Summer is the time to take your vacation, as the children are out of school, the weather is better and we’re half way through the year, but remember there are always tourist travel scams to be aware of. Countries like India, Turkey, Italy and Peru notoriously have bad reputations with their tourist travel scams, but being aware of them ahead of your trip means that you’re less likely to fall victim to them!
The distraction method is one of the most common tourist travel scams and can occur anywhere, at home or abroad. A child or anyone for that matter distracts you (to ask you directions or something similar), while another person comes in to potentially steal your belongings. Aside from being alert to your surroundings, ensure all your money isn’t in one place and that your wallet and other valuables (like your Smartphone) are carefully hidden.
Everyone’s experienced dodgy taxi drivers that take you on the longest journey of your life or charge you an inflated fare at the end of the cab ride. They can even resort to telling you that the place you’re trying to get to is no longer in business, so as to con you into going somewhere they’re affiliated with (or get commission from). In this situation, stand your ground, tell them you know where you’re going (plan the shortest route on Google Maps ahead of time), negotiate your fare with the driver, and insist on them driving you to your destination (not theirs).
It’s guaranteed that someone strange will approach you while on vacation. They may ask you where you’re from – in which case be wary of saying you’re from Europe, Australia or America (depending on where you are of course), as locals assume that you’re rich and have lots of money, and that you might be willing to impart with your iPhone or Rolex (even if it is fake) for a fair price! A stranger on the street who is asking you for money is up to no good, so steer clear of getting involved in any scam where they're offering you a price for your belongings that sounds too good to be true.
When visiting the larger cities like New York, London, Paris, Rome, Prague, Barcelona, St. Petersburg, and Istanbul, you'll use public transportation to get around. Take note that pickpockets and thieves love crowded buses, trains and busy street intersections, where people are in a hurry and packed into tight spaces. Be on the lookout for those that get unnecessarily close, and as mentioned above, the stranger that wants to befriend you, or asks you for lots of money. Keep your hand on your wallet and your bag closed and near you, at all times. Don't leave your bag on the floor or hang it on the back of a chair at a restaurant. Also, be on the lookout for potted plant perimeters at cafes where thieves have been known to snatch bags and other personal belongings.
You’re more likely to encounter fake police and customs officials (that you might have to bribe), when you’re crossing a border on foot, bike or via public transportation, than when you’re arriving at an airport. Fake police might bribe you for a crime you didn’t commit and fake customs officials might charge extra for your entrance visa or want to see your passport (which you may never see again)! Always ask for the officer’s ID before handing over your passport or money, and if in doubt, offer to accompany them to the ‘real’ local police station to see if the error gets excused. Tip: appease fake officials carrying weapons that you think could be used on you, if you don’t cooperate. Whatever they are asking to be handed over can be replaced and is always better than putting your life at risk.
Sometimes fake guides will approach you on your way to a temple or museum and offer to take you on a ‘private tour,’ or they’ll mention that the place you’re visiting is closed and is only worth seeing with a personal guide. You can also get accosted into visiting an art gallery or store that sells carpets, gems and local goods by a fake seller using high-pressure sales tactics. Steer clear of anyone offering you a ‘private tour’ or inviting you to an art show. Book these activities from your hotel or authorized travel dealers.
This isn’t as common as the other tourist scams, but it’s something to consider when traveling. I still remember one of my bags getting stolen during a routine hotel housekeeping visit while vacationing in South Africa. Try staying in hotels that have swipe key cards versus the old keys that you have to hand in at the front desk when you leave. And stay at a hotel that has a safety deposit box in each room versus a centralized safety deposit box. It’s always best to punch in your personal electronic code versus using an old fashioned key! Some tourists have duct-taped their belongings to the underside of hotel furniture, but this is certainly not a fool-proof method.
I hope I haven't scared you but still travel scams happen each year! Be alert while on your vacation and stay in tune with your own personal alarm bells. If something doesn’t feel good to you, it probably isn’t. What are some travel scams you’ve dealt with on your travels? Do you have any tips to help fellow travelers avoid travel scams?