As a tourist, it is easy to fall victim to travel scams. We often get so wrapped up in a destination when we travel that we tend to let our guard down. But it is important to be aware of the various travel scams out there because they can happen to any traveller.
Whether it involves being overcharged, having your belongings stolen, or even your identity taken away from you, scam artists come in many forms. Here are some of the common ways criminals have found to con travellers and how you can avoid falling into their trap.
1. Fake Visas
You can become a victim of travel scams even before you take off for your holiday. There are many fake websites or third party websites that try to con you into purchasing unnecessary travel visas or may charge extra fees for obtaining a visa for you.
You should make yourself aware of what the travel visa requirements are for the country you are travelling to. You can check the Australian Smartraveller website for the current entry requirements for various countries.
2. Taxi Scams
There are many taxi scams out there, especially when travelling overseas. Travellers should avoid all unlicensed or unmetered taxis when possible. You should stay away from drivers which congregate outside the airport gates and instead ask airport personnel where you can find the official taxi rank (depending on country).
You may be travelling to a destination which speaks a different language; therefore it is helpful to present your taxi driver with a printed address of where you need to go so as to avoid misunderstandings. Have an idea of the route you should be taking so as to avoid the overcharged scenic route. You can also check online for taxi fare estimators (Australia) to give you a rough idea of what your trip should cost or ask your hotel concierge.
Insist that your taxi driver uses a meter if there is one in the car; otherwise make certain you negotiate a price before you get in. Ask your driver what forms of payment are accepted before getting in and if paying in cash, be sure to present money slowly and count it out so as they cannot say you underpaid or give you incorrect change. Keep important valuables on you at all times as opposed to placing them in the taxi’s trunk. If anything about your driver seems amiss, simply choose another.
3. Hotel Scams
Although hotel companies themselves are generally free of scams albeit charging you an arm and a leg for anything taken out of the mini bar, criminals do take advantage of tourists staying in hotels. Some taxi drivers will falsely advise you that your hotel is closed or overbooked and take you elsewhere where they may receive a commission. Avoid this by confirming your hotel reservation with a phone call.
Menus are slid under doors pretending to be from the hotel where you can call for fake room service that requests payment information and the food never arrives. Likewise, thieves have found a way to take advantage of the courtesy call many hotels give you just after checking in to make sure everything is alright with the room. The caller pretending to be hotel front desk staff will explain your credit card has been declined and request you to confirm your payment details over the phone.
Another scam involves using public WiFi. Identity thieves have been known to set up free public WiFi hotspots in hotel lobbies. When you log on, your sensitive data including usernames, passwords, and search history can be collected by the owner of the fake hotel WiFi hotspot.
4. Purchasing Items or Souvenirs
First things first, you should make yourself aware of the currency exchange rates so you don’t get ripped off when purchasing goods overseas. Avoid purchasing items from people approaching you on the street as they may be selling stolen goods or knock-off brands. Avoid purchasing high priced items like jewellery or electronics from unlicensed dealers overseas as they may prove to be fakes.
5. Purchasing Tickets
You should always purchase tickets for transportation or events through official websites or company desks. Don’t be tempted to skip the line for discounted prices offered by people on the street. You may find that they are often selling fake tickets or that they are ticket scalpers which illegally sell tickets to an event at inflated prices.
You may also come across fake advertisements or false or misleading websites offering cheap tickets. Check that the website URL starts with https:// showing you the site is secure and means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
6. Credit Cards and Money
Most scams revolve around criminals trying to take your money. You should avoid using ATMs that are located outside of banks that may have been tampered with. Credit card skimming devices can be installed by thieves who can steal your credit card’s data. If using an ATM outside of a bank, use one in a high traffic area that makes it difficult for thieves to install devices and always make sure the credit card reader is securely installed.
If paying for goods with a credit card, you should be weary of shop assistants which swipe your card out of view or ask to take your card away. Pay with cash instead and never make your card’s pin number visible to others.
Familiarize yourself with the local currency so you can spot counterfeit bills and try to pay with small notes. Many scam artists try to insist you paid with a smaller bill and give you incorrect change.
7. Dealing with Strangers
It is wise to never accept unsolicited invitations while travelling. Whether it is someone trying to sell you something or pretending to help, their true intentions may be sinister. Offers to take your photo may see your camera stolen or helping with directions may lead you to an unsafe destination or harmful situation.
Some thieves may simply approach you so as to distract you, where they can then pickpocket you or run away with your bags. Some strangers may express overly flirtatious behaviour so as to con you out of money or even cause you physical harm. You might even prefer to grab an anti-theft purse or something like the travel infinity scarf with a hidden pocket, to keep all your belongings safe. Being cautious around strangers while travelling is one of the best ways to stay safe while travelling.
Happy and safe travels!