HOW TO AVOID THE 10 MOST COMMON TRAVEL SCAMS

crossing5oceans.com | Published November 4th, 2021 | Last Updated November 4th, 2021

A compass with the needle pointing to the word "SCAM" at the top

When travelling is your favourite pastime, you want to think the best of it, dismissing the idea that dark or unfortunate things may happen. However, I have learned that I wouldn't make a street-savvy traveller if I closed my eyes to the reality that scams are present, common and on the rise.


Make sure you're prepared when you travel by reading through the most common scams that occur in countries around the globe.


Table of Contents


1. Taxi Scams

2. Pickpocketing or "The Bump and Grab"

3. You Have Something on You

4. Counterfeit Money

5. The Big Switch

6. Short - Changed

7. Begging with a Child

8. The Bracelet Scam

9. The Up-charge

10. The Ring Scam

1 - TAXI SCAMS

Several scams exist about Taxi drivers. Probably too numerous to mention all of them or keep up with them, for that matter.


I was in Poland, and after already visiting three cities, I was aware of the average taxi fares. So when I arrived in Gdansk and was told the meter was broken, I got in anyway not thinking it would be expensive for such a short ride. However, when we arrived at my hotel, the cab driver told me the fare was the equivalent of about $50 Canadian; it should have been closer to $5. When I politely refused to pay that much, he yelled at me and threatened to get the police involved. I gave him $5, got out of the cab and told him that I would be right back with the concierge from my hotel to clear it up. He drove away while yelling out the window. I knew I was being scammed and called his bluff about the police. Mentioning involvement of a local employee was the right thing to do.


How to Avoid Taxi Scams:
  1. Don't get into a cab that has a broken meter. If it's an absolute must, be sure to agree on a price before getting in.

  2. Make sure you know what the charges are (for example, Greece charges a tariff of "1" for daytime and "2" for nighttime - be sure that the driver does not change the meter early to charge you more).

  3. If you have GPS available on your phone, use it! Get an idea of the route so the driver is not "taking you for a ride," so to speak.

  4. If you're being overcharged, get someone else involved, such as a hotel or restaurant employee.



2 - PICKPOCKETING OR "THE BUMP AND GRAB"

I can't stress the importance of being self-aware when anywhere on the streets, especially in a major city. For this scam, a person will bump into an unsuspecting traveller or just use stealth and relieve you of your wallet, cash, or anything worth taking, really.


When I was in Amsterdam, I had my backpack on my back. Seems harmless, right? I walked about a half-hour in broad daylight with people everywhere, and when I arrived at my destination, the lady in the tour office made me aware that my bag was fully unzipped and my clothes were hanging out. Thankfully I had nothing of value inside. It was shocking that a person could have access to my belongings when so many people around could have seen them opening the zippers.

How to Avoid Pickpockets and Bump and Grab Scams:
  1. Wear a crossbody bag and keep the zipper in the front. When I'm walking in a bustling area or on crowded transportation known for pickpockets, I'll go so far as to hold my hand on the zipper to ensure control over my belongings.

  2. Don't wear a backpack on your back that has easy access zippers. Instead, either invest in a bag with hidden zippers or wear it on the front of your body.

  3. If someone bumps into you, instantly, you should be hyper-aware of your surroundings and your belongings.

3 - "YOU HAVE SOMETHING ON YOU"

The goal here is to make you remove items of value that are wrapped around your body (your camera, your crossbody bag, etc.).


In this scam, a person will come up to you and tell you that you have something on your clothing and are kind enough to offer a tissue to remove it. It is especially common for them to tell you it's on your back which means removing your expensive items then your coat to see what they are referring to. When you take your items off, they snatch the valuables out of your hands and run.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. If someone says, there's something on you. DON'T remove anything from your body until you are in a restaurant/restroom etc., or out of the way of crowded streets and no one is around you.



4 - COUNTERFEIT MONEY

This scam is common in taxis, restaurants, and bars. When you give your currency to the driver, waiter etc., they hand it back to you, saying it's counterfeit. It is in fact counterfeit; It's fake bills they had in their possession. With a quick slight of hand they pocket the legal tender you first handed them and give you back counterfeit money. You then accept their counterfeit bills and replace it with legal currency. They've received two payments and you are stuck with worthless bills.


