Travel scams, old and new

Travel scams

Travel scams never get old, they just get more inventive.

Although the classics still work.

My family recently travelled to a South Pacific island, and just as I was about to open my mouth to warn my children not to accept anything like a bracelet or jewellery from a stranger I look around and there’s my lovely, trusting son with three lizards on him.

Of course, we had to now pay the lizard guy the equivalent of $5 for the honour.

I suppose lizards are more interesting than bracelets at least and the photos are pretty funny, so no harm done.

But the scammers are becoming more inventive.

According to SmarterTravel, there’s a new one that might only be good for summer.

In Italy, the most recent way to fleece tourists is to cause a fake ruckus involving a woman stripping down to the bare necessities to prove to a street vendor she has not shoplifted.

A scene is very much made during the whole process.

All very entertaining until everyone fades out of the picture and the onlookers realise they have been targeted by pickpockets.

Here some new scams and old favourites to watch out for.

Fare’s fair

A common ruse you might stumble into is the many taxi scams.

A popular one involves unlicensed drivers lurking around airports and key tourist attractions, offering fixed-rate fares that are generally much steeper than the regular metered rates.

Some drivers might also play the friendly card and offer you discounted tours, leading you to shops where they are set to earn a commission. If you’re not cautious, you may end up paying exorbitant prices for goods that are simply not worth it.

Another trick drivers pull is to refrain from using their fare meters, particularly in tourist-heavy areas or when caught in a traffic jam. While this is an illegal act in most nations, unfortunately, it prevails.

To shield yourself from taxi scams, here are a few practical steps:

  • always opt for licensed taxis
  • familiarise yourself with the various transportation services available before departing
  • adhere to signages and only use official taxi services as advised by the authorities
  • ask if the meter will be used before stepping into the cab
  • always make a mental note of the vehicle’s number, the driver’s details and the name of the taxi company
  • take advice from your hotel. They can usually tell you how much to expect to be charged for a fare, some even offer ‘vouchers’ for regular fares.

Another favourite is the driver tells you the meter is not functional and are hence charged a ridiculous fare, or the meter appears to be racking charges suspiciously fast.

But, of course, it doesn’t stop there.

One more scam to watch out for is the ‘closed accommodation’ scam.

In this scenario, the driver might insinuate that the hotel or hostel you’ve booked is closed or fully booked. Despite the odds, some people fall for this. The best approach is to insist on being taken to your booked accommodation.

There is a twist on this with a friendly local informing you a local attraction is closed for lunch, but they have an alternative or place where you can rest while you wait.

It’s invariably a trap to buy something from their shop or fake tickets to the venue.

Always check opening hours before you visit a popular attraction and be wary of anyone offering to ‘help’ you wait.

Friendly stranger

One of the joys of travel is interacting with the locals right? Well, not always.

Another scam you might be lured into involves striking up a conversation with a stranger, who then convinces you to visit his shop.

Pressure is applied to manipulate you into feeling obliged to purchase something.

In the end, you’re presented with a bill astronomically higher than anticipated and threatened with police action unless paid.

There’s a similar scam in Asia with unfeasibly pretty girls inviting westerners to a ‘tea ceremony’ or the possibility to practise their English. Don’t be fooled, at some point you will be presented with an astronomical bill.

It’s okay be friendly … but only up to a point.

A good rule is: would you do it at home?

Would you happily trail behind a stranger to a shop or their house because they asked nicely?

Probably not. A little bit of common sense goes a long way.

Money woes

There are so many money scams it’s hard to keep up.

Fake money is a favourite.

Australia has some of the most effective anti-counterfeit currency technology in the world but fake currency still gets through occasionally.

Well, imagine how much easier that is in a country with paper bills where they all look the same.

Always carefully examine your change and make sure you have been given the correct denomination.

Another less well known scam is the vendor will drop the notes and help to pick them up and either pocket some or replace them with notes of less value.

And beware slow counters. Vendors who take forever to return your change or count it slowly are relying on your impatience to not check you have the right money.

Tech tricks

Never, ever accept someone trying to ‘help’ you use a cash machine.

They are trying to learn your PIN code and it’s likely the machine will either ‘eat’ or skim your card and before you can sort it out your money is gone.

Only use ATM machines inside a bank you trust.

Also be very suspicious of joining any free wifi networks.

Hackers will use these to steal your data. Only use networks you trust or VPNs.

Have you ever been scammed? Did you lose much money? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Home security tips for travellers

Written by Jan Fisher

Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.

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