20 Common Traveller and Tourist Scams You Can Avoid today and enjoy your time away!
Are you fearful of being scammed on holiday or while away from home? There are quite a few tourist scams, across the globe even though every country/destination is unique in its own way.
But there is quite a common thread that goes across travel scams in various destinations.
While this is not a topic that we love to talk about, someone has to. So we can help our audience, many of whom we feel are fearful of travelling solo or even flying because they think they could be scammed.
Let’s just say that anyone who has travelled extensively has been scammed one way or another. You bet not?
Well, have you ever bought a cheap replica of a brand that you were assured was the real deal? There you go, one of the commonest tourist scams! It’s not uncommon for tourists to be overcharged in a taxi, a shop or at a site due to an alleged language barrier! Let’s just say tourist scams exist and we gotta help you out to stay savvy, safe and secure!
Disclaimer: This post is not out to bash genuine businesses, nor is it claiming to help you avoid scams completely. Rather to arm you with skills and tips to recognize and avoid some tourist scams when you see/hear them!
We believe that the more people that know about these common ugly traits, the less people will be scammed while travelling. And thus less avoidance of travel as a way of living
The Most Common Tourist Scams We’ve Learnt or experienced!
Holiday scams are inevitable in some countries and in most cases you won’t even know its happening to you. But this should not deter you from going somewhere as you are in fear of travel scams, as this is all part of the adventure!
- Air Travel Booking Scams
Booking your flight can seem a simple enough task, but you might like to avoid this travel scam! You must ensure you do everything in your power to avoid unnecessary airline fees and charges. These are in our view legal scams! Where there is a box to un-tick or tick to avoid a specific extra charge to your booking and you don’t notice. These could be:
- Insurance cover
- Vegan Meal
- Choosing Premium economy upgrade…etc.
So check everything. Read the small print and make sure you pay what you were destined to pay. Learn more on our article on flight booking hacks so you book your next flight in relative peace and safety!
- Online Tourist Scams
In the same way there are some nasty people looking to scam the unsuspecting tourist or traveller. They set up smart looking websites with seemingly legit icons like ATOL & ABTA protected. You are sucked in, coz to be honest most people, don’t check!
Our Advice: Avoid any seemingly massive deals from online companies and websites you know nothing about and can’t find any information on a deeper look! Even if recommended by a friend/family. Better safe than sorry.
This doesn’t mean every website is a scam, neither does it mean that if you find information that claims it is true. Dig deeper. Learn the truth or buy elsewhere!
If you aren’t sure of the website then make sure to check reviews, find out more, dig a little deeper. Not only will you avoid being scammed on a supposed cheap holiday deal, you will also avoid giving your credit or debit card details to scammers who may go on a shopping spree and cause you huge losses.
If in doubt, walk away. You will know when you are booking whether what you are doing feels good or not!
3. Taxi Tourist Scams – Broken Taxi Meter
Some taxi drivers in some places and even Airports are known for overcharging tourists. We were warned to watch out for these in The Dominican Republic. Some cab drivers tamper with the meter and claim its broken, then charge you whatever the heck they want!
What to do: In a situation where you just gotta grab a cab…If you have flown into a specific destination, head for the transport desk or be sure to ask Airport staff where the safe cabs park. Before you sit in a taxi/cab, negotiate the rate to your exact destination. Make sure they do know where it is. Or they can claim they mistook it and thought it was another place. Ask if they use a meter and ensure it works before you get into the cab. And the next scam is also common in some destination…
Why not contact your hotel in advance and ask if they offer an airport shuttle service and then schedule a pickup? Some hotels also offer transportation from hotel to some sites. Find out what you are entitled to as a guest. We loved the Beverly Hilton which offered guests a freakin Limo service to any place within a 10-mile round-trip of the hotel during our stay! Woot! 🙂
- The No Change Tourist scams
This is a scam that can happen in a taxi or in a shop esp. a local shop. If you pay with a large denomination bill and are told they don’t have change…Has this happened to you? Well don’t let it happen here is…
Our Advice: It’s imperative that you get various denominations of the local destination currency when you buy your Forex before you leave home. Or ask for change at the Airport Forex desk or wherever you buy it.
We did advise you not to buy your foreign currency at the airport or in hotels…you will be fleeced…Another of the more common traveller scams to be honest.
We always ask for some change in coins and say $1 bills or Euros to have some small change on us.
