25 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

by wheretheroadforks

While out traveling, there are a lot of sneaky ways that people will try to part you with your hard-earned money. Most common travel scams are more or less the same all over the world. They just vary slightly depending on where in the world you are. This guide is designed to prepare you for your trip by outlining 25 common travel scams and explaining how they work so you won’t fall victim.

Table of Contents- Common Travel Scams:

Taxi Scams

One of the most common places to get scammed while traveling is in a taxi. For whatever reason, taxi drivers are notorious scammers. A few common taxis scams to be aware of include:

  1. Broken meter- After you get in, the driver informs you that the meter is broken. He will drive you to your destination then demand a ridiculous amount of money for the ride. The amount could range from 2-3 times the actual going rate of the ride to hundreds of dollars.
  2. The meter runs faster than it should- Drivers can tamper with the meter to make it run faster than it is supposed to. This way, the ride costs more than the rate advertised on the side of the cab.
  3. The driver increases the price after the ride- They may give some excuse. For example, they may say it was further than they thought, or traffic was bad so it took longer than they expected.
  4. The driver takes the scenic route- If the driver uses the meter, they may take a longer route to your destination to increase the fare. 
  5. The driver quotes an outrageous price from the beginning- They just assume that all foreigners are ignorant of the actual price and will overpay. 

Some of these scams can also take place in tuk-tuks and rickshaws as well. 

a taxi

How to Avoid Taxi Scams

  • Use Uber or another rideshare service- Because the price is set by the app, you won’t have to haggle over the price of a ride or worry about being overcharged. 
  • If possible, only ride in metered taxis- Insist that the driver use the meter if there is one. It is rare that the meter has been tampered with. The metered fare is always cheaper than negotiating with the driver. In some cities, it can take some time to find a driver who is willing to use the meter. For example, in Bangkok, I’ve had to ask 5 drivers before I found one who would use the meter.
  • If there is no meter, don’t enter the cab until you have agreed upon a price- Always negotiate the price before you accept a ride. 
  • Shop around a bit by asking multiple drivers- If a taxi driver refuses to use the meter or quotes a ridiculous rate, ask a few drivers about for a quote. Maybe one actually wants the fare and will give you the going rate. This works well in taxi parks where a bunch of drivers are just hanging around. 
  • Try to ride in registered taxis only- Some cities have both city-run and private taxis. You are much less likely to be ripped off in a city-owned and operated taxi.
  • Avoid riding in unmarked taxis- Sometimes people will wait outside the bus or train stations and offer rides in their cars to earn some extra cash. Occasionally it’s cheaper but probably more dangerous and you are definitely more likely to be ripped off.
  • Use GPS- Pull out your phone, open Google Maps, and make sure the driver is taking the shortest possible route if the meter is running. Even if you don’t have a data connection, you can still do this with an offline maps app like maps.me. 
  • Take another form of transportation- I hate taxis and avoid them at all costs. I much prefer walking or take public transportation if possible. Public buses and trains always cost less than taxis. 

The Fake Ticket Scam

Someone sells you a bus, train, plane or ferry ticket which turns out to be fake. They may try to convince you by giving you a better price or telling you that the tickets at another company are sold out.

This scam can get pretty elaborate. For example, the scammer could write tickets out of a genuine ticket book that they stole or bought. They could even be wearing a company uniform. By the time that you find out that you bought a counterfeit ticket, it’s too late. The scammer is long gone.

A bus in Africa

How to avoid falling for the fake ticket scam:

  • Buy your ticket at an official ticket office- Don’t buy your ticket from some guy off the street. Bus companies always have a proper ticketing office with time tables and prices listed. This is usually where the bus departs from as well.
  • Don’t purchase tickets in advance- Buy your ticket when you are at the station ready to go if possible.
  • Wait until you actually see the bus with your own two eyes- If you’re unsure, wait for the bus to arrive before paying. On one occasion, I bought a bus ticket and watched maybe 10 other buses, which were all going to the same destination, pass by before my bus arrived. If I waited to buy my ticket, I could have made it to my destination a couple of hours sooner.
  • Make sure that there is space available and that the bus has some passengers already- This is important when traveling by minibus. Shared minibusses leave when they are full, not on a schedule. If they don’t fill up, they could possibly wait until the next day to travel. Some drivers try to sell you a seat even if the bus is already full. They just assume that they can always pack one more person in.
My Experience With This Scam

After traveling through the Omo Valley of Ethiopia, I was trying to catch a bus to the Kenyan border. I found a guy claiming to be a bus ticket salesman. He carried a ticket book that had the name of a bus company and a picture of a bus printed on the cover so it all looked legitimate. We were standing right next to a bus as well. I paid him for my ticket and thought everything was fine.

Upon my arrival at the bus the following morning, I handed my ticket to the attendant. He informed me that my ticket was not valid because it didn’t have a bus number written on it. The guy asked me where I got it and how much I paid. After telling him the story, he informed me that it was a scam.

