#SafetyFirst: Watch Out for These Travel Scams and Learn How to Avoid Them
Travel Guides & Tips

#SafetyFirst: Watch Out for These Travel Scams and Learn How to Avoid Them

No matter how experienced you are as a traveler, you’ll always find scammers who will try to rip you off, for their own benefits.

From getting overcharged cab rides to getting back fake cash in a local market, travel scams can happen to the best of us, including me!

Don’t let this stop you from enjoying your journeys! Thanks to the internet, we now have access to blogs and websites that spread awareness on certain travel scams. You can also ask other travelers about the ones they already know.

Although the tricks pulled by these scammers come in many varieties, some are more common and have been e used all around the world. Read on to know what to watch out for.

 Your taxi driver pretends to get lost

Travel scam: Lost taxi driver
Source: Shutterstock.com

There are taxi drivers out there who may pretend to lose their way so they can charge you more money. They’d drive without GPS, and then tell you they’ll take you to your destination. Soon after, they drop the bomb by telling you that they’re lost.

When I was in Bangkok last year, my driver had insisted that my GPS was lying. I could see him driving me around the same area for over 15 minutes from the screen of his smartphone. That’s insane! Later, he complained that he couldn’t find my hostel and told me to walk back home instead. It was 4 a.m. at the time. I had no choice but to walk and find my own way back. Yes, he still took my money.

In another scenario, my Singaporean friend, who speaks very little Vietnamese and who was working in Ho Chi Minh City at the time, got into an argument with a taxi driver who intentionally missed the junction where he was supposed to turn into, just so he can charge us more money, by driving us further to make a U-turn later. Even after we had repeatedly told him to turn into the junction.

To be fair, there are a handful of honest taxi drivers who are just not very good with direction (and are not necessarily out to cheat). Use your gut instinct and learn to spot the signs of a scammer.

How to avoid it:

Before entering a taxi, make sure that the taxi is metered. Tell your taxi driver clearly where you want to go. Jot down the taxi’s plate number even the customer help number you may find on the taxi’s door window. You can file a complaint later, if you feel you have been charged unfairly.

A ‘friendly’ local at the ATM machine

Travel scam at the ATM machine
Source: Shutterstock.com

If someone tries to approach you at the ATM cash machine and convince you that there’s a way to avoid local bank fees, ignore him. That person is likely trying to steal your pin number, by using a skimming device.

A skimming device is used by criminals to steal data from your ATM card using the magnetic strip that can be found on the back of your card. It’s a world-wide problem that must not be taken lightly.

How to avoid it:

Never let anyone get close to you while you’re making a transaction at the ATM machine. Use your other hand to block other people from peeking at the pin number you’re entering. Leave the ATM machine immediately if someone tries to aggressively approach you.

Child beggars

Travel scam: child beggars
Source: Shutterstock.com

As you travel, you may notice a growing number of child beggars found along busy streets in certain poorer parts of the region. . The first time I’d ever seen so many child beggars on the streets was when I was traveling in Manila. It’s really sad to see so many of them crying for money. I encountered one who was extremely persuasive. I couldn’t help it but give that child a small amount of money. I just wanted to help.

Soon after, I had more children coming towards me. A big group of child beggars started approaching and following me around. One of my friends had a similar experience, too. In her case, the kids followed her until she entered the cathedral!

As most of these child beggars are usually controlled by “sharks”, people have been taught not to give money to any of these kids. By giving them money, you’re only supporting the dirty works of the syndicates who are behind all this, and perpetuating the problem. Also, you will make yourself vulnerable to pickpockets.

How to avoid it:

It’s human nature to want to lend a helping hand. However, child beggars hardly ever get to keep the money they collect.  Offer assistance by giving them food, clothes or stationery instead.

Fake police officers

Travel scam: fake police officers
Source: Shutterstock.com

Some scammers will go to any extent to make their stories believable, including dressing up as police officers.

These trickers will come up with all kinds of stories, such as telling the victims to hand over their wallets, with an excuse they’re looking for fake money that has been widely used all around the area. Victims will only find their wallets empty later.

