While out traveling, there are a number of sneaky ways that scammers 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’re traveling. In this guide, we’ll outline 25 of the most common travel scams and offer tips on how to avoid them so you don’t fall victim. So whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, read on to learn how to protect yourself from scammers!
Table of Contents
- Taxi Scams
- Fake Ticket
- Closed Hotel
- Free Gift Scam
- Bait and Switch
- Fake Police Officer Scam
- Flirty Woman Scam
- The Friendly Local Scam
- Fixing Something Broken Scam
- ATM Scams
- The Rental Scooter Scam
- Drug Deal Scam
- The Photo Scam
- Wrong Change
- General Overcharging
- Price Changing
- Tour Guide Scam
- Charity Scam
One of the most common places to get scammed while traveling is in a taxi. For whatever reason, taxi drivers are notorious scam artists. A few common taxis scams to be aware of include:
- Broken meter: After you get in the cab, the driver tells you that the meter is broken. He assures you that he will give you a good rate. After driving you to your destination, the driver demands a ridiculous amount of money for the ride. The amount could range from 2-10 times the actual going rate. Some particularly scammy drivers could demand hundreds of dollars.
- The meter runs faster than it should: Drivers can tamper with the meter to make it run faster than it is supposed to. The ride ends up costing more than the rate advertised on the side of the cab.
- The driver increases the price after the ride: After arriving at your destination, the driver informs you that the ride cost more than the fare you agreed to. They will make up an excuse. They may say it was further than they thought or traffic was bad so it took longer than they expected.
- The driver takes the scenic route: In this case, the driver uses the meter and takes a longer route to your destination to increase the fare. They assume that you don’t know the direct route because you’re a tourist.
- The driver quotes an outrageous price from the beginning: They just assume that all foreigners are ignorant of the actual price and will overpay. The driver hopes you accept the overpriced ride.
These scams can also take place in tuk-tuks and rickshaws as well.
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.
- 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 asked 5 drivers before I found one who would use the meter. Keep asking until you find one that agrees.
- Don’t accept a ride until you have agreed upon a price- If there is no meter or if the driver refuses to use it, always negotiate the fare before you accept a ride. Don’t even get in the cab until you agree on a price. If you can’t come to an agreement, walk away and find another cab.
- Ask a local how much a ride should cost- Before leaving your hotel or hostel, ask reception how much you should pay for a taxi ride to your destination.
- Shop around- If a driver gives you a quote that sounds high, ask a few drivers. 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. Tell them how much you’re willing to pay. Maybe one will accept.
- 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.
- Don’t ride in unmarked taxis- Sometimes people will wait outside the bus or train stations and offer rides in their cars to earn some extra cash. Using these taxis is dangerous. you could get robbed or kidnapped, in a worst-case scenario.
- 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- If you have the option, consider taking public transportation Public buses and trains always cost less than taxis. Alternatively, you could just walk if your destination is nearby.
The Fake Ticket Scam
In this scam, someone sells you a ticket that turns out to be fake. This could be a ticket for a bus, train, ferry, or entry to a tourist attraction.
This scam can get pretty elaborate. 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 you find out that you bought a counterfeit ticket, it’s too late. The scammer is long gone.
The scammer may try to convince you to buy from them by offering you a better price. They may tell you that the tickets at another company are sold out.
How to the Fake Ticket Scam:
- Buy your ticket at an official ticket booth- Don’t buy your ticket from a person on the street. Bus companies almost always have a ticketing office with timetables and prices listed.
- Don’t purchase tickets in advance- If possible, buy your ticket when you are at the station ready to go. This isn’t possible on busy routes. Sometimes you have to buy your ticket in advance.
- Wait until you actually see the bus- If you’re unsure, wait for the bus to arrive before paying. On one occasion, I bought a bus ticket and watched 10 other buses depart for the same destination before my bus arrived.
- Make sure that there is space available and that the bus has some passengers already- This is important when traveling by shared taxi or minibus. Shared taxis leave when they are full, not on a schedule. If they don’t fill up, they could possibly wait hours to leave. 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. There wasn’t a proper bus station in the town I was in. The bus just departed from the main road in the morning.
While I was looking for a place to buy a ticket, a guy approached me. He claimed to sell bus tickets. 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 the bus as well. I bought a ticket for the following morning.
