Travelling is something that many people look forward to for a long time. Travelling is often full of new sights, new people, and new experiences! Unfortunately in between all the excitement and the relaxing, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong and try to ruin your trip. Ideally, you won’t run into any road bumps, but it’s important to know what to look out for. Con artists’ best targets are naive and trusting. By arming yourself with the knowledge of the common patterns of scams, you can be more smartly vigilant of your surroundings and the people you meet.
The scams that con artists use are constantly evolving and changing, so it’s not useful to just know certain scripts; you might run into a variation. Instead, let’s look at common patterns in scams so that you can recognize them early, no matter what form the actual con or story takes.
Here’s how it works: someone will spill a coffee or some food or anything else on you, getting your clothes wet and stained. They will apologize profusely and try to help you clean up. While this frantic mess and patting and wiping is going on, they will either pick your pockets (being allowed to feel around your clothes while “drying” them) or their accomplice will. They count on you being flustered, angry, and feeling entitled to the help.
The solution is simply to walk away from them and change later when you’re on your own.
Take My Picture!
There are quite a few ways photo-related scams can work. One variation is when someone offers to take a picture of you with your camera.Once you hand it over and get in position for the pose, they will run off with the camera. Another variation has the scammer asking you to take their photo, handing you a broken camera. When you try to take it, it obviously won’t work. When you hand it back to them, they drop the handoff on purpose and blame you for the accident. They will demand that you pay them for the damages.
The solution is to simply be aware and untrusting of strangers. Bring a selfie stick! And if you do decide to take someone’s picture, keep a firm grip of the camera when you’re giving it back.
There are so many taxi scams. A driver may claim his meter is broken and charge you an obnoxious sum once you’ve arrived. They can also set their meter to increase at an abnormally high rate. If they can tell you’re new to the area, they will also take roads that they know will be either congested or a very roundabout way to get to your destination, which increases the cost of the ride. They might also rummage around in your belongings and steal key valuables while handling your luggage.
The solution is to agree on a cost (or an estimate) before you get into the car. Keep your most important belongings on your person (not in luggage you throw in the trunk). Only use taxis that are clearly marked, licensed, and registered.
Some “free” wifi hotspots are actually closely monitored by con artists who are waiting for you to input your sensitive passwords and personal information while connected to their Wifi. They can steal your identity and information, hacking your personal emails (for more information) or even bank accounts.
Try to stay away from random free wifi spots. Use the wifi validated by the hotel staff or at a trustworthy cafe or other institution. If you do use free wifi, don’t input any passwords or access any important information or websites while on that connection.
These are probably the most varied of scams. Basically, anything that someone does for you that seems like they’re performing a service for free is typically never free. Maybe they dropped something and you helped them pick it up, so they’re doing something for you in return. Maybe they’re just that really friendly local that likes to show tourists around. Maybe are just really excited to show you a bogus skill that they have. At the end of it, they will charge you a hefty fee for the service, and their friends won’t let you get away so easily.
The cashier might be on the phone or talking to a coworker or listening to music. Regardless, they’re taking their sweet time in processing your credit card. What they’re actually doing is stalling while trying to take a picture of your card information.
Consider using cash only while you’re travelling. It’s safer, and it makes it easier to keep track of spending.
Overly Friendly Locals
It could be a young student who enthusiastically wants to practice their English with you. Or maybe it’s an attractive person who is very invested in flirting with you to get your attention. They want to go to a bar or a cafe with you. This could end in a variety of things. While they’re distracting you, their accomplices pick your pockets—if your interaction is short. At the end of the night at the bar, they leave you with an exorbitant bill. Or once you get to the cafe, they spin you a sob story in hopes of extracting your sympathetic money to help them with their single financial obstacle.
Don’t be overly trusting of others. Meet people, talk to them, exchange experiences, but once they start putting the pressure on for money or drinks, walk away.
Friendship Bracelets and Rosemary
Especially popular in France, con artists with friendship bracelets will quickly approach you excitedly and put a friendship bracelet on your wrist. They tighten it, and you won’t be able to take it off without scissors or a knife to cut it. They will surround you and demand payment for the bracelet. Another “token of friendship” is rosemary. The con artist hands you some rosemary for “friendship,” and proceeds to read your palm or tell your fortune. Also falling under the “free services” scams, she will afterwards charge you for her gifts. A con artist could also give you or your girlfriend a flower and then pressure you to buy that flower for her, using guilt and intimidation to extort your money.
Don’t accept anything from other people; do your best not to make contact with any offerings. If someone throws something at you or approaches you with an item, do not put your hands or arms out. Walk in a different direction and keep your distance from them.
Stay safe and vigilant when you’re in a strange and new place. It’s easy to be disoriented, and con artists are counting on that. Stay calm, don’t be overly trusting, and if something seems too good to be true, it is. Share these travel scams with any friends or family planning to travel soon; hopefully spreading awareness can shut down these cruel and predatory practices.