These eight common travel scams can dupe even the savviest of travelers. Read our tips on how to avoid them.
Even experienced travelers can become victims of crooks that prey on tourists – and we’re not just talking about pickpockets. Perpetrators use a number of ploys to dupe tourists.
The good news? There are steps you can take to avoid these eight common travel scams and swindles.
Fake booking websites
Fraud can occur before you even pack your bags. Fake travel reservation websites are common culprits. In fact, a whopping 15 million online hotel reservations are made on bogus third-party sites every year, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports.
How to avoid it: The easiest way to protect yourself is by going to the official website of the hotel, airline, or rental car agency to book reservations. If you’re considering using a third-party booking website, though, look up the business on the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against the company for fraud. Also, make sure the booking site’s URL starts with https:// – this ensures it’s a secure website.
The broken taxi meter
Sadly, some taxi drivers take advantage of tourists by telling them that their meter is broken and then charge them significantly more money than the fare should have cost.
How to avoid it: If a taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, get out and opt for another driver. Don’t have another taxi to choose from? Negotiate the rate ahead of time.
Phony Wi-Fi hotspots
Connecting your computer, smartphone, or other electric device to an unsecured Wi-Fi network can put your personal data at risk, since the perpetrator can gain access to what’s on your device, including sensitive information like credit card account numbers.
How to avoid it: Instead of using public Wi-Fi, create a mobile hotspot from your smartphone. This entails sharing your phone’s mobile data connection wirelessly with the other device you’re using. If you don’t have a large or unlimited data plan, though, creating a mobile hotspot may not be a financially feasible option. If you must use a public Wi-Fi connection, use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which is “a private network that only you can access, hiding your important data from potential hackers,” says Hailey Benton of Global Travel Academy.
Your hotel accommodation or attraction is "closed"
We’re not trying to give taxi drivers a bad rap – most cabdrivers are honest providers – but some drivers mislead travelers by telling them that their desired hotel or attraction is closed, even though it’s open. The driver will then try to pressure you to stay at a different hotel or visit a different attraction, which offers the driver a kickback for bringing the company business.
How to avoid it: This one is pretty simple: if a cabbie tells you that your hotel or attraction is closed, call directly to see whether it’s truly open or closed.
Renting a car? You need to have your guard up. A fraudster may tell you to pull over because there’s a problem with your vehicle, like a broken taillight or a flat tire. Instead of inspecting your car, the person robs you at gun- or knife-point.
How to avoid it: Don’t pull over. If there’s a genuine problem, you’ll likely hear a noise or see an emergency light pop on, at which point you should find a repair shop.
The bag slash
A purse may seem like a good place to store cash and other valuables. However, crooks target tourists by riding on a bicycle past the person while slicing the strap of a bag, then pedaling away with its contents.
How to avoid it: Though some people think they look silly, storing your valuables – money, passport, and credit cards – in a money belt that you tuck into your pants is the safest way to stroll the streets.
The shell game
It’s an age-old scam: a game operator on the street places a ball under one of three shells or cups, shuffles them around, and you place a bet on where you think the ball is. The trick? Associates acting as tourists guess correctly, leading you to think you can win. The perpetrator has removed the ball using sleight of hand, or you win and the person pays you with counterfeit money.
How to avoid it: Don’t play. Don’t even stop to watch – you could get pickpocketed by a conspirator while you’re distracted by the game.
The souvenir switcheroo
You stop at a stall to buy a keepsake. You find the item you want to purchase and pay the vendor, who then goes to wrap up your purchase. When you get home, though, you unwrap your souvenir to discover it’s not the item you purchased – it’s actually a cheaper trinket.
How to avoid it: Don’t buy souvenirs on the street. Instead, go to a brick-and-mortar store that can be held accountable.