Upon my arrival the following morning, I handed my ticket to the bus 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 all a scam.
He told me that there were multiple buses each morning and that I didn’t need to buy a ticket in advance. He also told me 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.
The Hotel, Restaurant, or Attraction is “Closed”
This scam starts with someone telling you that your hotel or hostel is closed, fully booked, or out of business. They may give excuses like claiming it is fully booked due to a religious holiday or local festival. Usually, it is a taxi or tuk-tuk driver giving you this information. It could also be someone on the street. This can also happen when you’re trying to go to a restaurant, store, or a tourist attraction.
The scammer will offer to take you to an alternative destination. For example, if you’re trying to go to your hotel to check in, the scammer may offer to take you to a ‘better’ hotel that has a vacancy.
The scammer makes money by taking you to a business where they have a deal with the owner. They collect a commission for every customer they bring in. Usually, the place they bring you is overpriced or low quality. No respectable business would operate this way.
This scam is easy to avoid. Simply insist on going to your chosen destination anyway. If they keep bugging you, either find another driver or continue insisting. Eventually, they’ll take you where you want to go.
I experienced this scam 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 written down 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. I was an inexperienced traveler at the time so I agreed.
When we arrived, the place looked legit so I went in and asked for a budget hotel recommendation. Tourist information gave me the same story. The guy told me that the only rooms available in the whole city were in the $200 per night range.
At this point, I was getting suspicious and he could tell. 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. The guy on the other end said that they were fully booked due to a festival.
At this point, I realized that I was being conned and I walked. I was shocked that the rickshaw driver, tourist information, hotel were all working together to scam a tourist. The whole thing was all a scam. It’s actually quite impressive.
In the end, I found another rickshaw driver who took me to Pajargang, where I originally wanted to go. I found a nice budget hotel for $15 per night.
The Free Friendship Bracelet Scam
This scam begins with someone giving you, what you believe to be, a free gift. It could be almost anything. Most commonly, the scammer will tie a friendship bracelet around your wrist. They could hand you a good luck sprig of rosemary. Alternatively, they could hand you a magazine, card, or a small trinket.
After the object is in your possession, the scammer tells you that you have to pay for it. Sometimes they will ask for a donation. If you refuse to pay or try to give the gift back, the scammer will start yelling at you and causing a big scene.
Sometimes the scammer makes it difficult for you to give the item back. For example, if they successfully tie a friendship bracelet around your wrist, removing it may be impossible without destroying it. In this case, you may be forced to pay.
Sometimes this scam is used as a distraction for a pickpocket. In this case, the scammer has an accomplice working with them. While you’re distracted dealing with the vendor, a pickpocket swipes your phone, wallet, watch, or anything they can easily access.
This scam is common in Europe but is used all over the world. Usually, you will encounter this scam in crowded, touristy areas.
How to Avoid the Gift Scam
- Don’t accept anything anyone tries to give you- Don’t allow anyone to place anything on your body. Don’t accept anything anyone tries to hand you. If someone tries to push something into your hand, simply don’t grasp it.
- Tell the scammer that you don’t want it and hand it back- If you’re firm, they will usually just move along.
- Keep your hands in your pockets- This way, they can’t hand you anything and can’t pickpocket you.
- Walk away- If the scammer continues harassing you, just walk away. Chances are, they won’t follow you too far.
The Found Ring Scam
This one’s a classic. In this scam, an innocent-looking person picks a ring up off the ground in front of you 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 made of 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.
This scam is 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 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.
Bait and Switch
Shady businesses all over the world use this strategy. When you are shopping around, first they will bait you with a high-quality item. When you decide to purchase the item, they will switch it out with a lower-quality version of the same item. You pay for a high-quality product but receive a cheaper product in return.
Oftentimes, businesses draw you in by claiming that you can import their product to your home country and then resell it for a major profit. A few products to be wary of include:
- Carpets- Bait and switch happens all the time in carpet shops in North Africa and the Middle East. The showroom models are handmade with high thread counts. Once you purchase a carpet, the seller switches it out while wrapping it up and sends you home with a low-quality factory-made model.
- Precious gems- A pushy 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 or diamond rings for next to nothing. They may show you a real one and then sell you a counterfeit.
