By Autumn Rose, Contributor
When traveling abroad, it's not uncommon to get caught in a scammer's game — even if you consider yourself to be a relatively savvy traveler. However, knowing the usual traps scammers set for tourists at your destination can help you prepare and be on guard. Before embarking on your summer vacation abroad, become familiar with these 20 tourist scams common in popular destinations.
1. The Newspaper Trick
The newspaper trick is especially common in Rome, according to Travel+Leisure. Here’s how it happens: You’re walking down the street and a group of children surrounds you. They seem innocent enough, until they begin waving newspapers at you. You become distracted, and the children grab your purse or bag or pickpocket your wallet.
If you should ever find yourself in this type of situation, move away quickly and lightly brush the children aside if needed. If the situation is too much to handle, don’t be afraid to call for help.
2. Sorry for the Stain, Sir
Also known as “the hot dog trick,” this travel scam can occur in airports while you are stressed out and often distracted. Someone will walk by and accidentally squirt mustard on you, or spill something else, causing a stain, according to Travel+Leisure. They will then awkwardly try to help clean up the stain while an accomplice grabs your luggage or wallet and walks off with it, according to International Business Times.
To avoid falling prey to this scam, keeping your luggage safely between your feet while sitting or standing, suggested Travel+Leisure. If you’re traveling with others, place your luggage in the middle of your group rather than beside or behind you. As for your wallet, keep it in your front pocket rather than back pocket, and keep valuables out of backpack pockets, International Business Times suggested.
3. The Falling Lady
Also known as “the tumbling woman,” the falling lady scam is common in London, but can happen anywhere in the world, reported Travel+Leisure. This is another type of distraction scam. A woman, typically an elderly woman, will make a huge commotion by falling down. Accomplices will then quickly move throughout the crowd, pickpocketing and grabbing purses.
It’s important to remain as attentive and cautious as possible to avoid scams like this. If you see any suspicious activity and suspect a tumbling woman scam, step aside and keep an eye on your valuables.
4. Jet Ski Damage
The jet ski damage travel scam can happen at any tourist destination located on or near a body of water. But according to travel safety expert Phil Sylvester of travel insurance provider WorldNomads.com, it’s a huge problem in Phuket, Thailand.
“You rent a jet ski from the beach, when you return it’s claimed you’ve damaged it and you’re up for a hefty repair bill," he explained. "If you refuse to pay, some of the rental bloke’s large friends come to 'convince' you to pay and may even frog-march you off to the nearest ATM."
To avoid falling into this trap, be sure to thoroughly research your jet ski rental company ahead of time. "Some people have tried to beat this scam by photographing the jet ski before they head out onto the water," added Sylvester. "But the crooks have started hiding damage with water-based paint, which washes off."
5. The Free Bracelet
The free bracelet scheme can be found in various tourist destinations, including European cities like Paris, according to the Huffington Post. The scam starts with a friendly local who approaches you, a tourist, and wraps some sort of string bracelet around your wrist. The scammer will then begin weaving a bracelet and won’t let you go until it’s done, at which point they’ll demand payment. Such maneuvers also serve as a distraction for theft, according to travel website RickSteves.com.
To avoid this scam, smile and walk with your hands in your pockets. Or, if the scammer is aggressive, be prepared to be assertive and pull your hands away.
6. Fake Art Shows
Be wary of young art students who approach you on the street and invite you to a school gallery. Often, when you get to the supposed gallery, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a high-pressure sales pitch for overpriced art, according to Travel+Leisure. A variation on the scheme: The students might push you to pay fees to view the art, or to pay for expensive drinks, according to travel blog China-Mike.com.
This tourist scam is particularly popular in China, so politely decline anyone who invites you to an art show while traveling in Beijing or Shanghai.
7. The Milk Scam
The milk scam, popular in Cambodia, is one of the cleverer scams travel blogger Ferdinand Göetzen of WirelessVagabond.com has experienced.