These scammers can be anywhere, mainly in cities and touristy areas. Some of them might even ask to see your passport and then tell you that there’s something wrong with it, and you have to pay a fine directly to them. Wait a second. A legal system doesn’t usually work like that, so that should be fake!

How to avoid it:

Keep calm and don’t panic. Ask questions, and tell them that that you need to confirm their identities by contacting another local police first. Remember the golden rule: Never give your wallet or passport to anyone.

*In some cases, hotels may request for your passport upon check-in. Instead of giving them your passport, give them a copy of it instead.

Group photo offers at busy places

Group photo offers at busy places
Source: Shutterstock.com

Depending on where you are, you might find locals who will get all excited to snap some photos with you. While taking group photos with a bunch of strangers can be fun and memorable, it surely is a nightmare when someone pickpockets you in the process.

In a worse scenario, the person who holds your camera runs away with it right after he takes the picture. The risk of getting into such a situation is higher in crowded places such as big cities, as there are more people to distract you.

How to avoid it:

Avoid places that are too crowded whenever possible; but if you have to, make sure you keep your valuables close to you. Of course, there may be times when you’ll trust strangers with your gadgets, so they can take your pictures for you, but it really depends on the situation. You’ll need to first study your surroundings and the people with whom you’re interacting. Optionally, you can get another traveler to help you take the shot instead.

‘Promoters’ on the go

Travel scam: suit sellers
Source: Shutterstock.com

I’ve been approached many times by aggressive street sellers in Southeast Asia. In fact, you’ll find them anywhere in the world. They usually target tourist spots, which is why it’s advisable to stay away from touristy areas. Still, that’s not the best solution. Sometimes you just have to be there.

These aggressive street sellers will pressure you to buy whatever they’re selling. For example, on the streets of Bangkok, you’ll find them trying to persuade you to get tailor-made suits. Why? That’s because they get commission for every sale they make.

Tuk-tuk (rickshaw) drivers are no exception. Some of them will even take you straight to the tailor with an excuse you might just like what you see.

You may think that a suit is the last thing on a traveler’s mind, but there are indeed many travelers (mainly short-term tourists) who are interested in buying one, as they think it’s cheaper to buy suits in Thailand than anywhere else.

Of course, you have the right to not buy anything if you aren’t interested, but your tuk-tuk driver will likely be unhappy about it. However, if you choose to buy it, there are risks from doing so. There are many cases where tourists have paid for suits upfront as they were promised that these suits will be delivered straight to their homes. In return, all they got was a poor quality suit that didn’t even fit.

If these tuk-tuk drivers don’t take you to suit stores, they might just take you to some random restaurants or guest houses, where they can also get commission from. While they try to make you believe that they’re doing you a favor, the places they recommend are usually overpriced.

How to avoid it:

Learn to say ‘No’ if you are not interested in buying anything. If you choose to buy a suit, never pay upfront, even if the suit maker tries to convince you to do it. You should convince him that you can’t pay upfront for the suit.

As for tuk-tuks, make it clear to your tuk-tuk driver that you don’t want to go anywhere else but your destination. Do that before you hope on. Most important rule: If something seems too good to be true, it might just not be true after all.

Fake tickets

Fake ticket travel scam
Source: Shutterstock.com

Scammers know that most travelers always try to get the best value from everything, including the prices for their buses, trains, planes or local events. So, they try offering cheaper tickets to travelers, and even tell them that they can skip the line if they just pay for a slightly more expensive ticket.

There are also some taxi drivers who will attempt to take travelers to their friends, whom they claim to be local travel agents. Their victims will then learn that the tickets sold to them are fake all along.

How to avoid it:

Don’t buy your tickets from strangers you meet on the streets. Get your tickets from the official ticket office or from a genuine website. Many companies have their social media accounts displayed on their websites today, so be sure to visit them in order to confirm their legitimacy.

Long overnight rides

Long overnight rides
Source: Shutterstock.com

Many people have reportedly lost their belongings when taking overnight rides. Your things may not always be safe, even when you have them kept in the luggage compartment. Therefore, always lock your bags. You might have a small backpack that you take on the bus with you. Be sure to lock it, too.

Many travelers lose their things during overnight rides because they fall asleep. Of course, these are overnight rides after all!

