Wednesday

How You can Avoid Scammers and Thieves on Your Travel

Scammers and thieves are everywhere - in every country - no exception. Watch out while you're travelling.

There are many scams at your destination, so don't let your guard down. Here are some of their tricks that should be avoided.


Photo Credit: Pixabay


Free trip

Don't fall for the 'free trip' scam and avoid too-good-to-be-true offers.

Spot the fakes

When it comes to petty crime, tourists are easy target because they're not familiar with the surroundings and not aware of culture and tradition. It's easy to lure an unsuspecting tourist who can't tell what is fake and what is not.

Fake cops

You're in a foreign country and an official-looking person asks to see your documentation, your currency, credit cards and other valuables. As soon as you dig them out, the thief grabs them and runs. Fake cops have also been known to pull over cars for a "search".


False friends

Sometimes these counterfeit cops have help from someone who is sent to earn your trust. A "tourist" befriends other travellers to win their trust. Be on your guard and don't let him touch anything on your person. The "police" then intercept the group and find contraband on the "tourist" -- which is the perfect excuse to take everyone to the "police station" and collect all of their documents, credit cards and bank cards.

Alternatively, these new friends might suggest a trip to a local attraction via taxi -- but instead, the destination is a safe house and the activity is a robbery.


Phony cabs and limos

You arrive at your destination and there are many helpful services offering you a ride to your hotel. The best case scenario: an unscrupulous driver will take the "long way" or grossly overcharge you. If you're not so lucky, you could be robbed, assaulted or kidnapped.

Phony travel guides

You might see through the "helpful local" who offers to show you around for a fee, but be warned -- that con artists posing as official guides are harder to spot. They'll take your money, ask you to wait at a certain spot and then disappear with your cash.

Fake parking lot attendants

Criminals posing as parking lot attendants are banking on you not knowing the rules. They'll hand you a ticket with an inflated fee which you must pay on the spot. Chances are you're parked illegally and you still have to pay the real fee to the real parking attendant.

Fake cola

Beware when buying beverages at a roadside stand or café. The bottle label and cap may be from your favourite soft drink, but the contents are questionable and are likely made by street gangs under less than sanitary conditions.

Good services gone bad

Some scams are a little harder to spot because they're perpetuated by people you trust like travel service providers and travel agency representatives. They see that you are tired and in a hurry so you won't ask questions or complain.

Rental car rip-off

You return your car safe and sound, and suddenly it is not acceptable to the attendant. The company will then put the blame on you and require you to pay for repairs -- and they may hold your luggage until you pay up.

Downgrading the hotel

You arrive at your hotel only to find out it's overbooked, but you're being offered alternative accommodations at another property. However, your new room definitely isn't worth the price you paid -- and your original hotel is pocketing the difference.

Paper ticket fees

While e-tickets are becoming the norm for air travel, you can still pay to have a printed ticket mailed to you. However, experts warn that some travel agents are charging four to five times the usual fee for this service. It's time to compare those fees as well as the fares.

Cash transfers

Believe it or not, it's possible to use an ATM in some countries to transfer money to other people using a "CashSend" service. It warns that crooks can set up the service to transfer the cash to them instead. In fact, they might stand behind you in line and tell you that hitting the "CashSend" button will speed up your cash withdrawal. I am not a victim of this one, but be aware it is happening.

Old favourites 
Many old scams are making a comeback or taking a new form. Watch out for these tricks:

Tourist prices
It's well-known that many establishments charge tourists more than locals, but they often have help getting customers through the door. Beware of helpful taxi drivers or locals who recommend a place as they're likely earn a commission. And a warning to single men: beware of pretty girls asking you to buy them drinks -- the bill will be much higher than you expect.

In some countries, pricing scams are so well-known that local embassies post lists of clubs and restaurants you, as a tourist, should avoid.

Phishing scams
Sure, it would be nice to get some cash back from the taxes you paid on items while you were abroad. However, beware of any emails pretending to be from your country's customs service, especially if they ask you for banking information in order to help you get your money back.

Distract and grab
Reach for your wallet if you find mustard splattered on your shirt or if a bird does its business on your shoulder. While you're distracted cleaning up, someone else is running off with your wallet. Alternatively, someone may drop money or any valuable item to get your attention.

Drink spiked or tainted food
Smart women know not to accept drinks from strangers and to keep a close eye on their beverages. However, abroad, both men and women can become victims of drugs slipped into their drinks before they're robbed.

Know before you go 
Find out as much as you can about how things are done at your destination (like paying for parking or booking a tour) and what criminal tactics you should watch out for. Can you tell a real police officer from a bogus one? Do you know what fees you'll have to pay and to whom? Do some research.

Don't be greedy
A lot of scams prey on people's desires for cash and goods -- like dropped money, offers of "valuable" goods at discount prices, opportunities to transport goods for cash or other business scams. Some of these crimes can even land you in jail.

Keep your wits about you
Enjoy the scenery, but be aware of your surroundings at all times. Also, drink in moderation -- criminals will be looking for intoxicated tourists whose judgment and reaction times are impaired.

Go incognito
Tourists are often targets because they're perceived as wealthy, so trying to blend in is recommended.

Two big no-nos: obvious displays of wealth (wearing fancy jewellery and designer labels) and obvious signs that you're a tourist (you're paying more attention to the map than your surroundings.)

Give yourself plenty of time
How can you avoid unscrupulous agents and companies? Remember, they're counting on you to be in a hurry so allow yourself extra time to read the policies, ask questions and request to talk to a manager, if needed. 

Don't leave checking in or returning the car until the last minute, and try not to appear rushed, tired or frustrated even if that's how you're feeling.

Get used to the local currency
Be smart with your money by knowing not just the conversion rates but also the look and feel of the local money. Some experts recommend saying the bill denominations out loud as you hand over the cash.

Practice safe money handling
There are a number of steps you can take to protect your valuables from pickpockets, like not carrying your cash and passport together or carrying a "dummy" wallet.

In some countries, it may not be safe to use your credit cards at all.

Keep important numbers handy
Namely, your travel agent, your embassy and the local police or tourist police. Call the appropriate authorities on the spot if you have to (or threaten to call).

Avoid harm
Both the police and government warns that you should never put yourself at risk of physical harm. If you're threatened with violence or think a criminal could become violent, don't resist. You can replace your cash and documents.

If you're caught, report the incident to the police and to your embassy. You may not see any resolution or return of your property, but you will be helping to warn other travellers. This information ends up in government travel advice and on embassy websites.

So should you be paranoid? No, but be cautious. Most travellers don't experience serious problems, but being informed can help you reduce the risk of a crime disrupting your vacation.

Have you been robbed or scammed in a foreign country while on a trip? Tell us a brief story and share advice on how one can avoid it.


From the desk of: 
Freddie Miranda
A blogger and a Canada-based freelance writer. He shares the value of his travel experiences and discoveries with his friends and fellow travellers. Share your passion, join and visit him. Send a message @ fromatravellersdesk(at)gmail(dot)com.