I learned that there were multiple buses each morning and was told the real price. I asked a couple of people who were also boarding the bus and they confirmed that this was all true. In the end, I just bought another ticket from the bus attendant for about a quarter of the price of the fake. I learned my lesson. This scam cost me about $10.

Closed Hotel, Restaurant, or Attraction Scam

This scam starts with someone telling you that your destination is closed, fully booked, or out of business. They may give some excuse like claiming that it is a religious holiday or festival. Usually, it is a taxi or tuk-tuk driver giving you this information. It could also be someone on the street. 

The scammer will offer to take you to a ‘better’ place that they know of. In this case, the scammer makes money by having a deal with the business that they offer to take you to. They collect a commission from the business for bringing customers.

closed sign

How to Avoid the Closed Hotel, Restaurant, or Attraction Travel Scam

This one is pretty easy to avoid. Simply insist on going to your chosen destination anyway. Head to the hotel, shop, attraction or wherever you were going to see for yourself. Worst case, they were telling you the truth and you waste a bit of time.

My Experience With This Scam

This scam is common all over the world but the most sophisticated example I experienced was in Delhi, India. When I first arrived, I didn’t have a hotel booked. I flagged down a rickshaw driver and asked him to take me to a hotel that I had taken note of before my flight. 

He informed me that all of the hotels in the neighborhood were fully booked because of a festival. He offered to drop me off at a tourist information center instead. The place looked legit so I went in and asked for a budget hotel recommendation.

The guy inside gave me the same story. He told me that the only rooms available in the whole city were in the $200 range. At this point, I was getting suspicious and he saw that.

Next, he insisted that I use his computer to look for a cheap hotel online. Once I found one on Hostelworld, he gave them a call on speakerphone. The guy on the other end said that they were fully booked.

At this point, I realized that I was being conned and I walked away. I was shocked that the rickshaw driver, tourist information, and maybe a hotel were all working to together to scam a tourist. It’s actually quite impressive. 

The Free Gift Scam

This scam begins with someone handing you what you believe to be is a free gift. It could be almost anything. For example, maybe they hand you a magazine, card, or a small trinket. They may try to tie a friendship bracelet onto your wrist or give you a good luck sprig of rosemary.

After the object is in your possession, the scammer tells you that it’s yours and that you have to pay for it. This is the hardest if they have successfully tied a bracelet to your wrist because it may be impossible to remove without destroying it. If you refuse to pay, the scammer will begin yelling at you and creating a scene. 

A variation of this scam happens when someone tosses a live human baby into your arms. This is done as a distraction. The scammer assumes you won’t drop the baby and they pickpocket you while you are holding the child. 

This scam is common in Europe among gypsies but is used all over the world. Usually, you will encounter this scam in crowded, touristy areas. Women tend to be targeted for this scam more than men. 

How to Avoid the Free Gift Scam

This one is pretty easy to avoid. If someone tries to hand you something against your will:

  • Just drop it to the ground- If you don’t have possession of the item, there is nothing that they can do. Of course, you don’t want to drop a baby. 
  • Tell them that you don’t want it and try to hand it back- Oftentimes they’re just trying to sell something using this shady sales tactic. 
  • Keep your hands in your pockets- This way, they can’t hand you anything and can’t pickpocket you.
  • Just keep it and walk away- Play dumb and just act like it was a gift.

The Bait and Switch Scam

Shady businesses all over the world use this strategy. When you are shopping around, first they will bait you with a high-quality item. Then when you decide to make a purchase, they will switch the item with a lower quality version. When this happens, you have paid for the high-quality version but receive a cheaper product than expected. A few products to be wary of include:

  • Carpets- This happens in carpet shops in North Africa and the Middle East. Their showroom models are handmade with high thread counts. Once you purchase a carpet, they will switch it out while wrapping it up and send you home with a low-quality factory-made model.
  • Precious gems- A vendor shows you a beautifully cut diamond or ruby and offers an excellent price. Before the sale, they switch it out for a counterfeit or low-quality stone. This is common in Southeast Asia.
  • Jewelry- Someone may approach you on the street claiming to sell Rolex watches for next to nothing. These are fake. 

These businesses may draw you in by claiming that you can import their product to your home country then resell it for a major profit. 

Carpet Shop

Carpet Shop

How to Avoid the Bait and Switch Scam

  • Don’t buy expensive souvenirs- Stay away from buying expensive carpets, gems, jewelry, artwork, or luxury items if you don’t know what you’re doing. Stick with small, cheap souvenirs instead. 
  • Once you decide to purchase an item, don’t let it leave your possession-  Don’t allow the salesperson to take away and wrap it or bag it for you. This way the can’t sneakily switch it out on you. If you have to ship the item home, arrange shipping by yourself. 
  • Know what you’re purchasing- If you don’t know how to judge the quality of what you are purchasing, it is easy for the seller to pull one over on you. If you do your research first and you are informed, it will be much harder for a seller to rip you off because you can just inspect the item before paying. Never just take a sellers word for it. Assume they are all liars and cheats until proven otherwise. 

