When traveling, chances are that most people you meet will be decent folks, but whenever you travel, there’s always a risk of becoming the target of a scam. From fake policemen and phony tour guides to street vendors who are really pickpockets, scams can come in many disguises. Knowing what to look for can help you avoid becoming a victim.
Getting Short Changed
This scam relies on tourists’ unfamiliarity with a foreign currency. Whether it be giving out counterfeit bills, mixing smaller bills into a pile of notes or miscounting change, it all amounts to you getting ripped off. The best defense is to become familiar with the bills of the country you’re visiting and limit the amount of currency you exchange or have on hand. Pulling money directly from an ATM is the best way to avoid dealing with a currency exchange. Don’t use a large bill to pay for an inexpensive item and put all your expensive purchases on a credit card, preferably one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
The ATM Assistant
While getting your money directly from an ATM is the best way to avoid the scam above, keep an eye out for the friendly ATM helper. This scam targets people trying to use the ATM by having a scammer stand in line with a skimmer in their pocket while they watch you enter your pin number. Often times he’s accompanied by a second scammer who acts as a good Samaritan trying to help you navigate the unfamiliar machine. The first scammer will often jump in to corroborate what the “helpful local” is saying. If anyone approaches and offers to help you with an ATM transaction, cancel the transaction and walk away. Never let anyone near the ATM while you’re trying to use it. Always cover the number pad when entering your pin.
Counterfeit Event/Attraction Tickets
It’s easy these days for almost anyone to create an authentic looking document, and that goes for tickets as well. Don’t buy a ticket to an event or attraction from someone on the street or a questionable looking website, especially if the price is too good to refuse. If it seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Head straight for the box office or a verified online retailer to book your reservations. Some higher end hotels will often have someone on hand to help you with purchasing tickets or making reservations.
The Verification Call
This scam comes in the form of a phone call. You may receive a call shortly after checking into your hotel room from someone claiming to be the front desk, asking you to verify your credit card number. Never give out your credit card number to anyone calling and asking for it. The easiest solution is to tell the caller that you’ll be right down to handle it in person. If it’s someone claiming to be from the credit card company, tell them you’ll call right back. It’s easy to get the number off of your card and call the real credit card company and let them know what’s going on.
The Attraction is Closed
A common scam in many major tourist areas involves a “friendly” local who informs you that the business is closed for the day and suggests that you visit a different attraction or shop and may even offer to take you there. While it’s possible that a major tourist attraction can be closed for any number of reasons, such as repairs, religious ceremonies, or holidays, the box office will most likely list hours of operation or dark days on its schedule. The easiest way to avoid this scam is to thank the person and simply ignore their advice. Chances are when you get to your destination, you’ll find it open.
The Fake Police Officer
In many large cities, a common scam is thieves impersonating police officers. Oftentimes the “police” are working with someone else, who will approach you offering to sell drugs or other illicit items. While they’re doing this, the “police” will approach and insist that you hand over your wallet and passport. If this happens, ask them to show their identification and tell them that you will call the local station to confirm that they are the real deal. A legitimate officer should understand your caution. Another option is to tell them that your passport is locked in your hotel safe and they’ll need to escort you back to your hotel. If they don’t agree to either of these things, walk away.
Scam artists come in many forms, and they’re very clever. The truth is that new scams are being dreamt up all the time. No list of scams can ever be complete. If you’re cautious and skeptical when strangers approach, you’ll probably be fine. And if you do fall for some sort of scam, chalk it up to a learning experience. But, don’t let it deter you from traveling. The rewards are greater than the drawbacks.