There are all too many ways that unscrupulous individuals and gangs target tourists, wreaking financial loss and upset on those who should be having the times of their life travelling..
Whilst the threat of scamners is not something that you should let deter you from travelling, or overshadow what you have planned, it’s a good idea to be aware of some of the more common ruses for extorting or stealing money from tourists, and do your best to avoid becoming a victim of these kinds of cunning schemes.
Tourists are a popular target of fraudsters and pickpockets, as they adapt to a new environment, perhaps try to communicate in a different language, and do their best to be polite and respectful to local people.
The main piece of advice is to exercise as much common-sense and caution as possible, even when in ‘holiday mode’, trust your instincts and if something seems ‘too good to be true’ then it often is!
A – Avoid taxi drivers taking you for a ride in more ways than one… You can check with the tourist information office what a typical price is for a trip that you are planning to take, to avoid getting ripped off with an extortionate fare. If you don’t get a chance to do that, then make sure you’ve agreed on a price before setting off, and make sure that you keep your luggage with you if possible. Another tip is to keep an eye on denominations when paying, as some unscrupulous cabbies can swap notes you give them, for ones of lesser value. Plus, don’t pay anything until you are where you want to be.
B – Beware of ‘distraction pickpockets’ who prey on you through taking your attention by some means, and then either themselves or an accomplice, steal some valuables out of your bag or pocket. One particularly bizarre tactic is for a woman to throw her ‘baby’ into your arms. Whilst you recover from the shock, and you are literally left ‘holding the baby’ – her cohorts will rifle through your pockets or bag. Other distractions include peddling souvenirs or posing as beggars and handing out a ‘please help me’ card to read. Although none of us like to appear rude, it’s best to just focus on the attraction that you have come to see of the activity that you plan to do, without interacting with people who have approached you without invitation.
C – Check that your villa or apartment accommodation does actually exist, and that you don’t see an advert for accommodation, pay out for it, and then find out that it doesn’t really exist. The scammers then disappear without a trace, leaving no recourse, or way to get your money back. You then face paying out again for accommodation, which will obviously be a costly and inconvenient exercise. It is advisable to book your accommodation by the means of taking out a package holiday, by cross-referencing an apartment’s validity by asking for a utilities bill in the owner’s name, or booking via an authorised rental company.
D – Don’t be the victim of fake police (or sometimes real) when travelling away. Everyone trusts a policeman, and this is exploited by scammers who dress up as being part of the police force. Their arrival on the scene is usually preceded by someone offering you some drugs or other illicit material, and then the police inform you that they have seen what was going on, and will let you go on your way, for a small fee. The prospect of being arrested or thrown in a foreign jail, is an (understandably) unappealing scenario, and many people end up handing over some money just to make the ‘problem’ go away. The irony of this type of crime, is that the ‘police’ themselves are the perpetrators – and you are the hapless victim. If in doubt, stand your ground, refuse to pay, and ask to be taken to the police station.
E – Extra items on the bill in a cafe or restaurant are something that you need to guard against. It’s very easy to take the bill at face value, and either be too mellowed out, or in a rush, to check it thoroughly. It’s important to make sure that only foods and drinks consumed are on the bill, and that they are charged at the correct price advertised on the menu. If a service charge has been added, then you don’t need to add a tip of your own.
F – False petitions or questionnaires. One conniving ploy is to approach people (sometimes it’s even children that do this) to ask you to sign a petition of some kind, and also sometimes ask for a monetary donation. It is a criminal offence to impersonate a charity, as the money is obviously not being used for charitable means, so don’t feel bad about refusing and walking on. Many con-artists play on the sympathy card to extort money, so don’t let yourself be guilt-tripped – hard though it can be to turn the other cheek. If you feel that someone looks particularly down on their luck, and you’d like to help – buy them some food or drink, rather than hand over money, which can be funnelled away by a gang, instead of helping the intended recipient.
G – Get the price and specifications of your chosen hotel room in writing. It is all too easy for dishonest hoteliers to pretend that a telephone conversation went very differently to reality, or make false promises verbally (for premium add-ons such as a sea-view) that don’t materialise when you check in. If something is in writing, and you can retrieve the email electronically, or you’ve received a letter, then this gives much more weight to your claims. Similarly, if you’ve paid a deposit or paid in full for the room, you need to have written confirmation of this.
H – Hotels again…The vast majority of hotels are completely above-board, and have your best interests at heart. One cheeky ploy is for less-popular hotels to copy the name of more-popular and successful hotels that have a glowing Trip Advisor rating. These cases of ‘stolen identity’ can obviously cause confusion, and sometimes, disappointment, for travellers, who feel duped by this impersonation.
