15 Common Travel Scams (And How To Avoid Them)

Common Travel Scams

Common Travel Scams You Can Avoid

Travel Tips

Shady people love to take advantage of tourists, and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to become a victim. Here are some of the most common travel scams around the world.

As travelers, it is easy to think that we are smart enough to avoid getting ripped off. But, the truth is, it happens to the best of us. Including me!

From getting ridiculously overcharged on cab rides to unknowingly revealing credit card information, travel scams exist the world over.

While it is nearly impossible to know when you will be scammed, it is important to know what kind of scams exist, and what to do should the situation arise.

Most Common Travel Scams (2017)

It sucks to get scammed by a stranger when you’re traveling on vacation. Even after 6 years of continuous travel, I still get caught off guard from time to time.

Here are some of the most common scams you’re likely to encounter, along with personal stories from my own experiences. Knowledge is power! The more people that know about these scams, the less likely you’ll fall for them.

Broken Taxi Meter

Cab drivers near airports or train stations are known to pull this scam, but it can happen anywhere. When you get into a taxi and start to drive, the driver will inform you that the meter is broken and charge you a ridiculous price (to the tune of 100s of dollars if you’re not careful).

My Experience:

This is a very common one in Central America, especially Costa Rica. I’ve probably had 10 different taxi drivers try to pull this scam on me around the world. I fell for it once, during my first year traveling.

How To Avoid It:

Negotiate rates ahead of time, or ensure the meter is in fact working before you get in the car. If the taxi driver refuses to turn on the meter, or tells you it’s cheaper without the meter, get out and opt for another driver. Not all cab drivers are scammers.

Overbooked Or Closed Hotel

Again, this common travel scam happens largely with cab drivers. While en route to your hotel, the driver will tell you your hotel is either closed or overbooked and then take you to a more expensive hotel where the driver receives a nice fat commission.

My Experience:

Luckily I’ve never fallen for this one, however I’ve had 3 or 4 drivers try to scam me this way. Usually by saying the hotel is a bad one, or that it’s closed.

How To Avoid It:

Call your hotel in advance and make sure they’re open. Ask if they offer shuttle service and then schedule a pickup. If your taxi driver still tells you the hotel is not available, insist that he take you there anyway. Tell him you already have a reservation (even if you don’t).

Free Bracelets Or Rosemary

This scam tends to prey on female travelers. A friendly man or woman will approach to chat, then place a “free” friendship bracelet on your wrist. Or hand you a sprig of Rosemary for good luck. Once you have it, they will demand money. When you refuse, they will begin to cause a scene.

My Experience:

I’ve had gypsy women in Madrid try to give me Rosemary.

How To Avoid It:

Don’t allow anyone to put anything on your body, and be extremely wary of accepting anything for free unless there is a good reason for it. Especially in very touristy areas. Ignore them and keep walking.

Spills On Your Clothing

Common in Europe, a traveler will be walking down the street and feel something plop on their shoulder — often times bird poop or a fast-food condiment. Then, a friendly stranger approaches and begins to wipe off the offending mess while plucking your wallet from your pocket or purse.

My Experience:

This has never happened to me.

How To Avoid It:

The best thing to do in situations like this is to not allow someone to help you. Instead, go to a restroom and clean the mess off yourself.

Police Officer Travel Scam

These Guys Look Totally Legit

Fake Police Officers

The fake police officer scam is a popular one in many large cities. Most often, a person will approach a tourist and offer illicit items, like drugs. While conversing one or two other people will approach, appearing to be police officers and flashing “badges.” They will then insist the unknowing traveler hand over their passport and wallet. However, they are not police officers.

My Experience:

This has never happened to me.

How To Avoid It:

Never hand over your wallet or passport. Request they show you their identification and then inform them you will call the police to confirm they are who they say they are. Or tell them your passport is locked up in the hotel safe, and they’ll need to accompany you to your hotel. If they don’t allow this, simply walk away.

Attraction Is Closed

A common travel scam in major tourist areas, some friendly local (who just happens to speak excellent English) will approach and inform you that the attraction you want to visit is closed for any number of reasons (religious ceremony, holiday, etc.). Then they’ll guide you to a different attraction or shop where you’re pressured to purchase something or pay a lot for entry.

