The 12 Most Common Travel Scams & How to Avoid them

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There are some things that can happen on the road that can make it a not so pleasant experience. Cultures around the world are very different, as well as income and there are some people who take advantage of the trustful and fascinated (or naïve) tourists with that cultural difference that try to make money out of it in the most varied and even creative ideas.

Many assume that when you are traveling in another country you are kind a rich person and you have much money and therefore tourists in most of the world are seen by some as a target for scams and try to get little (or a lot) money from them.

There are some scams that are famous and almost all have heard about it, cheating to travelers at high levels, as some fake agencies and hotels and others to a smaller level, as street vendors or some passing as an artist who take advantage of the distracted tourist.

It has happened to me that just being a destination I have come to hear the strangest stories about scams to travelers, some of which even happened to experienced travelers who have fall into the enchantment of these trickery characters.

Perhaps being born in South America it is a benefit in this topic. ( You can read more about How is it travel the world being Chilean) We grow up there with the idea that going to downtown or a popular fair or a market requires putting up all your defenses as to be aware of your belongings.

I’ll never forget when I walked in Luxembourg and a very shocked friend tells me: Why hold your bag as if someone’s out to steal it from you? Only then I realized the big difference, that I’m used to walk looking around, to be aware of who is next to me in the street and almost never fall into these attempts at fraud.

To consider how to avoid the most common scams while traveling, I tell you here some of the stories of the most common travel scams I have heard being on the road and some that have happened to me while traveling.

So these will not happen to you!!

1. The Free Tuc-Tuc ride

If you’ve been to Thailand or  India for sure you have met these kind of Tuc -Tuc drivers who kindly offer you a free ride. The catch is that you can actually take them and get where you want to go for free, but on the way they will stop to show you one or two clothing stores or a tailored suits shop with which they have an agreement and if you buy there’s a commission for them.

If you have time and the mood you can use this free rides to save some money, but if you’re in a hurry this will just a waste of your time.

In New Delhi, India, I accepted one of this rides and I was pleasantly surprised, because I got a great price on some scarves that I wanted to buy plus a free ride to the Humayun’s tomb.

estafas de viaje

2. It’s a Holiday and the Monument is closed for you today!

I have seen this mostly in India and Thailand. It is quite common when arriving at a temple or another tourist spot someone reaches you and indicates that, as a holiday or just that day the king ‘s birthday then the monument is closed or open only to authorities.

So, don’t always trust on who will try to kindly help you with your hungry to visit new places and offers you to take you to another site to only charge you later for their kind service.

lg-curved-arrowAlways ask first to either the guard or the manager of the place about the opening hours.

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3. A crowded place is the perfect spot to get pickpocketed

In many cities, when you see a large group of people looking at an artist or musicians, try to keep special attention to your pockets and your purse. This is one of the favorite places for thieves, who are usually very adept at stealing  without you even knowing it.

In Santiago, Chile is also very usual to see some games in the street, where you’ll never win and many are colluding with thieves who do their pickpocketing work while you are concentrated watching the player to lose all his or her money. I have heard this same scam also in London and Paris streets.

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4. Not every time someone pushes you or is in your way it’s and accident

It is a common technique in some countries, someone pushes you in a crowded market or subway to steal. After bumping into you and push you “accidentally” showing concern, then kindly will say: you have you bag open! And when you go and take a  look at it you’ll find they have stolen your wallet or something else. So, always be careful with your belongings while walking on a super crowded place.

( Here you can check out about my favorite markets: the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok or the Persa Bio Bio in Santiago, Chile)

There is something similar to this one. As you walk, someone spit or throw some liquid on you, and then while offering help or a wipe, they will catch you and when you’ll be all worried you will become a much easier target to be stolen and get robbed or pickpocketed while you are distracted cleaning your shoes or clothing.

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5. The lost ring

Lately, I’ve heard this scam story very often through friends who have visited Paris. In general, it is common to find this type of fraud close to touristic sites.

