Travel Scams & How to Avoid Them

by Female Abroad

Being a tourist you are a walking billboard to be scammed (unless you blend in). Sure pick pockets hit things like trains and groups but there are a lot more that you might have thought of as scammers are getting more creative these days.

Begger / Begging Scam

A person (usually old, pregnant, or a child) will ask for change. While they are happy to be given some, they are scoping out where you keep your wallet and how much you have. Another version of this is someone that throws a "baby" at you. Once you catch it, you realize it is a doll but they've already made off with whatever it was you were carrying.

Bracelet Scam

a person or a holy person will approach you and offer you a bracelet. Even if you say no, they will grab your wrist and start to braid/do up the bracelet on your wrist while talking to you or paying for you. This scam ends one of two ways normally.

  1. they ask for payment for the bracelet
  2. their accomplice has already pick pocketed you

In the following countries it is usually:

  1. Europe - Friendship bracelet
  2. Asia - Prayer bracelet
  3. North America - Music CD and/or Deaf awareness bracelet

Dropped Item Scam

A person will claim that you dropped some jewelry and then convince you it is genuine. If you say no (which you will since it isn't yours) they will then show you how they know it is real and try to sell it to you. Either you will buy it for more than it is worth or a pick pocket has made off with your items by now. They may even use this as a way to see which pocket you store your wallet in or where you are wearing your jewelry so they can pick you you easier.

Local Person Scams

There are a few different types, but the most common are:

The Photographer

If you are taking pictures, a friendly-looking local or couple will come over and offer to take the photo for you. Either you will be charged for this service to get your camera back, or they will run off with the camera. Another version of this is when someone asks you to take a photo of them. They hand you their camera, it doesn't work, so you go to hand it back, and they let it fall out of their hands. Of course it will hit the ground, and they will blame you for the damage. Normally, it is a small group that will start yelling at you for money to replace it or fix it. You can also get pickpocketed during this entire time.

Little Too Helpful
They notice you are looking at a map. They speak your language perfectly and offer to take you there. They might be scoping you out and planning a robbery (ex. they might ask what hotel you are at, if you need an ATM, etc.). If they take you to an ATM, they are either going to memorize your PIN for when they pickpocket you later or just run off with your cash.

You look tired or need to relax, so they will give you a massage. They will tell you it is free for a limited amount of time. except they won't stop and demand a very high payment. They will keep pestering you until you pay.

Typically, a female will seem like a normal lady (or be smoking hot) but will get you drunk so you will take her back to your room. Once there, you keep drinking, but she slips sleeping pills or GHB into your drink while you are not looking. You pass out, she cleans out the room, and when you come to, you have nothing. It can be worse than this, though. Some will take photos of you while you are naked and/or pose you in questionable positions. They will demand a payment to delete the pictures, or else they will send them to everyone on your contacts list.

English Leaner
A person loves the country you are from and wants to work on their English, usually over a pricy dinner or drinks that you are expected to pay for.

Hotel Scams

There are quite a few hotel scams, and most of the time, the hotel is not actually involved. The ones that come up the most are:

Credit Card Declination
In the middle of the night, you get a call that your credit card is not working and they want to confirm it over the phone. Except it isn't the front desk, and without caller ID, how are you supposed to know? Make sure to never give personal information over the phone. Always go down to the desk. All proper hotels will ask you to come to the desk if there is an issue, as saying one thing like that over the phone could be embarrassing if someone overhears the conversation.

Double Teaming
Housekeeping or the front desk will find a reason to go into your room. Either they will start a conversation with you while another one steals items, or they are scoping the room so they can go in once you have left.

Takeout Menus
Usually this happens in motels since the scammer doesn't have to get inside the hotel. The scammer will slide a takeaway menu under your door, hoping you will order in. It might be a legit ad, but they changed the phone number on it to theirs or it is a fake company. Either way, they will want your credit card number as they won’t accept cash upon delivery.

Police Scams

An official-looking policeman will approach you and accuse you of a crime (illegal drugs most of the time) and demand an on-the-spot fine; they may also say that there has been fake money in the area. They will ask for your wallet and passport. From there, they may take money from you or run off with everything. They might even fine you and threaten to arrest you if you don't pay it on the spot. Do not feel threatened. Tell them that you will go with them to the police station to sort the issue out. If they are real police, then they won’t have an issue with this. If they push, ask to see their badges, and refuse any information. Eventually they will give up. They just want an easy target, and since we are taught to trust the police, they assume that people will just cave when ordered by a police officer. This is a popular scam in Central and South America.

"Free" Gift for You

A person will offer a rose for you and suggest that you buy it for the person you are with. Once the person you are with has the rose in their hand, the scammer will tell you the rose is ridiculously expensive, hoping that you will be too embarrassed to refuse. They might even give you an item for free but then suggest that you give them a donation because of their horrible situation or sob story. They will keep after you until you give them something.

Street Gambling Scams

One of the oldest and still easiest scams out there. Normally it will be the three cups and balls with a group surrounding the table making "bets". The betters seem to be winning so you watch. Either you will bet and lose your cash, a pick pocketer will grab your items while you are busy watching, or they are scoping you out so they know what they can steal.