My Experience:

At a busy public square in Mexico, a local man began asking about my travels in perfect English. He then proceeded to tell me the town’s famous hammock shop was closed, but he knew of another nearby. I thanked him but ignored the advice and found the original shop open.

How To Avoid It:

Instead of taking the local’s word, head to the ticket counter or shop and see for yourself. Or ask someone else nearby for confirmation.

Friendly ATM Helper

Someone approaches at an ATM cash machine to help you avoid local bank fees. What they really want to do is scan your ATM card with the card skimmer in their pocket and watch you enter your pin number so they can drain your account later.

My Experience:

I’m embarrassed to say I almost fell for this scam in South Africa. One man was the helpful local, the second pretended to be a fellow customer waiting in line who agreed with what the first was saying. When the first guy canceled my transaction and told me to try it again, I realized what was happening, grabbed my card and walked away.

How To Avoid It:

Never let anyone near you while you’re making an ATM transaction, and ALWAYS cover the number pad with your other hand while entering your pin code. If someone approaches, take your card and find another ATM.

Injured Or Child Beggars

Usually deaf, blind, or pregnant, sometimes accompanied by a “helper”, beggars will ask you for money. Women with babies are common (they might not even be theirs). Children are also frequently used by begging gangs to collect money. Why? Because it’s difficult for most people to say no to the old, injured, or young. Sometimes an accomplice nearby is just watching to see where you keep your wallet so they can pickpocket you later.

My Experience:

You’ll see this stuff almost everywhere.

How To Avoid It:

It’s practically impossible to distinguish who is legit and who is not, so my policy is to never give cash to street beggars. However I do buy food or giveaway old clothes to them. Then your money isn’t going to a gang.

Group Photo Offer

While hanging out in a busy tourist location or landmark, a local offers to take a group photo of you and your friends. As you’re getting ready to pose for your awesome new Facebook jumping shot, you look up and realize your new friend has completely disappeared. With your expensive camera.

My Experience:

I’ve never fallen for this scam, but I’ve had a few people try. In fact one guy tried last week in the middle of Dublin. He was pretty shady (and possibly high), so I told him thanks but I’m good.

How To Avoid It:

This one is tough, you really need to read the situation. I’ve happily handed my $3000 camera over to other people for a group photo. But it’s almost always me asking them for the favor, not them offering out of the blue. Busy city attractions are the most risky places for this. If you have to, ask fellow tourists instead and return the favor for them.

Fake WiFi Hubs

While you can find WiFi almost anywhere these days, some of those free unlocked connections might be dangerous. Hackers will set up tempting unsecured wifi hotspots in public locations that unsuspecting victims eagerly connect to — giving the thief access to your computer, passwords, online accounts, and more.

My Experience:

I’ve never fallen for this scam, as far as I know.

How To Avoid It:

Always ask the hotel/coffee shop/airport staff which wifi connection is the official one. Especially when you see a tempting unlocked connection. To encrypt all your online activity, use a VPN, or virtual private network. I use one called ZenMate.

Bike Rental Travel Scam

Be Careful Renting Motorbikes

Motorbike Rental Damage

After you rent a moped or scooter, it gets damaged (or even stolen) overnight. The owner will demand additional payment or expensive repairs as compensation. What you don’t know is that it was the owner or his friends who caused the damage or stole the bike from you.

My Experience:

This happened to me in the Philippines. My motorbike seat cushion was slashed with a knife for no apparent reason, and the rental guy insisted I buy a new seat cover. I’m still not sure if it was a scam or if it was random, as the repair was pretty cheap.

How To Avoid It:

Take photos of the bike first to document previous damage. Use your own lock, not one provided by the rental guy (who may have a 2nd set of keys). Don’t tell the company where you’re really staying, and make sure there’s a safe place to leave the bike overnight. If damage does occur, take it to a repair shop recommended by someone other than the bike’s owner.

Fake Bus/Train/Plane Tickets

Someone offers to sell you train tickets at a discount, or avoid the line and pay a slightly higher price. Maybe a taxi driver offers to bring you to his friend who’s a local travel agent. However the tickets they are selling aren’t real, and by the time you figure it out, the scammers are gone with your money.