Use official taxis. Ask where the official taxi stand is an ask the driver if they have change before you get in. Otherwise be sure to have the correct change for the driver or shop keeper before you purchase anything or you likely won’t receive any change. This is done on small change situations where they hope the tourist will let them keep it!
- Motorized Vehicle Rental Scams
Lots of people like self-drive while on holiday to get around tour sites faster and more freely, so they may hire a car, scooters, quad bikes etc.
While we are blessed to have access to checked and legal means to hire such things as members of a travel community. Not everyone has access to such!
We are sure you have heard horror stories from people who rented vehicles only to find no such establishment exists! Or worse it does exist but the vehicles are poor quality not checked and death traps. The owners mark the car in certain places and they claim you must have caused the mark etc.! They demand extra cash from you for expensive repairs! These establishments may insist on taking your ID as surety that you’ll return the vehicle…
Our Advice: The best way to avoid such tourist scams is Not to give anyone your original passport or Driving Licence. Instead leave a photocopy!
Take photos of the entire vehicle before you take delivery and make sure they see you do so! Keep vehicle in a safe place. Also don’t let them know where you are staying, in case they do visit in the night to damage the vehicle.
- Hotel Mini Bar/Security Safe Tourist Scams
Oh My goodness, have you ever gone on Holiday and was told to feel free to use the mini bar or safe? Thing is you didn’t use either at all. Didn’t touch a drink, didn’t need the safe. Yet you got your credit card bill/bank statement and you went: What the F**! You called the Hotel and they act all blank on you and claim you must have used the mini bar as it has a sensor and marks any opens and marks those as usage!
Our Advice: To avoid these tourist scams, ask very specific questions on check in about any extras. Is there a mini bar and/or safe in your room! Are they FREE i.e. part of the price or is it extra? Be clear and then don’t touch the darned thing. If you ain’t gonna use it why even touch it?
- Fake Takeaway Menu
Happens in some establishments where meals are not part of the deal. You find a “cheap takeaway menu” slipped under your hotel door. You save it thinking you will order in and enjoy a chilled out evening.
If you make the mistake of ordering you could fall for one of the more common tourist scams. You will wait for your meal till the cows come home…And instead receive a bill when you get home…wont be anything like a take away type bill!
What to do: Before you order, take that menu straight to the front desk and inquire about its authenticity and if they are happy to let outsiders slip flyers and ads into guest’s rooms? How about guest security? Ask whether they recommend them and why.
If you didn’t get any food, then Cancel your Card immediately. And let your bank know even if it means making an international call.
- Pick Pockets are common Tourist scams
Most modern cities do have pick pockets and more so in tourist areas and sites. They also work in pairs, appearing to be helping you. They may even be selling some memorabilia and as you bargain for the price your wallet is being stolen. We were warned to keep our valuables close while at the Las Rambles in Barcelona and also around the down town LA areas. So as you can see this travel scam goes across borders.
What to do: Don’t be the next pick pockets’ victim. To prevent these scammers from targeting you, avoid carrying large bags with everything stuffed in lol. Hold your backpack as a “Front pack” like a baby pouch with zips closed & in where you can see them. Like we said in our travel etiquette post, leave your antique jewellery and that valuable ring at home OR in the hotel safe.
9. Overbooked or Closed Hotel Tourist Scams
This scam is usually pulled by some low cost Tour & Travel and Hotels in Cahoots with others. They advertise a cool high end hotel and take bookings from unsuspecting tourists. Then they call you or send an email or claim they did, prior to your trip saying the hotel is fully Booked, or is undergoing renovation!
They offer of course to book you in another hotel or resort at the same price…usually a grimy cut off place you wouldn’t go to! So to avoid this scam, here is…
What to Do: Why not check the Hotel website for availability on your travel dates! Then soon as you make your booking contact the hotel to confirm said booking. Within 24-48 hrs anyways that way you can also cancel your booking completely if they don’t seem to have any idea of your booking or the agent you used.
Happened to us not on a hotel but a Flight booking. Where the agent tried to pass us on to a different airline with a 46 hr total travel time! We immediately demanded for a full refund and booked with the airline direct at a £112 saving!
Note: The Full Hotel tourist scam can also happen with some unscrupulous cab drivers. Who may claim you’re your hotel is fully booked or closed as they drive you to it…They may then recommend a more expensive hotel where they get a commission for delivering customers…this could happen if you inquire about hotels.
