9 Travel Scams and How To Avoid Them

02.27.23 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images

From the infamous pickpocket to the person who runs off with your camera after offering to take your picture, it seems there’s always shady people looking to take advantage of tourists.

To reduce your chances of being a victim while traveling, it’s important to stay aware and on guard. Here are some of the most popular scams out there, and tips on how to avoid them.

1. The taxi overcharge

This is one of the most common travel scams out there. The driver may claim the meter is broken, quote an outrageous fee, or take you on a longer route just to create a high rate.

Use Google Maps to keep them honest, ask a reputable establishment to call a cab for you instead of hailing one on the street, or use an official taxi app. Always confirm the meter works before you get in.

Also, don’t fall for the “your hotel is overbooked or closed” scam. They may claim this only to take you to a more expensive hotel where they’ll get a commission. Call the hotel directly and tell them to take you there anyway.

2. The “trust me, it’s free” scam

The scammer may tell you that you’ve won an iPad, or they’re offering “free” event tickets or merchandise…all you have to do is follow them to receive it. Meanwhile, they lure you to their shop or other location and demand you buy something.

Avoid people claiming to be giving away free stuff or offering deeply discounted tickets. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

3. The diversion pickpocket

There you are minding your own business when someone spills on you or bumps into you. While they (and you) make a fuss, someone else is picking your pocket. You hear some change dropping or wallet fall on the ground.

As a polite person, you bend over to help pick it up. While you’re distracted, they grab your bag or pick your pocket.

Even worse, there have been cases where a scammer will throw an animal at you, ram into you with their bike, or create an argument or commotion just to distract everyone around.

Don’t fall for any situation where you are distracted. Stay aware and alert. For added protection from scams, learn how to hide cash while traveling.

4. The high-end switcheroo

This one is simple: You’re shown a high-end product and agree on a price. After you pay, the vendor switches the item for a knockoff while you’re not looking.

Be aware the product may have been a fake all along. Avoid this scam by only purchasing from reputable dealers that can prove authenticity.

5. The cash scam

When you’re overseas, sometimes the colorful money can be confusing. It’s easy for a merchant to accuse you of giving him a five-dollar bill when you really gave him a $50.

When handing over a larger bill, hold it up and say the amount out loud, alerting the vendor you know exactly how much you’re giving him/her.

Some have been known to give you change with counterfeit money or bills that are obsolete.

Pay with smaller bills, familiarize yourself with the local currency, and only exchange through legitimate sources.

6. The bracelet scam

Popular in Europe, scammers will target tourists by sliding a bracelet on your wrist then demand payment before you even know what happened. If you don’t pay up, they’ll often create a big scene. This also happens with street petitions and others asking for a donation.

The lesson? Don’t let anyone put anything on you — ever. Never accept unsolicited gifts or get distracted by signing so-called petitions. It may feel impolite but ignore them and walk away.

7. The damaged rental

You decided to rent a scooter, motorbike, or even a car. You bring it back and they claim you damaged it and demand money for repairs. In some cases, they even tail you and damage the rental when you were unaware.

To avoid this, always rent through a trusted company. Take photos of the rental before you leave the premises — preferably in their presence — so you can prove the condition it was in when you got it.

8. The fake identity scam

It may be someone asking for your I.D. and claiming to be a police officer after quickly flashing a badge, or someone calling your hotel room in the middle of the night asking to confirm your credit card. Either way – trust your gut. Never hand over your wallet, passport, or credit card number to anyone without absolute confirmation of their identity.

9. The ticket scam

You may be tempted to buy those discounted tickets at the bus or train terminal. They say it will save you time and money, and the seller may even be in uniform. Don’t do it. You’ll purchase the ticket only to find out when you board that they’re not valid and your “seller” is gone. Instead, always buy your tickets for the official ticket window or booth.

If you do find yourself the victim of one of these scams, travel insurance can help. With our Travel Select plan, for example, you can get reimbursed up to $1,000 if your luggage is lost or stolen during a covered scenario. You’ll also have access to our 24-hour emergency assistance team, who can help you with:

  • Travel document and ticket replacement
  • Emergency cash transfer
  • 24-hour legal assistance

and more.

The frequency of scams may feel discouraging, but don’t let scammers deter you from traveling —  knowledge is power. While there will always be scammers, you will meet genuine locals along the way that will restore your faith in humanity.

The product descriptions provided here are only brief summaries and may be changed without notice. The full coverage terms and details, including limitations and exclusions, are contained in the insurance policy. Travelex Insurance Services, Inc. CA Agency License #0D10209. Travel Insurance is underwritten by Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company; NAIC #22276

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