How to Avoid This Scam:
  1. Make sure you are familiar with the currency in a country and know what to look for in counterfeit bills if possible.

  2. If you've read that an area is known for this type of scam, consider paying by credit card or debit only.



5 - THE BIG SWITCH

If you go to a market or souvenir shop, be sure what you paid for is put in the bag and not a knockoff. It's not uncommon for a shop owner or employee to let you try something of top quality but fill your bag with a less than desirable product.


This is common in markets and fresh food is one of the targets. For example, If you try some wonderfully fresh fruit and purchase it, you may arrive back at your hotel with a product that was next to rotten. Not a huge cost but if you start talking about jewellery, linens, carpets etc. The cash you may lose could be more substantial.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. Keep your eye on the prize, so to speak. Watch the storekeeper package the product you have chosen.

  2. Before leaving the store, open the bag to ensure that was in fact what you intended to purchase.

6 - SHORT CHANGED

This scam is another reason to know what the currency looks like in the country you're travelling to. And this doesn't just happen in taxis; this can occur in restaurants, at shops, anywhere an exchange of money occurs.


You pay for your items but need change back. When they hand it back to you, it's less than the amount you are owed.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. Be sure to know the currency and count the change before you walk away.


7 - BEGGING WITH A CHILD

This is difficult to say "no' to, and I must admit I still have a hard time with this one. However, after looking into this scam, I found out that if you give them money, it is often put into the hands of crime rings.


This scam often includes either a mother with a child or an injured or disabled person begging for money. Most often, these people are sent out onto the streets to appeal to the kind hearts of strangers. But, unfortunately, they are sent there by an illegal operation, and the money they receive goes into the pockets of that organization and not the person who needs it.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. Do not support these illegal operations. As hard as it is, it would be best if you walked away and are not perpetuating or condoning criminal behaviour.

  2. A great suggestion from "The Planet D" is to find a reputable charity in the city you are visiting and donating to that organization instead.



8 - THE BRACELET SCAM

Don't let anyone put anything on your body. Period. This scam happens when a local approaches you and tries to put a bracelet on your wrist, a crown on your head or get you to take something in your hand. Once it's on your body, they will expect to be paid for the item. When you refuse to do so, they will often make a scene that makes you uncomfortable until you fork over some cash.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. Be firm if you see someone approaching you and making a move to put something on you. Tell them "no" or "I'm not interested" and continue to walk or change directions if that's an option.

9 - THE UP-CHARGE

This will often occur in markets or souqs, and it reiterates the importance of knowing what items are worth before you attempt to buy.


I was in a souq in Dubai, and I was interested in lavender tea as a gift. When I saw the price, I converted it, and it worked out to about $10 Canadian, so I told him to scoop and bag it.


When I went to the counter, the clerk tried to charge me the equivalent of $300 Canadian! If I were not aware of the value of the dirham, I would have lost a great deal that day. I refused to purchase it which made them upset and luckily a local lady came to my defence and helped diffuse the situation. I left the store a little rattled but more knowledgeable for the other souqs I entered later in the trip.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. Make sure you know the value of the goods you are bartering for.

  2. Know the currency exchange before heading to a market or souq.

  3. If the product is loose and goes by weight, tell them what price you don't want to go over.

10 - THE RING SCAM

This scam is prevalent throughout areas of Europe and often happens around the city's most popular tourist destinations.


A ring will drop in front of you, and someone near you will pick it up, asking if it's yours. When you say "no," they may pretend to investigate it and show you a mark indicating that it's real gold; at that point they will try to sell it to you. I'm sure you can guess that it's fake and that you shouldn't purchase it.


How to Avoid this Scam:
  1. Insist that you don't want it and walk away. If they make a scene, let them. You have the right not to purchase anything you don't want to.


While this list is far from complete as countless other scams are popping up all the time, hopefully, learning about these ten common scams will help you become a more alert traveller. So fear not about exploring the world; just keep your wits about you while doing so!




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