By Dave & Deb Bouskill, on September 25, 2014

Travel scams around the world

Travel can be life-changing. Catching a flight to your dream destination should be one of your most exciting moments as a human. But that trip of a lifetime can instantly turn sour if you fall victim to one of the many travel scams around the world. While you shouldn’t be paralyzed by fear or obsess over what could happen, it is important to arm yourself with information to keep you safe while traveling abroad. Here are some of the scams that we’ve encountered in our travels around the world—scams for which you should watch out on your next vacation.

Airport taxis

You’ve just arrived at your destination, you’re tired, and you’re not thinking straight. This is when you are most vulnerable. Many scammers will approach new arrivals as soon as they exit customers, offering them a taxi. If you take one of these taxis, there’s a good chance you will pay an outrageous fee. To safeguard yourself from falling victim to this scam, make sure to hail a cab from one of the official taxi stands at the airport. If you can’t find the official stands, go to the airport information booth and ask where to find them.


Mustard squirt

You might think that seemingly innocent passerby spilled mustard on your clothes accidentally, but as he or she hastily tries to clean you up, his or her partner-in-crime relieves you of your valuables. Usually this scam happens on busy streets, or while you are sitting down at a restaurant. To combat it, make sure to keep a hand on your valuables and don’t let anyone invade your space. If someone does get you with a mustard squirt, decline help and clean yourself up after you have moved to a quieter (and safer) spot.

Rug, art, or jewel scams

There are variations of this scam all over the world: A friendly local approaches you and starts up a conversation. He or she might want to practice English, or maybe he or she is just being friendly and telling you about the sights of the city. Soon this person suggests that you come with them to look at art or jewelry. Not wanting to hurt your new friend, you go with this person and end up sitting through a high-pressure sales pitch—a pitch to which you simply can’t say no. I cannot tell you the number of people we know who have fallen for this scam. Don’t be one of them. Simply decline when strangers ask you to come with them.

Viewfinder Tip: When using ATMs in foreign countries, always use the machine inside a reputable bank during business hours.

Ring scam

We’ve had this happen to us on more than one occasion in Paris. The scam: A passerby picks up a ring that has “fallen” on the sidewalk in front of you, and ask if it is yours. When you answer no, the person offers to sell it to you for a cheap price. If you try to leave, he or she keeps harassing you until you hand over some money. I find it odd that so many people fall for this one, but it obviously works because people keep trying it. Our advice: As soon as the scam artists approach, ignore them and walk on.

Rickshaw or tuk-tuk scam

In Asia, the most accessible transportation often takes the form of small three-wheeled vehicles called tuk-tuks or rickshaws. Normally they charge a set or metered fare that is slightly cheaper than a regular taxi. But if someone offers you a price that is too good to be true, beware. Some of the very worst rickshaw scammers will take you around to shops in the completely opposite direction of where you need to go. At the same time, when you are stuck in traffic, these scam artists will give you a high-pressure sales pitch to buy arts and crafts. Most of the time, the drivers receive kickbacks from everything you buy, so they won’t take you to your destination until they feel they’ve earned a fair commission.

Fake police

In many countries, people posing as police ask for your travel documents, then require a bribe to get them back. If you find yourself in this situation and you feel uncomfortable, ask the person in question to take you to the police station where you can show them your documents in a more official setting. Don’t ever give up your passport if you don’t feel safe doing so. If they truly are police, they’ll understand.

Closed attractions

You will encounter this scam in many countries. As you enter a tourist attraction, an official-looking guide will greet you to say the attraction is closed. This official then will proceed to tell you where a similar attraction is open. Scam artists do this with hotels and restaurants too. In most cases, the scammers receive a commission from the “alternate” establishment, and you end up paying too much money for a second-rate experience. Check for yourself before believing wholeheartedly that an attraction is closed.

Travel scams are an unfortunate reality of traveling abroad. The best ways to beat them are to be informed and aware. Once you know what to look out for and how to avoid falling for these scams, you’ll have peace of mind to focus on important things such as having fun and enjoying the sights. 

By what travel scams have you been victimized over the years?