My Experience:

I’ve had a cab driver offer to take me to his travel agent friend. I told him I already had tickets.

How To Avoid It:

Always buy transportation tickets from the official ticket office or website.

Gemstone Or Carpet Deals

A local man casually brings up his lucrative side business of buying jewelry, gemstones, watches or carpets then selling them back in the United States (or some other country) for a fat profit. He offers to share how he does it, and shows you where to find the best deal. The only problem is that these products are fake.

My Experience:

This has never happened to me.

How To Avoid It:

Don’t buy expensive luxury items overseas while on vacation, no matter how good the deal is. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a travel scam.

Fake Hotel Wakeup Call

While staying at a hotel, you get a call from the front desk in the middle of the night to confirm your credit card details. Only it isn’t the front desk calling, it’s a scammer who will drain your accounts when he makes a copy of your card using the details you give him over the phone.

My Experience:

This has never happened to me.

How To Avoid It:

Never give out credit card details over the phone. Go down to the front desk in person the next morning if there is a problem.

Flirtatious Local Women

You arrive to a new country only to discover that beautiful local women seem to pay much more attention to you than back home. One of them invites you out to a nightclub or bar. However after a wild night, the woman disappears and you’re forced to pay an overpriced bill. Or worse, drugged and robbed.

My Experience:

I’ve had a version of this happen to me. Only it was hookers in Panama who attempted to get my attention. When I ignored them, they managed to steal the laptop from my backpack when I wasn’t looking.

How To Avoid It:

Be wary of attractive women who are unusually forward or hitting on you aggressively. I know it is every man’s dream to be propositioned by beautiful women, but if it’s not a normal occurrence for you, then it’s probably a scam.

Travel Scammers Suck!

The truth is that no matter how prepared you think you are, you’ll eventually fall for some sort of travel scam. But don’t let this deter you from traveling the world. Think of it as a rite of passage.

Sure, it’s embarrassing to be tricked out of your money, but there are always worse things that could happen. It’s just a learning experience. At least that’s how I look at it! ★

Traveling Somewhere Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

READ NEXT: How To Find Cheap Flights

Have any questions about travel scams? Have you ever been a victim? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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Shady people love to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. It's easy to become a victim. These are the most common travel scams around the world.

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85 Comments

  1. There are two kinds of people at the train station in Rome, tourists and scam artists. If you are approached in said train station by someone you don’t know, they are by definition a scam artist. Even with this robust knowledge, I was scammed by a guy claiming to work for the train company along the platform (train to the airport, so you buy individual tickets at the tabacchi) – he looked official, had a badge, etc. Wife said I was supposed to give our tickets to him before we boarded the train – I was in a hurry, messing with luggage, etc., so I unwittingly complied, though every idiot knows you give your ticket to the conductor on the train after you’ve left. Scammer resells the tickets to someone else while you end up fighting in broken Italian with the ticket collector and maybe paying a fine. If you argue long enough, conductor might get exhausted and just leave to make sure he punches everyone else’s tickets (which I did).

  2. Gave money to Frank yesterday at Florence Airport. 6ft tall blonde blue eyes sobbing German, his jacket was stolen with all his documents and wallet. Great actor, would definately earn more in the movies.