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 unless you 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 it away and wrap it or bag it for you. This way they 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 are informed, it will be much harder for a seller to rip you off because you can just inspect the item before paying. Never take a seller’s word for it. Always assume they are all liars and cheats.
The Fake Police Scam
This scam usually begins with someone approaching you claiming to be a police officer, tourist police, or some other kind of law enforcement. They will be dressed in an official-looking uniform. They might even flash a badge at you.
The ‘police officer’ may inform you that there is a problem with counterfeit bills going around and demand that you hand over your wallet for an inspection. In this case, they will simply take your money or swap your real money out for counterfeits. You wouldn’t notice until they’re long gone.
Alternatively, the police may tell you that you broke the law and that you are in big trouble. They may demand to see your passport and visa. They could threaten with jail time or a large fine. At this point, they will ask you to pay a fine there and then to make the matter go away.
The fake police could also demand that you follow them to the ‘police station.’ They lure you to a deserted place 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 matter disappear. This could be hundreds of dollars.
I have heard of this scam happening in Mexico and Morocco.
How to Avoid the Fake Police Scam
These fake police officers can be very convincing. It can be difficult to tell a real police uniform from a fake. In Mexico, criminals sometimes get their hands on genuine police uniforms and badges. In this case, it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish a real police officer from a phony.
You could be dealing with a real police officer who is corrupt and searching for a bribe. It is also possible for a real police officer to stop you for a legitimate reason. If you get stopped and suspect that a police officer is a fake, you can run a few tests to find out.
- Request that the officer prove their identity- Any legitimate police officer will have a badge and identification number. If they can’t produce identification, they are fake officers.
- Call the 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. You should know the emergency number of the country you’re traveling in.
- Tell them that you want to go to the police station- If you decide to do this, you should know where the nearest police station is so the criminal doesn’t take you somewhere to rob you.
- Tell them that your passport and cash are locked up in your hotel room- If you don’t have anything to give them, they may just let you go.
- Demand to put everything in writing- Tell the officer that you want a written ticket for the violation. Also, tell them that you need a receipt for the fine.
- Just ignore them and walk away- This is a bit risky because if they are a real police officer, they could arrest you. If you are convinced that you’re dealing with a scammer, the best course of action is to walk away.
If you accidentally accuse 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, try your best to get out of there. If you encounter fake police, consider filing a police report.
The Flirtatious Woman Scam
This scam usually targets male travelers. It begins when a beautiful local woman approaches you. Usually at a bar, restaurant, or just on the street. She will be a very friendly, flirty, and innocent-looking person. She may ask you about your trip and just generally act interested in you. After chatting for a bit, she will lure you to a bar or restaurant. At this point, a few different things could happen:
- You receive an outrageously expensive bill- In this case, the woman is working with a bar or restaurant. After a couple of drinks, you’ll receive a bill for several hundred dollars. 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 to withdraw the maximum.
- You could get robbed- The woman may lure you to a secluded area where her accomplices are waiting to rob you.
- She could slip something into your drink and drug you- From here, the 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 and pickpocket you- The woman could flirt as a distraction. She may take your wallet, phone, or whatever you have on you while you’re distracted.
- She could be a prostitute- 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 Flirtatious 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 for 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.
To help you avoid falling for this scam, ask at your hostel or hotel if there are any bars that should be avoided. At a hostel in Riga, Latvia, there was a large sign posted on the wall with a list of bars that were known for scamming tourists. Guests were advised to avoid those bars. Evidently, 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. It can be difficult to tell a working girl apart from a normal friendly local girl. 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 Local Scam
This scam starts with an innocent-looking person 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 a few different ways:
- The scammer takes you to a restaurant or bar- The scammer may simply be trying to get some free food and drinks out of you. Alternatively, they may be luring you into a restaurant that scams you by overcharging. After ordering a few drinks, you may be surprised you with a bill for hundreds of dollars. This is the worst case. This scam is most common in bars in Eastern Europe.
- 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. These are all lies. It’s just a con.
- After they ‘help’ you with something, they demand payment- The scammer 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.
- 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 a free tea or something to psychologically make you feel like you have to buy something.
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. Unfortunately, I have found that if someone approaches me on the street, 99% of the time they are just a scammer or are trying to sell me something.
