How to Spot and Avoid Tourist Scams

The experience of travelling to a new country is like no other. You will see wonderful sights, hear new languages, eat different cuisine, and soak in a new culture. However, not all parts of travelling abroad are rosy. There could be legitimate health and safety risks on your vacation. 

One phenomenon that is an eternal thorn in the side of each traveler is the threat of a tourist scam. You can find unscrupulous locals trying to skim unsuspecting tourists for cash or valuables in any popular travel destination. The only way to avoid being scammed is to be aware of the techniques commonly used by scammers. Here are nine scams to be on the lookout for on your international holiday. 

1. The Pickpocket Scam

One of the most common methods pickpockets use is to find an excuse to get close to you or your belongings. This might be an accidental spill of a drink, or throwing some dirt or animal dung on your shoe. They are usually highly apologetic and offer to clean up the mess for you. 

In the process of dabbing the drink from your bag or cleaning your shoe, they will slyly nick your wallet. 

How to avoid being scammed: Don’t let a stranger invade your personal space no matter how friendly they seem. If you need to clean your clothes or bags, do it yourself, and preferably in a less crowded area. 

2. The Taxi Scam

Overcharging tourists for taxi rides is a universal nuisance. You don’t speak the language, don’t know what the typical rates are, and you just want to get to your hotel quickly. Ignorance is the perfect recipe for a scam. 

The driver might tell you that their meter is broken, or you will see the price increase exponentially. The result? You end up paying many times more than the regular fare. 

How to avoid being scammed: Check the typical charge on a ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyft to get a basic idea of the rates. Insist on paying by the meter if you take a regular taxi. If you see the meter prices shoot up, stop the ride and report the case to the cab company. 

3. Fake Souvenirs

You will undoubtedly want to take home authentic souvenirs as a reminder of your lovely holiday. The scenario usually plays out like this: You enter a small local shop full of rugs, carvings, shoes, antiques, jewelry etc. The vendor is a smiling, friendly local eager to show you their wares. You pick out the stuff you like and ask them to pack it up. 

While most local vendors are honest, there is still the possibility of being duped. Instead of packing the authentic item, the vendor can switch it out for a cheap imitation and charge you a fortune for it. 

How to avoid being scammed: Be vigilant and insist on the item being packed in your sight. 

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4. ATM Scams

It is common knowledge that withdrawing money from a foreign ATM with an international card attracts high transaction fees. You might find a sympathetic local offering to withdraw some cash for you in exchange for foreign currency. 

This could be risky, and trusting a stranger with large sums of your money is never a good idea. You should only exchange money in authorized establishments. 

How to avoid being scammed: Invest in a travel credit card with minimum transaction fees. Don’t hand your card or money to strangers unless you are 100% sure about security. Also, if someone overenthusiastically guides you to an ATM and then waits around for you to come out with the cash, it should raise a red flag. 

5. Your Destination is “Shut Down”

Since you are new to the place, you will naturally trust your taxi driver to know about the local hotels and tourist destinations. Another common scamming technique is the driver informing you that your hotel or destination is “temporarily closed” or “shut down.” They will then offer to take you to another location which they can vouch for. 

As helpful as this might be, it should ring alarm bells of a scam. The taxi driver may be in cahoots with the owners of the “replacement” hotel or establishment. 

How to avoid being scammed: If you already have a verified booking, don’t be fazed by such claims. Check the timings of tourist attractions on their respective websites or the city’s official tourism portal before you visit them. 

6. The Rental Bike Scam

This type of scam is most prevalent in Southeast Asia. Motorbikes are a convenient way of traveling in the city, and you may want to rent one to check out the local attractions. If you rent a motorbike from an unregistered owner, you risk paying extra for “damages” caused during your usage. 

The owner could point to preexisting damage and claim that you caused it. Or worse yet, deliberately scratch it up and force you to pay. 

How to avoid being scammed: Always rent from a registered company that gives you proper documentation. Take photographs of the vehicle for reference if there is a dispute when you return it. 

7. The Bar Bill Scam

Picture this: You are a solo traveler looking to have a good time in a foreign land. You are approached by an extremely friendly (even flirtatious) local who promises to show you the best bars and pubs in the city. 

You enjoy an evening of partying, only to discover that your new friend is nowhere to be seen, and you’re stuck with a huge bill. The displeased bouncer doesn’t look like he would understand your situation, so you have to shell out the money. 

How to avoid being scammed: If someone appears too eager to befriend you or help you out, they are probably doing it with ulterior motives. Keep your guard up and don’t trust anyone blindly, especially when there is alcohol involved. 

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8. The Helpful Photographer Scam

You are at a breathtaking tourist destination, and all you want is a picture of you and your friends in front of it. Someone sees your exasperation with taking selfies and offers to take a photograph for you. 

You hand them your phone or camera, and they take off with it. There is really nothing you can do if a thief runs away into a crowd with your phone or camera in tow. 

How to avoid being scammed: Be wary of an overenthusiastic local trying to get hold of your phone. Avoid handing over your expensive cameras to strangers. 

9. The Ticket Scam

Pre-booking train or bus tickets online is not very prevalent in many countries. You have to purchase the ticket at the train or bus station. This could create an opportunity for scammers to fleece tourists. As you go to buy a ticket, someone tells you that the counter is closed or that the automatic ticket machine is broken. Fortunately, they have an additional ticket and offer to sell it to you. 

In most cases, you will find out that the ticket is either invalid or for the wrong date or route. 

How to avoid being scammed: Confirm from transport authorities if ticket sales are indeed closed. Pre-book your tickets online as far in advance as possible to stay clear of such a scam. 

Wrapping Up

In the end, the key to avoiding most scams is to not be overly trusting. While the vast majority of locals you will meet on your holiday will be kind and generous, scammers are everywhere. In a new country, you may lack the local knowledge to tell the difference between someone who is trying to be helpful, and someone who intends to rip you off. It’s best to err on the side of caution, and always be sure you have travel insurance in case something does go awry. 

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