The Fake Police Scam

This scam usually begins with someone approaching claiming to be a police officer or some other kind of law enforcement officer. They may be dressed in uniform and might even flash you a badge. Sometimes these guys are very convincing. 

The ‘police officer’ informs you that you broke the law and that you are in big trouble. Of course, you know that you did nothing wrong. You could be threatened with jail time or a large fine. During this interaction, they may demand that you hand over your passport.

Once they have you convinced that they are police officers, they begin demanding money. Worse yet, they may demand that you follow them to the police station. In this case, they’re trying to take you to another crime scene where they can rob you.

In a variation of this crime, a person approaches you to sell drugs or other illicit items. During this interaction, the fake police officers intervene. In this situation, they accuse you of buying drugs and threaten you with fines or jail. 

At this point, they may offer to settle the fine right there and then to make the mater disappear. This could be hundreds of dollars. 

Police officers

How to Avoid the Fake Police Scam

This one can be tricky because you can never know all of the laws and regulations where you are traveling. You could also be dealing with a real police officer who is just searching for a bribe. If you suspect that a police officer is not legitimate, you can run a few tests to find out.

  • Request that they prove their identity- Any legitimate police officer will have a badge and identification number. If they can’t produce identification, they are fake.
  • Call the real police or emergency services and ask them to identify the officer- You can give them the name and ID number of the person claiming to be a police officer to see if they are legitimate.
  • Tell them that you want to go to the police station to sort it out- In this case, you need to know the area well and know where the nearest police station is.
  • Tell them that your passport and cash is locked up in your hotel room- In this case, they would need to accompany you to your hotel. 
  • Demand to have everything in writing- You want to read the law that you broke and you want a receipt for the ticket. This is unlikely to work but could be worth a try in some countries. 
  • Just ignore them and walk away- This is a bit risky because if they are a real police officer, they can arrest you at this point. If you are convinced that they are a scammer, the best course of action is to just walk away.

Remember, if you accidentally end up accusing a real police officer of being a fraud, they may make things more difficult for you as a means of punishment. Try to handle this travel scam carefully if you just aren’t sure. If they are an obvious imposter, just get out of there. I have heard of this scam happening in Mexico City and Morocco. 

The Flirtatious or Overly Friendly Woman Scam

This common scam is mostly limited to male travelers. It begins when a beautiful local woman approaches. Usually at a bar but sometimes just on the street. She will be very friendly and flirty, asking you about your trip and just generally acting interested. She will lure you to a bar or restaurant. At this point, a few different things could happen:

  • You receive an outrageously expensive bill- Sometimes in the range of hundreds of dollars after just a few drinks or a small bit of food. If you try to leave, ‘security’ will come over and threaten you with violence for the money. If you don’t have the cash, they will accompany you to an ATM.
  • She could lure you into a secluded area where her accomplices are waiting to rob you- She could be working with a group of men. 
  • She could slip something into your drink and drug you- From here, worst case is you become a victim of organ harvesting or kidnapping. You could also simply be robbed while you’re passed out. 
  • The woman could distract you while either her or an accomplice pickpockets you- The woman could just be flirting as a distraction. She may take your wallet, phone, laptop, or whatever you have on you. 
  • She could simply be a prostitute trying to drum up some business- If this is the case, proceed however you feel fit.
  • The woman could take you somewhere or go to your hotel with you, have sex, then demand a large payment- In this case, you think you got lucky, but she was actually just a prostitute. Now, because you didn’t negotiate a rate, she can charge whatever she wants.

This scam is most common in Eastern Europe but happens all over the world.

How to Avoid the Friendly Woman Scam

This one is tough. Every traveler dreams of meeting a nice local companion to explore the country with. It’s easy to fall to this one. This common scam also begins in a bar where you’ve probably already had a couple of drinks so you are more easily influenced. What I will say is, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Some red flags include:

  • She’s out of your league- You just have to be realistic here and think about the situation from her perspective. What does she have to gain? 
  • She’s way too forward and eager to get to know you– Even if she’s just asking questions about your trip, you have to ask yourself why.
  • The woman speaks English better than the general population of the country where you are traveling-This is probably why she works this travel scam. Because she can easily communicate with tourists

A couple of tips to help you avoid this scam include:

  • Ask at your hostel or hotel if there are any bars that should be avoided- This scam usually happens in a bar. I remember seeing a list of bars posted on the wall of a hostel Riga, Latvia that were supposedly known for scamming tourists. This was a common travel scam in the city.
  • If you meet someone that you’re interested in, make sure you’re both on the same page- If can be difficult to tell a prostitute apart from a genuine girl.

My Experience with the Friendly Woman Scam

I was once stopped on the street by an obvious prostitute. While trying to politely get away, she pickpocketed my phone. Luckily I was able to get it back.