- Don’t get too friendly- Don’t share details about where you are going or where you’re staying with anyone you meet. They could follow you to your hotel and try to bother you again.
- Just ignore them- Eventually, they’ll go away if you pretend they aren’t there. It feels rude to do this but they are also being rude by trying to scam 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. These guys will usually leave you alone at this point.
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. We ended up grabbing some drinks together. To read more, check out my story, Scams in Ethiopia: My Afternoon with a Con Man.
The Fixing Something Broken Scam
This scam starts when someone approaches you and offers to fix one of your belongings that is broken. This scam comes in two variations. Sometimes the scammer 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 and then charge you for it. Alternatively, the scammer could break something of yours and then offer to fix it. They may use some kind of sleight of hand trick or distraction to damage one of your belongings.
For example, a scammer may bend down and cut your shoes or the laces and then offer to fix it. They could cut or tear 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.
In another version of this scam, the scammer walks through a parking lot and puts a small dent in a car then waits for the owner to return. 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 U.S.
How to Avoid the Fixing Something Broken Scam
This one is tough to avoid because it can happen so fast. These scam artists are well-practiced. The only advice I can give is to never let anyone you don’t know handle your belongings. They can damage your stuff without you even noticing.
If you catch someone breaking something of yours and ask 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 another unsuspecting tourist in the future. Find an honest person to make the repair.
Most travelers use ATMs to withdraw local currency. Unfortunately, there are risks involved in using an ATM. Criminals can steal your card info or steal the money you just withdrew.
The most common ATM scam is skimming. A skimmer is an electronic device that criminals use to collect your credit card details. The skimmer is installed on the ATM. It attaches over the card reader slot where you insert your card. The skimmer records your card info when you insert the card. The criminal also needs your PIN. They use a hidden camera or keypad overlay to record your PIN while you enter it. Once a criminal has your credit card information and PIN, they can charge your card or sell your credit card info to other criminals.
Alternatively, a criminal could stand near an ATM or try to talk to you while you’re using the ATM. During this time, they could be scanning your card using NFC/RFID technology. They could also watch you enter your PIN. With this information, they can make purchases with your card.
Another risk of using ATMs is theft. Sometimes robbers or pickpockets wait around ATMs looking for a target. When they see someone withdraw money, they follow them and try to steal from them. A pickpocket could watch you put the money in your wallet and then steal your wallet. A robber could simply follow you to a deserted place and mug you.
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. There is a test you can do to try to detect a skimmer. Before inserting your card, inspect the card reader slot and try pulling on it. Most skimmers are clipped or glued over the real card slot. They sometimes look out of place. Also, look at the keypad. Try to check if there is some sort of cover over it that could record your pin. If the card slot or keypad looks strange, find another ATM. Of course, this test is not foolproof. Some skimmers are nearly impossible to detect. Criminals are tricky.
- Cover the keypad while entering your PIN- Use your free hand to cover the keypad so cameras can’t record your pin as you enter it. This also prevents criminals from seeing your pin.
- Use the ATM at a bank branch, mall, or supermarket- They are generally safer and better maintained.
- 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.
- Never let anyone get close to you or talk to you while you’re at the ATM- Sometimes scammers stand around ATMs and use a handheld card skimmer. They may tell you that they know how to avoid the ATM fee then steal your credit card info while they’re close.
- 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. Many ATMs charge $5-$10 for a withdrawal.
For some more tips, check out my guide: The Best Debit and Credit Card for International Travel.
The Rental Motorcycle, Scooter, or Jetski 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 that you pay for repairs. They could ask for hundreds of dollars.
Usually, when you rent a bike, you will be required to leave something as collateral such as a passport or credit card. 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. They could have taken the whole bike to make you think it was stolen.
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 tourist scams are common in Southeast Asia.
There could simply be hidden fees involved in the rental. For example, maybe the company advertises a scooter rental for $20 per day. When you go to pay, you’re charged $40 per day. The initial quote didn’t include taxes or insurance. These hidden fees double the cost of the rental. This is a common scam in Mexico.
All of these scams can also happen with a rental car service as well. It’s not as common but it does happen.
This common scam is the reason that I rarely rent motorcycles or scooters when I travel even though I love riding.