Someone, usually a good-looking and helpful woman comes to you and says: “you’ve dropped this ring!” and they will try to force you to give it to you. After you accept it you will be asked for money as a reward, but they are clearly trying to sell it to you.

6. The restaurant or bar bill that turns into a very pricy one

The more elaborate and freak travel scam I’ve heard probably – and unfortunately several times – in restaurants and bars in Istanbul.

One happened to a group of expats friends who live there for years now, so they even speak perfect Turkish. After a dinner and a bottle of Raki (that is the usual quote of alcohol for them), when asking for the bill they realize is 1000 USD total consumption indicating an expensive champagne they had not consumed. The men were as they were drugged and almost asleep and women could do nothing when they arrived five big guys surrounding them and pressuring them to pay the bill.

Another time, I was talking to a traveler who was very afflicted in Sultanahmet area. He told me after making some new friends in a bar and flirting with a girl, it happend that when was the time to leave and pay the bill, it had added many items they never really had and no one wanted to pay. He got threats from the bartender (while his new friends disappeared) and was told if he did not pay the 200USD bill he will suffer serious consequences.

lg-curved-arrowBeware about the places you visit in this city!

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7. The endless Taxi topic & the wrong change

In some countries it is sadly very common that some people try to cheat you with the change when you buy something or you pay your taxi ride. Usually when you pay with a large bill you get back a smaller one, they even have a smaller bill handy to show you while saying you paid with it. This has happened to me several times Chile, so I always have very clear how much money I give to pay to not get confused if they try to fool me.

lg-curved-arrowAlways have very clear how much money you give and they’ll not be able to confuse you!

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or a rigged meter….

In some countries like Chile, Romania, Turkey or Thailand, it is also common to find the meter is somehow modified to charge much more for the trip than usual. The issue is that you’ll see everything quite normal, the meter is on, but often adulterated, there are even some taxi drivers working with two taximeter, one with the legal rate and other special for the unwary.

lg-curved-arrowAlways keep in mind before how much should be the trip you wanna do and you’ll be able to notice if they are charging you more than it should.

 

8. Your hotel is fully booked or is closed!

Lately I’ve heard this story so many times! It is about some taxi drivers in India, someone is at the airport, first time arriving and take a taxi to the booked hotel. The driver will tell you on the way that your hotel is closed for repairs, or is fully booked and will offer to take you to another one really great that he knows in the area. When you arrive to it you’ll see it’s a terrible and random hotel they take you to get a commission, normally this happen when is already late and you don’t have too many other options to search for another place to sleep. I’ve heard when you ask to look the hotel you booked they can even take you to it, and some have even install pseudo hotels in horrible houses and put the name on a sign with the hotel name to show you it is really closed!

lg-curved-arrowAlways ask to talk yourself with the hotel, take note of the address and phone number and be yourself who put the numbers to make that call. Insist if necessary to be taken to THAT address and not to a different one..just to be sure.

lg-curved-arrowUse the pre paid taxis that are usually located inside the airports, they are a bit more expensive, but they are trustable.

Bangkok taxi scam

9. Another more about taxis…

Like probably your parents said to you when you were a kid: Never accept anything from a stranger!

I’ve heard stories of taxi drivers offering cigarettes, candy or a drink containing a drug, and then when you wake up you are without any of your belongings. Today, technology helps a lot and there are applications for your cell where identity and drivers licenses, which can even be recovered if you forget something in the car is officialy tracked.

lg-curved-arrowRecommendation is to always take your license certified and registered taxis.

travel scam taxi bangkok

10. Ping pong shows in Thailand or other similar ‘free’ show 

I would say, almost always when you get offered something for free: DOUBT. In Thailand it is very common for tourists wanting to get inside and see a ping pong show (one very decadent kind of show I have not yet get to watch!), in the area of Khao San Road in Bangkok or Pathaya, you will be offered a free ticket to take a quick look at the place and see if you want to stay. Upon entering, they will charge you a high fee for the ticket plus even more for drinks you have to buy if you do not want to get into trouble with the ‘friendly’ guys before who invited you to get in.

