Don't Fall for Travel Scams: Essential Guide to Protect Yourself

Scams and travel: They go hand in hand, unfortunately. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in New York City or trekking the backcountry of Laos. Scammers are everywhere.

Even the most seasoned traveler can occasionally get sucked in by a well-planned scam. Here are some of the most common travel scams from around the world – and how to avoid them.

Travel protection from Generali can help if you fall victim to a scam on your trip.

Jump straight to different types of travel scams:

Lookout for Fakes

The fake hotel

In this scam, you’ll be approached and told your hotel has been closed or is overbooked, but they’ll take you to a different hotel, usually a dive that charges exorbitant rates run by accomplices of the scammer.

Don’t fall for this. Always book your hotel in advance and confirm your reservation before arrival. If someone approaches you claiming to be from your hotel, ask for identification or call the hotel to verify.

The fake takeout menu

We’ve all stayed in hotels that have deals with local restaurants – but what if that restaurant is fake?

That’s the premise behind this scam. A “menu” is slid under your door, but when you order, they take your credit card information, but never deliver any food.

You may be hungry, but you should make sure your food source is legit. Ask the front desk; look for reviews. If a map suggests the location is close by, take a little stroll and see if there’s a restaurant there.

Also keep an eye out for fake internet: Wi-Fi Travel Security Tips

Payment Scams

The overpriced goods

This scam often happens in markets or souvenir shops, where vendors may inflate prices or claim that a product is rare or of high quality when it's not. Sometimes the product isn’t even the subject of the scam, but the “hospitality” (tea and cookies) shown while viewing the goods.

To avoid this scam, research the going rate for the local specialties before you go shopping. Also, bargain hard. Haggling is often part of the game. Avoid vendors who pressure you to buy. That “once-in-a-lifetime sale” probably isn’t.

The camel (or elephant) ride

Camel and elephant rides are great, but getting up is hard and getting down … well, let’s just say there may be an added unexpected charge for getting you down from the camel or elephant once you’re up, or other price negotiations that are not expected.

Watch how the people ahead of you are treated, and if it seems like there’s a dismount tariff or other issues, move along.

The currency scam

When you’re at an ATM in a foreign country, it’s amazing how many people are your friends, happy to help you suss out the intricacies of their local cash machine. Naturally, they have an angle, and their angle is likely to steal your PIN, swipe your card, or scrape your data.

When withdrawing cash at a foreign ATM, know in advance how much you want, cover the keypad with your hand, do a visual or physical inspection and don’t let your ATM card out of your sight. Do not let yourself become distracted or confused.

Try to use ATMs in airports, train stations and other high-traffic, well-lighted areas. Otherwise, go inside a bank and use the ATM there.

Also, when you’re checking out of your foreign hotel, always pay in local currency. If you opt to pay in dollars, the hotel may convert them to local currency at an unfavorable rate.

The credit card scam

Recently an American tourist in Los Cabos was scammed at a gas station. After filling up, they paid by handing the attendant their credit card, which they scanned and handed back – only it wasn’t the customer’s credit card at all! That went into the attendant’s pocket.

Take a second when you hand someone your credit card and make sure the card you’re getting back is yours.

Also read: Why You Shouldn't Rely on Credit Card Travel Insurance

The taxi ride

Sometimes taxi drivers can magically turn 20 of the local currency into 10 (or 10 into five, or 100 into just about anything).

The scam works like this: You give the driver a 100 for a 75-whatever fare and they ask for more money, brandishing a 50 you “gave” them.

This scam puts you in a pickle, and the local authorities aren’t guaranteed to take your side. The workaround is to always verbally state the amount you’re giving before you give it – i.e., “Here’s 50 dollars.”

But that’s not all a taxi driver scammer can do. They can diss your chosen restaurant and promise to take you to a better place … which of course is a long taxi fare away and has high prices to boot.

When it comes to taxi-recommended restaurants, it’s best to verify.

Finally, many cities and countries have two types of taxis: authorized and unauthorized. Sometimes they’re identified by color. Make sure you always take an authorized taxi.

Classic Travel Scams

The pickpocket

Pickpockets are everywhere, from small towns to big cities, domestic to international. Wherever there are tourists, there are pickpockets.

There are all sorts of ways that pickpockets can grab your valuables. Some are subtle – the slight jostling on a crowded bus or train – and some are more quick and violent, like the slashing of straps on a bag.

Fortunately, pickpockets can be thwarted easily, if not inexpensively. Backpacks and purses with cut-proof straps are a great way to keep thieves away, but they’re no substitute for keeping bags at your feet or strapped in across your body or in front of you while waiting in line.

In addition, infinity scarves and belts can hold valuables, and “pickpocket-proof” clothing with multiple straps and Velcro strips are the ultimate way of keeping thieves from your stuff.

Also read: How to Prevent Identity Theft When You Travel

Watch to see tips about how to avoid pickpockets on vacation:

The dropped ring

In this scam, a con artist points to a ring on the sidewalk (which they dropped) and asks if it’s yours. You say no, but they say it looks valuable, and they’ll sell it to you at a good price.

If you don’t bite immediately, they may say they’ll “give” it to you since they “found” it right next to you, but not without exchanging some money for it.

This scam has a close cousin – the “dropped wallet” scam. Same method, different details.

Learn more about your rights as a traveler

The friendship bracelet

If you’re in a foreign country and a nice young person offers you a friendship bracelet, respectfully decline.

How can a simple friendship bracelet be a scam? Some sort of payment is almost always expected. Best to avoid the friendship bracelet and short-circuit the scam.

Travel Protection and Scams

If you travel with trip protection from Generali and encounter a scam, there are a few ways we can help.

Our plans include Baggage coverage, so you may be reimbursed if your luggage, personal possessions, or travel documents, such as a passport, are lost, damaged or stolen during your trip.

In addition, our 24/7 Travel Assistance Services include help to locate or replace lost or stolen items and can connect you with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the area you are visiting, where they can help you plan next steps.

If a crucial travel document, like your passport, is stolen, our travel protection plans offer Travel Delay and Trip Interruption coverages. This means you may receive coverage for expenses associated with rescheduling your travel while waiting for your passport replacement and even be reimbursed for fees related to getting a new passport.

If your identity has been compromised, the same plans also include Identity Theft Resolution Services that can help if your passport, credit card or other sensitive documents are stolen on your trip.

Find a travel protection plan today.


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