We don’t want to overstate the dangers you may face when traveling. In general, people have an over-inflated sense of risk, and we wouldn’t want to stoke fears that might keep folks from seeing more of the world. After all, if we only did things that were 100% safe, we would never go anywhere.
That being said, it’s always a good idea to take reasonable precautions, and a word to the wise can go a long way.
So here are 8 scams you may encounter while traveling, as explained by expert travelers and bloggers.
1. The Italian Luggage Scam
When someone at a train station offers to help with your luggage, it’s tempting to take them up on their offer. Are we really supposed to be so cynical that we rebuff offers of assistance from good Samaritans?
In Italy, the answer is, alas, yes. Men offering to carry bags at Italian train stations have been known to strong-arm money out of tourists who naively accept their ‘assistance.’
“When we were in the train station in Italy there are people who offer to help you find your train or carry your luggage,” says Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski of Baby Boomster. “They asked to be paid and tried to intimidate us when we didn’t want to pay the huge amount they demanded. It’s best to avoid them.”
You should be wary of anyone approaching you in an Italian train station, but especially in Florence it seems.
2. Cambodian Border Crossing Scam
In Southeast Asia, border crossings are prime real estate for swindlers and mountebanks of every persuasion. You should most definitely be on your guard. Rosalind and Alan Cuthbertson of Frequent Traveller filled us in on one bus company scam in particular.
“The bus companies run a scam to charge you more than double the set visa fee,” they say. “Just before the border, they will take you to a room with what looks to be an official border office and request that you hand over your passport and money for the visa. This is a scam. It is quite easy to just walk across the border and obtain a visa on your own at half the price.”
In general, you should never pay money for an on-arrival visa until you, well, arrive in the country you’re visiting. If you have any doubt about the process, do your research about how and where to apply for a visa in advance — and how much it’s supposed to cost.
3. ATM OMG
“In Johannesburg, South Africa, locals tried to scam me by pretending they didn’t know how to use the ATM machine and asking me to help them,” says Barbara Weibel of the travel blog Hole in the Donut. “By that time I was much more savvy and I knew they were either trying to swap my card or get my pin number. I tried reporting them to airport police, but they had no interest in following up, leading me to believe they were in on the scam and profiting from it.”
In general, you should be super suspicious of anyone who wants anything to do with you around an ATM machine. These days, pin stealing has become so sophisticated that it’s probably best not to use ATMs in many countries if you can help it.
4. The Taxi Driver
Many travelers report being exploited by taxi drivers, who seem to be able to spot a potentially vulnerable tourist from a mile down the road. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself paying more than you expected.
“Many meters are rigged so it’s best to negotiate a flat fee,” says Dan Fellner of Global-Travel-Info.com. “If they say the fare will be based on the meter, I don’t get in the cab. Whenever possible, I take mass transit or Uber.”
Mass transit in particular — where it’s available and efficient — is cheaper and more environmentally conscious in any event.
5. Cleaning Service
Many travel experts tell us that we should be wary any time someone tries to make physical in a public place. Even if it seems like the person just accidentally bumped into you, that can give some pickpockets enough of a window to put a hand in your bag. It truly is astonishing how skilled some crooks are.
Some are less finessed, as Barbara Weibel tells us. In this case, a woman tried to use ‘doing a favor’ as a means of perpetrating a theft.
“In Quito, Ecuador, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and told me a bird had ‘pooped on me,'” Barbara says. “She pulled baby wipes out of her purse and started to clean off my blouse. When she couldn’t get it all off, she suggested I take off my backpack and hand it to her so she could get at the rest of the stain.
“I knew what was going on from the beginning, but had been playing along just to see how the scam worked.”
Some scammers are also known to accidentally spill coffee on their targets, or spray them with liquid and then offer to clean it off. Don’t fall for this one.
6. The Palace Is Closed Today
A common scam in Bangkok, Thailand (though it has been duplicated elsewhere) involves a fake official giving tourists fake information about one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Jan Robinson of Budget Travel Talk explains.
“Gosh, we fell for the well known Bangkok scam outside the palace where a lovely nicely dressed man approaches to say it is not open because of some religious festival that morning, but offers to negotiate a sweet (cheap) deal with a tuk-tuk driver to take us to another temple and bring us back when the palace is open. Then they divert to their gold shop where pressure is applied to buy. We then had a similar thing happen to us in Marrakech but didn’t fall for it twice.”
Many people have reported falling for some version of this scam. Don’t let anyone negotiate your transport and outings for you unless it’s the concierge at your hotel or an accredited tour guide.
7. Unregistered Taxis
As we’ve noted, there are an excess of skeevy taxi drivers all over the world. But Mark Berman of South American Postcard shared a particularly chilling story with us about a taxi ride gone wrong.
“Once in Lima, Peru, I took an unregistered taxi late at night,” Mark says. “Another man got in the front with the driver, and my backpack was in the boot. For 90 minutes, I was driven around Lima and marched out to ATM machines and was robbed to the tune of $400USD. Not a good buzz!”
Once again, with respect to the many honest taxi drivers out there, it’s probably best to take Uber, Lyft, or public transit.
8. You Only Pay Twice
Denis and Lynn Gagnon, who run the blog BonVoyageurs.com, remind us that hotels are not above scamming guests either. Pay close attention to what you’re authorizing your hosts to charge you for.
“The travel scam I come across most often, and a scam which I was a victim of many years ago in Morocco, is the one perpetrated by some hotels who use the card authorization system to charge your credit card upon your arrival at the hotel and again upon check out. I advise travelers to refuse to sign any card authorization slip upon arrival at a hotel, or if they do, to make sure the amount is not above the minimum cost of the stay and also to make sure to refuse to sign a second charge slip upon check out.”
We hope you found it useful to learn a trick or two from these expert travelers. Beats the heck out of learning the hard way!