Travel

11 Common Overseas Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Published On 08/05/2015 Published On 08/05/2015
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Because overpriced airfare isn't the only "scam" you're likely to encounter on your big summer vacation abroad, we rounded up 11 of the most common cons designed to separate you from your newly exchanged currency.

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Pickpockets

Pickpockets are everywhere when you travel, so you're obviously gonna want to be wary of strangers bumping into -- or “accidentally” spilling a Fresca on -- you while meandering through a crowded plaza.That's exactly when the pickpocket's partner swoops in to snatch your wallet or phone. Also, take note of motorcyclists/dudes on Vespas driving irrationally close to the sidewalk as you amble around town; they are looking to cut your bag strap and drive off into the sunset. Which is just one more reason you should be rocking a fanny pack -- they're coming back, catch on now!
How to avoid it: Other than following our handy guide, make it difficult for pickpockets by keeping your belongings hidden. Guys: put your wallet (and phone!) in your front pocket. Women: keep your closed purse (preferably zipped) in front of you.
 

Fake tickets

What? You scored a crazy unbelievable deal on tickets to a sold-out show of Jersey Boys in Belarus? It seems too good to be true because it probably is -- at least if you bought the tickets from a random hawker and not the actual ticket counter. Also, why are you seeing Jersey Boys in Europe? That's crazy.
How to avoid it: Only buy museum, theater, and bus tickets from authorized vendors.
 

Taxi overcharging

The taxi driver refuses to use the meter or claims it's broken before charging you eight times the standard fare for a two-block ride back to your hotel; or after turning on the meter, the driver takes you in circles just to keep it running, thus lengthening your trip without you noticing that you just passed the same piazza three times but on different side streets.
How to avoid it: Study up on taxi rates by checking in with locals, and negotiate your fare BEFORE you get in the cab, so the driver can’t jack up the price when you arrive at your destination. If the car has a meter, make sure they turn it on as soon as you get in. If possible, know the way to your final destination to avoid taking the scenic route.
 

Bonus cab scam

Sometimes taxi drivers will claim they don't have change so that you have to fork over the bigger bill. Then they walk away with double the agreed-upon fare.
How to avoid it: Carry smaller denomination bills or coins specifically for taxi rides; if you only have the drachma equivalent of a C-note, though, insist that they take you somewhere to make change.

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Need help with your baggage?

No sooner do you exit the airport terminal than a generous Good Samaritan grabs your luggage and offers to help haul it to your cab, bus, Razor scooter, whatever. If only they were doing it out of the goodness of their heart -- no, they'd like a fat tip, please.
How to avoid it: Make it clear immediately that you can handle your own bags, thank you very much, and that you’re not paying them. Or, if you really would like their help, ask how much before stepping off the curb. Odds are, the price they tell you is going to be extremely inflated, so either be ready to negotiate or find out ahead of time if there's a standard rate.
 

Roadside robbery

If a fellow driver pulls up next to your rented Renault Espace on the highway, motions for you to roll down the window, and alerts you to a flat tire or unnoticed issue with the car -- appearing to be a concerned local attempting to help you -- step on the gas, give him the middle finger, and take off. Kidding. Don't do that. But you should keep driving -- there is a strong possibility his intention is to rob you by the side of the road.
How to avoid it: Again, don’t pull over unless there is a legitimate concern with your car, which is something you’d be able to detect on your own.

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Designer (read: counterfeit) anything

Flashy designer bags, sunglasses, or jewelry sold at much lower prices than at home might be hard to turn down, right? What a steal. Well, there's a reason that bag is made by Cucci -- it's counterfeit!
How to avoid it: Another too-good-to-be-true moment, these goods are fake and poorly made, and thus sold at next-to-nothing prices. If you’re okay with that, go ahead and buy. But don’t think you’re walking away with a $10 pair of Ray-Bans.
 

ATM skimmers

Or in other words, an ATM card reader installed by a criminal who wants access to your PIN number. When you insert your card, the data on the magnetic strip is copied, and a camera focused on the keypad captures you typing in the PIN. Everything seems like business as usual so you don’t even know that your identity was just stolen.
How to avoid it: The easiest solution is to use only ATMs inside official banks, and be discreet when you type your PIN number by covering your hand.
 

Currency scams

People are going to want to shortchange you. A lot. And even after you’ve meticulously counted out the amount you think covers the price of that sweet new hookah pipe you're buying, the vendor will say you’ve underpaid him or her.
How to avoid it: Know the currency well before you start shopping. Say each bill or coin aloud as you pay, to eliminate the possibility of the peddler claiming you’ve made an error in your calculation. And finally, don't just open up a handful of cash/coins, shrug your shoulders, and say, "I don't know, take whatever." But you know this.

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Children ask for money

This one may pull at your heartstrings, but it’s not uncommon for gypsy con artists to send their children out to beg for money.
How to avoid it: It’s not necessarily something you can avoid, but if you do feel bad, offer to buy the child a sandwich or warm meal instead.
 

Fake police

As Americans, we're taught to trust the police, and that trust is what makes us particularly easy marks overseas. Scam artists in heavily touristed areas sometimes pose as cops, inspecting the passports or wallets of tourists by claiming they are investigating an issue with counterfeit bills. They may tell you something is wrong with your visa and demand you pay a fine, or take money from your wallet without you noticing.
How to avoid it: If they cite an error on your visa, offer to accompany them back to the police station; this will usually resolve the “error.”  Don’t willingly hand your items over to anyone before getting their identification number and name. And finally, if you're super diligent, read up on what cop uniforms look like in the countries to which you're traveling.

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