How to Avoid the Rental Motorcycle or Scooter Scam
- Never leave your passport as collateral- If the rental agency has your passport, they have too much power over you. You can’t leave the counry without paying them. If they tell you that a passport is a rental requirement, simply refuse. You can tell them that your passport at an embassy waiting for a visa and offer them a copy instead. If they won’t accept that, rent from someone else or don’t rent a vehicle.
- Take photos of the bike before you leave the rental agency- Document any previous damage. Photograph scratches, dents, tears, broken glass, and any other damage you can spot. Make sure the owner is present when you’re taking pictures. Your photos can provide proof that you didn’t cause the damage.
- Always pay for the rental with a credit card- This gives you some purchase protection. If the rental agency tries to pull this scam, you can call your credit card company and tell them what happened. They will likely do a chargeback for you. Credit cards offer fraud protection.
- Leave something you don’t care about as collateral- If the rental agency require that you leave something as collateral, give them a backup credit card or debit card. 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. If you must tell them where you’re staying, try to park the bike where they can’t find it.
- Use your own lock- This way, the rental company can’t steal the bike with their spare key. A simple bike lock is sufficient.
- 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. This isn’t possible in every country but it’s worth considering.
- If you damage a rental bike, get it repaired yourself- This way, you can shop around for the lowest cost repair.
- Always ask to see the final price before signing the rental contract- This way, you’ll be aware of any hidden fees.
- Have travel insurance- A good travel insurance policy can protect you from rental scammers.
The Drug Deal Travel Scam
This scam involves someone approaching you and offering to sell you drugs. After you agree and make a purchase, they inform the police that you have drugs in your possession. The scammer is working with the police. The police stop you and search you. At this point, 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. This scam is common in party destinations. Particularly in Southeast Asia.
Alternatively, after selling to you, the ‘drug dealer’ could identify themself as a police officer and demand a bribe or arrest you. Some police departments do sting operations.
This common travel scam is easy to avoid. Just don’t buy illegal drugs while you’re traveling. If someone approaches offering to sell you drugs, simply tell them no thanks and walk away. It’s not worth the risk.
The Spill on Your Clothes Scam
While walking down the street or in a crowded bar or restaurant minding your own business, someone may ‘accidentally’ spill food, a beverage, or a condiment on your clothing. After this happens, the person who had the accident will profusely apologize and begin helping you clean up. This is a distraction.
While the scammer is dabbing at the stain, They will attempt to pickpocket your wallet, phone, or whatever they can take while you’re distracted. Sometimes they have an accomplice who steals from you instead. By the time you realize what happened, the scammer is long gone. This scam is common in Europe.
In a variation of this scam, someone squirts animal feces on your shoe while you’re not looking. They point it out to you and then offer to help you clean it up for a fee. They may also use this as a distraction. While you’re looking at your shoe, the scammer pickpockets you. This scam is common in India.
If someone spills something on you, insist on cleaning it up yourself. Just head to the nearest bathroom to clean up. If they insist on helping, push them away and leave. Don’t let anyone get too close.
Vacation Rental Scams
Vacation rental scams are on the rise. With the popularity of sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway, scammers are finding more and more ways to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers. Several vacation home scams to be aware of include:
- Fake listing for a vacation rental property- This is one of the most common vacation home scams. The scammer will use real photos of a property, but often the price will be too good to be true. Once you contact the “owner” and inquire about renting the property, they will ask for a deposit or full payment upfront. Once you send them the money, they will disappear and you will never hear from them again.
- Scammers pose as a property owner and ask for money upfront- You wire them money for the rental deposit or full payment. They may even send you fake documents that look like they are from a legitimate vacation rental company. Once you wire them the money, they disappear and you never hear from them again.
- Scammers try to steal your personal information- They ask you to fill out a “renter’s application” or “credit check” form. This form will ask for your Social Security number, credit card information, or bank account information. Once you fill out this form and submit it, the scammer will have all of your personal information and can use it to steal your identity or commit other crimes.
If you are considering renting a vacation home, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from being scammed:
- Only rent from reputable companies such as Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway. This gives you some protection. You may be ablet to get your money back.
- Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Pay through a third-party service or use a credit card. This gives you some purchase protection.
- Never give out your personal information unless you are absolutely sure that the person you are dealing with is legitimate.
- If something seems too good to be true, it is.