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11. To clean you shoes or sneakers Fo Free

This was the funniest story I’ve heard of a scam to a traveler. Maybe because it happened to a very experienced traveler that has traveled almost to 100 countries! lol.

On the streets of Istanbul (specifically this happened in Galata bridge) some shoe polisher offers you free cleaning or polishing your shoes, saying they just want to chat with you and practice their English, that would be a gift. After sitting back and letting clean your shoes they’ll charge you for their work, that was, to this traveler up to 30 USD for this act of kindness!.

lg-curved-arrowAgain: It is very rare to get something for free and usually would take way more money than the average.

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12. Visa related scams

There are some websites that offer help with your Visa formalities to make your dream trip to that country. There are many fake agencies that charge money but never make the papers done and really make the visa papers for you.

There are even organizations that have physically installed, with offices looking very ‘official’. Most famous it is probably at the border between Thailand and Cambodia, there is even a fake office to where tuk-tuk drivers take you to see if you fall and you pay your precious dollars to anyone but the official border police.

lg-curved-arrowBe sure that the place you are giving your money and passport it is the official, being this the Embassy website or the consular office.

 

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It has happened to you some of these Travel Scams?  Do you have any tip to avoid the most common travel scams happening these days?

 

Nomadic Chica

Gloria, the Nomadic Chica, is a native of Santiago Chile. Growing up dreaming of travel and international exploration, Gloria set out to make her dreams come true. Having traveled through Asia, Europe, and South America, Gloria has a wealth of travel knowledge and experience to share. NomadicChica.com was created to inspire others to travel and empower solo female travels with knowledge. Follow Gloria as she brings the world of travel to you.

9 Comments:

  1. Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld

    Very useful post. Unfortunately thoose things happen on a daily bases. It’s good to know what are the most common scams and how to avoid them. People often don’t think about this at all and get mad after that. But in the end we are the only ones to look after ourselves.

  2. Great list. It seems the more you travel, the more likely you are to come across a scam. Always best to know if there are any particular ones local to where you’re traveling but some of these scams are certainly borderless.

  3. The list is probably never complete….. here’s another one like the free ones mentioned above: A free camel ride in Egypt isn’t so free as you thought it would be, they let you mount the animal, walk you around a bit, but it will cost you $10 to step off…so much for a free ride…… 😉

  4. The ‘free tuk tuk” scam happened to us on my first trip to Bangkok. We were told that if we would agree to stop at shop on the way, the shop would fill up the tuk-tuk’s gas tank for free. And we were under no obligation to buy anything. I was dubious, but my travel companions insisted it was a “good deal”. When we entered the shop, the attendants were extremely rude. There was nothing we wanted to buy. They scowled at us with angry looks of our faces. When we left the shop, the tuk-tuk driver told us that since we hadn’t bought anything, he had lost face and couldn’t take us to our destination. But he pointed us in the right direction. On another occasion, the tuk-tuk driver didn’t take us where we asked to be taken – a public pier, where we could board an inexpensive water taxi, but rather to a public pier, where he would be charged a much higher fare. That was the last time I took a tuk-tuk in Bangkok. But I’ve also had unpleasant experiences with taxi drivers.

  5. Number 2 in Cuba and 4 in Peru! Another in Cuba is that a guy says he needs you to buy his kid milk. He takes you to a shop where it looks as if he’s been shopping and ran out of money alas you pay $25 for the milk, the owner and conman split the cash. TWO BOYS, intelligent ones too, were scammed by this whilst we were in Havana! Great post, enjoyed it.

  6. Great post. Yeah, traveling may be tricky…

  7. Wow! What a complete list, well done! Oh my god I am still ashamed I felt for the 1st one on my first solo trip to Thailand… too relaxed after a massage at Wat Pho, not careful enough, of course the flower market was closed, etc. Fortunately, I only lost time, but this is never nice to realise you’ve been scammed. I think your general comment is good: when it’s free or too good to be true: Doubt! Thank you very much for this post I keep for future reference.

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