10 Travel Scams to Avoid: How to Keep Yourself Safe
Have you ever been conned by a tourist scam? They are the worst. Many travelers have experienced exploitation during their travels. Though you shouldn’t travel in fear, it never hurts to err on the side of caution in situations that make you feel uncomfortable. You can avoid most travel scams by following a few safety tips.
General Tips on How to Avoid Travel Scams:
- Keep your valuables tucked inside a hard-to-reach area.
- Only travel will small amounts of cash.
- Stay aware of your surroundings, even when talking to a kind stranger.
- Don’t accept “gifts” from strangers off the street, as many will try to demand payment.
- Never show your passport to a stranger on the street.
Here are ten travel scams to avoid and how you can keep yourself safe:
1. The Friendship Bracelet
A friendly stranger will approach and prompt you to hold out your wrist. Many tourists mindlessly obey. The stranger will use this opportunity to begin tying a friendship bracelet around your wrist. Once finished making your custom bracelet, the swindler will demand payment–even though you never asked for it!
- Ignore any requests from street vendors.
- Say, “No thank you,” in the primary language of your host country and move on.
2. Counterfeit Tickets
You never know if tickets are legit if you buy them off the street or from an online, third-party seller. Even if it looks like your snagging an incredible deal, are they worth the risk? Sign up for event pre-sales and purchase through the company to ensure you’re buying a real ticket.
- Don’t believe the deal.
- Only buy tickets from legitimate sources.
Pro tip: Stay cautious of “skip-the-line” tickets. Street vendors advertise a great bargain for a fraction of the wait, but the tickets are often fake. Skip-the-line options typically come within a packaged tour guide.
3. “Take My Picture!”
Have you ever seen a street performer during your travels? The person might have painted themselves entirely golden and stood still like a statue. Or perhaps the performer is dressed in traditional clothes, dancing, and banging instruments. The sight might prompt you to take a picture, but as soon as the shutter clicks, the performer might demand payment.
- Don’t take pictures of street performers, even if they ask.
4. Fake Police Officers
Scam artists will dress up as police officers and demand to see your wallet or passport. Often they claim to be checking for counterfeit money. If you hand it over, the fake police officers may confiscate your belongings or demand bribe money for you to get them back.
- Travel with copies of your passport. Never hand over the real one.
- Request to see proper police identification.
- Offer to present your paperwork at the nearest police department.
5. Tricky Taxi Drivers
Some taxi drivers will try scamming tourists to make a little extra cash. Drivers might claim their meter is broken and charge an exuberant amount at the end of your ride. Taxi drivers might also take the “scenic route”, so your trip time (and expected payment) dramatically increase.
- Request that the driver turns on the taxi meter before you leave.
- Search the quickest route to your destination on your GPS to verify that you’re taking the most direct route.
- Use an alternative rideshare service such as Lyft or Uber.
6. The Clean Up
A stranger may approach you and point out a stain or “accidentally” spill something on you. With cleaning supplies conveniently on hand, the stranger will offer to clean up the mess. As you mindlessly accept their kind gesture, the con-artist will stealthfully snatch your passport or wallet in the process.
- Insist on cleaning the mess yourself.
- Do not let them remove your jacket or purse.
7. Shortchange Exchanges
If you need to exchange your cash for the local currency, make sure you pay attention at the counter. Some money exchangers will advertise no commission charges yet request much higher exchange fees. During the actual exchange, tellers might count slowly.
- Know the current local exchange rate. (Download this free currency app to help.)
- Always count your change.
- Use an ATM to exchange your cash.
8. The Phoney Photographer
If you and a friend are trying to take a selfie, a local might swoop in to save the day by offering to take the picture for you. Grateful, you hand over your camera or phone, and, worst-case scenario, they run off with the prize.
- Stick to taking selfies.
- Invest in a selfie stick, though you may risk looking like a tourist.
9. Child Diversions
Tourists are more apt to help a child or ogle over a stranger’s baby. Tourist scammers know this well. Swindlers may use children as diversions or as a way to gain your pity. For instance, if a local woman approaches you holding a newborn wrapped in drapes, you might be walking into a pickpocketing trap.
Learn how giving to begging children can actually do more harm than good and how you can give and engage responsibly.
10. Street Games
Con artists will set up street games involving cups or cards. Players usually have to guess the location of a ball underneath a set of cups or locate a particular card in the deck. Participation typically takes minimal effort or skills. If you stop by to play, fake tourists will crowd around and pickpocket your wares only to divide their spoils with the group later.
- Don’t stop to play street games.
- Don’t stop to watch others play street games.
If you happen to fall for a tourist scam, don’t fret; there are proactive steps you can take. First, notify the local authorities. Second, you can follow the claims process from your travel insurance provider. Although travel insurance may not always cover the full amount of a lost or stolen item, it’s your only chance to reclaim at least part of your loss.