The Camera Theif
This scam is 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 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.
To avoid this scam, you 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 who already has an expensive camera. When everyone looks sketchy, just take a selfie or use a tripod to hold the camera for you. If someone offers to take a photo for you, use your best judgment. If they look sketchy, politely decline the offer. Agood travel insurance policy can help you cover the cost of a replaement. If your camera does get stolen.
Compromised WiFi Hotspot Scam
Chances are, you’ll be connecting to a number of Wi-Fi networks while you travel. You might connect to the Wi-Fi at airports, hotels, bus and train stations, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, public city hotspots, and more. There is free Wi-Fi almost everywhere these days. Unfortunately, these hotspots aren’t always secure.
A number of different types of attacks exist. A few common attacks to be aware of on public Wi-Fi networks include:
- Evil twin attack: An attacker creates a fake wifi network that looks like a legitimate one, in order to capture login credentials or other sensitive information from unsuspecting users. For example, you may think that you’re logging into the hotel WiFi when you’re actually connecting to a compromised network that is set up and controlled by a hacker. Anything passwords or other information you input could fall into the hands of the hacker.
- Man-in-the-middle attack: An attacker intercepts communication between two parties on a public network, such as a wifi network, and can see or change the data being transmitted. For example, a hacker might intercept the data being transferred between a website and your device. This data is no longer private.
- Snooping and Sniffing: Attackers can use special software to intercept and read the traffic passing over a public network, including passwords, emails, browsing activity, and other sensitive information.
- Malware injections: Attackers can inject malicious code into legitimate websites or applications in order to infect users’ devices with malware that breaks the security of your device. This malware allows the criminal to access your files.
Weak passwords or improper router configuration can make public Wi-Fi networks vulnerable to these attacks. All of the software needed to carry out these attacks is easily available. Small businesses don’t have the budget for a network security team.
After you connect your phone or laptop to a compromised Wi-Fi network, a hacker could intercept your data, collect your passwords or credit card info, access your files, or even install malware on your device and snoop around. If a hacker gains access to your information, they could steal your identity and steal your money. Exactly what they can access depends on how secure your device is and how secure the network is.
How to Avoid Compromised Wi-Fi Network
- If multiple networks are available, always ask which one is the official network- This helps you avoid connecting to a compromised network.
- Use a VPN (virtual private network)- A VPN routes your traffic through an encrypted internet connection. This helps you stay safe and anonymous online. This is particularly important when online banking or logging into various online accounts. Thieves can’t steal your data as easily. A few popular options include ExpressVPN, Proton VPN, and Private Internet Access.
- Use a mobile network instead of WiFi- The data on 4G connections is encrypted. This makes the internet connection much more secure than public Wifi hotspots. Of course, this means you have to buy a local sim card and data plan.
- Avoid transferring any sensitive data over questionable networks- Don’t log in to your online banking, enter your credit card information, or share any personal information while connected to a random WiFi network.
- Set up two-factor authentification (2FA) for all important accounts- If you have two-factor authentification enabled, a hacker can’t log into your accounts, even if they have your username and password. They would need an additional piece of identification.
- Turn off your device’s Wi-Fi when you’re not using it- This prevents your phone from transmitting data over a compromised network.
- Keep your device secure- Run antivirus and antimalware software. Don’t let anyone use your device.
- Use strong passwords- Create a strong and unique password for all of your online accounts. Use a password manager to help you keep track of your passwords. I use Keepass. It’s free and open source.
- Don’t log into questionable networks- You don’t need to log into the Wi-Fi at every bar and coffee shop you visit.
Taxi and Tuk Tuk Tours
Many tuk tuk and taxi drivers will offer you a low-cost or even free tour of the city. During this tour, they may take you to a tourist attraction or local landmark and then start taking you to a series of local shops. At each shop, you’ll be given a sales pitch. The driver earns a commission when you buy something from one of these shops. Your tour turns into one long sales pitch with a bit of sightseeing in between. It’s a waste of time.
To avoid being scammed, only take city tours that are offered by reputable companies. Make sure to read reviews in advance. If you want to hire a tuk tuk or taxi driver to show you around, offer them a set fare for a few hours and tell them where you want to go.