The Friendly Fellow Travel Scam

This scam starts with someone approaching you acting like you’re their best friend. Usually, these guys speak excellent English. They ask you about your trip, where you’re from, what you’ve seen, etc. Next, they offer you on a little tour of the city or ask you to join them in their favorite bar or restaurant. They may even offer to introduce you to their family or friends. After you accept their friendship, they start trying to get money from you in one of three ways:

  1. The scammer may suggest that you go to a restaurant or bar with- In this case, the bar may surprise you with an outrageously high bill. Possibly hundreds of dollars. If this happens, they may have ‘security’ who will threaten violence if you don’t pay it. Basically, the scammer’s job was to lure you into the restaurant. This is the worst case. This scam is most common in bars in Eastern Europe.
  2. Your new friend may try to get money from you by begging- After building a report with you, they begin telling you a sob story. For example, maybe they tell you that their kid or mother needs medicine. Maybe they need money for a bus ticket to visit their family. It’s just a con.
  3. After they ‘help’ you with something, they demand payment- They may claim that you owe them for their time if they help you with something simple like giving you directions or helping you find a taxi.
  4. They receive a commission- Your new friend may simply have a deal with the bar, restaurant, or shop they lure you into and receive a commission on anything that you purchase. Their job is to bring in business. They may offer you free tea or something to psychologically make you feel like you have to buy something. 

friendly handshake

How to Avoid the Friendly Fellow Scam

  • Don’t talk to people who approach you on the street- This is tough because, as a traveler, you really want to meet locals and learn about the culture when traveling. Unfortunately, I have found that if someone approaches you on the street, 99% of the time they are just a scammer or are trying to sell you something. 
  • Don’t get too friendly- Don’t share details about where you are going or where you’re staying. They could find you later and try to bother you more.
  • Just ignore them and they’ll go away- I know that it feels rude to pretend that someone doesn’t exist but they are also being rude by bothering you.
  • Call them out on it- If you’re feeling confident, tell them that you see through their scam and that they aren’t getting any money from you. 

My Experience with this Scam

The last time I experienced this common travel scam was in Ethiopia. I kind of fell for it even though I knew what was going on.

Basically, a guy approached and told me that he had saved me from some pickpockets that were targeting me. He spoke perfect English so I started chatting with him. Surprisingly, he was very sharp and knowledgeable. To read more, check out my story, Scams in Ethiopia: My Afternoon with a Con Man.

The Fixing Something Broken Scam

This one sounds kind of ridiculous and far-fetched but it does happen. Basically, someone approaches you and offers to fix one of your belongings that is broken. Most commonly, your shoe. This common travel scam comes in two variations:

  1. Sometimes offers to fix an item that isn’t broken- The item is perfectly fine but the scammer tries to tell you that it needs to be repaired. If you accept, they will pretend to make a repair then charge you for it.
  2. The scammer break something of yours then offer to fix it- This sounds impossible, but they may use some kind of sleight of hand trick or distraction to damage something of yours. They will then offer to fix it and charge you for the repair. 

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Broken shoe- A person bends down and cuts your shoe or the laces then offers to fix it. They could also do this with your backpack or suitcase. Sometimes they don’t even care if you see them do it. They will just tell you that they have the tools to repair it. This one is common in India.
  • Dented car- The scammer walks through a parking lot and puts a small dent in a car and waits for the owner to return from shopping. When they see the owner returning, they casually walk by, comment on the dent, and say that they have the tools to fix it with them. They then offer to fix the dent for a price. This happens in the US.

How to Avoid the Fixing Something Broken Scam

This one is tough to avoid because it can happen so fast. These scammers are well-practiced. The only advice I can give is to never let anyone you don’t know handle your belongings. They can use a sleight of hand trick and damage your item without you even noticing.

If you catch someone breaking something of yours and asks you to let them repair it, don’t let them. The repair will be of low quality and won’t last. Also, rewarding this behavior will just give them the incentive to continue doing the same thing to other tourists in the future. Find an honest person to make the repair. 

ATM Scams

When withdrawing money from an ATM, there are a few precautions you want to take to avoid being scammed:

  • Check for a skimmer- A skimmer is an electronic device that criminals use to collect your card numbers. Once a criminal has the number, they can charge your card. 
  • Look for shady people loitering around- They could be waiting to rob you after withdrawing money. They could also be trying to scan your card and watch you enter your PIN. 
  • Avoid privately owned ATMs- They generally charge a higher fee than bank-owned ATMs. This isn’t really a scam but it could cost you a lot of extra money over the course of a trip. 
ATM covered in graffiti

Don’t use this ATM

How to Avoid ATM Scams

  • Test for skimmers- Skimmers can be installed on ATMs and hidden so you don’t even know they’re there. Before inserting your card, try pulling on the card slot. Many skimmers cover the real card slot and read your card as it is inserted. You should also look for cameras that can read your card information from a distance. These devices can be installed on both bank-owned and privately owned ATMs. These tests are not foolproof. Some skimmers are nearly impossible to detect. Criminals are tricky.
  • Only use bank-owned ATMs- They are generally better maintained and tested. 
  • Try to use the ATM in a crowded place or where a guard is present- You are less likely to be robbed if there are people around. The same is true if an armed guard is standing nearby.

