December 27, 2016

If you're an avid traveller looking to see the world, you'll inevitably encounter travel scams at some stage along the way.

But if you worry too much about being scammed, it can effect the enjoyment of your trip. Before you know it paranoia takes over and your carefree nature goes out the window.

On the flip side, if you are overly carefree and adventurous, you become a target for intelligent thieves looking to take advantage of vulnerable tourists.

So how do you strike a balance between adventure and safety when it comes to travel scams?

Let's take a look at 9 of the most common international travel scams, and how you can avoid them with some simple travel safety tips.

1. The Staged Distraction

The "Staged Distraction" is a common travel scam in busy tourist areas in major cities. Thieves will work in teams to spot opportunities, distract tourists and then steal their belongings.

One example of this scam is the "spill" or the "bird poo" clean up. The way it works is simple; as you are walking down a busy street you feel something spill on your clothing. Before you know it, a stranger is offering to help you clean it off. This split second of friendly behaviour is enough time for their other team member to slip in and steal your wallet, passport or bag.

If you are aware of this type of travel scam it's fairly easy to avoid. Kindly refuse help in this situation and move onto the next safe place to clean up the spill. Also, pack your passport and other important documents in a way that keeps them safe from thieves.

2. Street Ticket Sales

If someone offers to sell you discounted tickets for anything on the street, it could very well be a scam. 

Events, parties, transport tickets... Scalpers and scammers in many countries are always looking for opportunities to sell fake tickets to tourists. If you happen to buy fake tickets, by the time you figure it out the scammer will be long gone.

The most crafty ticket scammers will give you what seems like a "realistic" deal, rather than something completely unbelievable. That's how they draw you in.

Make sure you always buy tickets from an official re-seller or ticket booth, this way you won't end up buying ones that don't work and losing your money.

3. Suspicious Beggars

It's hard to imagine but scammers in many countries will take advantage of deaf, blind or injured children and beggars to put carefree tourists in a vulnerable position.

Their number one goal is to get you to cave in and reach for your wallet, because you feel bad for the beggars and want to help them out. Once they know which pocket you are keeping your money and valuable information the thieves will strike, usually with a nearby accomplice attempting to pickpocket you at a later time.

There is no easy way to avoid this scam, except to simply not pay beggars and keep your valuable items safe and close to your body where no one can see them. Of course if you really want to help these disadvantaged people out, you may like to buy them some food, or come back with loose change later on.

4. Shifty Rental Companies

Have you ever hired a scooter or bike when travelling?

This is a really common thing for active travellers to do, because it offers you a great way to get around and see the local sights without walking the whole time. But it also presents an opportunity for thieves.

A prerequisite of most rental companies is to acquire some of your important information, such as passport details and credit card down payments for lost or damaged goods. Unfortunately just because a company is selling rentals, doesn't mean they are 100% trustworthy. 

Some rental companies will have people purposely steal or damage your rental vehicle in an attempt to claim the pre-paid deposit or seek further money. Or even worse, they may provide your personal information to thieves trying to steal the identities of tourists.

To avoid this travel scam, stick to well-known rental companies and limit the amount of information you give them. As well, keep the rental property in your direct sight as much as possible. If you have to leave it somewhere, use a lock to keep it safe (preferably one that the company didn't supply you with).

5. Taxi Scams

Taxi drivers are interacting with a lot of tourists, which unfortunately puts them in a position of opportunity if they want to scam you. Taxi scams are a real threat for travellers, especially near tourist hot spots and airports.

There are several ways a Taxi driver may take advantage of a tourist, but here are the most common ones:

  • The "Broken Meter": If you ever get into a Taxi and the driver tells you that the meter is broken, be extra careful. They will often use this tactic to charge a much higher price than what the fare would have been in the first place. If you do happen to get a Taxi with a broken meter, negotiate a flat fee for your trip before setting off.
  • Credit Card Skimming: This travel scam isn't isolated just to Taxis, in fact it can happen almost anywhere you are using your credit card. Skimming technology has come a long way in recent years, and it is quite common for a mobile payment terminal to be fitted with a device that will quickly steal your credit card details. If you can, pay for Taxis using cash or a pre-paid travel card. And if you have to use credit, make sure to look out for any unusual technology in the driver's seat or on the payment system they are using.

Most Taxi drivers are safe and trustworthy, but for the select few that aren't, you need to be cautious and aware of how they may try and rip you off.

6. Flirtatious Locals

This travel scam is most likely to happen to travelling males. 

Attractive locals (usually women) will spark up a conversation and eventually ask you out to dinner or for a drink. It depends on the scam they are trying to pull, but usually the night will go ahead as expected. You'll have some fun. But then at some point the attractive local will disappear and you'll later realise that your wallet, money or other valuables have gone missing.

You'll have to use your best judgement to avoid this travel scam, but just try to keep a realistic perspective on any given situation. If you think everything is normal, enjoy yourself and meet new people in the process. But if it's unusual for such an attractive person to be so welcoming, don't lose sight of reality.

7. Group Photo Offers

When you're at a popular tourist destination with your partner or a group of friends, it's natural to want a photo together so that you can remember the experience.

As much as an out-stretched arm or a selfie stick can capture the surroundings, there is nothing like a wide angle shot taken by another person. But this presents an opportunity for thieves.

If someone offers to take a group photo for you out of the blue, think twice before handing over your smart phone or camera, because they might quickly disappear with it.

8. Non-Official Wi-Fi Hot Spots

Public Wi-Fi connections are becoming more and more common around the world, but they pose a potentially dangerous situation for travellers.

Fraudsters and internet thieves will often set up free Wi-Fi hot spots in popular tourist destinations. Once you unknowingly log on and start to use the free internet, they will attempt to access your personal information, such as online passwords and bank details.

To protect yourself from this travel scam, try to stick to "official" Wi-Fi networks. If you're at a mall or cafe, ask the information desk or staff if they have a connection and how you can access it.

Also, look to use different passwords across all of your important online logins so that a potential thief can't automatically access everything if they secure one password.

9. Fake Police Officers

The fake Police officer ploy is not as common as the other travel scams we've mentioned, but it is still something you should be aware of.

Thieves will dress up in what appears to be official police attire. An outfit that the average tourist wouldn't be able to differentiate from a real police officer. Then, they will have another one of their team try to put a tourist in a sticky situation by offering them illegal substances or other items. The fake Police officer will then step in, flash a badge and ask for your passport or some form of identification.

This scam is a challenging one to deal with, because we are hard wired to trust Police officers and would not want to disrespect one if they were just doing their job. But if you think something fishy is going on, don't hand over your passport. Use delaying tactics and ask clarifying questions to be absolutely sure they are who they say they are.

Have you ever been scammed while travelling? What steps do you take to avoid it happening?

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