Common Travel Scams And How To Avoid Them

(Pic credit: Wikipedia)

As much as we would like our travels to go off without a hitch, annoyances such as tourist scams are inevitable. As long as there are people travelling to new places, there will always be opportunistic scammers waiting to prey on unsuspecting tourists. If it’s not happening to you, it’s happening around you. It’s a sad reality of travelling in almost any country.

Though I have been fortunate to not have (or have yet to realise that I did) fallen for any scams on my past trips, I have heard many stories from fellow travellers about their misfortune; from petty ones of friends who had been short changed (because they’re unfamiliar with the local currency) to aunts who have lost luggage for being too trusting of a ‘kind’ stranger.

Richard Kerr, contributor at The Points Guy, recently wrote about the most common scams and fraud attempts that travellers are bound to come across. Here are a few of his examples:

The Found Ring – I figured I’d take my lumps up front and admit to the scam I fell victim to, albeit only for a couple Euros. Scammers will pick up a ring (that they dropped) right in front of you, and ask if it’s yours. They’ll then attempt to prove that it’s highly valuable and convince you to take it, asking for some money in exchange for the nice gift. They might also try and sell you the ring for a “good” price, though the ring is essentially worthless.

Finger Trap – Popular below the Eiffel Tower, street entertainers will create an elaborate design with a string and offer to show you a trick if you put your finger in the middle. A quick release of the design has your finger stuck in the string and the artist asking for money before they let you go.

The Helper – Whether you’re trying to buy a subway or bus ticket, or find the entrance to an attraction, there usually seems to be a plethora of “helpers” in large cities. They may seem quite bombastic in their duties, and often try to appear like official workers. It’s all well and good until your ticket is held hostage for a small ransom. My wife and I had a guy lift our suitcases onto a train in Rome without permission and refuse to let go until I paid him. The train was accelerating through 5 mph before he gave up and hopped off.

As a person trained to be aware of his surroundings, Kerr also offers some tips on how to avoid or at least, minimise your chances of being tricked:

(Pic credit: Jarmoluk/Pixabay)
(Pic credit: Jarmoluk/Pixabay)


Situational Awareness – Of all the skills I picked up in basic training when I went through Officer Candidate School for the Navy, this is the one I prize most. For 13 weeks I was taught to recognise who is around me, what they’re doing, anything that looks out of place, and how to take action to rectify the situation. Nothing can go further in protecting you and your companions than to develop what my wife now calls my own spider sense.

You don’t have to be motivated like I was by the most terrifying individuals that exist, Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant drill instructors. Practice before travelling by noticing who walks in the door at a restaurant, start taking notice of your fellow commuters, and see if you can recognise when someone is walking behind you down the sidewalk. When travelling, heighten this sense and always be aware of your surroundings.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch – Apply this commonsense economic principle to your travel and recognise that if something is too good to be true, then it’s probably false. If the price is too low, then the thing you’re buying (or hopefully not buying) is a fake. If an offer has too many perks for the price, it’s a scam.

Save Credit Card Receipts – A reader wrote in with the following problem: “I was at a bar in Roppongi (Tokyo), and used my Chase Sapphire (credit card) to pay for a tab of around $40. I later realised that I had been charged $3,800! I raised a dispute, and when Chase asked the merchant for proof, the bar somehow produced a transaction receipt and even an invoice for that amount. Chase denied this as a fraud, since the card was swiped in person. I assume the merchant must have presented me with a bill showing a different amount than what it was swiped for. I wish I had kept the receipt with me; I’m not sure what case I have to dispute it now.”

He also pointed out a current notice from the US Embassy in Tokyo in regards to this scam and other problems in the Roppongi area. Without the receipt, I’m not sure what recourse he has with the credit card company, and I hope other readers can point him in the right direction in the comments. As a current resident of Tokyo, I’m sorry and deeply disappointed that this happened, and I hope this particular case doesn’t reflect poorly on Japan overall.

The lesson for all of us to learn from this situation is to watch the merchant swipe your card for the amount charged, save your credit card receipts, and if anything seems out of place with the merchant’s credit card operations, pay with cash.

Do Your Research – In the age of technology there’s really no excuse to not have a basic understanding of the environment you’re entering. Check travel advisories, read destination message boards to learn from the misfortune of others and gain insight into common scams, and bring along contact information to have readily accessible in case something goes awry. I also highly recommend notifying embassies of your arrival so our government can keep tabs on you in case disaster strikes.

He goes on to explain further in the article on what to do if you do find yourself in a scam pickle.

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Maggie De souza
As a homebody, Maggie likes spending her week-nights and weekends curled up on the couch with her furbabies, catching up on her favourite TV shows, all while sipping on a nice warm cup of green tea.