There’s nothing more frustrating than getting scammed while traveling.
Even though quite literally everyone who has ever had their passport stamped has fallen victim to one rip-off or another, it’s still embarrassing. No one wants to think that they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes by an expert con artist, and that’s to say nothing of the money or time lost!
As wonderful as our big, beautiful world is, there are still those who will take advantage of travelers. Learning about some of the most ubiquitous scams on the planet will keep your travels on a high note and keep you from being fooled again.
The Many Faces Of Taxi Scams
Have you ever gotten into a taxi only to have the driver turn to you apologetically and claim that the meter is broken? Generally, they will offer to negotiate a price that might sound reasonable but is astronomically higher than the appropriate fare.
As bad as the meter scam is, it’s even worse when you get into a taxi without negotiating a price or making sure that the meter is running. Unscrupulous cabbies will charge you excessive amounts. Since violent encounters occasionally occur over small fares, it’s best to pay what the taxi driver is requesting and chalk it up to experience.
Of course, the oldest taxi scam in the book is running up the meter. Dishonest taxi drivers will take advantage of trust and naivety by taking their unaware fares on an impromptu tour of the city, often racking up huge fees in the process.
Protect yourself by always taking legitimate cabs with signage and proper credentials. If your driver complains that the meter is broken, get out of the taxi and find another one. Get maps.me to track your route. Maps.me works offline as long as you download the city maps ahead of time, and you’ll be able to spot any uncalled-for detours right away.
Fake Officials Looking For Bribes
Although rare, there are instances of travelers being asked for their passports or visa paperwork by official-looking people who will then demand a bribe in exchange for getting their documents back. It can be scary to be approached by someone who looks like law enforcement, but it’s essential to keep your wits about you.
Real officers will happily take you back to a police station where you can verify their identity and confirm yours. If a situation seems fishy, it probably is.
If you find yourself the target of an officer impersonator, always report them to the real authorities. There’s a good chance that you’ll be able to save another unsuspecting tourist from being scammed.
Closed Attraction/Gem Scams
This type of scam is very prevalent in Southeast Asia, although it can happen anywhere in the world.
Picture this scenario: You’re on your way to visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok when suddenly you’re stopped by a friendly local who informs you that the palace is closed for renovation. Determined to ensure that you make the most of your day, this amicable person tells you that they’ll take you on an exclusive tour of the city instead. This is where the trouble begins.
It is highly unlikely that the attraction is closed. Realistically, the helpful local is selling you an overpriced tuk-tuk ride to some illegitimate gemstone dealers, with the ultimate goal of strong arming you into buying a heap of blue glass that they’ll pitch as precious emeralds.
Avoid this common scam by checking the attraction’s website and politely, but firmly, declining any “special” local tours. If you do find yourself in an uncomfortable position, don’t be afraid to push back and invoke the tourist police if necessary. Scam artists like these are looking for soft targets, and causing a fuss will make you not worth their time.
Shady ATMs And Banks
Traveler’s checks used to be the preferred internationally recognized currency, but times have changed. These days, it’s better to use a reputable ATM.
Although you can’t always avoid international fees, you can take actionable steps to avoid being ripped off or scammed. The best way to keep your money safe is to do your due diligence ahead of time. Learn what valid and trusted banks operate in your destination and use their ATMs.
Always look for machines that are located in well-lit vestibules where you can lock the door and cover your PIN when making the transaction.
If the machine eats your card, go into the bank branch and explain what happened. Usually a bank employee will be able to retrieve your card right away.
If you are approached at the ATM, firmly explain that you need your privacy. If the person refuses to leave you alone, don’t complete your transaction. Simply walk away.
Counterfeit Or Incorrect Change Scams
It’s unlikely that you’ll get counterfeit bills out of a trusted national ATM, but if you’re not careful, you might find that you’ve gotten toy money as change and not even realized it.
Counterfeit and incorrect change scams rely heavily on the twin factors of trust and naivety. Many tourists find different currencies challenging to grasp, and since plenty of money looks the same, it’s an easy scam to pull off.
Download an app that works offline, like XE Currency Converter, to know the exchange rate in real-time. Examine any change you’re given, and don’t let a shopkeeper or taxi driver rush you out. Take your time. If a bill looks suspicious, give it back and ask for a different one. In countries where color-coded bills are popular, familiarize yourself with what color corresponds to which denomination.
Putting Jewelry On You Without Your Permission
This scam is simple: A person will tie a bracelet around your wrist or affix a pin to your jacket without your permission. The momentary violation of personal space will knock you off-kilter, and you’ll have no time to react before they demand payment.
Since nobody has the right to touch you without your permission, this scam is easy to head off. If possible, take a large step backward and say no forcefully and clearly. If the person doesn’t back off, reiterate your displeasure and put your hands in your pockets or cover your lapel area.
Damaged Motorbike Scams
Motorbikes are a fun and common way to zip around many parts of the world, but if you rent your bike from a crooked dealer, you might be paying far more than you bargained for.
At their core, motorbike scams are extortion. The dealer will claim that you caused a dent or scratch to the bike and refuse to give you your passport back until you pay up. The best way to avoid this scam is to give the dealer another form of ID, like your driver’s license. Never give up your passport, no matter what.
Take pictures of the bike before heading out to document any previous damage and be ready to show them if there’s a dispute. Get the authorities involved if needed. Generally, these scam artists will go after soft targets, so just by taking photos of the bike and not relinquishing your passport, you’ll show that you’re not worth the trouble.
Be A Hard Target
The best way to avoid getting ripped off overseas is to be a hard target. Register with the U.S. State Department in advance and know where your local embassy is.
Don’t keep all of your valuables or money in the same place. If you do get in trouble, file a local police report and cancel any lost or stolen credit or bank cards immediately. Make a copy of your passport and leave it with a trusted friend back home. You never know if you’ll need it.
There’s no way of preventing every scam, but knowing the most popular and prolific ones is a helpful way to avoid being victimized.
Should you get travel insurance? Ten things to know about it will definitely interest you. Also read up on lessons from the road and why it’s all about attitude.