Getting pooped on by a bird, handing over a credit card to a cashier on her phone, or answering a wake up call from the hotel you’re staying at are all seemingly normal, everyday happenings. Yet, while you’re abroad, all three of these situations are common tourist scams that con artists use to drain your bank account or lift valuables out of your pockets. True story.
Luckily, there are many preparations and precautionary steps you can take to avoid being the victim of the next tourist trap. Always be alert, keep your valuables close to you and locked up at all times, and if something seems too good to be true...it probably is — sorry honey, but there’s no such thing as a 10 Euro round trip flight.
Read on to learn more about the biggest tourist traps in the world and all the travel scams to watch out for during your next trip abroad:
QUIZ: Are YOU the Next Tourist Trap Victim?
Although we don’t want you to become a paranoid traveler, you should be aware of some common street scams that could put a damper on an otherwise amazing trip. Quiz yourself and become familiarized with common travel scams to watch out for.
1. A taxi driver approaches you at the airport and tells you there was an accident on the train line, but that he could drive you to your destination at a great rate. Do you:
- a. Hop in his cab and think about how lucky you are to have met such a nice cabbie
- b. Say, “No thanks, I already have a ride”
- c. Tell him you’d prefer to check the train line for yourself
- d. Smile and walk away. What did that guy just say?
Answer: Anything but A. Cab drivers don’t usually approach people for rides. To be safe, check out the situation for yourself. You can always hail a different cab.
2. A police officer approaches you and asks to see a form of identification. He informs you that you don’t have the correct form and fines you 1000 pesos. Do you:
- a. Ask him why you were stopped in the first place, listen to his reasoning, pay, and go about your business
- b. Run!
- c. Ask to see his badge and refuse to pay unless you see more paperwork
- d. Tell him his foreign laws don’t apply to you
Answer: C. Always ask to see identification — never let someone bully you into paying a fine in cash, and never hand your entire wallet to a police officer. If you do find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is to call the actual police and verify if the officer that approached you is who they say they are.
3. You’re outside enjoying some street food when a fight suddenly breaks out. Do you:
- a. Continue eating and pay little attention to the fight
- b. Rush to the circle forming around the scuffle
- c. Get out your camera and start capturing fight footage
- d. Pick a side and join the brawl — you didn’t watch Fight Club for nothin’!
Answer: A. It’s common for a distraction to be created in order for thieves easily grab wallets from a large group of bystanders. Avoid this tourist scam altogether by staying away from the crowd.
4. You grab a taxi to head to a pub and notice the driver takes an odd route, and even circles the block a few times. Do you:
- a. Not even notice this. You’re in a different country — you don’t know how to get anywhere!
- b. Ask the cabbie why he’s taking that route and suggest the route you’re familiar with
- c. Assume that he’s lost and politely wait for him to arrive at your destination
- d. Ask the driver to stop – you get out of the cab and hail a new one
Answer: B. It’s possible that this guy is driving you all over town to run up your tab. Politely say something if you think this is the case.
**BONUS TIP** Sometimes you can agree on a cab fare before you reach your destination and pay upfront. This is the best option when dealing with cab drivers — just make sure you know the rate and how far you’re going, so you aren’t tricked into overpaying.
5. You’re exchanging some money for Euro, but the woman at the service desk is counting really slowly. She stops counting. Do you:
- a. Grab your Euro and get out of there. You have better things to do!
- b. Wait to see if she continues counting and then leave
- c. Politely tell her to speed it up
- d. Tell her to keep counting; you know you have more Euro coming your way
Answer: C or D. Whenever you exchange money, make sure you know the exchange rate and how much money you’re expecting to receive. Some places may try to trick you by counting slowly or by giving a reverse exchange rate. To avoid this tourist scam, ask a program adviser where the best place to exchange money is.
6. You’re in the park and a bird poops on you or someone accidentally spills ketchup on your brand new shirt. A bystander rushes over to wipe off your clothes. Do you:
- a. Stand there very confused as you’re patted down by a stranger
- b. Thank the bystander for being so helpful
- c. Kindly decline the bystander’s assistance
- d. Back away from the bystander and try to prevent him/her from touching you
Answer: D. Try to avoid being touched as soon as possible. This person could try to grab anything on you that isn’t secured; politely saying “no” won’t work if they’re persistent. This could happen with anything spilled on you, so be aware. Keep bags between your legs when sitting or standing in a public area.
7. You hail a cab and ask to be taken to a specific restaurant. The cab driver tells you it’s closed, but he knows of a better restaurant you could try. Do you:
- a. Tell him you think the restaurant is open and ask him to take you there to double check
- b. Say, “okay,” take me to your restaurant
- c. Say you’ve suddenly lost your appetite and ask to be taken home
- d. Ask him what other restaurants he would recommend
Answer: A. If you did your research and know a restaurant is open, double check before going somewhere else. It’s most likely that the “better restaurant” is extremely overpriced; some taxi drivers are paid commission by restaurants, so it’s possible your driver just wants more money.