The same thing happened to my friend when he was traveling in Indonesia. In his case, the sneaky thieves who took the same ride as he did managed to steal all of his valuables and then replaced them with rocks, while he slept. He only realized that he was robbed when he opened his bag at the guest house.

How to avoid it:

Don’t expose anything valuable unnecessarily in public. Whether it’s a short or long trip you’re taking, lock your bags. No matter the type of bus or train you’re taking, be extra careful when traveling in them, even the VIP ones.

Fake hotel call

Travel scam: fake hotel call
Source: Shutterstock.com

Although this has never happened to me (hopefully not!), it’s definitely something I need to be wary about.

This is how the scam is done. The scammers calls their victims in the middle of the night as the hotel’s front desk, and then asks the victims to confirm their credit card information.

I thought to myself “Who would do that?” Still, people have fallen for it. It’s easy for the scammers to do that as their victims are likely to only be half awake!

Once the scammers get all the details they need, they will then make a copy of the victim’s card, so they can steal money from them later.

How to avoid it:

Don’t entertain late night calls. Should there be an emergency, you’ll know it, and alerting guests about an emergency via phone calls is usually not how any hotel would do it. Remember what your bank always reminds you: Never give away your bank details over the phone.

Missing laundry

Travel scam: missing laundry
Source: Shutterstock.com

Sending your laundry to the laundromat, especially if they’re expensive, is also risky these days. Your laundry might just go missing, and you get nothing else but an apology, which isn’t always sincere. That’s because it’s a scam that will eventually lead to the laundry company taking you to a shop where you can buy new clothes, which they get commission from. Sneaky, but it happens!

How to avoid it:

Always keep your receipts. If the laundry company lose your laundry, ask them to compensate you for your loss. Otherwise, it’s best not to send anything expensive for wash at the laundromat. Wash it yourself instead.

Bird poo on your shirt

Travel Scam: Bird poo on your shirt
Source: Shutterstock.com

While you’re walking on the street, a stranger comes up to you and say “Excuse me, you have bird poo on your shirt.” Upon hearing this, you quickly look at your shirt to check if there’s actually something on your shirt.

The stranger then offers to clean it up for you. Incredibly, he has a pack of tissue and a bottle of water ready in his hands to do the job. The next thing you know is he’s gone; so are your valuables.

How to avoid it:

Tell him that you’ll be happy to clean it up yourself at the bathroom, and just walk away. It’s an absurd trick that unfortunately has worked on unsuspecting travelers.

I want to practice my english

Travel scam: Practice English
Source: Shutterstock.com/ Chanwit Whanset Shutterstock, Inc.

This happens a lot in Asia, at least from my own experience. While there are people who generally want to practice English with you, like those teenagers I met in Ho Chi Minh City, there are also some people who do that to get more than one benefit from you.

When I was in Siem Reap, my friend and I were approached by some locals at the Angkor temples. They were very friendly and even joined us in exploring the temples. While exploring the temples, they told us that they aspired to be tour guides in the future, which is why they wanted to talk to us. They gave us insightful details about the attractions.

Of course, we were happy to meet helpful locals who were very excited to share about their culture with foreigners like us. What we didn’t know was all that came with a price after all. USD5. One of the people who approached us seemed like a genuinely nice person. Since he spent more than 30 minutes with us, we couldn’t leave without giving him anything, so we paid him. I can choose to leave, but I didn’t.

How to avoid it:

If someone offers to show you around or merely to practice English, just say ‘No’. Tell them that you’re good on your own, you have a book to guide you, or you’ve already read on the destination beforehand. If you choose to give (like I did), you can give any amount you’re comfortable of giving. Even if you give an amount lesser than what they ask for, they’ll still take it, especially if you tell them that’s all you’ve got.

Nobody likes scammers. No matter how hard we try to avoid them, they’ll always keep trying their luck on us. The best thing to do is to become more aware of the kinds of scams that are out there today and learn how to protect ourselves from being the victims.

If a scam happens to you, learn from it and make it a lesson for others to also learn from, because you can save them from getting into the same situation, too. You can also do that by sharing this article to your friends and family!

Stay safe, and happy travels! 🙂