“Underprivileged children come up to you and ask you if you could buy them some milk in the supermarket because they are poor and hungry," he said. "The fact that they ask for milk instead of money convinced a lot of travelers to agree. Once you buy the milk and leave, the child will run into the store and exchange the milk back for the money you paid for it. The store owners are in on the scam and usually get a cut.”
To protect yourself from this scam and similar tourist scams, politely refuse to buy anything for a child or beggar when prompted, travel website TravelFish.org recommended.
8. Overly Helpful Locals
Be careful when approached by overly helpful locals, especially while making ATM withdrawals, according to RickSteves.com. If you look confused — maybe you can’t decipher the ATM’s language — you could fall victim to a friendly local offering help. In reality, they could be memorizing your ATM PIN code and will then pickpocket you and steal your bank card. Or, if you’ve completed a transaction, they could grab your cash and run off with it.
Politely turn down any help offered while making ATM withdrawals. If you feel uneasy, cancel your transaction and walk away, travel website ExpertVagabond.com recommended.
9. Car Trouble
Similar to the overly helpful locals, car renters beware of anyone who points out car trouble while you’re driving. “This scam is widespread, with parts of eastern Europe, the Balkans and Sicily notorious for it,” said Sylvester. “Someone drives alongside you, indicating there’s a problem with your car. Naturally, you pull over. The other driver walks with you to the back of your car to inspect the problem, his accomplice makes off with your valuables. Or worse, they rob you at knife-point."
Your best defense? "Don’t stop," said Sylvester. "If it’s a genuine problem, it will soon become apparent to you. Try to make it to a town or service station before stopping.”
10. Slowly Counting Change
Be sure you always receive correct change, and be especially wary when a cashier is counting your change at an extremely slow pace, or pauses often while counting. This could be a ploy for you to lose patience and accept whatever change they are counting at the moment — an amount that is probably much lower than what you're owed, according to RickSteves.com.
11. The Bag Slash
The bag slash is popular in Barcelona, according to Travel+Leisure, but can happen to travelers carrying bags or suitcases anywhere. Here's how it works: You’re standing around with bags or a purse while waiting for a cab or examining a map, and a man on a bicycle will ride by, slash the bag’s handles and ride off with the bag. When you chase after the thief, their accomplice will quickly grab and make off with any remaining bags.
To avoid this, always hide your valuables in your inner pockets or a secured money belt hidden beneath your clothing.
12. Taxi Scams
Taxi scams are popular in many tourist destinations, but notably in India. Goetzen fell for this one himself, with a thief stealing $15, about 1,000 rupees, in the process.
“If you take intercity buses in India, they often drop you off in the middle of nowhere," he said. "Here, clever con artists will come to your help and find you a taxi. They will bring you to a taxi, put you in the back seat and sit in the front seat. After a few minutes, the person who found the taxi for you will ask you to pay for the taxi. They take the money and run away from the taxi, with your money. Sometimes the drivers are in on it, but often times they are not.” The taxi scam relies on tourists being scared or stressed in an unknown area. The best way to protect yourself is to stay calm and find a taxi by yourself.
13. Fake Police Officers
Beware of any police officers who demand to see your passport or visa, tell you there is some type of issue, and then insist you need to pay a fine, reported lifestyle website Thrillist.com. To avoid falling prey to fake police officers, be assertive and ask to accompany the officers to the police station. Usually this will deter scam artists and you’ll be able to go on your way.
14. The 'Found a Ring' Scam
The “found a ring” scam is an old trick that's especially common in Paris, according to TravelScams.org. As tourists are walking along, they’ll be approached by someone — sometimes a person dressed as a tourist — seemingly friendly enough. The person will point to a ring on the ground and ask if it’s yours. Then they try to give it to you and convince you to pay them for it, reported RickSteves.com.
To avoid this tourist scam, continue walking when approached and be vigilant with whom you choose to interact.