I – Irritated and impatient is most probably how you’ll feel as the check-out operator in the shop counts out your change painfully and almost impossibly slowly. However annoyed you get, it’s best to wait and collect your correct change, rather than losing your rag, grabbing what change has been counted out, and potentially being shortchanged by this typically European ruse.
J – Just walk on by, if there is a street performer or gambling game going on, if you want to avoid the risk of being fleeced for money or pickpocketed. You are cleverly drawn in by accomplices winning seemingly “easy money” through the pea under a cup trick – and it’s all too tempting to think that you can add to your holiday spending money by following suit…Unfortunately, the trick then turns sour, and you are relieved of your cash through sleight of hand or being relieved of your money by a pickpocket whilst you are watching with rapt attention. Best avoided…
K – Keep your valuables safe. There are all manner of tricks and ruses that can be used to get close to you, and your bags, from those that want to relieve you of your wallet, purse or phone. It is always wise not to hang your bag on your chair in a restaurant, as this is an easy target to be stolen. One ruse is for some well-timed bird-poo to descend through the air and splatter you. Whilst you get over the shock, and look for a tissue, a “well-meaning bystander” will rush up with something handy to clean you off….and make off with some of your valuables amidst all the drama…
L – Lockers. It’s a sensible precaution to store valuables in a locker, whilst you’re staying in a dormitory or hostel. Unfortunately, even this seemingly safe form of storage can be exploited. Some may appear to be locked, but if you pull the unit away from the wall (or lift it from the floor), they’re backless (or bottomless) and completely accessible.
M – Mobile phone credit. It’s sensible to use a reputable supplier, as you could fall foul of buying something that never materialises. Some dodgy mobile phone or electrical shops may assure you that you’ll receive a text with the credit message confirming the top-up. This may never arrive, and even a receipt wont stop them claiming that you deleted the text and used the credit.
N – Never let anyone you don’t know, have access to, or handle your baggage. You run the risk of items going missing, or being an unwitting mule for something illegal.
O – Official vendors. It’s advisable to buy tickets for everything from theme parks to concert tickets from an official source, as scammers get increasingly high-tec. You really don’t want to pay out good money for a worthless ticket, that may only expose you to refused entry, a fine, or being arrested in the worst case scenario.
P – Plastic. Try not to let your card details out of your sight when you pay for anything. If you’re using an ATM machine, always use them in reputable banks, and if it gets ‘swallowed’, then go into the bank immediately. One cunning method employed by identity thieves, is to get you to share your credit card details, by ringing the phone in your hotel room at night (when you’re less likely to go down to reception and query it, and are probably a bit befuddled from sleep…) and pretending that they are ringing from the hotel front desk to confirm the card details. If you use a contactless card, beware of thieves ‘accidentally on purpose’ bumping into you in the street or on public transport. A thief who’s got hold of a Point of Sale device could theoretically enter a price lower than £30, tap the deice against against people’s pockets, and they would be charged. This crime has not been widely reported, but it’s definitely worth considering where you’re storing your purse or wallet when you’re out and about.
Q – Questionnaire. Being approached by someone to answer a questionnaire might seem innocuous enough ,but as you are being helpful and concentrating on the questions, you are a sitting duck for an accomplice to move in and pickpocket of your most valuable worldly goods. Don’t be afraid to walk away or ignore people that approach you with a survey. You haven’t gone travelling with the express desire of doing a questionnaire, and are wasting valuable time, even if the person asking the questions intentions are honourable!
R – Rose. What looks like a kind and generous gesture from a stranger in the street can result in either acute embarrassment, or overpaying for an item that you didn’t actually want (and that has a very limited shelf-life). The extortion consists of somebody approaching you and giving you a rose for your wife or girlfriend. You are then asked a large amount to keep the rose, and you are faced with the dilemma of looking like a stingy boyfriend, or being duped in this all-too common ploy.
S – Scams can happen in many different places – on the street, in hotels, or sometimes, in bars or cafes. You may ask a taxi driver to take you to a certain place that has a good reputation on Trip Advisor, or that someone has recommended, but it is unexpectedly ‘closed.’ They will then insist that you visit an alternative that they heartily endorse – because they are getting a ‘back-hander’ for doing so! The replacement establishment will probably be vastly inferior, and possibly very expensive as well…
T – Timeshare salespeople have a bit of a bad reputation, and they are employing increasingly creative ways to ply you with their sales patter and get you to sign on the dotted line… One such process is to be handed a scratchcard by a friendly-looking fella as you wander along. As ‘payment’ for the scratchcard, you are then told you have to attend a no-pressure meeting, and if you try and get out of it, then you are guilt-tripped by a sob story about the man not getting paid, if you don’t attend. Stick to your guns, and don’t waste your valuable holiday time, being the victim of these shoddy pressure tactics. Walk off, and get on with your day!
