Anyone tricked by a travel scam knows the stress and embarrassment that follows. In a worst-case scenario, you may lose your travel funds. Missing even a few hours of your vacation trying to contact your financial institution can diminish your relaxation.
Foreign tourists are always a target, so you need to be proactive when traveling abroad. Below, you’ll find several common travel scams that you could run into anywhere:
Common types of travel scams.
Tourists are prime targets for thieves and fraudsters. As with any situation, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Common sense will get you pretty far, but you should also be vigilant against scams like these:
Broken taxi meter or unconfirmed ride share.
If you travel the world enough, you’ll notice that taxi meters seem to break or malfunction frequently. In reality, the meters are likely working fine. This scam usually follows the same pattern: You get into the taxi, and the driver tells you the meter is broken, but you will be charged a flat rate. This rate turns out to be much higher than it needs to be. More recently this takes the form of a confused ride share driver or passenger.
What to do: Use a rideshare app showing the fare before you get in the car. If a taxi is your only option, stop by your hotel’s front desk and ask how much your intended trip should cost. Your hotel may offer to call a trustworthy taxi for you.
Free friendship bracelets.
In this scam, someone will approach and engage you in friendly conversation. They may ask you questions or give you information about their city. After the chat, they’ll attempt to give a friendship bracelet, a hat or something similar. Then, they will cause a scene and demand payment for the item.
What to do: Never allow a stranger to put anything on your body. If someone starts demanding money from you, give them back whatever they gave you and immediately leave the situation.
Spoofed public Wi-Fi.
These days, free Wi-Fi is widely available, and scammers use this to take advantage of unsuspecting people. They will set up unsecured Wi-Fi hubs and attempt to steal your personal information as you use the internet.
What to do: When there are several free Wi-Fi hotspots available, don’t just connect to the one with the strongest signal. Ask someone nearby, like a barista, hotel employee, or airport personnel which network is the official one. A secured Wi-Fi network usually has a password and may have a time limit for how long you can use it.
Pickpockets work fast by catching their victims unaware and then leaving the scene quickly before their crime is noticed. In this scam, someone will accidentally spill some food or drink on your clothes and then, amid profuse apologies, attempt to help you clean up. Then while they’re mopping the sauce out of your shirt, they’ll lift the wallet out of your pocket.
What to do: Don’t allow anyone else to help you if this happens. Excuse yourself to the nearest restroom and clean yourself up while keeping a close eye on your valuables.
Before you travel to a new destination, always check online for travel scams unique to that area. While the list above includes common tricks, there is no end to the ingenuity of scam artists.
How to report travel scams.
There are many U.S. government resources available for the victims of fraud. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center if you are the victim of a digital scam.
USA.gov advises that most travel-related complaints should be reported to your state’s consumer protection office. Sometimes, you can submit your complaint directly to your state’s Attorney General’s office. Follow these links for contact information:
If you become stuck abroad due to a sudden lack of funds, or are the victim of a violent crime, you should contact local authorities as well as the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The U.S. Department of State has resources for Americans traveling abroad.
How to stay safe and protect your assets while traveling.
Staying vigilant against scams doesn’t have to ruin your trip. Follow these tips for proactively protecting yourself, your family and your money:
- Hide your money: Your vacation abroad isn’t the time to flaunt your cash or show off your luxury watch. Keep cash, cards and identification in a place inaccessible to pickpockets.
- Be cautious when taking taxis: Most taxi drivers are harmless, but you shouldn’t let your guard down when hailing a ride. Use a rideshare app if it’s available to you. Otherwise, consider writing down the vehicles license plate number before getting inside. If you put luggage in the trunk of a taxi, wait for the driver to get out before exiting the vehicle to ensure they can’t drive off with your belongings.
- Stick to the main road: Avoid dark alleyways and empty parts of town, especially at night. Try to stay in areas with other tourists and bright lights. Never follow someone you don’t know.
- Identify trustworthy ATMs: When you need to withdraw money, only do so at ATMs located at a trustworthy financial institution. Avoid ATMs in convenience stores and other out-of-the-way places. If you need to sort your money, go inside the bank, where there is likely to be a security guard.
Whether you’re traveling abroad or taking a trip down the road, OnPoint has financial education and personal security resources to help you stay safe.