Traveling is amazing, it enriches your soul, open your eyes and help you to understand other countries. But it is so easy to ruin your trip when you don’t know popular scams which bad people are using. Unfortunately, it is so popular to scam relaxed travelers and tourists that sometimes it’s even ridiculous. The only way to decrease the number of scams is by sharing the scams you know. So that’s what I and other collaborating travelers are doing today. We are sharing the most popular scams we know and we wish you a safe trip.
If you have experienced a scam that is not listed here, please share it in the comment section. Also, read my blog post: how to stay safe as a solo traveler.
1. Not showing the menu
Unfortunately, I have experienced that twice. Once in Georgia (Sakartvelo) and once in Italy, near Vatican city. So the main idea is that when you enter a restaurant or a cafe a nice waiter approaches you, he offer you meals, drinks and makes jokes. In Georgia, a guy was asking to marry me and just telling how pretty I was. So silly…. but when he brought a bill it was 10 times bigger. When we asked to show a menu, he said no, that they don’t have it and this is the right price. In Italy we even gave a bill for local Italians who were sitting next to us, they were so disappointed with the restaurant. In the end, we just had to pay the bill and it was not a pleasant memory.
2. Scam of asking for directions
Yes, you have to help people if they are lost, but be always conscious where are all your stuff. In Spain, Barcelona I was waiting at the bus station with my mom and my sister and a well-dressed man came to ask and asked for directions. He had a huge map and he asked us to show him where in the city center. The whole time I was explaining to the man where to go, another man took my bag which was in between my legs. That day I lost all my money and my phone with all my photos. That was a good lesson for me to never keep all of my photos only on my phone.
3. Grand Palace in Bangkok Scam
You cannot go all the way to Thailand and not see the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It is the country’s most auspicious and celebrated attraction. Situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, it is a source of inspiration for locals and visitors alike. However, it is worth knowing about a particularly common scam that happens outside the palace and in its surroundings. This is where travelers are approached by someone informing them that the Grand Palace is closed to tourists on the account of a special religious ceremony. It is then followed by an offer to show the traveler a special temple in the city that is not often open to outsiders, in an attempt to extort large amounts of money for this.
A little research before visiting the Palace will give insight into whether it is officially closed, which only happens on a handful of days throughout the year. It is worth taking the time and effort to visit this palace to get a better understanding of the country and its people. However, do be aware of this scam to avoid any ill pleasantries and loss of money as a result.
4. The “American in Distress” Scam
I’m a pretty savvy traveler (I’ve been to more than sixty countries!) but this scam in Mexico still left me scratching my head. I was walking down one of the busiest streets in the city when I was approached by a well-dressed, middle-aged American man. He told me that he worked for a major American accounting firm and that he was in town on business, but he’d just forgotten his passport and wallet in a taxi. Could I help him out by lending him some money for a taxi back to the airport? He promised that his company would reimburse me as soon as he got back to the USA…
Don’t fall for this scam in Mexico! I didn’t give him any money; instead, I gave him directions to the American Embassy (which was right around the corner). When I came home and looked online, I learned that he’d been running this scam for years! He wasn’t an American businessman – he was an American retiree who’d run out of money. And he wasn’t the only foreigner running this scam in Mexico. There were stories of a “pastor” in Cancun and a “lawyer” in Guadalajara who was well-known for trying the same scam. The “American in Distress” scam is common in Mexico due to its proximity to the USA, but it happens all over the world. If a well-dressed, “professional” foreigner approaches you in the street and asks to borrow money, don’t give them anything. If they truly need assistance they can go to the police or their embassy.
By Carly from Absolutely Calgary
5. Child Beggars
We love meeting locals when we travel but child begging is a heartbreaking encounter we never find pleasant. It happens more than we would like to admit. Typically it starts with harmless small talk and transpires into asking for money, food, supplies or asking us to buy a souvenir. However, the reasons behind child begging are often more complex than what meets the eye.
There are many reasons why a child may be begging however, oftentimes they are part of a “begging mafia”. A group of criminals that use children to drum up money and supplies from sympathetic tourists. This tends to be especially true for children with a physical disability. The leaders of these mafias have been known to hurt the children and leave them with permanent disabilities to play into the emotions of tourists.
Saying no can be uncomfortable, difficult, and downright sad. If after encountering these kids you feel an overwhelming desire to help, there are definitely ways to say no and to give back to the community. Ways that don’t support the cycle of children beggars and the mafia groups which are responsible for children going missing in huge numbers each year.
