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Classic Tourist Scams
How To Avoid Them

First the good news - most of us travel without ever falling for tourist scams. That said - many still do, so it is important to be well prepared and aware of the most common travel scams.

Tourists are vulnerable targets for scammers and fraudsters for two main reasons:

  • They are on a holiday, they are having fun, letting their hair down, even drinking more than usual
  • They are in unfamiliar territory, they don't know the local culture or the local prices, especially when just arrived at destination

You can easily reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a tourist fraud by being aware of the risk and understand the main methods employed by scammers and fraudsters.

The Golden Rule To Avoid Tourist Scams

Maybe the golden rule to avoid tourist fraud should be to remember the old saying - if something sounds too good to be true... it's probably a scam.

Iron on top of a 100 dollar bill

Most successful travel scams, both home and away, rely on the fact that most of us can't resist a bargain.

Never forget to pack your common sense when going on a holiday.

Always be alert when travelling and make sure it shows... that you are a confident traveler

Scammers and fraudsters are very imaginative in inventing new scams all the time. There are though few “classic” travel scams that always seem to work for them...

Some Classic Tourist Scams

Distract And Then Steal

There are many variations of these tourist scams. One version includes group of youngsters that will surround you, chatting, smiling, often begging and even pleading with you. While your attention is on some of them, others will expertly rid you of your belongings and then the whole group will usually disappear like magic.

Other version of this tourist fraud can include some street entertainers, e.g. playing card tricks. While you watch, an accomplice robs you.

There are many other ways to create distraction to make it easier to steal your belongings. Someone bumps into you and apologizes profoundly but your wallet is gone. Or someone drops something, you pick it up and your belongings have disappeared.

Always be alert of any commotion around you, always assume it's fake while you make sure your valuables are safe. Make an effort showing that you are alert of your surroundings at all times, that is possible the most efficient weapon against all tourist scams.

Taxi Drivers

Unfortunately it seems that taxi drivers are the profession that most tourists have experienced some kind of trouble with. There are many ways for taxi drivers to scam the unsuspected tourist, especially when he has just arrived, with no sense of directions or distances - or what is considered to be fair price.

Taking extra long route to a destination is the most common of taxi tourist scams, especially if it is obvious that the tourist has just arrived... and for the first time. You should always investigate in advance how much you should approximately pay for your main taxi journeys, i.e. from the airport to your hotel and from your hotel to the city centre. Your travel guide should be able to advice you about this but you can also ask at the tourist board at your point of arrival.

More devious trick is when you pay with large note but the taxi driver quickly exchanges it for a lower value note and tells you that you have not given him enough money. If you have just arrived and not familiar with the local currency, it can be difficult to be sure that you didn't make this mistake.

Most sinister tourist scams involve driving people to remote places, robbing them and leaving them behind - hopefully unharmed.

There are few rules you can follow in order to reduce the risk of tourist scams involving taxi drivers:

  • Always agree the price in advance or insist on using a meter
    • Though that is not always enough as our Top Travel Trip story shows
  • Always use official taxi driving companies
    • In some countries taxi driving is “loosely” regulated, i.e. in many Asian and African countries, in those areas you should always agree the price in advance
  • Never share a taxi with strangers
    • They could be scammers posing as travelers and never permit the driver to pick up more passengers
  • Act like you know what you are doing and where you are going
    • Always check the local taxi price structure prior to take any taxi

Top Travel Tourist Scams Story

Prague taxi drivers reputation is one of the worst in Europe. So our friends knew prior to arriving in Prague that they would have to be vigilant when using taxis.

Their guide book advised to insist on using a meter but also said that the taxi driver would be unlikely to agree to that and you should therefore insist on fixed price. So when they took a taxi for short distance in the city centre they wanted to agree a fixed price. The taxi driver immediately said he would use the meter. They were surprised but happily accepted that.

