Top Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Common Travel Scams
CruiseSafely.com

Crooked opportunists take many shapes and forms and travel scams are highly common.

Most travelers are completely unaware that they are often being watched, which is why it’s important to be aware of different common travel scams and know how to avoid them. You can often avoid being victimized by being aware of your surroundings and others nearby.

Thieves are willing to take risks, but they also calculate those risks. Simply put; if you are confident, aware and – most importantly, sober – then they’ll likely move on to an easier target.

A traveler’s chance of getting robbed greatly increases in highly dense tourist locations, so be careful!

While your time abroad will probably be spent incident free, it is vital to be prepared, and thanks to Dave & Deb at ThePlanetD.com for sharing these tips, you’ll know exactly what to watch out for.

Fake Officials
Fake Officials Travel Scam
InPublicSafety.com
This scam relies on the fact that people generally trust the police or security, but that ‘official’ who asks to see your documents or passport might not be real, and to get them back you could be forced to pay a bribe. Don’t hand over your documents to anyone — instead, ask them to take you to the police station where you will be happy to show your documents.

Bump and Grab
Bump and Grab Travel Scam
CorporateTravelSafety.com
The most common travel scam is the bump and grab, often perpetrated on trains and buses, where a thief or a gang of thieves distract you with a shove/bump and then proceed to lift your valuables from your pocket and/or purse. Another trick is to grab the purse of someone standing/sitting near the door and get off the train or bus just as the doors are closing.

The best way to avoid this travel scam is to be one step ahead of the thief. Spread out all your valuables; never keep all your important documents, money, credit cards and/or your passport in one place. Second, never put a wallet or anything of value in either your front or back jean pocket, and always opt for cross-body purse with zippers (no flimsy one button purses). Keep money and credit cards in a money belt worn inside your clothing when possible.

Bus Scams
Bus Travel Scams
CorporateTravelSafety.com
Some common bus travel scams include; a stranger helping you stow your bag above your seat while his accomplice pickpockets you or slashes your backpack. Another variation of this scam includes a Good Samaritan that was helping you stow you luggage suddenly takes off with your bag and/or hands it off to a runner near the front of the bus. The best way to avoid bus scams is to be extremely wary of overly helpful locals, never let your bags out of your sight, keep your most valuable possessions as close to you as possible and never allow strangers to touch or handle your bags.

Counterfeit money
Counterfeit Money Travel Scam
AxisPaymentNews.com
This type of travel scam is most common in restaurants and in cab rides. At the end of the meal/ride, you hand the employee a bill and he will claim that your bill is fake, return the bill to you and ask for a different type of payment. The problem is that you did end up giving him a real bill and while you weren’t looking he swapped the real bill with a counterfeit one. To avoid this type of scam, make sure to familiarize yourself with the country’s currency before arrival, pay close attention when paying and use exact change when you can.

The ‘you have gunk on you’ Scam
Gunk On You Travel Scam
TybeeArts.org
There are two variations of this scam but it starts out with someone putting something, such as mustard or ketchup (there have been reports of human/animal feces being thrown at travelers), on your body. The thief will either smear something on your back or the substance will be thrown at you from an unknown location. Then, a seemingly innocent bystander will come to tell you that you have something on your back or offer you a tissue.

The point of this travel scam is to get you to take off your backpack, purse and/or camera. If someone tells you that you have something on your back, do not take off your backpack to check! Instead keep walking, ignore any Good Samaritans and only remove your bags when you are in a safe and secure location.

ATM Scams
ATM Travel Scam
Gizmodo.com
ATM skimmers are a device that can be attached to the mouth of an ATM and will secretly record credit and debit card information, including the PIN, when customers slip their cards into the machine. To avoid this always use ATMs in reputable banks, and if the ATM sucks in your card, refusing to give it back, then go into the bank immediately.

Cities with the highest occurrences of street theft:

  • Madrid, Spain
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Rome, Italy
  • Paris, France
  • Athens, Greece
  • London, England

Source: WikiHow

Another method of this ATM travel scam is to place a sticky plastic slip inside of the slot, which will cause your card to get stuck in the machine. Once again, a Good Samaritan will be on hand to “help” you and might suggest that you call the phone number, often a fake number, on the machine for help. In the end, never give out your personal PIN to anyone in person or on the phone. If you end up loosing your card, call your bank immediately and cancel the card.

If It’s Too Good to Be True, It is
Taxi Fare Travel Scam
TheInspirationRoom.com
Someone offers you a ride for a price that seems too good to be true, then either takes you somewhere else, or demands more money when you get to your destination. The way to avoid this travel scam is to know the approximate amount of your cab fare before getting in the taxi. And if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In the end, the best thing that you can do to avoid these travel scams is to be aware and prepared.

Have you ever been duped? Tell us what Common Travel Scams you’ve fallen for.

About Trisha Miller 41 Articles
Trisha is the Editor-in-Chief at Travel Writers Exchange, a community for travel writers & bloggers. She's also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and a former member of the IFWTWA, serving on their Board of Directors from 2009 through 2015. When not traveling the world, Trisha occasionally guest-blogs for a number of websites, writing mainly about travel and technology, sometimes both at the same time.

4 Comments

  1. This isn’t a travel scam but, something that us women often do without thinking. We hang our or set our purse on the empty chair when we are out at a restaurant. This is easy picking for a passer by. My husband did this with his camera in France. Never saw the thief, so smooth.

    • Hi Nancy,

      So sorry about the loss of your camera! :-(

      But you make an excellent point…likewise with leaving your purse hanging on the back of your chair, where you really can’t keep an eye on it (and where it’s easier to accidentally walk off without it)….that person seated behind you might be a skilled pickpocket who can easily get into your purse, lift your wallet, and close up your purse again all without anyone noticing …. and then hours later you go to pay for something and wonder what happened to your wallet!

  2. I recently read a posting by Bankrate.com about travel scams; one of them being taxi’s in Mexico and elsewhere that did not have meters and therefor could charge whatever and should be avoided. I would assume that you could negotiate a rate before you took the cab. Is this really a problem?

    • Hi Pat,

      It’s true that cabs in Mexico and other places outside of the US don’t typically have meters…..usually they have just a ‘flat rate’ to go somewhere, since *most* taxis are used by tourists, and most tourists typically just go from place A to place B (maybe that’s from their resort to a local shopping plaza or tourist attraction)…..and in SOME cases you can negotiate a rate, particularly if you have a group all going to the same place.

      What’s most important is to ask ahead of time what the fare is (as well the exchange rate if you’re not paying in the local currency!) and be SURE you ask if that includes extra persons (if you’re not going somewhere by yourself)…..we’ve heard of a few isolated cases of a fare being quoted and the rider assumed that was for two people, only to get to the destination and discover that it was a ‘per person’ rate…..so ALWAYS ask before you get in the taxi. If you’re staying at a resort, then the bell captain will be able to help you, especially when there’s a language barrier.

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