Didn’t make a booking before? Don’t discuss accommodation with cab drivers!
10. Friendly Local/Businessman Tourist Scams
This can happen to anyone esp. Especially in prominent cites from London to Madrid, very common in Istanbul. This scam and its sisters are usually aimed at solo travellers. Let us paint a picture for you. Happened to someone we know:
You walk out of your hotel or in the lobby, you are approached by a smart looking man or woman who starts a casual conversation with you.
He/she is quite friendly and ask if you are heading out to eat and can they tag along as they hate eating alone. They suggest a few local haunts with great cuisine You know about stranger danger but this person looks like a fellow Hotel Guest, you also don’t wish to eat on your own. So you walk along.
This person guides you to a cool restaurant orders in the local lingo and insist on PAYING as they are “grateful” for your company. What?
You feel grateful you are now indebted. You are hooked. They then suggest you go for a quick drink before you retire for the night, they know just the place. You don’t wish to sound rude after all they just paid your dinner bill. Plus, you hate to not repay the kindness.
So off you go to a nice enough club/bar…but it’s kinda private. Drinks are ordered and a private show put on…the bill comes…and guess what. It’s your turn to pay, you were tricked onto insisting somehow in the conversation.
When you open the bill it could be anything from hundreds of dollars to thousands. For a drink, entry into the private club and Private show…! No amount of arguing will get you off this one. Your new friend offers to split the bill…You are forced to pay way more for your “evening meal and entertainment than your whole trip even.
What to do: Your grandma was right. Don’t talk to strangers nor accept favours from them. Insist on paying for your dinner, if you do agree to their company. There is no such thing as a free lunch!
If you are faced with a ridiculous meal. Refuse to pay is and call the police. Or if in a very tight spot. Pay by credit card and cancel it immediately you get you of there. Call your bank and let them know of the fraudulent incident.
11. Closed Attraction Tourist scams
This is common in major tourist cities and attraction areas. A seemingly friendly person who just happens to speak your language will approach and let you know that the attraction you’re planning on visiting is closed for some reason! They will recommend an alternative, usually a distance away where you’re pushed to pay a lot more to see/enter.
Our Advice: Again who are you listening to? A stranger? Go and see for yourself. The Thomas syndrome in this case is very useful. See it touch it, feel it before you believe. Why not ask the Hotel, or go to the local tourist shop. Check online you have choices. Don’t just fall for nay information passed to you.
12. Very common tourist scam – Broken ATM
By the way this is not only in tourist sites. It can happen anywhere. If you find that an ATM looks suspicious. Walk away! Be very cautious of anyone who approaches you at an ATM cash machine with any kind of advice. Esp. when they claim they know one nearby that is working.
They could rob you blind in broad day light. They usually guide you to a Machine with a card skimmer attached that reads your card details incl. your pin. And they go to town on your account after!
Our Advice: If you find a machine that looks dodgy, walk away. Find another one. If someone gets too close while you are transacting at an ATM, ask them to step back. Cover the Pad when you type in your pin! If in doubt don’t do it!
13. Very Common in Lourdes & Rome – Child Beggars
We were warned by our tour guide thank goodness. These kids look pitiful, they appear blind, very weak and hungry, playing deaf …with a mother who appears blind or disabled! These children are used to collect money from unsuspecting tourists.
There was a particularly persistent woman at the entrance to the church at the very top of the Spanish steps in Rome! They play on your compassion, charity and sense of generosity! Many times they are also pick pockets! So be careful who you offer your kindness to.
What to do: If you must give, walk into a café and buy a meal and give it to the kids or parent…! The genuine ones will be so grateful. The fakes will look disdainfully at your offering. Otherwise don’t give money to street beggars. Often times they are gang members looking to fleece you!
14. Free Trinkets tourist scams
It’s so sad when people target kids as a way to scam the parents. These people will approach you with necklaces, bracelets, toys etc. and hand them to your child or place them on you! They then demand money, and make a scene if you refuse to pay! Your child may make a scene too as they now want that toy! Cheap plastic. We have met Travellers in Rome supposedly giving away scarves or slinkies…
Our Advice: Walk away very fast if anyone offers you a “Free anything” in a public place. Don’t accept hold of anything…teach your children stranger danger!
15. Selfie Photo Offer
Don’t know why they do this in Rome, but this is one of the commonest tourist scams at the Colosseum. The fake gladiators are the worst. They invite you to take photos with them and then demand payment.
