The vacation is booked, you’re packed and ready to go, and the family is on board. Who doesn’t like a good vacation? What could go wrong? One way to avoid a vacation frustration is to be alert to the fact that scammers are also on board—working to get a cut of your hard-earned travel money. Here are a few common scams you might not be aware of.
Disappearing Wallet—During travel season, pickpockets are out in full force at popular tourist destinations, often working in teams. Says former pickpocket Bob Arno to AARP: “One might divert your attention with a bump, a spilled drink or questions while the other steals your wallet. The best defense is to carry your wallet in a small pouch inside your pants, in your breast pocket or in the front pocket of tight pants. Women should keep cash and credit cards in a makeup bag, and keep it in a crossbody bag.”
Fake Wi-Fi Hubs—Be wary of open Wi-Fi hot spots, because they are unsecure and prone to hacking. Always ask the hotel/coffee shop/airport staff which connection is the official one. Avoid doing online shopping or banking via public Wi-Fi. Find more tips here!
Front Desk Fraud—Be suspicious of middle of the night phone calls from the front desk to confirm your credit card details. It might be a scammer who, armed with this information, will take over your account. Instead, inquire at the front desk in person the next morning as to whether there is a problem.
Cabbie Cons—The Broken Meter is a common scam pulled by cab drivers near airports and train stations. Once you’re in the cab, they tell you that the meter is broken and then charge you an outrageous price. To avoid this, take a look to ensure that the meter is working before you get in. If not, look for another driver. Another scam has the cab driver telling you that your hotel is either closed or overbooked, then takes you to a more expensive hotel where the driver will receive a big commission. It’s best to tell them you have a reservation and to take you there anyway. Avoid this situation by calling your hotel in advance, verify if they are open, and if they have a shuttle service.
The Phantom B&B—Fancy websites might describe lavish accommodations at a cool bed & breakfast for a great price. But when you get there, there’s no such address. So, check the place out with the Better Business Bureau beforehand. In foreign countries, there’s usually a tourist bureau that can help you determine if a company is legit.
Spills on Your Clothing—Be alert to strangers claiming that there is a spill on your clothes or they’ve found your ring or other piece of jewelry. This is often a ploy to get close enough to grab your wallet or purse. Also be careful at ATMs—if a bystander offers to help you with an unfamiliar machine, it’s likely a ruse to steal your card and PIN. And don’t fall for an unsolicited offer to take your photograph with a friend or spouse. That’s a good way to have someone dash off with your camera or smartphone. Instead, ask a fellow tourist if they wouldn’t mind taking a group photo, and offer to return the favor.
Motorbike Rental Damage—You rent a moped or scooter for the day, and it gets damaged or stolen overnight. The owner demands additional payment for repairs as compensation. What you don’t know is that it is the owner or his friends who caused the damage. What do you do? Take photos of the bike first to document condition or previous damage. Use your own lock, not one provided by the rental company. Don’t tell the company where you’re really staying, but make sure there’s a safe place to leave the bike overnight.
Fake Tickets—You name it: planes, trains, automobiles and amusement park tickets are fair game for ticket fraud. Someone offers to sell you tickets at a discount, but the tickets aren’t real. By the time you figure it out, the scammers are gone … along with your money.
Have Situational Awareness: Recognize who is around you, what they’re doing, note anything that looks out of place, and how you can remove yourself and your family from the situation if you need to.
If it seems too good to be true, then it’s probably false. If the price is too low, it’s probably fake or a scam.
Save credit card receipts. Purchasing goods in a foreign country presents many opportunities for fraud—think currency conversions, language barriers, or dishonest merchants. If anything seems out of place, pay with cash.
Traveling abroad? Things to do before you go.
Do your research! Get a basic understanding of the culture, environment and travel advisories by checking the U.S. State Department and message boards. Here you’ll find common scams for your destination and other valuable information.
You can also register your trip with the U.S. State Department. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You will receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans. It will also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.
If something goes wrong
Remove yourself from the situation, have a backup plan, contact hotel security and/or file a police report for official documentation—insurance and credit card companies will insist on this. Check your credit card agreement for loss and damage clauses and cancel the card if something is amiss, but again, you’ll need a police report to grease the skids.
Finally, don’t hesitate to contact the 24-hour emergency line U.S. Embassy in the country you’re in to help navigate your individual situation.
Enjoy your trip and stay safe!
Resources: US State Department, AARP, Gobankingrates.com, Expertvagabond.com, Lifehacker.com, Tripadvisor.com; The Points Guy Blog