For some more tips, check out my guide: The Best Debit and Credit Card for International Travel. 

The Rental Motorcycle or Scooter Scam

This scam begins when you go to return the motorcycle or scooter that you rented. The person who rented you the bike claims that you caused some damage. Maybe they will point out a scratch or try to claim that it’s not running properly. They will then demand payment.

Usually, when you rent a bike, you will be required to leave something as collateral such as a passport, credit card, or a large sum of cash. They will hold these until you pay up.

In a variation of this scam, the bike gets damaged overnight. When you go to return the bike, the owner demands compensation. In this case, the owner or an accomplice ‘damaged’ the bike while you were away to try to get money out of you.

For example, maybe they swap out the seat out with an old torn seat and make you pay for a new one. Maybe they removed a mirror and make you pay for a replacement. In these cases, they caused the ‘damage’ and you’re being charged to fix it.

In another variation, the bike may get ‘stolen’ overnight. The owner or an accomplice takes the bike while you’re away and expects you to replace it.  These scams are common in Southeast Asia. 

Honda Win 100 motorcycle in Central Vietnam

How to Avoid the Rental Motorcycle or Scooter Scam

This common scam is the reason that I rarely rent motorcycles when I travel even though I love riding. Some ways to reduce the risk of falling victim to this scam are:

  • Never leave your passport as collateral- If they tell you that it is a requirement, just tell them that it’s at the embassy waiting for a visa. If they won’t accept that, rent from someone else.
  • Take photos of the bike before you leave the rental shop- Document any previous damage. Make sure the owner is present when you’re taking your photos. 
  • Always pay for the rental with a credit card- This gives you some protection. If they try to pull this scam, just call your credit card company and tell them what happened. They will do a chargeback for you.
  • Leave something you don’t care about as collateral- If they require that you leave something, give them a credit or debit card that you don’t care about. If they won’t give it back, you can just cancel it and get a new one from your bank when you return home.
  • Don’t tell the rental company where you’re staying- This ensures that they can’t come in the night to steal or damage the bike. 
  • Use your own lock- This way, the rental company can’t steal the bike with their spare key. 
  • Consider buying a motorcycle- If you are looking for a long term rental, sometimes it is cheaper and less stressful to buy a bike. I bought a motorcycle in Vietnam and had a great experience.
  • If you damage a rental bike, get it repaired yourself- This way, you can shop around for the lowest cost repair.

The Drug Deal Travel Scam

This one is pretty simple. It begins when someone approaches you offering to sell you drugs. After you agree and make a purchase, they will either:

  • Inform the police that you have drugs on you- In this case, the scammer is working with the police. After you purchase the drugs, they turn you in. When the police approach you, they solicit a bribe from you. After you pay up, the scammer gets a cut. If you don’t pay, they’ll just arrest you. They win both ways. 
  • Identify themselves as police and ask for a bribe or arrest you- Some police departments do these sting operations. An officer poses as a drug dealer and tries to sell you drugs. When you make a purchase, they identify themselves as police and either arrest you or solicit a bribe from you. The result depends on where in the world you are. 

How to Avoid the Drug Deal Travel Scam

This common travel scam is easy to avoid. Just don’t buy drugs. If someone approaches offering to sell you drugs, just tell them no and walk away. It’s not worth the risk.

The Spill on Your Clothes Scam

While walking down the street, someone may ‘accidentally’ spill food or a beverage on your clothing. After this happens, the person who had the accident will apologize and begin helping you clean up. This is a distraction. They will attempt to pickpocket your wallet, phone, or whatever they can take while you’re distracted. This scam can also happen in a busy bar or restaurant. 

How to Avoid the Spill Scam

If someone spills something on you, insist on cleaning it up yourself. Just head to the nearest bathroom to clean up. 

The Photo Scam

This scam is very simple. Someone will kindly offer to take a photo of you, usually in front of a tourist site. When they have your expensive camera or phone in their hands, they simply run off with it. This scam can happen anywhere in the world.

In a variation of this scam, someone may ask to borrow your phone to make an important call. They might even offer to put in their SIM card so you don’t get charged. They will then pretend to make a call until you look away. During that time, they will run off with your phone. 

holding camera by the strap

Don’t carry your camera like this

How to Avoid the Photo Scam

This one is tough. You basically have to use your best judgment when handing over your expensive photography equipment to a stranger. If you can, ask a fellow tourist to take a photo for you. Look for someone with an expensive camera. When everyone looks sketchy, just take a selfie or forget the photo and use your memory. 

If someone offers to take a photo for you, use your best judgment. If they look sketchy, politely decline the offer. 

Compromised WiFi Hotspot Scam

Scammers may set up an open WiFi network with an identical name to an official network. For example, you may think that you’re logging into the restaurant WiFi when you’re actually connecting to a compromised network that is set up and controlled by a hacker nearby. 

After you connect your phone or laptop to the network, the scammer can access your files and online accounts. This may include online banking as well as all of your documents and social media accounts. Exactly what they can access depends on how secure your device is. 