It can happen anywhere else too. Where someone offers to take your photo, and as you get ready to look Insta-glam, holding up the Taj Mahal. Your Samaritan meanwhile legs it with your iPhone or camera!
What to do: Seriously it’s hard to determine who is a good guy and who is a slimy rat! It’s better to ASK for help from a fellow tourist, someone you may be in the same tour group with. Travelling solo? Read the situation, ask someone. DON’T Accept help from supposed good Samaritan and hand over your £500 kit! Or why not purchase a Selfie stick for less than $10 surely it’s a fab investment for or future Insta-worthy selfies. We got one in Barcelona for $3…Waheyyy!
- Free Drinks/Meal Scams
This can be one of the life threatening Tourist scams. Sad to say we witnessed such in Marmaris Turkey! A group of young lads joined a group of teenage girls at our all-inclusive hotel. They offered to take them clubbing to the latest club in town, for free. Of course the young ladies were up for it since these men were buying the “Foreign” drinks which they didn’t have to buy. The girls didn’t notice the drugs being slipped into their drinks. No one did!
Well a couple of the gals agreed to go and the other two said they were too drunk to go out, thank goodness. The two that went out were gang raped and beaten up! We learned about this the next morning from a weeping mom when we asked why there were police in the hotel reception!
How to Avoid this: Please this goes back to knowing your self-worth, and stranger danger. We all love to party but for crying out loud, why party with total strangers in a strange city? Stick with people you know and in places you have relative safety in numbers.
Don’t go anywhere with a stranger however nice they claim it is. Whether day or night! Don’t accept drinks from strangers and dont leave your drink unattended in a public place.
17. Fake Hotel Front Desk Call
You are asleep, in the middle of the night your hotel room phone rings…! This man/woman asks you to confirm your credit card details as it has been rejected by the system! The thing is, it is not your hotel calling, at all. It is a scammer usually in cahoots with a Hotel staff member, whose only aim is to rob you blind! Empty your account or buy extravagant stuff on your credit card!
What to do: Simply tell the caller, you will visit the front desk in the daytime and deliver the info they need personally. It’s simply not a good time to be calling! In the morning go check with the front desk if they did call and why? Never ever give out your bank or credit card details over the phone.
- Bird Poo or Gunk on your back Tourist Scams
Some cheeky scammers will spill some dirty stuff on you from behind. They will tell you it’s bird poo or some crap and offer to clean it off. While otherwise distracted, this supposed kind stranger will try to steal your wallet.
If this happens to you. Decline the help, walk to a public rest room, café or hotel and clean up. Good things is this type of traveller scam happens in tourist attractions and busy towns. So there is always somewhere to clean up.
- Fake Wi-Fi Hub Tourist scams
We live in a digital era and every app we need demands data or Wi-Fi. Most of us like to use Free Wi-Fi spots in public cafes to check our Facebook, booking, etc! Please be very careful where you access free Wi-Fi. Many Hackers set up re-directs in unsecured hotspots. They gain access to everything on your Gadget…including passwords and bank details. Even Identity!
What to do: Unless you absolutely must, avoid free public unsecured hotspots! If you do then it’s is recommended you hide your surfing. We did suggest you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to book your flight. Well do the same here. We use Avast VPN at only $12.99/yr. It is also highly advisable to use the secure password protected Hotel Wi-Fi, even if you have to pay a little bit for that!
20. Cheap Carpets and Jewelry Tourist Scams
This is a common holiday scam in North Africa; Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and we believe Asia! If you are approached by a local recommending cheap authentic Arabian carpets, gold, silver etc. Or in a local market you are offered such thing…! Just know these things are fakes, and very poor quality at that!
What to do: Well, common sense dictates that you don’t buy expensive items while on vacation. If a deal sounds too good to be true, then it most probably is. Leave that carpet with the souk or buy your jewellery in a proper retailer. Will cost a bit more, but hey, you can return the stuff right!
There are so many more, but you get the picture and we don’t wish to make your day gray or put you off traveling. Just know that tourist scams are just the worst experiences. They paint a bad picture of a destination and could ruin an otherwise great vacation.
Don’t be a victim of scammers & don’t let any of these things stop you from exploring this beautiful planet, the majority of humans are peace loving wonderful people!
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Julie Syl Kalungi
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