Traveling on vacation is often loaded with thrills from new experiences, not dangerous situations. Yet, whether you’re blissfully exploring picturesque cobblestone streets or haggling over goods in dimly lit market stalls, embarking on a new vacation opens you up to getting duped by travel scammers worldwide.
Being a tourist means you’re most vulnerable to scams that are designed to leave you penniless. When you’re unfamiliar with the surrounding area and looking for help or information, while being unaware of social cues in a foreign place, it’s easy to be overly trusting of locals.
Common sense will keep you safe, but scammers are smart (and often desperate). More so, they know you can’t speak the language and are probably carrying large amounts of cash.
New ways to dupe tourists are constantly being dreamed up by the craftiest street scammers around the globe. To stay ahead of their games and make sure your next vacation (and wallet!) don’t experience any unwanted surprises, check out our list of this year’s travel scams that are quickly growing in popularity around the world.
Simply walking down the street, minding your own business? These travel scams often happen in broad daylight and are performed by scammers who depend on catching you off guard. To avoid scams on the street, never pay for a service or item that you didn’t ask for, and if someone makes a scene remember to immediately protect your pocketbook.
The Friendship Bracelet Scam
This scam is popular all over the world, from Berlin to Bali! You’re approached by someone with an armful of bracelets, often a small child. Before you can pull away, the person will start to tie a bracelet on your arm and demand payment. As you attempt to politely say no, an accomplice quickly rifles through your pockets.
Would You Like A Rose For Your Wife?
If you appear to be a couple, a man with flowers will approach and ask if you’d like to buy one for your girlfriend. Should you refuse his high price, he’ll make a scene, suggesting that you’re a horrible husband and try to embarrass you into buying one.
You Found A Ring!
Paris is notorious for this street scam. A scam artist will “find” a gold ring right in front of you on the sidewalk and ask if you’ve dropped it. When you say it wasn’t yours, the scammer will exclaim that it’s real gold (it isn’t!) and try to sell it to you at a ridiculous price.
Throwing The Baby With The Bathwater
Rome has the highest reports of this street scam, which is designed to completely take you off guard: a woman walking past will toss a baby into your arms. While you scramble to catch it, accomplices run up and rifle through your belongings, leaving you behind holding a doll and emptied pockets.
Want To Party?
Every traveler should know that buying illegal drugs off the street is risky. Still, young and clueless travelers try, and the police in Thailand have found a way to capitalize on their naiveté. When riding in a taxi or tuk-tuk, the driver may ask if you want to buy any party drugs. If you say yes, the driver — that turns out to be an undercover officer — will arrest you or possibly offer to forget the charges for an exorbitant fee. Remember, just say no!
Making New Friends
Another scam that’s practiced around the world, from the gypsies of Rome to scammers in New Delhi, a woman will offer you a sprig of some herb in a gesture of friendship. She will offer to read your fortune, but will then request to be paid. If you refuse, she’ll make a loud show of cursing you and your whole family.
Getting Ripped Off On The Road
Every traveler knows to be wary of taxi drivers rigging their meters or taking longer routes. But there are other ways to be taken for a ride when getting from point A to point B. Here are a few to watch out for.
The Overnight Bus
Common in Bangkok and certain areas in South America: Travelers are sold on the idea of a cheap overnight bus to a desirable and popular destination. It sounds doubly awesome because of the low price and opportunity to not waste any precious daylight tourist hours traveling.
While there are reputable companies that operate night-bus routes, the cheaper ones can turn out to cost a lot more than the price of your ticket. Thieves have been known to loot the luggage down below while passengers are sleeping soundly above, taking any unguarded valuables.
Additionally, in Vietnam, open-ended bus tickets are the best way to travel at your own pace between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and the Sinh Tourist line is widely considered the best. So widely considered, in fact, its many impostors call themselves Sinh Tourist, too. Because of Vietnam's lax intellectual property laws, it's difficult to know which Sinh is the real deal. Take the wrong carrier, and you'll get iffy service or, worse, an unexpected overnight stop at an overpriced hotel in cahoots with the bus line. The solution? Make sure you purchase tickets from a company’s office website to avoid any confusion.
The novelty of using foreign bills and coins isn’t lost on scammers who notice that tourists have difficulty recognizing what each denomination is worth. Taxi drivers, shopkeepers or waiters may “accidentally” drop your change, only to pick up and return less valuable money instead.
Scams In Shops Or Receiving Services
Whether you’re purchasing trinkets or paying for an experience, scammers know you’ve got pocket money and often look to separate you from it in the most creative ways.
If you notice a cashier who is fervently texting while taking your card for payment, beware. Sometimes retail clerks will snap a photo of your card so that it can be replicated later.
Romancing The Stone
It’s common in Thailand for a pushy tuk-tuk driver to insist on taking you to “a friend’s shop” where you’re promised a great deal. When you arrive, a friendly customer will tell you how he buys diamonds and gems from this local store and sells them for a much higher price at home. The goal is to entice you into buying essentially worthless gems, jewelry or even carpets, in the hopes that you’ll be able to recoup double or triple their value later on.
Official-looking policemen will approach you and explain that counterfeit money has been circulating in the area. They will ask to check your wallet, then tell you the cash you have is fake and must be confiscated, or simply pull out a few bills while you’re not looking! If you try to complain, they may ask to see your visa or passport. Some have even been known to demand a fee to resolve your issue.
Skipping The Line
If you find yourself waiting in a very long line for one of Europe’s famous attractions, you may be approached by someone offering to sell you a ticket, allowing you to bypass the wait. It’s tempting, but the tickets rarely work, leaving you out of line and cash.
This one is even used stateside and has been reported around Disneyland and Las Vegas. Scam artists will slip a fake takeaway menu under your hotel door, in the hopes that you’ll call in an order instead of leaving the comfort of your room. The food never comes, however. Instead, you’ll receive a frighteningly large bank statement as they’ve stolen your credit card details to make their own copy.
The Camel Trap
The pyramids around Cairo are one of the world's best photo ops, and some tourists up the ante by posing on the back of a camel. Often, there are trainers standing by to coax the eight-foot-tall, 1,500-pound animals to lie down passively in preparation for riding. Once you've paid your $15 and mounted the beast, some trainers will insist that you pay again before you can hop off, and hold you hostage on the hump until you do. The solution? Never hop on a random camel! Instead, look for a trainer who has already helped happy-looking tourists instead.
Before You Say “Bon Voyage”...
To your travel plans, remember that that scams can’t work if you know how to see them coming!
In my personal travel experience, I’ve found the best defense against potentially questionable situations is awareness. Many scam artists prey on your natural aversion to uncomfortable situations — after all, who can bear a loudly pleading child or cursing woman when it’s only a few dollars!
But opening up your wallet might simply make you a target for other scams, especially in popular tourist spots.
Instead, simply remember that it’s ok to say “No.” If someone continues to hassle you, don’t be afraid to step into the closest restaurant or hotel for assistance. Once you have your bearings, it’s much easier to identify who might (and might not) have the best intentions.
Trust your instincts, use a cool head and your common sense, and you’ll navigate even the most tourist-saturated spots with ease.
To fully prepare for your next trip, check out the US Department of State Travel Advisory Pages for important and up-to-date information that’s specific to destinations all around the globe.