Fake Call from Hotel Reception Scam
While you’re in your hotel room minding your own business, you receive a call from reception. The receptionist asks you to confirm your credit card details because there was an issue when they charged your card. 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 charge up your card or drain your account.
Scam artists 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 they wake you up.
This one is easy to avoid. Don’t give out your credit card details to someone who called you. Simply walk down to reception to resolve the problem in person, if there really was one.
Three Card Monte Scam
This one dates back to the 15th century. You’ll see this scam being run on sidewalks around the world. A group of 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 double your money.
Scam artists use a number of techniques to make sure that you don’t win. This scam involves sleight of hand and the use of an accomplice. Sometimes the scammer will let you win a couple of times 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 and a ball that’s hidden underneath. In this case, your goal is to guess which cup is hiding the ball. The scam works exactly the same.
This scam 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 Scam
After you make a purchase, the vendor simply returns less change than you were due. They hope that you leave without counting your money and noticing that you were shortchanged.
To some shop keepers, 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 each day. If you catch them, they claim it was just an honest mistake and they give you the correct change.
Alternatively, a vendor could give you change for a smaller bill than you used. They claim that you made a mistake and gave them a smaller bill than you thought. For example, maybe you pay with a $100 bill but the vendor gives you change for a $20. When you complain, the vendor shows you a 20 when you really paid with a 100.
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. You may doubt yourself. Maybe you actually did hand them a smaller bill.
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.
How to Avoid this Scam
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 whenever possible- When you use a credit card, you can see on the receipt exactly how much you were charged. You don’t have to deal with change. Credit cards also 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 to get your money back.
- 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, and 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 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 it was a mistake and give you the money you are owed.
The Fake Petition Scam
The Fake petition scam is a fraudulent scheme in which scammers solicit signatures for a fake petition, often for a cause that is emotionally charged. For example, they may claim to be collecting signatures for a worthy cause, such as an environmental or animal protection initiative.
Once they have collected your signature, they may ask for a cash donation. The fake petition scams are often used to collect money from unsuspecting people who want to support a good cause. The scammer could also use your information to steal your identity. Alternatively, the scammer could use the petition as a distraction while they or an accomplice pickpockets you.
This type of scam can be very difficult to detect, as the scammers may use fake names and fake websites. If you are asked to sign a petition, be sure to research the organization behind it before giving any money. If you’re ever asked to give cash in exchange for signatures, know that it’s all a scam.
People try to overcharge you for pretty much anything they can when you are a tourist. This includes food, drinks, 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. It’s easier to get overcharged in the developing world because many goods and services don’t have the price clearly marked. You have to ask how much everything costs. Many shop keepers automatically quote a higher price to an unsuspecting tourist. Many vendors don’t seem to consider this a scam and even act proud of themselves for ripping a visitor off.
A few places you can get overcharged include:
- Taxis: Taxi drivers are 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.
- Hotels: When you walk into a small hotel and ask the price of a room, you may be quoted a price well over market value. The only thing to do here is to negotiate hard or look for another hotel. It’s not really a scam, rather them just trying to rip off an unspecting tourist who may not know any better.
- Restaurants: Some restaurants actually have a separate menu that’s only for tourists. These special menus list higher prices for the exact same food that’s on the regular menu. The only difference is that the tourist menu is usually in English. In this case, you are being served the same meal at a higher price, just because you are a foreigner. I experienced this in Ethiopia. When I went into a restaurant, I was handed a menu that said ‘foreigner menu’ on top. To me, this feels like a scam. I avoid eating in restaurants that charge foreigners more.
- Shared taxis, 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, you can watch other passengers pay and take note of how much they hand the attendant. You can also ask a fellow passenger how much the fare is. They will tell you the real rate. If you know the rate, you can just hand the attendant the exact amount and don’t say anything. If you know you’re being overcharged, you can 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.
- Shops: Salespeople often overcharge tourists at shops. They know that tourists are not familiar with the prices of items in the country and will be willing to pay more. In some cases, salespeople take advantage of tourists who do not speak the language by charging them more for items because they know they can’t negotiate.
Sometimes you just have to accept that you are being ripped off and smile and accept it. Last year while I was traveling in Africa, 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
Sometimes you agree to buy a product or service then the vendor tries to renegotiate the price after you’ve already received the product or service. 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- A taxi driver will agree to one rate and 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 where meters are not used. This could happen in a taxi, rickshaw, or tuk-tuk.