U – Unless you’re keen for your holiday to get off to a very bad start indeed, it’s best to keep your wits about you as you embark on the airport security. As you approach security, a stranger lingers nearby with keys in their pockets. They then push in front of you through the scanner, setting off the alarm – and in the ensuing melee, a watching accomplice moves in to steal your valuable possessions as they pass along the conveyor belt. It’s an audacious crime, but a real possibility, as there are warnings about this style of scam from the Kenyan police and the US Federal Aviation Administration.
V – Vroom Vroom! The sound of you revving up your scooter as you set off for an idyllic day out touring….until it unceremoniously breaks down or has an accident. You are swiftly ‘rescued’ by someone who is happy to escort you and the bike to a repair shop that they assure you is the best place to get the bike back on the road…but they fail to mention the extortionate price, and the fact the hire shop owner insists that you pay for the damage (real or imagined). Take a photo of the bike if you can, before setting off, and look for a reputable firm that isn’t affiliated with a hotel or guest house. Watch out for another motorbike scam that has been designed to fleece you out of your hard-earned cash. The motorbike that you hire, comes with a lock and 2 keys, you have one and the rental company keeps the duplicate. Unfortunately, this gives them the opportunity to pinch the motorbike when you have parked it up, and tell you that you have to pay a large sum to replace the ‘stolen’ vehicle. You are then held to ransom if you’ve signed a contract and handed them your passport as security…
W – Wifi…this hi-tec scam sets up a fake wifi hub, which can glean personal information and passwords from the people that connect to it. It’s best to check with the coffee shop or hotel, what is the official free provider, to avoid being a victim of this brand of cyber-crime. Any data that you transmit, may be intercepted, and could be used to commit identity fraud.
X – eXit! Sorry, had to cheat a bit on that one! 😉 Be wary of local tour guides that latch on to you and offer to show you around for a handsome fee, whether you require their services or not…Another unwelcome twist to this tactic, is for an enterprising local to pretend that they are employed to charge an entry fee to a local landmark or car park, when in reality, they are just chancing their arm to extract some change from the long line of tourists waiting to get in!
Y – You need to take care if you are offered a morsel of food or drink, from someone who’s not working at an official restaurant, cafe or vendor. You run the very serious risk of eating or drinking something that has been spiked, and you could wake up very groggy the next day, after having been relieved of your worldly possessions – in the best case scenario.
Z – Zzzzzzz! Beware the ‘sleeping’ person on the tube or train seat next to you, who is seemingly out for the count, but is ready to seize their moment when your guard is down, to rifle through your belongings or pick your pocket, whilst you think they’re still safely in the land of nod. Keep your wits about you at all times, and keep your belongings as close to you as possible on public transport.
After reading all of these scams, you may feel that the safest and least risky thing to do, is to stay at home and that the travelling life is beset with shysters and scammers, and that it just isn’t worth the risks involved.
Of course, this is only the less-savoury part of the realities of travelling, and there are many incredible experiences and moments that entice people to broaden their horizons and travel.
There are unscrupulous people wherever you travel in the world, including in your own home town, and the key thing is to always trust your gut instinct, be cautious in fresh surroundings, and not to worry about offending the feelings of someone you’ve never met before – and sets off your inbuilt “scammer radar’. Don’t feel guilty about doing exactly what you want to do on your well-earned travels, and don’t let them waste your precious time – or money!
Of course, prevention is better than damage limitation, but travel insurance does provide some financial back-up if you fall victim to someone stealing your personal belongings. for example. Check your policy coverage to see if your chosen policy will cover your personal money (if it’s lost or stolen) , your travel documents (passport) or your designer sunglasses (they may be listed as eyewear). Look at the limits and make sure that they cover you as thoroughly as possible. If you have a really expensive electronic item such as a MacBook, then you may need to get bolt-on cover from a gadget insurance specialist, to complement your travel insurance.
If you do fall foul of a thief, make sure that you report it to the hotel management (if appropriate) and get a crime report number from the local police, in order to document the loss, and to provide proof for a travel insurance claim.
It’s obviously a good idea to report any kind of scamming activity to the police and authorities where they happened, so that they can build up a picture of where and when these sorts of crimes occur, and hopefully catch the perpetrators in the act – and stop other tourists falling foul of these shoddy tricks.
Most law-abiding locals in the countries that you are travelling through, will not want your stay in their part of the world, tainted by these kinds of problems, and will be keen to maintain an area’s reputation as a wonderful place to visit.
Don’t let the scammers win – keep travelling, but keep vigilant too.
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