Running into scams can be common for many travelers and many times, it’s because of what they don’t know. Traveling in big cities and in any touristy area will draw scammers and people looking to take advantage of trusting or unsuspecting travelers.
Staying aware of your surroundings is the first step in avoiding travel scams before they happen. You will encounter friendly people on every trip but regardless, stay alert and wary if something feels or looks off.
Here are some of the most common travel scams that every person should watch out for:
The tea tasting experience
I am guilty of falling for the pricey “let me take you to an authentic tea tasting” travel scam. On my first day in China, I could barely stay awake from the jet lag and was easy prey. A man came up to me and welcomed me to Beijing asking if I wanted to go to his friend’s shop for the best tea experience.
It was a fantastic ceremony and taught on how to taste Chinese tea. But before I knew what was happening, I was being ushered to his other friend next door who sold art. I paid for the smallest piece of art and the tea but the price is given seemed high. I wasn’t sure of the exchange rate and I didn’t want to insult him by questioning it, so I paid and left.
Later I calculated that I had paid $300 USD for tea and art! So, always know the conversion rate and if something sounds too high, it’s because it is. And don’t go into any activity without asking about the price, FIRST!
Friendship or blessing bracelet
A very friendly person comes up to you and before you know what is happening, they are putting a bracelet on your wrist. Even though the premise is that it is free as a friendly gesture, it isn’t. Once it’s on you are expected to pay even if you take it off. If you don’t, they make a loud scene so you feel obligated to give them something.
You might see a similar scenario where a person will give you a bracelet for a blessing. Take nothing for free, there’s always a price.
The “broken” taxi meter
It’s not uncommon to get into a taxi and they tell you their meter is broken. If you hear that, get out and find a taxi that does have a meter. Most of the time it isn’t broken and is a travel scam that can rack up an insanely high bill by the time you reach your destination.
Then you are in a bad position if you don’t pay, as they can call the authorities. Instead, stick with metered taxis, an Uber, or other local ride-sharing services to avoid ridiculously high fares.
Woman with a baby pickpocket
Usually, in cities where there is more poverty, you might see a woman carrying a baby approach you. As hard as it is to see a mother with a baby that looks soiled without clothes, stay clear.
In some areas in the world, the woman will get extremely close, asking for you to give her money to feed her baby. What you may not see is that her hand that isn’t holding the baby is reaching into your pocket or bag.
Remember, this isn’t a moment to profile or stereotype anyone, but an opportunity to keep you vigilant and have a better understanding of potential possibilities.
Your hotel or attraction is closed
This scam can happen in a variety of situations with the most common being your hotel, train, or any number of attractions being closed after you’ve already booked and paid.
You get to your hotel and before you enter, you are told it is closed. Yet they know of a hotel that is open and better. Keep your guard up by ignoring them and verify with your hotel or attraction beforehand to avoid falling for this scam.
Book with only reputable sites that have reviews and clear instructions on how to check in or get to your attraction.
Buying Tickets For Attractions On The Street
As you approach an attraction, a guy rushes up to you to offer a way better deal on tickets than buying at the entrance. Don’t fall for this tourist scam as they are likely not real tickets, expired, and will cost you money. The last thing you want to do is pay for fake tickets and then have to pay again for the real deal.
And if you can pay online with a credit card, it’s preferred in the event you need to submit a refund claim.
Not getting the correct change
Many times, on a trip you are in a rush or are distracted by the new environment you are in. If you are buying something in a shop or from a street vendor, count your change in front of them before walking away.
Too often they will short-change you. Often it happens without realizing it because you aren’t familiar with the currency. Instead of getting back $10 for example, they only give you $5. And if you pay in US dollars, it can be harder to identify the correct change based on the exchange rate, so it can be easier to convert your cash.
People offering to take your photo
Be cautious! If someone comes up to you offering to take your photo, it’s best to say “no”, unless you know they’re also a tourist–like yourself.
Two things can happen: the person can make a run for it with your device or they will demand that you pay them for their picture-taking services. So it’s best to ask someone to take your photo that is also sightseeing or taking a lot of photos too.
Spilling something on you
You are sitting at a café, restaurant, or market minding your business when someone “accidentally” spills a drink or sauce on you. The person immediately feels horrible and offers to help wipe it off and while it sounds like a nice gesture, it’s a ploy. This is a distraction so that you aren’t aware of what is really happening.
They are picking your pocket or bag in the process. No matter the substance that has been spilled, nicely refuse their assistance and sometimes hand them a small amount of local currency to divert the attention.
Touching the shrine or temple
Visiting temples or shrines in many areas of the world is typically on many traveler itineraries. As you enter and see a shrine, someone may gesture for you to reach out and touch it. They might even be pushy, encouraging you to get up close and touch an area of the shrine. Say “no, thank you” and move on. If you do touch it, they may demand that you pay for doing so.
Being aware of the most common travel scams will reduce your chances of being caught off guard. And no matter what, don’t let any scam prevent you from booking that next trip!