Travel Scams to Avoid

Don't walk like a tourist! - Simple but powerful words for anyone looking to travel, especially to big cities. It doesn't matter what city you are going to. From New York to Los Angles to Rome to Casablanca, thieves are on the lookout for you and if you fit the profile, you become their bait. In this series, we will explore how travelers can stay safe in this world of the unexpected.

Man with wallet in back pocket
Place your wallet in your front pocket instead of your back pocket, where thieves go first to get your money.


These guys will jump at every opportunity they see so quite simply, don't let them see one. They thrive in crowded places (e.g. busy streets, subways, buses, elevators, etc.). Many times they will have an accomplice who will try to distract you while the other one goes for your pockets.

Here are some tips to not just avoid pickpockets, but from anyone who is looking to steal or scam you:

Tourist with camera

  • Try to avoid going out during rush hours.
  • Place your wallet in your front pocket.
  • Women: Hold on to the straps of your bags and make sure they are zipped shut.
  • Dress like you belong there and not like you are ready for Sunday mass.
  • Do not walk with a camera around your neck. Carry a point & shoot or use your smartphone.
  • Take out the camera only when you are ready to shoot.
  • If you have to look at a map, do it in your hotel room or somewhere else where there is privacy. Better yet, use the navigation on your smartphone.

The stories about tourists being victims of theft are endless.

Paul-Charles Chocarne-Moreau The Cunning Thief

A woman was at the reception desk of a 4-star hotel in Barcelona and she just happened to be looking towards the main entrance of the hotel when she saw something that startled her. A taxi pulled up to the entrance and a man and woman exited. Just then, a thief jumped out from nowhere. Grabbed the woman's purse and ran. He was not caught.

In another incident, a group of tourists was walking down a street in Rome and up came a motorcycle onto the sidewalk. The man grabbed the woman's bag and shot off. In this particular case, the joke was on him, as he did not grab the bag that held the woman's valuables. Instead, he grabbed the bag that contained toilet paper.

In Southern Utah, US, a man was driving north in a mostly deserted area. He stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a drink. A man was standing outside asked him for a dollar as his mother was very sick and he needed to buy food. The man gave him the dollar. Then, about 40 miles down the road. The man stopped at a gas station and there was another man who asked him for a dollar because his sister was ill and he needed to buy food. The man did not give him the dollar.

In Casablanca, a tour guide notice that one of the people in his group is missing. So he asked one of the locals if he saw this person. The man said yes and took him through an open market to the end of the market and said: "Here, this is where I sell my items".

The message behind these true examples is that crimes and deception can happen anywhere at any time. You can limit these things from happening to you by being alert and most of all, using common sense!

Taxi ScamsBroken Meter

Although most taxi drivers are honest, you still have to be vigilant when you get into a cab. Unscrupulous drivers near airports and stations are seasoned practitioners. For instance, unbeknownst to passengers, the taxi meter may actually be broken and the cab driver may or may not inform the innocent tourists. Once they reach their destination, the driver may charge an exorbitant amount and the passengers will not realize this deception since they are from out of town.

This is why travelers should be extra cautious about the fare before boarding a taxi. If you suspect that the meter is broken or if he tells you that, you can negotiate a fixed price prior to the journey. It is also imperative to ensure that the driver is using the meter or that it starts from a minimal amount, which will be his margin.

Around the Block Could Mean Around the World!

There have been instances where taxi drivers will take passengers miles out of the way to build up the fare once they realize that the passengers are not from their area. When you go into a taxi, carry a map or use your GPS to make sure the cab driver is going in the right direction.

Alternatively, you may want to use a rideshare app. In these cases, at least he/she will be listed with the rideshare company and the route will also be mapped by them, which makes it harder for the drivers to deceive you.

Closed Accommodations

Another common method employed by scammers is the old trick of the closed hotel or resort. Once the passenger is safely seated and en route to the pre-booked accommodation, cab drivers may be tempted to use this approach.

When you are nearby or upon reaching your destination, they will inform you that the hotel is either closed or has an abundance of booking, which is why you have to find an alternate play to stay. Despite its prevalence, travelers are sporadically inclined to fall for it. Given the last minute nature of their new booking, it will cost them a small fortune. The ripple effect of this transaction will be that the taxi driver will earn a gracious commission if he made the recommendation for the hotel.

If they give you advice in such circumstances, there is a foolproof way of tackling this predicament. Make sure to guarantee that the residence is legitimately closed. Check by calling their number to corroborate your reservation. This may reveal that the taxi driver is indeed trying to misguide you. Also, if you encounter a belligerent cab driver who insists on taking you elsewhere, you should reiterate that you want to return to the original location.

Automatic Teller Machines

One of the most notorious crimes is associated with bank ATMs and there are a few of these scams going around. The vast majority of ATMs deduce a service charge when you complete the transaction of withdrawing money. Unless you are fortunate enough to find the same bank abroad, you will be liable to pay this fee.

Person covering hand at ATM

The way scammers trick you in this instance is by offering to assist you. They will mention an ATM nearby where you can avoid the local bank fees entirely. However, they will have an ulterior motive of course. The real reason for their altruism may be to scan your bank card in the process. They accomplish this by using a card skimmer. Additionally, they will try to obtain your PIN number by placing a tiny camera around the ATM keypad.

The best way to combat this method is by ensuring that you have privacy when you are performing the transaction at the ATM. It is better to be safe and pay the negligible fee than feel sorry later when you have been duped by a stranger. This could be a magnanimous pedestrian or another person pretending to queue behind you. Hence, try to be on your guard when you are near an ATM or executing any activity that involves money. In addition, grab the ATM card receiving device and make sure it is solidly in place (a loose one would indicate that it may have been tampered with). Then place your hand over the keypad so that no cameras can detect what you are typing.

Even if you are not pressured to go to another ATM, the one you go to might just be one that has a skimmer.

Closed Attraction

Yet another frequent scam that presents itself upon your travels is finding that the attraction you are visiting is closed. Similar to the hotel antics, someone may be on hand to tell you that the mall or amusement park you were planning to visit is actually closed. They may cite lunch break as the reason for its closure or they may mention a religious or political reason for why it is closed. They may even do you one better and try to guide you to another attraction where you are pressurized into paying a significant entry fee or buying merchandise.

The best way to avert such an unfortunate scenario is by making an independent decision. You should think on your feet and take the initiative instead of blindly following whoever is trying to assist you. You can proceed to the ticket counter to inquire about other tourists who you feel may speak the same language and are traveling in a congregation.

Final Thoughts!

Best way to protect yourself when abroad is to research your travel plans in advance, get reviews, don’t do the obvious, such as walking along the street with a map in hand or a camera strapped around your neck (smartphones make great cameras).

Keep your wallet in your front pocket and check it periodically by padding your pocket. Be perceptive and vigilant of your surroundings at all times. Avoid places where there are not a lot of people and do what mother would always tell us to do - DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS!

Posted On September 1, 2018