When we're traveling, it's easy to think that we know everything that's going on around us and that we will never fall into "tourist traps." The truth is, it happens to the best of us and some are very hard to avoid.
Scams can range from overpriced cab rides to locals conning you into buying their merchandise. Even though it's nearly impossible to know when or where you're going to be scammed, it doesn't hurt to be prepared for the worst and to know how to avoid certain situations. Knowledge is power and the more you know about scams the less likely it is that you'll fall for them!
Don't Be Fooled By The "Bump And Grab"
The bump-and-grab is one of the most common tactics for a pickpocket. Several people will swarm you, throwing you off guard while one of their group goes through your bags or pockets. The most common places for something like this to happen are crowded areas, like highly populated tourist spots and the metro.
This just means you need to be prepared! Crossbody bags with zippers are a must, it makes certain that they don't have the option to take the entire bag. Also, be sure to spread out your valuables. Never carry all of your money with you, and make sure to lock up your passport.
Watch Out For The "Gunk" Scam
If someone walks up to you and tells you that you have some gunk on the back of your shirt, don't believe them and definitely do not take off your backpack, camera, or purse to check it out. This scam starts with someone stealthily putting something on you, like ketchup, and an "innocent" bystander coming over to you to tell you about the "gunk."
The point of this is to get you to remove your bag or camera so they can take it and run. The moral of this scam is to keep walking and never take off your personal belongings until you're in a safe area.
Keep An Eye Out For Fake Officials
When traveling around you want to believe that you can go to an authority figure if something is wrong. Unfortunately, you have to look out for fake and corrupt officials, especially on the street. One scam that fake officials will try to pull is asking for your documents, such as a passport. To get your information back, they then ask for a bribe.
In South East Asian countries, this is common. Be sure to always carry around a copy of your passport and never hand over your real one. Also, locals are usually ready to help out foreigners, so don't hesitate to ask for help if you smell something fishy!
"You're Seated In The Wrong Class" Transportation Scam
This is very common in highly-populated public transportation areas, such as India. Like most places, there is an official-looking person, complete with a book and badge, walking around asking to see train tickets. Only this time, they know you're obviously a tourist, so they tell you you're in the wrong class and ask for money to rectify the situation.
This scam is tricky because there are technically upgrade tickets that you would have to pay for if you were in the wrong class. That being said, do your research and no how much an upgrade ticket is worth before boarding the train. The "officials" will try to overcharge.
A Stranger Asking If You Need Help On The Bus
This is comparable to the "gunk" scam in that local people are just trying to help you. This is very common on buses. People will come up to you seeming like they want to help store your bag. While that person is helping, an accomplice might take the bag and run with it.
The best way to avoid a bus scam is to take advice from the airport and always keep your luggage close. Never allow someone else to touch your stuff unless you trust them. And most importantly, always carry anything valuable in a secure spot on your person (not pockets!).
The Counterfeit-Monopoly-Money Scam
The counterfeit money scam is very common with restaurants and cab drivers. What happens is that at the end of a meal or ride, you will hand the employee what you owe, only for them to ask for a different type of payment because what you gave them is fake. While you weren't looking, the employee swapped out the real cash you gave them with fake bills.
To avoid this, make sure you familiarize yourself with the country's currency before arrival. Also, pay close attention while you're paying and always use exact change when you are able to. No need to pay twice!
This ATM Scam Will Have You Going Inside The Bank
Unfortunately, there are two types of ATM scams you're going to want to keep an eye out for. The first is an ATM skimmer. This device attaches to the mouth of the ATM and will secretly jot down all of your card information when you put your card into the machine.
The second you want to be cautious of is a sticky strip that will cause your card to be "stuck" in the machine. A "Good Samaritan" will be there to help, asking you to call a fake number. Don't call and never give them any of your card information or your PIN.
Fake Hotel Wakeup Call To Get Your Card Information
Sometimes, while you're staying in a hotel or hostel you will get wakeup calls. This is not abnormal, unless you didn't schedule one. If you receive a call from the front desk asking to confirm your credit card information, don't give it to them. It is most likely a scammer on the other end of the line who is planning to drain your account by duplicating your card with the information you hand out.
To avoid fraud, tell them that you will be happy to go down to the front desk to give the information. Never provide card details over the phone, it's only asking for trouble!
Be Aware Of Taxi Driver Scams
One of the most common scams is the taxi scam, or the taxi driver scam. A lot of drivers will tell you their meter is broken and overcharge you for a ride, while other people will pose as cab drivers. Drivers will take you around to places they get a commission off of, never bringing you to your destination.
A way to avoid this type of scam is to, again, do your research. Make sure you know what the taxi company's colors are, always go to an official taxi stand, and have a hotel concierge call you a ride.
Avoid This Prepaid Taxi Scam To Save Money
The prepaid taxi scam is very typical in airports, especially late at night when the drivers know travelers are tired. Taxi drivers will badger people, telling them that the prepaid taxi stands are closed, or there isn't one at the airport and that you should ride with them for an agreed-upon price.