Taxi / Tuk Tuk / Buggy Driver Scams
(pretty much any private transfer)

There are lots of different options for this one:

  1. take longer routes than they have to
  2. Turn off the meter and charge you more!
  3. overcharge you and won't let you out until you pay
  4. have altered meters that don't count properly.
  5. Drive you off to a store where they get a kickback from the sale
  6. Tell you that your hotel is sold out and take you to another place where they get a cut of what you pay (your original accommodation may also be burned down, collapsed, closed, etc.).
    1. Another version is that the site you want to see is closed, but they’ll take you to a different one.
  7. Grab your bags, put them in the trunk, and then take off.
  8. Look for a tourist that has a bag similar to the ones they have in the trunk. When you get to your location, they will swap their bag for yours and then drive off quickly.
  9. Accidentally drop your change and switch it out for similar-looking coins or notes that are fake or from another country.

Cleaning Scams

Shoe Shiner
A man will drop his shoe brush in front of you. When you pick it up for him, he will thank you and then polish your shoes. After he is done, he will demand payment and might even involve other people if you do not.

Windshield Cleaner
While waiting at a red light, a person will walk over and offer to clean your car's windshield. Even if you do not say yes, they will clean it for you and then demand money. Their water may cause damage to the windshield or they may purposely damage your car if you refuse to pay.

Spiller / Sneezer
Some one spills something on your or sneezes on you and start to help you clean it off. while you are busy either helping them wipe or telling them to stop, some one else is picking your pockets or walking off with your bag. Used to be very popular in the airport but it has really taken off in Europe.

Shopping Scams

The Counter
A shopkeeper/waiter will slowly count your change and pause a lot. They are hoping that you will become annoyed and just leave them with the change. Most of the time, they have only counted a small portion of what you are owed.

This happens everywhere these days but someone may offer you a discount on a ticket to an event that they cannot attend or even sell you something that is really had to get. You buy it and then can't get it.

The Seller
Several different ones on this:

  1. The transit driver (ex. tuk tuk, cabbie, etc.) knows a great place to get a discount on an item like gem stones, rugs, ancient artifacts, and other local specialties. Normally these items are not cheaper, poorer quality, or fake. Once you are there, they will give you a story about how they run and use different pressure tactics to get you to buy. They might even not allow you to leave until you do purchase something. Some will even tell you about this amazing place that is really far away and offer you a discount on the transportation there but double it to get back, or they might tell you about an amazing place that doesn't actually exist or about a religious or cultural ceremony that you have to leave now to see.

  2. The map seller: Someone will try to sell you a map. They will then unfold it for you and show you how to use it or where to find it. While you are busy, someone pickpockets you.

  3. Quick switch. As the seller is popping your purchase into your bag, they swap it out for a cheap replica (a cubic instead of a diamond, for example) or a similar item that is worth less than what you had bought (ex., you purchased a gold chain but are given a silver one). The hope is that you won’t check your purchase before you get back to your hotel or ship, so by that time you will be unable to have it switched back.

  4. Buy at a discount, sell for a profit. Normally, people don't buy rugs and gem stones, but a friendly person will know a great place where you can get a really great deal as it’s their aunt, uncle, brother, father’s second cousin ten times removed, etc., so they will cut you a deal, and when you get home, you can sell it for at least twice as much. This stuff usually looks really good but is completely worthless.

Renting Scams

If you rent a car, scooter, jet ski, etc., then there are usually two main scams:

  1. They claim that you damaged something when you returned it. Normally, they will wait until after you’ve left to charge you. Make sure you take photos or video of the vehicle before you drive off in it (highlighting any damage) and again when you leave. If you can include something like a newspaper, which would show the date in the photo or video, that will help. If you find damage, then ask for someone to come out and check the vehicle before you leave, making sure it’s noted on the paperwork. If you do find that you have been charged without being notified, call your credit card company. Most will waive the charge if you have evidence, or the card may have car rental insurance that will cover it.

  2. Theft. Some places (like South America and Mexico) will put a GPS device on your car. When you park it, someone will take a spare key and “steal” the car with your belongings in it. Of course, you will have to report the stolen car, and they will have to charge you for the full cost of having to replace the vehicle. This one is hard to prove or even to tell if you have a tracker, so be careful as to what you keep in the car and what your insurance will cover.

Lady / Man Love

Slightly mentioned in other scams above, attractive people that are also friendly usually attract people like moths to a flame. More times than not it is a pretty woman hitting on a man and with that comes scams:

"Hi hot stuff!”
These ladies normally spot a man and wrap their arms around you. If they are not trying to pick pocket you then their pimps are not far behind and will demand money from. Just brush these ladies off before they get close to you. (Or run like I know someone people have) this scam is really popular in Cuba

”Lets go back to your place”
You’ve had a really great time at the bar and don’t want the night to end yet. She wants to head back to your place to keep drinking. Eventually you’ll have to use the bathroom and that’s when she slips a roofie into your drink. A while later you wake up and you’ve been robbed blind. Mot of the time that’s where it ends but I know one guy where the woman took photos of him in compromising positions while he was out cold and threatened to send them to contacts in his phone if he didn’t pay her a random. The police got involved and find my phone found the phone with her but it doesn’t always end that well.

Extra love
You take home a lady who turns out to be a man, he then beats the crap out of you and robs you. Rare but does happen in Thailand. You cannot trust Adam's Apples so check the hands and feet. If they seem large for a woman, they probably are not female.

You pay now
A woman that seems way out of your league sits and helps you rock up a bar bill while enjoying each other’s company. Towards the end of the night shed disappears and you are left with a highly inflated bill and normally security isn’t far off to make sure you pay. She normally will get a cut of the bill hence the long evening of drinking, eating, and conversation.