Before I started traveling the world on my own, I used to listen to my globetrotter grandparents' tales of all the travel scams they'd witnessed in the many countries they visited. It took me a few trips, but I eventually realized that there was no need to be so paranoid—there were not pickpockets and con artists lurking around every corner.
How to Avoid 9 Common Travel Scams
I've traveled to five continents, and have only encountered scams a handful of times. The trick is to be a smart and aware traveler: to know what to look for, and how to get out of sticky situations. Here is a list of the nine most common travel scams and how to avoid them so that you have an incredible trip.
1. The Free Bracelet Scam
Someone approaches you on the street and offers to tie a bracelet around your wrist as a free gift. Once the knot is tightened, they suddenly demand money. This can happen with any object: a scarf, a flower, or even a handful of scarab beads—as my own mother unfortunately learned.
How Can I Avoid the Free Bracelet Scam?
Don't allow anyone to put something on your person or into your hands. I've found that when I keep one hand on my bag strap and hold something in my free hand, like a water bottle or umbrella, I am less likely to be approached.
2. The Broken Taxi Meter Scam
You get into a taxi, and the driver apologizes, explains that the meter is broken, but promises to give you a fair price. Once you reach your destination, the "fair price" is so high it makes your eyes water.
How Can I Avoid the Broken Taxi Meter Scam?
Have an idea of taxi rates for the area. If you can't find a taxi with a working meter, agree to rate before getting into the vehicle—and I always make sure to have perfect change. If Uber or another ride-sharing service is available, you may want to use that instead.
3. The Closed Hotel Scam
Exhausted after a long plane ride, you collapse into the back of a taxi and tell the driver the name of your hotel. The driver shakes his head and tells you that the hotel is closed. Or terrible. Or burned down. They offer to take you to a different, better hotel that their cousin owns, and off you go.
How Can I Avoid the Closed Hotel Scam?
Stand your ground, because chances are your hotel has not burned down. Most drivers will crumble and bring you to your requested accommodations. If they're adamant, say you'll just have to find another taxi—they'll suddenly realize they confused your hotel with another hotel.
4. The Dropped Wallet Scam
While walking down the street, someone approaches with a generic wallet or phone in hand and asks you if you dropped it. Instinctively you pat your pockets to make sure your valuables are secure—showing the scam artist exactly how to pickpocket you later.
How Can I Avoid the Dropped Wallet Scam?
I carry a very distinct Star Wars wallet and brightly-colored phone case while traveling so that I'm less likely to believe someone approaching me with a fallen wallet. And it should go without saying, but pickpocket-proof your valuables.
5. The Friendly Stranger Scam
You're out exploring a new city, and a friendly, attractive local just happens to bump into you. Under the pretense of showing you around, they lead you to a bar, store, or restaurant, and then disappear when the enormous bill comes around.
How Can I Avoid the Friendly Stranger Scam?
A variant of this happened to my friends in Kathmandu, when a cute "art student" brought them to his shop, and then wouldn't let them leave until giving him a tip. Trust your gut, and don't allow someone to lead you somewhere. If you're afraid of coming off as rude, make up an excuse about having to meet up with friends.
6. The Damaged Car Rental Scam
After renting a car, motorbike, or even an Airbnb for your trip, you return the rental to the owner. Unfortunately for you, you're handed a bill for damages that you know you had nothing to do with.
How Can I Avoid the Damaged Car Rental Scam?
Whether I'm renting a car or an apartment, I make sure to take before and after pictures. This visual record will protect you from being blamed for preexisting—or completely fake—damages.
7. The Knock-Off Tickets Scam
Upon getting to a famous tourist destination, an official-looking individual comes up to you and tells you that a ticket is required for entry. You pay up, receive your ticket—and then find yourself getting rejected at the actual ticket booth five minutes later.
How Can I Avoid the Knock-Off Tickets Scam?
Do your research beforehand. First off, find out if the attraction you're visiting even requires tickets. If you can, see if you can buy a ticket on an official website. If not, many tourist guidebooks will give instructions on how to get tickets.
8. The Group Selfie Scam
Kids. You gotta love 'em, especially when one comes up and asks to take a selfie with you. You say yes, and then another kid shows up, phone in hand, for another selfie. And another, and another, and suddenly you're swarmed, and your wallet is gone.
How Can I Avoid the Group Selfie Scam?
Take this one with a grain of salt, because there are many kids out there who would just love a selfie and the chance to practice their English, like a group of schoolgirls I met in Egypt. But in general, avoid getting caught in a large swarm of children—you'll be caught off-guard, and therefore a perfect target.
9. The Fake Petition Scam
A person claiming to be a student comes over to you at a tourist attraction and asks you to sign their petition. When you do, they guilt trip you into giving them a donation—or their accomplice pickpockets you while you're distracted.
How Can I Avoid the Fake Petition Scam?
A friend of mine almost fell for this one on a trip to Rome. The trick is to just ignore them and walk away. They most likely will not follow you, preferring to ensnare the next tourist.
Remember: while scams, rip-offs, and other travel dangers are the exception and not the rule, it always pays to play it smart. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
But also remember: don't let fear and anxiety ruin an amazing trip!
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