and document any damages or anything wrong with what you’re renting. To be extra careful, you can even bring it up to the owner and show them the damages so they are aware of it.
8. Free help or gifts.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as free gifts on the streets. This scam can happen anywhere. I’ve seen it happen in America and I’ve seen it happen abroad. Someone will come up to you and give you something for free as a generous offering. Free bracelet, free gift, free book, free anything. Do not accept the free gift. They will try to get money out of you for accepting it.
Same with free help. In a lot of tram/train stations, sometimes someone will be standing there helping you get a ticket. Sometimes it can be confusing to get around and figure out a foreign transportation system. That help can really come in handy, but be prepared to pay them for their service. If you do not want to pay them, refuse their help and do it on your own.
To avoid this scam: say no to free gifts and free help.
9. The better ATM
Similar to the above, #8 free help or gifts, the better ATM scam is when someone tells you there’s a better ATM you should use instead. If there’s a long line for the ATM, they might try to bring you to a different ATM. Or they might try to tell you the ATM is out of money or another ATM has better rates/no ATM fee. When you follow them to the other ATM, it will look like a legitimate ATM. However, they will usually add a card skimmer that steals your bank information.
To avoid this scam: never follow someone to another ATM. As stated above, be careful with “free help”. Look at the card skimmer and make sure it’s attached to the ATM machine. You should also always use ATMs that are attached to a local bank and not directly accessed from the street.
10. Public spaces
This is a very common way to get your things stolen. Similar to #6 distract and steal, any public space is a great way for people to distract and steal your things. When I was in Barcelona, this happened to the person I was with. We were on the tram and she all of the sudden noticed her wallet was not in her purse anymore. She saw a group of women about to exit the tram and she grabbed them and made sure they didn’t leave until they gave back her wallet. It was very chaotic and a scary situation to be in.
When I was in Rome, this also happened to my dad. We were on the tram and my dad felt someone’s hand go inside his pocket. Thankfully all he had was Advil in there, but that could have easily been his wallet, phone, or belongings.
To avoid this scam: use anti-theft purses so you can lock your belongings inside your purse, making it harder for someone to steal. Be careful of your surroundings. They do not even have to be talking to you, looking at you, or trying to distract you. They can easily get into your bags/pockets and steal from you when you’re not paying attention. Don’t have anything in your pockets or bags that they can easily take.
11. Free Wi-Fi
When you want to best use your phone abroad, there’s a lot of opportunities to connect to Wi-Fi. Free public Wi-Fi is great! Some cities even offer free city public Wi-Fi too. But be careful about what network you decide to connect to. People can create free Wi-Fi networks that you can connect to and hack your information.
To avoid this scam: be careful of what public Wi-Fi you connect to. Try to connect to only Wi-Fi networks that require passwords. If you need to connect to non-secured public Wi-Fi, make sure it’s an official one. For example, if the city offers free Wi-Fi, make sure it’s the official network that the city offers. Even if it’s public or private Wi-Fi, you should always use a VPN to protect your information.
12. Fake police officers
Sometimes people will dress up as police officers/cops and target tourists to scam. In this situation, they will try to target a tourist for doing something illegal and try and ticket them. They might require you to pay upfront and might even try to take your passport.
To avoid this scam: obviously don’t do anything illegal in the first place where you would need to interact with the police. But if this situation does come up, be very careful of who you trust. Ask for official badges or verification. See if a local nearby can help you verify that it’s legitimate.
13. Discounted tickets
People will try and sell you discounted tickets to whatever you’re looking for. It can be discounted tickets for the train, tram, bus, attractions, tours, etc. They will claim it’s a discounted ticket which is cheaper than the original price, but sometimes it will be a fake or expired ticket.
I’ve bought many discounted tickets before and was totally fine, but some of my friends have accidentally bought fake tickets. It’s a gamble and if you’re not willing to see what happens, don’t buy discounted tickets.
To avoid this scam: only buy from official ticket booths or websites. They might offer discounted tickets, which is fine to do, as long as it’s from the official company.
14. The attraction location is closed
Your taxi driver or tour guide might tell you that the attraction you’re wanting to go to is closed. They might say it’s closed because of a holiday, ceremony, lunch, or for any other reason. Similarly, they might tell you it’s really busy at that attraction and they will bring you somewhere else to wait. After they tell you it’s closed or too busy, they will bring you somewhere else where you have to pay an expensive entrance fee and/or buy something there.
To avoid this scam: research ahead of time if the attractions you’re wanting to visit are open and if they close during lunch. Be very adamant that you still want to go to that attraction. If they try to bring you somewhere else, bring up a new location you want to go to or be adamant that you do not want to go to where they’re taking you.
15. Local scams
There can be local scams that are more prevalent in the location you’re traveling to. Some that are unheard of in other places and some that are unique to where you’re traveling to. If you want to be extra careful, research if there are any local scams to look out for in the location you’re traveling to.
To avoid this scam: Google “scams to look out for in (location)”. This will ensure you are fully up to date on any scams that you should look out for. If you want to be extra careful, this is a great precaution you can do.
Traveling has many great benefits and with anything in life, when there’s good, there’s also bad. Travel scams can happen, but if you are aware, careful, and alert, you can avoid them. With these tips, you should now know the most common travel scams and how to avoid them.
I also want to mention, contrary to what I just said, sometimes there are just really nice people who want to help. I think it’s smart to always be alert and be careful, but also allow beautiful situations to occur. Some of my favorite travel experiences came from trusting a local who just wanted to help or I saved a lot of money from discounted tickets. It’s always best to use your own judgment and trust your gut instincts. I don’t want you to miss great opportunities because you’re being “too careful”. But you should always still be alert, careful, and follow these travel tips to avoid being scammed while using your best judgment.
Lastly, if you do accidentally fall for any scam, don’t be hard on yourself. Yes, it will extremely suck, but you live and learn. It can be frustrating, but at least you now know for future trips and can warn others not to fall for it too. I want to also remind you that these scammers are really smart and if you fall for it, it does not reflect anything on you. It happens to the best of us.
What are other travel scams to look out for or that have happened to you? Comment below! I would love to hear your stories and for others to be able to become aware of them too.
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