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8 common travel scams to watch out for

If you’re going to a crowded tourist area, you don’t want to fall prey to this common travel scam and ruin your trip. While these scams can happen anywhere, you may be more susceptible if you are in an international destination where you are unfamiliar with the local culture and customs. Here are eight common travel scams you should know about.

Public Wi-Fi networks

Beware of free wifi networks that don’t require a password to get in. You may join a hacker’s hotspot that makes it easy for them to compromise your computer or phone.

What to do instead?

Instead of jumping on the first network, in a cafe, shop or public place, you see the login details verify with an employee. An official literature such as a menu may also have this information.

Fake USB Charging Ports

You’ve probably seen free public phone charging stations in the airport terminals after security. These airport kiosks are most likely safe to use as they are in a restricted location. But you should be careful about connecting your phone to a public charging cable in shopping malls or other high-traffic places that are open to the general public.

The “juice jacking” scam can show that your phone charges when you plug in the correct USB charging cable. However, the cable may install malware on your device that can steal your personal information.

What to do instead?

Bring your own charging cable and wall adapter and plug it directly into a wall outlet if possible. Another option is to include a portable battery bank on your carry-on packing list.

ATM skimmers

ATM scams are less common as more travelers pay with a credit or debit card with a chip. However, they can still be likely and you should inspect the card reader of ATMs and self-service gas pumps before inserting your card.

More elaborate scams can involve two people sitting together around an ATM kiosk. Usually someone is a bystander who seems to tell the person trying to take money that the machine is not working properly. Then the unsuspecting tourist steps forward and gets help from the bystander, but puts his debit card in a skimmer.

What to do instead?

One option is to inspect and pull on the card reader before inserting your card. To be safer, look for ATMs that are located in a bank lobby or other reliable area, as the machines are less likely to be tampered with.

Pick pockets

Pickpockets come in many shapes and sizes. These three are the most well-known types:

  • Punch and grab: A stranger bumps into you in a large crowd and takes an item from a bag. This scam is most likely on busy sidewalks or in train stations.
  • Spilled drinks or stains: Someone may claim that there is a drinking stain or bird droppings on your clothes. Then they come closer to inspect or clean it and possibly steal something from you.
  • Friendly locals: A group of locals can chat with you very pleasantly. Since there are several people, keeping an eye on them all can be a challenge. You may have a brief chance of stealing something from a zippered luggage compartment, such as a laptop.

These schemes have been around for a very long time and have been adapted to the current generation. A good example is “The Artful Dodger” in the 1838 novel by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, who would steal handkerchiefs, watches and other valuables from innocents.

What to do instead?

Consider keeping your valuables at home or consider putting small items and documents in a lap belt. Also try to keep your essentials in view on your person.

Trinkets and Fortunes

Tourist areas in popular international destinations may have scammers who seem kind-hearted and often give you a small valuable ring, rose or balloon to children. It’s all good until the end when they demand payment.

What to do instead?

If possible, walk away from the person or say “no” rather than strike up a conversation when you see them coming to you. If it’s too late for that, try returning the item and say “no”.

Broken taximeters

The most common taxi scams will take you from point A to point B, but you will pay too much. Taxis outside airports and hotels may look legit, but the driver may claim their meter is damaged or inaccurate. They probably also have a working meter, but the cab is unlicensed.

What to do instead?

Only use an authorized taxi service and if possible try to negotiate fares before boarding the taxi. In international transport hubs, you should see an official taxi kiosk in the terminal to get a ticket to hand over to a driver.

You may also want to consider calling Uber, Lyft, or the local equivalent of the ride. Ridesharing apps have predictable pricing and added security features to keep riders safe.

Fake Tuk-Tuk Tours

Tuk-Tuk scams are common in Asian destinations where this transport is most popular, although it is catching on in densely populated urban areas worldwide.

Tourists like to go on tuk-tuk tours to visit shops and see memorable places. However, fake tours involve lengthy visits to shops where the driver is most likely to receive an under-the-table commission from the shop owner. These tours can take a long time and not see your desired tourist highlights.

What to do instead?

Search for reputable operators on Airbnb Experiences or other trusted travel platforms. You should also avoid free or cheap tours as they are more likely to provide this unpleasant experience.

Damaged moped or jet skis

If you rent a moped, jet ski or similar electrical equipment while on vacation, the owner may charge the renter with damage or vandalism. In international countries, the owner may hold your passport or other personal documents as a ransom until you pay for the repair.

What to do instead?

Before accepting the lease, do a thorough inspection of existing damage and alert the owner of any potential problems. You must also take photos or videos upon check-in.

If you rent at night, do your best to secure the equipment in a protected area that is less subject to tampering or vandalism. Fraudulent rental services can hire people to remove attachments while you sleep, but lock them up again after paying for the damage.

Inspecting customer reviews for rental services can also help you avoid travel scams.

Overview

Even well-prepared travelers can fall victim to travel scams. Being aware of the possibilities makes it easier to spot red flags. You may also feel more confident in trusting your instincts and avoiding bad situations.

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