- 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. When you question if, the server may try to tell you that the menu was wrong or outdated and that the new price is higher.
I experienced this scam in most commonly in Africa. 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 in an attempt to prevent us from leaving.
After arguing back and forth and getting nowhere, we just placed the previously agreed-upon money on the counter and walked out. They were trying to make some type of illogical argument about 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 without a guide. 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.
Alternatively, the guide may collect your money and then leave without providing you with any service. They could also simply overcharge. Maybe the going rate for a tour is $10 and they charge you $50.
To avoid this 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.
You should also research the destination before you go. 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.
If possible, 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.
In many cases, beggars are scammers. 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 have money.
Sometimes a beggar will fake an injury or medical condition to gain your sympathy. For example, they may pretend to be blind or pretend to have a physical disability. Sometimes, children are forced to go out on the streets and beg for money.
Begging is a major problem all over the world. Everywhere you go, someone will approach you and ask for money. I’ve been asked for money on every continent I’ve visited.
The best practice is to simply not give money to beggars. Particularly child beggars. It usually does more harm than good. To read why, check out this article on child begging. It is also difficult to tell who is actually in need and who is just an opportunist.
If you must help, make a donation to a legitimate charity or offer the beggar some food instead of money.
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.
Most commonly, scammers set up an organization, collect donations, and pocket 95% or more of the cash. In this case, they may do something charitable with the remaining 5% or spend it on advertising to collect more money. Almost nothing makes it to the people actually who need assistance.
Some charities scam volunteers by charging them to do volunteer work. In this case, the volunteer is the customer. If you are being charged more than the amount of food and board to volunteer, it is all a scam and they are profiting off of you.
Unless you have a specific skill in need like medical training or engineering, 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 and administration, then they probably aren’t doing much good. Basically, do your research before committing to anything or sending any money.
The Tea Ceremony Scam
This scam 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. You’ll be threatened and even locked in the shop until you pay up. Someone will accompany you to an ATM if you don’t have enough cash. This scam is common in China.
In a variation of this scam, someone invites you to have tea with them and then takes you to their shop. They hope that if they give you tea, you will feel obligated to buy something from their shop.
To avoid this 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 get a commission. Worst case, you get scammed out of hundreds of dollars. If you want to join a local you’re unfamiliar with for food or drinks, make sure you choose the place.
Protect Yourself from Scams with Travel Insurance
A quality travel insurance policy can protect you from many of the above scams. It can also cover you in the event of a medical emergency or injury. I use SafetyWing Nomad Insurance. They offer a flexible and affordable medical and travel insurance policy.
Final Thoughts About 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 hard earned money.
This list just outlines some of the most common scams that you may encounter while traveling. There are many more tourist 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 so you can catch most tourist scams before they happen.
Have you fallen victim to any of these common 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!
Sunday 24th of July 2022
Turkey: You’ll get change in old inflated lira instead of new currency from the taxi driver. Solution: examine the paper money carefully when counting your change.
Germany: The Hotel Garni or B&B owner will quote a room price, but on checkout claim that the price was per person! Even locals fall for this one. Solution: one person stays outside while the other asks for a written price to show the one outside. Show that note when checking out, if necessary.
Czech Republic and Amsterdam: you ask for tap water and then get charged for it, usually around the price of a beer. Solutions: point out that they can charge whatever they want, as long as it’s on the menu. If that doesn’t work, don’t tip, and point out that the tip has already been paid by the water charge.
Sofia: there’s only one legitimate taxi company, and they’re the only one who agree to use the meter. Solution: The names are displayed on the taxi, but if you don’t read Cyrillic, be careful. A one-letter substitution can mean a non-metered cab.
Venice: don’t buy the dancing Mickey Mouses. They only work because of the vibration from a nearby radio along a virtually invisible string.
In countries where the water is unsafe to drink, don’t accept any bottle which isn’t sealed.
Tuesday 26th of July 2022
Good ones! I experienced the tap water scam in Prague. On my first trip abroad when I was 18, I ordered a tap water in a restaurant. The server brought me a water and charged me for an expensive bottled water. My buddy had a beer, which was cheaper.
Friday 8th of May 2020
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.
Saturday 9th of May 2020
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.