Don't let them pressure you! Even if you're tired, take the time to look for the prepaid stand. Airports always have one either inside near baggage claim or outside on the road. You want to pay a fair price going to your hotel or hostel and avoid being overcharged or taken to the wrong place.
If A Price Is Too Good To Be True, It Usually Is
Even though we want to think the best of people, if someone offers you a ride at a price that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If you accept these rides, you'll often be driven around to gem dealers, carpet shops, and tea houses of your driver's friends. It's their way of bringing in business and hopefully getting a commission if you buy anything.
You most likely are going in the complete opposite direction of where you want to be, too. A way to avoid this is knowing the exact amount of cab fare before getting into the cab. If it seems too low, walk away.
Be Careful You're Not Being Overcharged
This scam goes hand-in-hand with the "it's too good to be true" scam. Taxi drivers are going to try and up-charge their services to you, telling you a fare that is most likely double or triple the price of what the actual ride is worth. The good news is that there is an easy way to avoid paying too much!
Again, do your research! By doing a quick Google search you'll be able to learn how much a typical taxi ride is around the city you are going to. From there, you can guess how much a typical short or long ride will cost.
The Ring Of Power
Unfortunately, this scam seems very innocent, but it can get you into a sticky situation. The premise of the con is that a ring will fall to the ground in front of you. A woman will run up and ask if it is yours, and when you say "no" she will start trying to sell it to you. The issue is that she won't leave you alone until you fork over some money.
If this happens to you, ignore the "kind" person. This type of scam is popular in highly populated tourist spots, such as the Eiffel Tower, so always be on guard.
The Friendly Locals Might Not Be All That Friendly
This is not to say all locals are bad news, because that is not the case. There are more good people out there than bad. But for our purposes, look out for people who are randomly trying to help you. They tell you that they just want to practice their English or learn about your country, something that sounds great on paper. After you sit with them for a bit, they'll ask you to go to their office or shop.
This is where you say no thank you because more often than not you're going to find yourself in a high-pressure sales situation to buy art or jewelry.
"Sorry, It's Closed Today"
This type of scam is pretty commonplace in Southeast Asia. You'll be walking up to an attraction when you pass a band of locals on the side of the road. They'll tell you that the attraction is closed before you can see it for yourself. Don't fall for it! They'll try and get you to visit another attraction that won't be as good, but they'll probably benefit from a commission.
To avoid this scam, tell the locals thank you for the warning, but you're going to check it out anyway. This way, you don't miss out on an opportunity to see what you want.
The Begging Child With An Infant
This scam is, in its own twisted way, brilliant on the con artists' part because they pull at your heartstrings. A young girl will approach you with a baby in her arms, but oftentimes, it's just a doll. The issue is that they will start begging, and tourists will feel bad because it's such a young girl with a "child" -- they want to help.
Unfortunately, these young girls are usually part of a criminal ring. As much as you want to help someone in need, you don't want to help feed the criminal organization. Just be careful and be mindful of your surroundings.
The Switcharoo At Markets
When you're shopping at local markets, because, let's be honest, that's where all the best food is, be sure to watch out for the old "switcharoo." When you try, say, fruit at one of the stands and end up wanting to buy in bulk, be sure to watch the stand owner when they put the food in a bag.
Sometimes, they'll go to the back and fill your bag with rotten fruits instead of the fresh fruit displayed out front. Even with souvenirs like handcraft jewelry, be sure to watch them wrap it up because they might think to swap it out with a cheap version.
Don't Make Eye Contact With Sellers At The Beach
This scam can be one of the more annoying ones, especially if you're just trying to have a relaxing day at the beach. Locals will come up to your beach camp and ask if you are interested in buying jewelry, ice cream, or even petting a monkey or some other strange animal. The issue is that they won't leave once you say no, badgering you until you buy something. And that monkey? They'll throw it on you and then demand money.
The best way to avoid this scam is to never make eye contact, don't speak, and be sure to give a firm head shake.
Beware Of Bartenders That Want To Play Board Games
If you ever find yourself in Southeast Asia, beware of bartenders asking you to play games such as Connect Four. They are experts at these games, as they play them all the time and know each trick. Their trick is that once they beat you they hound you to buy them a drink. The thing is, they don't tell you the loser buys the winner a drink until after they win.
The best way to avoid this is to say no when they ask you if you feel like playing them in a game. It's not worth losing cab fare over!
Never Accept A Group Photo Offer From A Stanger
This scam will most likely happen in popular tourist spots that are very Instagram friendly. If a local comes up to you and your friends or family and asks if you would like a group photo, the first reaction is usually to say yes. Too bad that local will most likely run off with your camera by the time everyone is situated.
There is an easy solution for this scam, and that, my friends is the selfie-stick.