8. Some attractive locals notice you and ask if you’ll help them learn your language. Maybe you could go to a pub and chat? Do you:
- a. Decline their offer
- b. Help choose a pub and offer to buy the drinks
- c. Suggest going to a park instead
- d. Find a bar, but keep a close eye on your new friends
Answer: A or C are the best answers. If this is a tourist scam, the con artists will take you to a very specific bar — even if it seems like you chose it. As a group, you could end up buying a lot of drinks, but you’ll be ditched and left with the bill.
9. You’re staying in a hostel or a hotel and receive a phone call from the front desk saying your credit card information wasn’t processed correctly. Do you:
- a. Give the caller your credit card information
- b. Say, “That’s too bad...guess I won’t be charged!” and hang up
- c. Tell them you’ll go down to the front desk when you get the chance to sort things out
- d. Spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out if you went over your limit
Answer: C. A hotel or hostel will never call and request credit card information over the phone, especially in the middle of the night.
10. You’re sitting at an outdoor cafe, when you suddenly notice keys on the ground near you. Do you:
- a. Continue eating, it’s not your problem
- b. Pick them up so you can find who lost them
- c. Look around and shout, “Did anyone lose their keys?”
- d. Secure your bag and then pick them up
Answer: A or D. The smallest distractions can give thieves enough time to snatch your bag, camera, or anything near you. To be safe, leave the keys on the ground. If you feel an overwhelming need to pick them up, secure your belongings first.
Did you pass?
While traveling abroad, make sure to always be aware of your surroundings and possessions. Be confident and get out of situations if they feel wrong, because they are likely tourist scams. Below are a few hints and tips you should follow to ensure you have safe travels, even amongst the biggest tourist traps in the world.
5 Quick & Easy Tips to Avoid Tourist Scams
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment or in your travels to the point that you may let your guard down, allowing yourself to be vulnerable to these common travel scams and tourist traps. To avoid having any valuables stolen or, God forbid, your bank account drained, here are five easy tips to remember, write down, and tattoo to your arm (just kidding) when traveling abroad.
1. If something seems too good to be true...it probably is.
There is no such thing as “free lunch” – this means that if someone approaches you and offers to sell you bus tickets for two Euro each...it’s most likely a street scam. There are countless fake travel companies abroad, just preying on vulnerable tourists, hoping they’ll offer up their credit card information for “cheap bus tickets,” or “discounted five star hotels.” Always purchase your transportation tickets, tour, or hotel reservations, online on a trustworthy website or – better yet – in person.
2. Avoid beggars.
As heartless as this sounds, many con artists will disguise themselves as beggars, or even use children, in order to get money out of tourists. And when con artists aren’t disguised as the beggars, they often would lurk around those who are actually in need in hopes someone would reach into their wallet and hand over a few coins or bills to the beggar. This way, the con artist could make a mental note of where you keep your wallet, so they could try to pick you off later.
3. Beware of the pickpockets.
Trust your gut feeling; if someone who is approaching you gives off a weird vibe, simply avoid them or walk away. Often times, pickpockets (young and old) will hang around crowded touristy areas and use tricks, such as, shoving maps in people’s faces, throwing a fake baby into someone’s arms, or “accidentally” dropping a fake wallet/keys. All of these tricks are just ways to cause distraction — distractions that cause you to turn your attention away from your valuables, leaving them open and straight into the pickpocket's hands.
4. If someone offers to take your picture, don’t hand over your $3000 camera.
Often times, when someone offers to take a picture for you, they may be either attempting to run off with it or will charge you for their picture taking services. If this situation occurs, it’s better to play it safe and politely refuse. If you want your picture taken, ask another traveler and then offer to take their picture as well.
5. If you’re taking a cab/taxi…
Make sure you know the exact route you want to take and ensure they have their meter up and running. A common tourist scam that taxi drivers will sometimes use is to leave their meter off, and charge an overpriced amount for the ride once you arrive at your destination; they may also take a large detour or roundabout way just to increase your rate. The best way to avoid a situation like this, is to know your route ahead of time and the estimated cost of the ride.
Are your travel instincts on point?
Traveling is already expensive enough; don’t get tricked into spending more money than you actually need to. Each country is different in terms of common tourist scams, so it’ll be best to thoroughly read up on local tourist traps, street scams, and advice on how to avoid them before going abroad. Most importantly, if you do fall for a travel scam (it happens to the best of us), assess the situation thoroughly, make sure you have the necessary contact information on you (i.e. your bank’s number), and try to solve the situation as soon as possible. Best of luck and happy traveling!