  3. Good article. Recently did a 12 month round three continent trip and was subject to three of these. First, at the bus station in Santiago Chile was the classic mustard/bird poo with the friendly local who offered to help clean us. Thankfully I told her to do one (not because I was aware of the scam but because she was really pushy and irritating). After that, 9 months into the scam free trip we were probably starting to feel like we were immune to all these troubles. ..and then we went to Bangkok. **Sigh**. 2 scams in 2 days. First, outside the grand palace, we asked a tuk tuk to take us to the floating market. He took us to a bogus tour operator down a side alley who then said that we need to take one of his boats to access the market. And we listen to him **sigh**. 900B (£20) for a 50 minute loop round a trash filled canal where the only thing the tour guide pointed out was a lizard. And the floating market? – one guy in a little boat selling overpriced generic tourist tat. They also short changed us and dropped us off away from where we boarded. We had to walk back and argue for our change back. Funny thing is by making us walk back for our change we were able to stop some groups of tourists about to fall for the same bs, which the scammers were pretty angry about. Small victory but it’s comforting knowing that scamming us actually cost them significantly more than they gained from us. So we left pretty annoyed and made a pledge not to get scammed again. Next day. BOOM. I end up paying 12000B (£280) for a knock off suit I had no intention of buying when I woke up that day and is probably worth a third of that price. It was the age old ‘grand palace is closed’ scam including the whole entourage of impartial friendly locals who feed you snippets of information to influence you into buying a suit. ITS VERY CONVINCING, trust me. It was only when I got back to the hotel and sat down that it started to click what had happened. A quick google search confirmed that I had been scammed. But have I though? I mean I ordered a knock off suit and I got a knock off suit. Yes, obviously it is a scam. There’s even a Wikipedia page for it. But I got something for my money which is my point. Something I asked for and at a price I agreed to pay. And the lesson this has given me is invaluable, and I’m sure my resulting change in attitude saved me from further scams in SE Asia and will continue to save me in future. I consider it a lucky escape. I have proven I was (and I’m sure still am) susceptible to scams so thankfully it wasn’t one of the worse ones. I’ll take your viewpoint and consider it a right of passage : )

    Oh and just like with the scumbag boat scammers, when I saw some other punk pulling the ‘grand palace is closed’ scam on another bunch of unsuspecting tourists the next I again stepped in. Told them the grand palace is definitely open. The guys thanked me and walked away. Then the seedy little scammer got angry and repeatedly threatened to fight me. Having read ‘keeping face’ is important in Thai culture I calmly stood there and asked what his problem was, as I was only passing on friendly advice. All he kept shouting was that he was going to fight me. I was stood right in front of him for long enough, it was going nowhere so I just turned and walked away. He then started screaming (I mean really screaming, in that high pitched quite comical thai accent) that he was going to kill me and I was going to die. Whatever, he just proved he was a bottle job seconds began so I didn’t even turn around. looking back seeing this grown ‘man’ break down like a little girl just because I called him out on his bs feels really satisfying. In fact, it even makes me laugh a little.

  4. Great article! Thanks :)
    Be careful in Bali, the 10,000rp & 100,000rp notes are the same colour. Alot of the shops will have more than one person at the register. One will ring up the total and the other will distract you while the first swaps the notes. They will politely let you know that you haven’t given them enough money and you will need hand over more. Twice this happened to me, the first I didn’t even notice…then I got wise!

  5. It’s a common scam in Beijing that some local will try to speak English with you later offer to have a meal in a restaurant there. I refused so don’t know what was their intention there :)

    In Bangkok having taxi driver agreed to go on meter is so struggling. Almost 98% drivers refuse when they see a foreigner. I got one agreed but he claimed main road has huge traffic Jam so need to take alternative a rout to avoid the rush. Later found that’s just to hike my fair.

    In Malaysia my 5 RM Grab fair took 30 RM when took receipt Taxi. Also be careful of Tamil drivers they always look for a foreigner to make their money.

  6. At the gas station in Mexico kept taking and giving us money till we didn’t whats ours and his anymore. He was especially talkative and fun the whole time before that. We ended up paying 50 pesos (2$) more than we were supposed to.
    Summary: count your money extremely carefully and know what you gave the guy. Say the numbers out loud when you give him money..

    1. Thanks for sharing Gerald! Yes the gas station attendants in Mexico are notorious for this crap. They’ll also say you gave them 50 or 100 pesos instead of 500. Counting out loud is important.

  7. Some of the mentioned scams can be scary especially those fake police officers with gun while few would be emotionally blackmailing such as persuading you to give money for charity.

  8. I almost lost my passport, wallet and a backpack full of electronics (camera, lenses, laptop) to the “Spill on Clothing” scam as I was exiting Trastevere Station in Rome.

    Watch out. The gypsies in Rome are very active.

    Fortunately, I was able to run the guy down when he grabbed my backpack. If you do have to get after somebody, DON’T GIVE UP. If you can get close to them, they will drop your stuff and run off. In my experience, the scammers in Europe tend to be very strategic and use multi-person teams, but they aren’t violent.