Contributed by sustainable travel bloggers Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel.
6. Roma scams in Rome
You may notice many gypsies in Rome and other parts of Italy. Beware! You may feel sorry for the little children that tug on your shirt or the nonna’s begging outside of major tourist attractions, but you are best not to be sucked into this scam (as I have in the past).
Pick pocketers are many in the city of love. Do not be fooled by Rome’s beauty and romanticism because this is who the scammers are targeting. The person with passion in their eyes and a camera around their neck.
Sometimes Roma’s are easy to spot; they could be groups; they could be precisely what you would find if you googled the word Roma. However, do not be fooled; they could also be some unassuming man asking for a light. I can vouch for this first hand when my father (who is Italian himself mind you) took some cash out of his pocket to hand me. Typically, this wouldn’t be an issue, however clearly someone was watching.
Within minutes, a man approached him harmlessly asking for a light, my father kindly reached into his pocket (the opposite one to the cash) and handed him a lighter. The man thanked my dad and walked off, within seconds, my father reached into his pocket, and the money was gone! Distraction is the key! Do not allow anyone to distract you, ensure your money is hidden away at all times.
Contributed by Paula Barnes
7. Fake money in Buenos Aires
As you may know, when visiting new places you must be aware of certain scams that may affect you as a traveler. Many people target unsuspecting travelers in new situations. For example, in Buenos Aires, I came across a scam that you would never expect from a trusted member of the public service. After arriving in the city and navigating the streets using public transport, mainly buses and the metro. I decided to get a taxi. I like many others, I had also questioned my safety in Buenos Aires and having just changed some money in the downtown area, the wisest thing I thought to do was to get a taxi to my next destination.
What I didn’t expect, however, after giving the taxi driver one of my fresh high domination bills, that I would later go to pay another taxi driver with the same bill given to me in change, to find out it was fake. I was told by the honest taxi driver that there is a scam where a group of taxi drivers is giving tourists fake bills. One way to avoid this petty scam is to try to carry the right change for your taxi or, at least carry smaller domination bills when paying for your fare. Not just in Buenos Aires but wherever you go.
8. Officials Seeking Bribes
You will find government officials to be corrupt in many places, particularly in African countries. If you see that an official is pointing out nitpicky things that are wrong with your documents, it’s probably just because they are looking for a bribe. This happened to me most recently in the Republic of the Congo, when I was forced to pay 40 euros for a visa on arrival even though I was traveling on official business with the UN and was supposed to be granted free entry.
A few days later, I went to the port to find a boat that would take me to a nearby island in the middle of the Congo river. Just when I was about to board the boat, an immigration officer called me into her office. She and her colleagues claimed that I needed authorization from the Ministry of Tourism to visit the island. I’m sure they were hoping I would just offer to pay them to sort it out, but I refused. Instead, a went to a different port, where the immigration officers let me board without any problem.
How you handle these situations is up to you. Sometimes it’s easier just to pay and be done with it, but I would encourage you to stand your ground whenever possible. You don’t want to contribute to corruption, and if these people see they can get away with it they will continue to harass others who come after you.
Contributed by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
9. Restaurant scams in Cuba
When we were traveling in Cuba for 10 days, we came across a lot of travel scams. At the moment, we had no idea that we were actually scammed. We were not experienced travelers back then, and I would say, we were a bit naive. The most typical travel scam is when a local (in Cuba called jineteros or hustlers) start a conversation with you: “Hey, my friend, how are you?” The second question is usually: “Where are you from?” We said we are from Bonn in Germany. Surprisingly he had a cousin living there. “Hustlers’ like this will try to build something in common to continue the conversation and potential sales. He even told us that all restaurants are closing soon (it was 6.30 PM, of course, it was a lie) and if we are looking for a place to eat, he can show us one.
Of course, at that moment, you feel gratitude, so you naturally follow. It turns out he got a commission for bringing us in, following with a question if we want to buy some cigars for a “great” price (these kinds of cigars are usually fake). If you meet someone like this, the best thing is to say politely: “no thank you” or just ignore and avoid eye contact.
10. Intercity buses in Ecuador
One of the most popular ways unsuspecting tourists are taken advantage of during travel is to offer help. A widely-used example of this is on intercity buses in Ecuador (or any South American country, for that matter). Many times, there will be people on the bus as you board, posing as bus employees. These people will ask for your ticket, show you to your seat, and take your bags for you to store overhead – usually putting them toward the back of the bus, or somewhere otherwise inaccessible to you during your trip. To avoid being taken advantage of in this sense, there are a couple of precautions you could take.
