Travel truly is a beautiful thing. When you travel, you meet amazing, kind-hearted people who will bend over backwards to help you on your journey, you experience new cultures and alternative ways of life, and you develop an appreciation for history. However, despite all the good, every now and then you meet some people just looking to make a buck off you.
Let’s face it, nobody wants to think about all the ways they could possibly be scammed before they head out on a trip, but being prepared and aware of the most common travel scams could save you a lot of money and a huge headache.
Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them
Fraudulent Currency Exchanges
It always begins the same way — you arrive in a new destination knowing that one of the first things you’ll do is exchange your currency, and then someone comes up to you saying they know the most cost-efficient place to do so. Then, that person either gives you counterfeit bills, or demands a hefty exchange rate.
To get the best bang for your buck, only exchange money from banks or trusted locations, or order in money before your trip from your bank back home.
A petition scam is when someone comes up to you either on the street or at a tourism site and asks you to sign his or her petition. Once you do this, they ask you for money to help support their cause.
To avoid a petition scam, never sign a petition abroad, especially if you are given little information about the cause or what the petition is supporting. If you’re looking to give support to a cause or give to a charity, it’s best to do some research first.
In this scam, a child comes up to you and offers you a piece of jewelry or a service. In some cases, they even slip a friendship bracelet around your wrist and then demand money from you.
Having a child come up to you asking for money is particularly heartbreaking, but remember that these children are often working for adults who are running a ‘business’.
Always politely decline any good or service offered by a child, and spend your money elsewhere.
Overpriced Street Vendors
Let’s face it, as a foreigner you’ll be paying a higher price on almost all bartered street vendor goods. However, that doesn’t mean you have to pay exorbitant prices on everything you purchase.
To make sure you don’t get completely scammed out of your money, do some research about what similar products are going for and what locals are paying for them. Never accept the first price a vendor gives you, and barter to the best of your ability.
This type of scam is fairly straightforward in that someone will try to steal your possessions after distracting you in some way, usually by swarming you or by causing a scene.
So as to not get swindled by a distraction scam, never let your possessions out of your site and always use a zippered, slash-proof bag (we bring this anti-theft bag on all of our trips).
In these popular scams, a taxi or tuk tuk driver will knowingly take you the long way to get to your destination, or will claim that the meter is broken and overcharge you for your ride.
Before you arrive in a destination you’re not familiar with, download a map on your phone. Then, when you’re in the taxi, keep track of where they’re taking you and whether or not they’re using the most efficient route.
To avoid the broken meter scam, either don’t take a ride in a vehicle with a broken meter, or negotiate the price beforehand.
Commonly found around tourism hot-spots, the street game gamble is when scammers ask tourists to play a game of cards, dice, or cups for money. Of course, the game is rigged from the start, and the tourist will lose their money.
Simply don’t engage with anyone on the street asking you to play a game.
Read more: How to Travel Expensive Countries Affordably
Credit Card Scams
Credit card scams are common everywhere, but can be particularly stressful when you’re on vacation and using your card as a primary money source. Common credit card scams include scanning your card for its information, tampering with ATM’s, and posing as a hotel clerk while asking you to verify your credit card information.
Avoid credit card scams by keeping your cards in an RFID-blocking case, only use ATM’s from reputable sources or banks, and don’t give out your number without verifying who you’re giving it to.
A tricky scam as it can be hard to know whom to trust, but the fake photographer ploy essentially involves people asking to take your photo and then either demanding money for doing so, or taking your camera.
A good rule of thumb on this is to only hand over your camera to someone if they look like they’re a traveler themselves. If they already have a camera in their hands not only will they likely know how to use yours, chances are they won’t be keen on taking your property.
It doesn’t matter whether they are offering you a free shoeshine, flower, or neck massage; remember that when it comes to strangers on the street, nothing is truly free. People offering these things will often change their price once the service is performed or the product is in your hand, and cause a scene if you don’t pay up.
Never take someone’s offer for a free service at face value, don’t accept or touch their product, and stand your ground if they ask for money.