  9. I find this article very helpful, thank you!
    A popular scam in Berlin is to ask people who are sitting in a cefé or restaurant for directions and placing a map on the table. While people are ditracted giving directions, the person then steals briefcases or cell phones that are lying on the table from unterneath the map.

  10. Ready for some unwanted sightseeing? A Nellis Cab Co. driver takes us on a long, long ride – 35 minutes – from the McCarron Airport to Sam’s Town Hotel & Gambling Hall, our destination. Welcome to excuses, speeding, erratic driving, and a blatant scamming of unsuspecting tourists. This is what Las Vegas long hauling looks and sounds like.

  11. Hi Matt, thanks for sharing this list! Very useful!

    Maybe just to share another really common scam, one which is especially so in Mexico but really anywhere else. There are street vendors/service providers such as taxi driver who would swap notes instantly. i.e. you pass a 500 peso note to a driver, he turns, swaps it to a 50 peso note and demand for another 450! Because you don’t face this often, you get stunned for a moment as self doubt eats into you. Most people can’t remember for sure how much they gave as the vendor/service provider starts putting pressure on you.

    To avoid this problem, try to keep and always pay in small change. Also be aware of how much is given.

    1. Thanks for the tip David! This one happened to me recently here in Mexico too. Gas station attendants are notorious for it. Another thing you can try is to actually speak out loud the denomination you are handing over as you do it. “Here is 200 pesos”.

  12. Was told by a taxi driver in Bangkok that the temple we were going to was “closed today” but luckily we had been prepped by somebody who told us that this is a common scam to try and take you somewhere else. The temples are open every day.

  13. These are very creative! When visiting the grand palace in Bangkok, you will definitely be told it is closed by people wearing the same uniform as the people working inside the ticket office, which is very clearly open.
    When I moved to Bangkok with a lot of luggage (2 bags) I refused a taxi without a meter and got one a long time later who final agreed to meter, and it ended up being the same price! Other times I have been quoted 3-4 times the actual value of the ride, even if I speak Thai to them.
    In Thailand it is illegal to not use the meter so if I am in the cab and they refuse, I take a picture of their name card, and get out. Might scare them into trying that again.
    Xo Kelly

  14. Hi,
    I would like to share a scam I have only seen in New York. It happened twice to me, and I almost fell for it.
    While crossing a street or walking on a street, a stranger “accidently” bumps into you. Next second you hear something that falls on the ground. You turn around and a pair of glasses are laying down. Immediately the guy starts to complain that you broke his glasses by accident (one of the glasses has a light dent) and that he s in such trouble because he has an exam tomorrow and he cant attend the exam anymore.
    Of course, he asks you for a bit of money so he can repare his glasses …
    Dont fall for this scam ! he tries to make you feel guilty …

  15. Some great stuff here.

    In China, one is the tea ceremony scam… A local person asks if they can walk with you to practice their English, then gains your trust, finally asking if you would join them for a tea ceremony. Once you’re in the tiny shop where no one knows where you are, it works out to about $100 for 9 thimbles of tea.

    In Istanbul, shoe shine men carry their boxes on long straps on their shoulders. A brush hangs on a small pin on the back. If you are following them or passing them, they take a bit longer step and knock the brush off, which you pick up and call to them. They are very thankful, offer to give you a shoe shine as reward, then try to charge you 3 or 4 times the going rate for your ‘reward’. Fortunately, I needed the shine anyway and offered only the going rate.

    Also watch for aggressive pickpockets and taxi scams in Istanbul as well as the “join me at my friend’s nightclub” scam.

    I was approached in Paris with the “gold ring” scam 3 times within an hour… must have been spring training day!