15. The Shoe Shiner
The shoe shiner scam is common in Istanbul, according to the Huffington Post. It goes like this: a man will walk by and drop his shoe brush somewhere near you. You’ll do the nice thing and pick it up, and he’ll thank you by shining your shoes. It might seem like an innocent enough gesture, but then the shoe shiner will likely demand payment — for a service you never asked for in the first place. If you refuse, you might find yourself surrounded by a crowd of shoe-shiners, reported TravelScams.org.
To avoid this, simply don’t pick up the brush, or if you already have, be assertive and say “no, thank you,” immediately if the scam artist attempts to shine your shoes.
16. Fake Border Entry Fees
Travelers in Spain should be aware at border checks, where scam artists have been known to carry fake identification and approach cars, asking for cash "entry fees" from tourists to pass from Spain into Gibraltar, according to insurance provider AIG. The issue here is that there are no such fees to cross the border into, or out of, Gibraltar.
If someone demands you hand them money for a fee or ticket in this instance, don't do it. Keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight, and just ignore the scammers, AIG recommended. For any destination, it's important to research your travels ahead of time so you're aware of potential fees — or lack of fees — so you don't fall for this one elsewhere.
17. Unsafe WiFi Hotspots
In the age of technology, in which consumers are connected to the internet on cellphones, tablets and laptops, an unsafe WiFi hotspot can be a huge threat, especially while traveling.
“This vacation season, many travelers will be taking advantage of public WiFi offered at hotels, airports, restaurants and city streets. Free wireless networks, found everywhere, are not able to offer security in most cases, since public WiFi can be hacked into very easily,” said Marty P. Kamden, CMO of NordVPN, a VPN provider. The best and most effective way for any traveler to protect their data is to use a virtually private network (VPN), which can protect your network and data when using the internet, according to Kamden.
18. The Tailor Tuk Tuk Scam
Taking a tuk tuk in Bangkok, Thailand, is an authentic way to explore the city. However, according Goetzen, there are some drivers who will perform an elaborate scam.
First, a driver will offer to give you a ride for a low sum. Then, "these drivers will take you to two different tailors and make you awkwardly sit there while the store owner tries desperately to convince you to have something made," said Goetzen. "The tailor scam is a strange one, because they do eventually take you to where you want to go. And they do only charge what they promised, even if you don't buy anything. Having to sit at [the] tailors, though, is awkward and time consuming.”
A variation on this one might find you being taken to a jewelry store, reported TravelScams.org. To avoid this scam, Goetzen said look at the price for the tuk tuk. If it's very cheap, it's likely a tailor scam.
19. The Survey Scam
For this scam, watch out for young people who approach tourists and ask them to fill out a survey, said Seb Atkinson, travel blogger at The Traveloid. This scam "seemed relatively widespread in Berlin, when I traveled there a couple of months ago," he said. "I’ve experienced this before elsewhere in Europe with some variations.
“A young person will approach you with a clipboard and tell you they are doing a survey, and could you answer it," Atkinson said. "The survey is actually a form to sign up to donate money each month, and starts by asking you your name, address, whether you support the charity’s cause, before going on to ask how much you’d donate. The scammer will generally only then push you to donate to the charity they claim to represent. If they can’t get your card details, they’ll ask for cash on the spot.”
Avoiding this one is simple: Be alert and say no to surveys while traveling.
20. High Pressure Travel Club Companies
Time share-style companies have been around forever, but today’s travel club companies sometimes employ unscrupulous tactics and high-pressure sales to entice customers into purchasing their vacation club memberships, according to Justin Lavelle, communications director of BeenVerified, an online background check platform.
“Consumers believe they are getting something for free by attending travel club sales presentations, and then are under the belief they are joining the vacation club at a reduced price after high-pressure tactics,” Lavelle said. “They soon find out they are not getting a good deal, and could have purchased the same vacation for less elsewhere."
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