People travel for all kinds of reasons. Whether it’s for business or pleasure, there’s always something novel about going to an unfamiliar place. It’s estimated that about 4.4 billion people take a flight somewhere in any given year, and 1.4 billion arrive internationally. While most aspects of travel should be considered positive experiences, there are some less savory aspects people should keep on their radar. Travel scams are one of those things. 

Few people embark on a travel experience with the idea of being scammed top of mind — unless they’ve fallen victim to such a scam in the past, of course. The fact that it can be hard to expect and detect scams is one of the things that make them a danger to travelers. Here are seven of the most common travel scams to know about and avoid. 

Pickpocketing

Many people are overwhelmed when they’re in a foreign place. You might be in a crowded area where you’re unfamiliar with the primary spoken language. Or, it’s possible you’re in a highly congested tourist spot that attracts large groups and commotion. Either way, travelers are the prime targets for pickpockets. 

People who pickpocket are often highly skilled at the craft. This is why there are about 400,000 pickpocket incidents across the world on a daily basis. They’re able to find wallets or remove jewelry without the target even realizing it until later, once it’s far too late to do anything. Major European cities such as Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Madrid, Paris are often cited as the most common locations for pickpocketing. These destinations are extremely popular for tourists, which in turn attracts individuals who want to take advantage of them. 

There are many iterations of the pickpocketing scam, which is one of the things that makes it so prevalent to tourists. Here are a couple of the most common occurrences:

  • Packed trains are the ideal place for a pickpocket. Everyone is pressed together anyway, so it’s not unreasonable for people to be touching you innocently. The issue is a pickpocket can pretend they’re just a bystander, while actually taking your money and identification. 
  • Distractions are a common tool for pickpocketing scams. These are often coordinated among a few criminals. One or a few people will create a distraction or spectacle. This could be a wide range of things, from a street performance to an impromptu mob. While travelers are confused or engrossed by what they’re seeing, other members of the crowd can rob them blind. 

Pickpocketing can be incorporated into just about any scam. That’s why it’s essential for travelers to keep their belongings safe. Getting a money belt is one of the best ways to do this when in public. Backpacks and back pockets are extremely easy targets for competent pickpockets. It’s best to only keep small amounts of money on you at any time, and keep all valuables in places that are nearly impossible to pickpocket.   


Money Switching

Money switching is an easy scam that’s often used against travelers who aren’t paying close attention. Cashiers or tellers might switch bills, give change slowly or drastically short the exchange rate in order to take advantage of those not familiar with the currency or distracted by something else. Many people consider an action like purchasing an item or getting cash to be an afterthought. It’s something you do all the time when at home. But it can be hard to catch this scam as it happens, especially if you’re preoccupied.  

Avoid using high-denomination bills on small purchases, or at places that don’t seem as trustworthy. If you must do this, make sure you’re engaging with the cashier and pay attention to exactly the bills and coins you give and receive. 

While on the topic of money, it’s also wise to be careful when using ATMs. People might try to capture your PIN and card information. Try to only use ATMs at trustworthy establishments. If you’re not able to find a recognizable financial institution, these are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM. Shield the PIN pad when you’re using it so no one can see the numbers as you enter them. 
  • Some criminals will use card readers on ATMs to get card and PIN information. Look out if it looks like a piece has been inserted into the card reader or if there are extra security cameras. 



Cab Scams 

There are several ways cab drivers might try to scam you while traveling. Transportation is essential to travelers, and drivers know tourists are often less comfortable saying “no” or going on their own. There are a few ways cab drivers might try to take advantage of this:

  • The broken meter scam can lead to passengers getting charged far more than they actually should be for a ride. When the ride is over, the driver might get confrontational and threaten the riders if they don’t pay up. If there’s an issue with the meter, get out and find a different cab. 
  • Some drivers might take passengers the wrong way intentionally in order to rack up a larger fare. This is especially true when coming from and going to the airport. 
  • There’s even a chance a driver will try taking you to a different destination than you requested. If you give a location, the driver might say it’s closed or not that great, then take you somewhere else where they get a kickback. Tell the driver to take you to your destination or get a different cab. 
  • In other cases, a friendly cab driver might try to shortchange you, quickly switching your bill with a lower denomination while demanding that more payment is needed.

If something seems fishy, just take a different cab. Most drivers aren’t trying to scam you. Many cities now offer ride shares services as well, which make these kinds of scams less prevalent. 


Free Gift Scams

There are all kinds of odd characters out there in the world. Sometimes people will approach you in a happy manner and try to put something on your body or in your hand under the premise that it’s free. They then might go on to make a scene and demand payment from you after the fact.  

Don’t believe it when someone says they’re giving you something for free and don’t let anyone touch you without your consent. Move away from people who try to do otherwise. 


Fake Police

There are several ways fake police might try to intimidate you into handing over your ID and/or money. They will often try to say you committed some petty crime you weren’t aware of. This kind of thing happens all over the world, even in the United States

This is especially common when people try to purchase drugs or other illegal items when traveling. They might meet someone on the street, then soon after be stopped by individuals claiming to be police. It’s likely that these are actually fake police working alongside the person who sold the drugs. 

Demand they confirm they’re real police and call the police to your location to do this. Don’t hand over your IDs or money to them until real law enforcement has arrived. Make sure you save emergency contact numbers when visiting a new place.  


Wi-Fi Scams

Free Internet is a blessing when you’re traveling. But it’s important to not fall into something that’s too good to be true. Some fraudsters will set up unrestricted Wi-Fi access to lure in unexpecting tourists. This can allow them to steal financial information, passwords, and identities. 

Only connect to official Wi-Fi accounts. Double-check about this before browsing. It’s also wise to utilize a VPN, which can encrypt your online activity.


Friendly Local Scams

Everyone wants to make friends with the locals when traveling. That’s the kind of thing that makes the greatest travel stories and experiences. But a too-friendly local might be trying to take advantage of you, especially if alcohol is involved. 

Be cognizant of situations and don’t allow yourself to let your guard down too much. Don’t keep open tabs at bars, go into areas you don’t know, or leave valuables unattended. These kinds of scams are often perpetrated against men by a suspiciously friendly and attractive woman. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

There are all kinds of travel scams out there. Falling victim to one of these can turn your dream vacation into an absolute nightmare. Take all precautions necessary when traveling to assure you can avoid these travel scams. 

Whether you partake in alcohol on your flight or not, there'll be a day use room to rest or recharge in the city you touch down.

Image Credits: 

Featured image: “Portobello Market, Packed” by Unicellular via (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Andy Holsteen

Andy Holsteen writes all sorts of things—both for work and pleasure. He loves traveling to new places, and hopes to see Berlin and Santiago in the not-so-distant future.
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