  16. In addition to the scams in stores, when we were in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico while paying for a few items another person takes the stuff from the counter in front of you and puts it in the bag with his back turned to you. Of course not all of your purchases make it into the bag, so make sure you check the bag before leaving, or make them bag it in front of you.
    Another one that is very hard to avoid; while taking a boat from Vietnam to Cambodia down the Mekong as we approaced Cambodia the people on the boat got us to give them our passports and $25USD each so they could go ahead to the border (we dropped a guy off where a motorbike was waiting) so they could expediate our passage through the border inspection. They didn’t take no for an answer, a young couple tried. Of course we got to the border and there where no others going through at that time, so there was no need to “expediate” the process. The border guard had a pretty nice car beside the guard hut, so he was getting part of the “fee”. It was a real border, with a bit of scam on the side. Its a great boat trip to Phnom Phen so if you don’t mind the fee you should still go.
    In Thailand they always want you to stuff money into the statues or baskets, or taking something they give you into a temple where you are expected to donate as well. Its “good luck” they say. Maybe for them but not for you.
    In Bangkok we took the train to go to the Vietnam consulate to get a tourist visa. As soon as we got to street level from the train station there is a guy there that tells you (after a bit of conversation) it will take a week to get your visa if you go to the official consolate and he can get it for you today. You just take a taxi to his friends travel store and they will take care of it for an extra fee. We declined and went to the consolate anyway. We got the visa on the spot, so everything he said was bullshit. Who knows where we would have ended up if we took him up on it. They know the only reason tourists get off at that station is for the consulate, so it takes very little time before he gets to the scam.

  17. Priceless tips! (excuse the pun)

    I’m looking to go travelling with my hubby next year so thought I would start swotting up now to avoid any problems on our trip!

    Whilst reading all the insane lengths people go to scam tourists, I thought oh my god I was almost a victim of one in Turkey! Bear with while I give you a step by step, blow by blow, blog style account of my experience.
    I went to a bazaar of shops filled with fake goods such as fake designer bags, purses, belts, shoes, etc. “Genuine fakes.” Hhmm righhht okay. So I thought I would get into the spirit of bargaining for a pretty white handbag. As I was with a bunch of my cousins we had a laugh trying to get the price down with much back and forth gaiety. When the friendly shopkeeper wouldn’t budge to my final price I said nevermind then and walked out. After half hour we casually passed the shop and the shopkeeper waved us over telling me he concedes to my final price and how I’m such a clever cheeky lady! He said he’ll pack the bag up for me right away. Cool. His assistant kept us in conversation whilst we waited. I gave the agreed amount to the owner, he said thank you with a huge smile and we walked to the exit. As with all purchases that I make I subconsiously opened the bag and took a glance. It was wrapped in a thin white crisp tissue paper. Nice touch I thought……..ohhh but wait! Lo and freaking behold my trained and suspicious eyes picked up that the white bag looked slightly different through the paper! I opened the paper and found indeed this was a near identical bag but not only that..horrifyingly it looked like someone had been playing a full game of English football with it! What the fudge! I was so enraged I flipped around and said to the owner in a highly assertive and accusatory tone (to the shock and amusement of my cousins) that not only am I bloody cheeky but so is he for putting in the wrong damn bag! He feigned complete surprise and stupidity. Of course. He then ‘found’ the original bag and wrapped it while I hovered over him like a hawk! Lol. My cousins said they would never have realised to look at the purchase and bloody well done.

    Thanks for reading and check all of your purchases before leaving the shop! :)

  18. Great article! I’m from New York so I’m pretty wary of scams but to my dismay my dad accepted a flower from a lady in London who then said he had to donate 10 pounds to the charity (nonexistent of course) she then gave me a flower and demanded another 10 pounds. I wanted to just hand it back and leave quickly but my dad pulled out another 10 pounds…definitely learned my lesson about warning the people I’m traveling with and also to just stick up for myself! I actually found this article while googling the scam to confirm it was definitely a scam because it kept bothering me! Like you said though. It’s a learning experience and I’ll try to make peace with the loss of twenty pounds (more than $40 in the US sadly)

  19. I just remembered a scam I didn’t fall for. When paying for a purchase at a street market in Spain with an almost brand new 50 Euro note, the seller started looking critically at it and casting aspersions as to its validity, claiming it must be false. After a little discussion back and forth (I had just got if from an ATM), he started to get out his own billfold to compare. It was at this point I very loudly demanded to get my own back. While it was the only note in his hand!! I would probably have got back a “real” fake one if I hadn’t picked up on what was going on. He might also have underestimated me as I am a middle aged woman and was very obviously a Scandinavian tourist. Otherwise he should have been much quicker about getting out his own notes. (PS. In Spain be prepared to have all your notes checked in a small machine at stores.)

