Top Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Common Travel Scams

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 for sharing these tips, you’ll know exactly what to watch out for.

Fake Officials
Fake Officials Travel Scam
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Cities with the highest rates 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.

To avoid these problems always use ATMs located inside of reputable banks, and if the ATM sucks in your card, refusing to give it back, then go into the bank immediately to get help.

Pro Tip: If you need cash while traveling abroad, try to find a bank or staffed currency exchange office, which are generally ubiquitous in tourist destinations, and generally offer better exchange rates…even the concierge desk at your hotel should be able to provide some cash exchange, even if it’s just small bills for tipping…an ATM machine should be your last choice when you have no other.
If It’s Too Good to Be True, It is
Taxi Fare Travel Scam
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.

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About Trisha Miller - Editor-in-Chief 59 Articles
Trisha is also 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 visiting the many all-inclusive resorts she loves, Trisha spends her time writing, mainly about travel and technology, sometimes both at the same time.

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