Travel offers the opportunity to experience fascinating new places and meet new people. Unfortunately, just like in our hometowns, some of those people may be less than ethical. Travel scams range from the merely annoying to the expensive and the downright dangerous, and can leave you with bad memories of otherwise lovely people and places. Here are some commons scams to watch for — and since they can change, googling “travel scam [place you’re visiting]" is always a good idea, too!
The Terrible Taxi Driver
Almost every frequent traveler has encountered at least one unethical taxi driver, at home or abroad, and paying extortionate rates for a trip from the airport can start your trip off on a bad note. Fortunately, with GPS you can follow along your route — so you’ll know if you’re being transported via Timbuktu — and a quick internet search will tell you what the average fare should be. It’s best to avoid any taxi where the meter is “broken,” and if you suspect it’s been tampered with, get out immediately. Be sure to take a picture of the driver’s taxi license (and let them see you doing it) before beginning a ride. And never get in an unlicensed taxi: It’s simply not worth the risk.
The Closed Attraction
When I lived in Bangkok, even a trip to the mall might involve an unscrupulous taxi driver trying to convince me that anywhere I wanted to go was “closed today” or “closed for lunch.” This was always accompanied by a friendly offer to take me to another “open” location — usually a shop conveniently owned by the driver’s “cousin.” You can avoid this in any country by researching the hours of any attraction you wish to visit, as well as by learning where the entrance to the palace, temple, or train station is located, to ensure you're dropped off in the right place.
The Friendly Stranger
Traveling, especially in a place where you don’t know the language, can be an isolating experience. And while the world is filled to the brim with wonderful people who only wish to befriend a traveler, a few bad apples will attempt to take advantage of strangers. Two very common examples involve someone wanting to “practice their English” while inviting you to tea, or inviting you to continue the evening at a “locals’ bar.” After tea or beers, an enormously inflated bill is produced — often accompanied by menacing bouncers who will insist you pay up. Avoid this by refusing to go to a second location with someone you’ve just met.
The Flirtatious Stranger
If she (or he) seems too good to be true, proceed with caution! This is the sexier version of the “practice English” scam, albeit with more serious consequences. After a wild night, an unsuspecting traveler can find themselves in a truly dangerous situation. Keep your wits about you when traveling. And “always watch your drink” is good advice for everyone, everywhere.
The Fabulous Vacation Rental
That tropical villa is gorgeous and the price is right: what a steal! Unfortunately, what’s stolen may be your vacation budget, if the listing is fraudulent. According to the FBI, more than $350 million was lost due to property scams in 2021. Use reverse image search and Google street view to verify that the property exists in the first place, and stick to vetted rental platforms like VRBO and Airbnb. Never pay outside the platform by wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency ... once that happens, your money is most assuredly gone.
The Accidental Spill Scam
There you are, minding your own business and admiring the scenery, when suddenly mustard, bird poop or some other substance is on your clothing ... and a helpful stranger is trying to help you clean it, or yelling at the person responsible. You’re being targeted by a pickpocket or luggage thief, who probably has accomplices. Make a scene and make your getaway. Pickpockets also will attempt to distract you by bumping into you, or giving you a “gift” like a sprig of rosemary or a cheap bracelet.
The Ripoff Restaurant (or Bar)
If you can’t see the prices listed on a menu, you can’t control what you’ll be charged on a final bill. Just ask the unsuspecting tourists who were charged $776 for three orange juices, an Aperol Spritz, and a medium portion of squid and shrimp at a seaside restaurant on the Greek island of Mykonos. If the menu doesn't have prices listed, go ahead and try a new spot and save yourself the extra cash.