- Avoid taking overnight buses if at all possible. More theft is likely to occur in the night versus taking a day bus to your destination.
- Use theft-proof bags to store valuables and TSA-approved locks on suitcases.
- Whatever bag you use to store your personal items (passport, cash, wallet, phone, etc.) keep ON YOUR LAP! It may be second nature to stick it between your feet and take a nap – but there have been many instances of thieves slashing the bag from behind and removing the contents without your having noticed. Keep your bag in your lap, and loop the strap around your arm so it can’t be plucked off.
Most important, be mindful of your surroundings, and don’t accept unsolicited help. Happy travels!
11. Rental Car Insurance Scam
One of the travel scams I am most frequently confronted with is this one: You book your rental car through a comparison website online and you book full coverage insurance through the platform and not the actual rental company. Then when you are excited to start your road trip adventure and pick up the rental car, they want you to buy additional insurance. Things like „but our insurance is better“, „you need to have car insurance“, „your insurance isn’t valid“ are common ways to trick you into believing that your insurance, in fact, isn’t that great. Don’t make them fool you!
This is very common in many regions, most notably I found this to be a great issue in Portugal and the Canary Islands where I’ve experienced this first hand. I was super annoyed and also unsure about my actual insurance. I then researched a bit more and found out that this was a proper scam. I even reached out to the platform where I initially booked the car and they confirmed my suspicion. The only difference is that in case of damage you will have to pay for it first to the rental car company and then get reimbursed from your insurance. This might take a few weeks, but I found that doing it this way is cheaper and better.
12. 3 cups game in Paris
One of the most common scams in Paris is the 3 cups game that many tourists fall for. The place where the scam usually occurs is the Eiffel Tower, one of Paris’s most visited sites and an area where actually many more scams occur against tourists. The 3 cups game, however, is one many unaware travelers fall for, for they are attracted by the crowd, the cheering and the thrill of discovery that come with it.
The scam consists of having a person holding 3 cups, placing a ball under one of them and then betting a passerby to guess where the ball is after he mixes the cups. That passerby is usually part of the team in the scam, as well as one or two in the public and one or two more persons further away that warn their companions in case the police are arriving.
Another scam that often occurs also by the Eiffel Tower is that of the deaf/dumb person working for an association in favor of people with disabilities. This person approached unaware tourists pretending to be unable to speak, holding a paper that states what he or she is attempting to do -raising funds for disadvantaged categories. Many tourists fall for this scam thinking they are doing something good by donating for a cause – but this is actually an easy to fall scam.
13. Bus tickets in Europe
This is not really a scam, but when you are in the situation when you are losing money then you feel scammed. Know when you validate your transport tickets when traveling in Europe to avoid a hefty fine. If you’re a first-time traveler to Europe, you’ll need to be aware of ticket validation that isn’t commonplace in the US or the UK.
After purchasing your transport ticket, locate a machine near or on the station, sometimes even aboard the bus, that will validate your ticket. The machines are typically yellow or orange where you’ll insert your ticket that will print a date and time stamp.
Some tickets – particularly those covered within a city pass or a multi-day pass – will require you to write the date and time on yourself in which to validate it. If you have an electronic ticket that has the date and time clearly stated, then this won’t require validation. It’s dependant on the country you’re traveling in and the type of ticket, so it’s always worth checking before boarding. Don’t rely on the ticket inspectors or where you purchase your tickets from to inform you, you’ll need to ask.
14. Flower girls in Italy
One of the most popular scams that people who visit Rome for the first time need to be aware of, is the flower one. You will find the scammers usually around the most popular touristic spots, not only in Rome but in other big cities in Italy as well. They will take advantage of your lack of attention and will put a flower in your hand or slide a cheap string bracelet up your wrist. It can be anything: flowers, bracelets, bunches of herbs, etc.
Once they do this, they will distance themselves from you and refuse to take it back. If you are traveling with your partner, they will give the flower to the woman, asking the man for payment. No matter what you say, they will refuse to take whatever they put in your hand back and will pressure you into paying them.
A good way of avoiding this scam, besides being aware of your surroundings at all times, is to walk with your fists clenched when in popular areas such as Fontana di Trevi or the Spanish Steps. If they have managed to put something in your hand, just drop it on the ground and walk away, ignoring their pleas for money. Once you engage in a conversation with them, they will follow you until you pay. If you ignore them completely, they will give up at some point.