This was a short journey, much shorter than the journey they had taken from the airport to the hotel few days earlier. Still the driver insisted on more than double amount for this short trip. They argued but he pointed out that the price per kilometer was written in small letters outside on the door of the cab. This turned out to be correct but the kilometer price was many times higher than what was the norm, this was a “tourist taxi”.

They still refused to pay this ridiculous amount and insisted on calling the police and the driver drove off with them - naively they were still sitting in the car arguing about the price. He drove to a police station in the outskirt of town. To cut a long story short, in the end they agreed to met somewhere in the middle, i.e. they paid much more than they should have but less than the intention was to scam them for.

They started their long walk back into town - and guess who stopped and offered to give them a lift... for a fixed price?

Your New Best “Friend”

Meeting new people and making new friends is one of the things that make travelling such a great experience. Being lucky enough to meet the locals not to mention befriend them adds a spice to any travel.

Most people we meet while travelling have good intentions and we should not automatically suspect everyone we meet to be scammers. That would be our loss.

World map on a table stand

You'll find
scammers everywhere

There are though exceptions, some people see tourists as easy targets waiting to be scammed and befriending a tourist is a good way to get close to them. There are many versions of these travel scams as well.

It could be the helpful local person warning you to store your wallet safely and then steal it after you told or showed them were you keep your money. Or it could be someone offering to help you with the railway station locker, helping you to put your luggage in a lockage that he had the key to.

Single male traveller could be approached by an attractive woman in the street. She might know about the perfect place for a drink... at a very hefty price.

While we want you to make new friends when travelling, you still need to be alert and use your common sense. You should never trust people you don't know with your personal belongings nor flash your valuables to them. You should never go alone anywhere with a total stranger without a secure backup plan in place. You should be especially careful in the evenings or at night time, especially if alcohol has been involved. You must know what you are willing to accept and what not, and get that message across clearly.

Many people love how friendly Cuban people are, frequently coming up to them in the street wanting to befriend them. This often involves the tourist paying for all drinks... and not always the cheapest ones. While many people enjoy this experience other sees it as one of Havana tourist scams. Only you can say what is acceptable for you or not in cases like this.

Few More Common Travel Scams To Be Aware Of

Always check your souvenirs before you returning home. One classic tourist scam is to offer to wrap up your purchase and when you get home you find a cheap substitute has been packed.

If you are told you've won a competition that you never entered, treat it as a scam. Don't get tempted.

There are so many tourist scams involved money exchange and credit cards - we will have to write a separate article about those. Just be very careful when changing money, both where you do it and also after you done it. Especially be alert around cash machines, always check that there is nothing suspicious attached to the machine and make sure no one can see the pin number you are entering. And never leave your credit card out of sight.

One of the most calculated tourist scam involves scam artist that pose as police officers. The police are supposed to be on your side, where ever you are - right? We tend to trust people in police uniforms and find it difficult to refuse to do what they tell us. Like when they tell us to hand over personal belongings or personal documents.

There are many variations to this tourist fraud. The police officer could inform you about counterfeit notes, asking to check yours... and then remove few perfectly valid notes from your wallets without you noticing it. They could fine you for some offend - rightly or wrongly and offer you to pay a reduced fee on the spot. They could tell you some plausible story so you hand over your passport and wallet and then just run off with it.

This can be a tricky one to avoid but as always try to avoid the situation to ever occur by being alert and confident traveler at all times. Also avoid offending and breaking local rules in the first place, i.e. stick to speed limits when driving and don't use or carry illegal substances. It's also a good idea to know how the local law enforcement uniform looks like and always ask for identification documents and numbers. That should scare most scammers away.

We wish you a save journey, remember to be alert at all times, that is usually the best way to avoid tourist scams. Scammers usually leave confident travelers alone.

Top Travel Tip

Never judge the book by its cover - Scammers and fraudster usually don't stand out from the crowd. They usually blend nicely into their surroundings, even at expensive hotels and fancy restaurants. Being well dressed and affluent in appearance is never a guarantee for honourable intentions.