How to Avoid Logging on to a Compromised Network

  • If multiple networks are available, always ask which one is the official network- This helps you avoid connecting to an unofficial network. 
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network)- These route your traffic through an encrypted connection. I use Private Internet Access. 
  • Use a mobile network instead of WiFi- The data on 4G connections is encrypted. This makes the connection safer than using a Wifi hotspot. Of course, this means you have to buy a local sim card and data plan.
  • Avoid transferring any sensitive data over questionable networks- For example, don’t log in to your online banking while connected to some random bar’s WiFi. It is possible that a business’s network was unknowingly compromised.

Fake Call from Hotel Reception Scam

While you’re in your hotel room you receive a call from reception asking you to confirm your credit card details. The problem is that it’s not reception calling. It’s a scammer fishing for credit card details. Once you give out your card number, the scammer proceeds to drain your account. 

Scammers often attempt this in the middle of the night when they know you’re asleep. They know you’ll be disoriented and not thinking straight when you wake up.

How to Avoid It

Don’t give out your credit card details to someone who called you. Go down to reception in the morning to resolve the problem if there really was one. 

The Found Ring Scam

In this scam, a trustworthy looking person picks a ring up off the ground and asks if you dropped it. After you say it’s not yours, the scammer shows you the ring and excitedly tells you that it’s gold.

At this point, the scammer offers to sell you the ‘gold’ ring for a great price. They tell you that they’ll make some money now and you can resell the ‘valuable’ ring for a profit once you return home. It’s a win-win for both of you. The problem is that the ring isn’t gold. It’s fake and has no value.

How to Avoid It

This one is pretty easy to avoid. Just don’t buy anything valuable if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Particularly from someone on the street. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. 

This is an old con. You’ve probably seen this one in movies. You’re most likely to encounter this in Europe. This scam could also be done with other types of jewelry or anything of value really. 

Three Card Monte Scam

This one dates back to the 15th century. You’ll see this scam being run on the street. People will be sitting around playing a simple card game, often called Three Card Monte. The object is to choose the ‘money card’ out of three cards lying face down. This is usually the queen of hearts. 

You basically place a bet and pick a card. If you choose right, you win whatever you bet. Scammers use a number of techniques to make sure that you don’t win. This usually involves sleight of hand. Sometimes they let you win a few to keep you around in hopes that you bet more. There are usually a couple of other people hanging helping the dealer to cheat you out of more money. 

A variation of this scam is played with three cups or shells. In this case, your goal is to guess which cup is hiding an object. The scam works exactly the same.

How to Avoid this Scam

This one is easy to avoid. Just don’t play card games on the street for money. The game is rigged and the house always wins. If you want to gamble, go to a casino. At least you have a chance to win there. 

The Wrong Change Travel Scam

This one is pretty straightforward. After you make a purchase, the vendor simply returns less change than you were due. Alternatively, they could give you change for a smaller bill. They hope that you rush out without counting and noticing that you were shortchanged.

This scam is common at restaurants, souvenir shops, and markets all over the world. Particularly in cash only places that don’t have any kind of computerized accounting system. 

The vendor often gets away with this because they know that you aren’t familiar with the currency, as a tourist. When all of the bills look like monopoly money, it’s easy to miscount or get confused.

To some vendors, this is a numbers game. They shortchange every single transaction. Maybe 20% of people don’t notice that they didn’t get enough change. In a busy shop, a vendor could steal a decent amount of money this way. 

pocket change

Always count your change

How to Avoid the Wrong Change Travel Scam

Really, the only way to avoid this travel scam is to pay attention to the money that you use and count your change. Here are a few tips to help you out:

  • Use a credit card- I prefer to pay by card whenever possible. The reason is the credit cards offer protection that cash and debit cards don’t. If you are scammed or overcharged, you can call the credit card company and do a chargeback. 
  • Use your phone to calculate how much you should get back- Every phone has a calculator. Use it to quickly find how much change you should be getting back. 
  • Organize the bills in your pocket- Before you leave your hotel or hostel, count the bills that you are carrying, organize them so they are sorted by denomination and facing the same direction. If you’re organized, it’s harder to hand someone the wrong bill.
  • Take the time to count your change- Sometimes you can feel rushed to get out of a busy shop or restaurant. Being in a hurry can cost you money. It’s a hassle and sometimes my tired brain doesn’t want to do it, but it’s worth it not to get scammed.
  • Be aware- Every time you make a purchase, pay attention to the bill you hand to the seller and the change you are returned. If they give you the wrong change, call them out on it. Usually, they’ll just pretend that it was a mistake and give you the money that you are owed.

General Overcharging

When you are a tourist, people try to overcharge you for pretty much anything they can. This includes food, taxi rides, hotel rooms, bus rides, tours, and almost everything else you can think of.

Some parts of the world are worse than others for this scam. For example, in Africa, it is an annoying everyday occurrence. In Western Europe, it’s fairly rare.

The worst part about this is that people don’t seem to consider it a scam and even act proud of themselves for ripping a tourist off.

Examples of places that you will be overcharged while traveling include:

Taxis, Rickshaws, and Tuk-Tuks

Taxi drivers are maybe the worst for this. They know that, as a tourist, you don’t know the city so you couldn’t possibly know the going rate for a ride. They take advantage of this by quoting prices two to ten times the actual going rate. As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely hate taking taxis and avoid them at all costs. Check out the taxi scams section for tips to avoid getting overcharged.

tuk-tuk or rickshaw

Be sure to negotiate before entering a tuk-tuk

Hotels and Hostels

When you walk into a small hotel or hostel and ask the price of a room, oftentimes they quote you a price well over market value. The only thing to do here is negotiating hard or look for another hotel. It’s not really a scam, rather them just trying to rip off a tourist who may not know any better.

Restaurants

Some restaurants have a separate menu that they give to tourists. Of course, these special menus list higher prices. Sometimes it actually says at the top of the menu ‘foreigner menu’ or ‘tourist menu.’ In this case, you are being served the same meal at a higher price, just because you are a foreigner. 

I saw this in several African countries. It was most common in Ethiopia. On a couple of occasions, when I noticed that I was given one of these menus, I just got up and left. I am a big believer in voting with my wallet. If a business is going to be greedy, they will lose my business.

Minibusses Overcharging

When traveling in shared minibusses or colectivos, the driver or attendant may try to charge you more just because you’re a foreigner. They know that you don’t know the actual rate. To avoid overpaying:

  • Watch the other passengers as they pay- Take note of how much they hand the attendant.
  • Ask a fellow passenger how much the fare should be- Generally, they will tell you the real rate.
  • If you know the rate, just hand the attendant the exact amount and don’t say anything- They will assume that you have ridden the route before and know the rate.
  • If you know you’re being overcharged, call them out on it- Oftentimes it pays to argue even though it’s stressful. I will occasionally argue over a few cents just out of principle. Being blatantly ripped off is infuriating.
Minibus station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Minibus station in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Sometimes you just have to accept that you are being ripped off and smile and accept it. Last year while I was traveling in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia, I traveled some routes that only have one minibus per day passing through. The same guys operate that route every day. If I didn’t pay what they were asking, I would never have gotten to where I was going. The only alternative was a motorcycle taxi which costs several times more.

Price Changing Scam

This scam happens when someone tries to renegotiate the price of a product or service after you’ve already agreed on a price. A few places you may experience price changing include:

  • Hotels- Sometimes hotels quote you one rate and then when you go to check out and pay, the price suddenly increases. This can happen both if you just walked in or if you booked on a booking site online. Even if you have the confirmation email in hand, they will make up some nonsensical argument as to why you have to pay more.
  • Taxis- Taxi drivers will try to pull the same scam. They agree to one rate then try to change it mid-ride or when you reach your destination. They may offer some nonsense excuse like ‘it was further than I thought’ or ‘traffic was bad so it took longer than I expected.’ These are complete lies. Taxi drivers know the city better than anyone. The goal is to get more money out of you. This scam can happen anywhere that meters are not used. It could be a taxi, rickshaw, or tuk-tuk driver.
  • Restaurants- Occasionally after receiving the bill after your meal, you may find that the price on the bill is higher than the price listed on the menu. Most of the time, this is a sly attempt to rip you off that the server will quickly correct once you bring it to their attention. They may try to tell you that the menu was wrong or outdated and that the new price is higher. This is unacceptable and is a scam.
My Experience with Price Changing

I experienced this scam in Africa on several occasions. The worst case happened while checking out of a hotel in Dar es Salaam. My friends and I were asked to pay double the rate that we had agreed to on booking.com.

I pulled up the confirmation email on my phone to show the receptionist but he wasn’t having any of it. We ended up getting into a fairly heated argument with the hotel staff. They even tried to block the exit and told our taxi to drive away in an attempt to prevent us from leaving.

After arguing back and forth and getting nowhere, we just placed the previously agreed upon amount of money on the counter and walked out. They were trying to make some type of illogical argument of why we had to pay more but it was clear that they were just trying to scam us. We had the agreement in writing in our booking confirmation email, after all.

I imagine they use this tactic often and bully travelers into overpaying, then pocket the difference. Some travelers would either not want to deal with the confrontation or would be intimidated. 

The Tour Guide Scam

This scam begins when someone approaches and tries to sell you their service as a tour guide. In order to get you to agree to a tour, they may tell you that it is forbidden for tourists to visit the area without a guide. They will go as far as to say that you will be arrested by the police if you are caught.

This person could be a legitimate, licensed guide trying to drum up some business or just a local trying to make a few extra bucks by showing a foreigner around. Either way, it is a dishonest business practice.

Alternatively, the guide may collect your money then leave without providing you with any service. They could also simply overcharge. 

tour guide

How to Avoid the Tour Guide Scam

  • Ask the guide to show you their badge or card to prove that they are a licensed guide- Most tourist sites require guides to have some type of license and training. Some scammers operate under the guise of being a tour guide. These guys won’t have a license. 
  • Only pay your guide after the tour- This ensures that you get the service that you’re paying for. Of course, this isn’t always an option. Some guides insist on payment before the tour begins.
  • Research the destination- Some tourist attractions only allow you to visit if you are on a tour. Most of the time, you are welcome to visit on your own. Make sure you know the requirements. You should also research the cost of tours to avoid overpaying.

Begging

In some cases, begging is a scam. A person who really isn’t in need may approach you to beg for money, simply because you are a foreigner and they assume that you are rich. 

On a few occasions, I have seen people carrying on with their normal lives until they spotted me, the foreigner. They drop whatever they were doing to ask me for money. Even going so far as to act ill or poorer than they are.

This is a major problem in some parts of Africa. People have grown accustomed to handouts from every foreigner that passes through. It’s best not to promote this behavior.

How to Avoid the Begging Scam

The best practice is to simply not hand out money to beggars while traveling. Particularly child beggars. It usually does more harm than good. To read why, check out this article on child begging from Slate. It is also difficult to tell who is actually in need and who is just an opportunist.

The Charity Scam

If you wish to help people who are in need, there are a number of reputable charities that can put your money in the right hands to actually do some good. You must do your research though. Many charities are actually scams disguised as charities. This crime is called charity fraud. A couple of charity scams include:

  1. Scammers set up an organization, collect donations, and pocket 90% or more of the cash- In this case, they may do something charitable with the remaining 10% and use it as advertising to collect more money. Almost nothing makes it to the people who need assistance. 
  2. Some charities scam volunteers by charging them to work- In this case, the volunteer is the customer. Paying a reasonable amount for food and board is acceptable. Paying to do work for someone is not. If you are being charged more than the amount of food and board to volunteer, it is a scam and they are profiting off of you.

How to Avoid the Charity Scam

Unless you have a specific skill that is in need like medical training or engineering, actually traveling somewhere to do volunteer work does more harm than good in most cases. You are better off donating money to a reputable charity if you are actually trying to help.

Finding a reputable charity to volunteer for or donate to can be difficult. You must look into where your money is actually going and who is in charge. If the majority is going to advertising, then they probably aren’t doing much good. Basically, do your research before committing to anything or sending any money. 

Kibera, Nairobi

Kibera, Nairobi

The Tea Ceremony Scam

This scam is common in China. It begins when you are approached by a local claiming that they want to practice their English. After chatting for a few minutes and gaining your trust, they invite you to a traditional tea ceremony. They take you to a small shop where you sample different teas and a host performs the ceremony.

After it’s over, you’re handed an outrageous bill. Usually for a hundred dollars or more worth of yuan. You’ll be threatened and even locked in the shop until you pay up. If you don’t have enough cash someone will accompany you to an ATM.

How to Avoid the Tea Ceremony Scam

Never follow anyone you met on the street into a shop, restaurant, or bar of their choosing. Chances are, they have some kind of deal worked out with the managers. Best case, they just geta commission. Worst case, you get scammed out of hundreds of dollars. If you do want to join a local that you’re not familiar with for food or drinks, make sure you choose the place. 

To Wrap it Up- Avoiding Common Travel Scams

There are a lot of con men out there. Criminals are smart and always seem to be one step ahead. They are always creating new scams to separate you with your money.

This list just outlines some of the most common travel scams that you may encounter while traveling. There are many more scams not included in this list. There are also more variations that weren’t covered. 

Before your trip, I recommend you do a quick Google search for ‘common scams in _______’. Fill in the blank with the city or country that you’re visiting. This will help you keep on your toes you can catch most scams before they happen.

Have you fallen victim to any common travel scams? I know it’s embarrassing, but I’d love to hear about it. Comment below to share your story and help others avoid the same scam!

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2 comments

Adrian Adamowicz May 8, 2020 - 1:05 pm

I found Bahir Dar (Ethiopia) to be the scammiest place ever! Contrast to the rest of Ethiopia where they ask outright for money. I dodged various boat and lake monastery scams but fell for an obvious one! I needed to be in Lalibela the next day. The options were supposedly the local ‘chicken’ bus for 12 hours (pennies but uncomfortable and hard to locate) or the ‘tourist minibus’ direct. A local approached me who just happened to work for the bus company and walked me to a parked up van. The deal was I’d give him a deposit now and he’d pick me up the next morning from outside my guesthouse at 6. Stupidly I gave him about €10 in birr. Next morning, 6am, there’s a different bloke waiting for me. We take a bajaj to the bus station -at my expense naturally- and he puts me on a local bus, tells me to give him the fare and a tip! In hindsight, it was pretty obvious.

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wheretheroadforks May 9, 2020 - 12:45 pm

Sorry to hear you got scammed but at least it was only €10. That must be a pretty common scam in Ethiopia. It’s similar to the scam I fell for in Konso where I ended up buying a fake ticket to Moyale for around the same amount of money. Live and learn I guess.

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