  20. Great subject! Almost everywhere there are people trying to trick tourists with travel scams. I can mention one I almost fell for in Paris. I was waiting in line for a cup of coffee when I was approached by a woman allegedly from some kind of blind society, and of course who doesn’t wanna be nice to blind people, she wanted me to sign a petition and as I did she told me it cost 25 euros! At that point I told her no only because I had no more money, and felt kind of guilty. Later we saw in the news in our home country (Denmark) that this blind society doesn’t exist and it was a hustle to get stupid tourists to pay up! God am I glad I was out of cash!

  21. Thanks for such a highly informative post. Before we went to Europe two years ago we did a lot of research about the travel scams. All quite clever and designed to momentarily distract you. Fortunately, we did not encounter any scams, though we did observe several scammers looking for their next victim. The best tip we learned was to walk with authority as if you know where you are going and to always remain situation-ally aware about people who are near you.

  22. Another travel scam also relates to taxis is the “fake taxi” travel scam. Fake taxi cars are waiting for tourists at airports and train stration (foreigners only) and then they charge double or even more for a ride, than the actual price. This happens a lot in Bucharest and I always tell my friends who come to visit it, to ask a few taxi drivers what they charge for a ride, so that they don’t end up in a fake taxi.

  23. Those are some cleaver scams and fortunately those never happened to me yet and thanks for sharing your view of those. I have been traveling for over 10 years and now with my babies for four years. I guess it wood be hard to get scammed when you travel with two toddlers and a wife. We are pretty careful and hope this will last and not get scammed.

  24. Great List Matt! Very informative!
    I actually got scammed of in Vietnam! It was my first day in another country and I thought I would start the day off by going for a walk around Saigon. After walking down the street from my hotel I got pulled acide by a guy on a motorcycle. He struck up conversation asking where I was from and what I was doing in Vietnam after a short chat he offered me a tour around the streets for $150,000 Dong ($9.60US). He pulled out a book with notes from other travelers who all recommend his “tour”. I thought why not and jumped on the back of his bike, he took me to various locations around Saigon like the palace and war museum. After about 50 minutes on the back of the bike I asked to be dropped off where he picked me up. He pulled over and then sat me down and showed me on his gold Rolex that he had been driving me around for two hours and wanted me to pay 900,000 Dong($40.63US) It was definitely not 2 hours and not even one hour. I handed over 700,000 and walked away knowing that I had been ripped off. It did teach me a life lesson, to be more cautious and to take my time before rushing into things.

  25. I always love reading these for some reason…I find scams interesting (though very scary!) Fortunately no real scam has ever happened to me, though in Rome, men will come up and offer you a rose and say “a gift!” Then, they will pester whoever you’re with to pay for it! In this case, it was my mom! We just tossed the rose back and high-tailed away hahaha

  26. Fantastic and very accurate as far as scams happening right now. We just finished travelling through Ethiopia over the last month and my god are there a lot going on there. Everything from fake travel brokers, to textbook scams to tour booking scams. We’ve fallen for a few in our travels, one was in Vietnam and it was the hyper inflated taxi meter and another was the “come see my monastery” bit in Myanmar. Thanks for sharing this.

  27. Good tips… The broken meters and the beggar gangs are a dead giveaway.
    The other tips are great for travellers who trust too much.
    Its better to ask for help (if you really need to) rather than accept ‘free’ help in an unknown place.
    Cheers.

  28. This happened a couple of years ago to a friend who was visiting Florence: she walked by a fruit stand where there was a display of beautiful, delicious-looking oranges. She picked out a half dozen oranges and placed them in an opaque shopping bag she’d brought with her, then handed them to the person standing behind the display to pay for them. Another person, a friendly old woman, engaged her in conversation while the stand operator was ostensibly weighing the oranges. My friend then paid for the oranges and brought them back to her hotel room—where she discovered her lovely oranges had been replaced with rotten fruit. She asked the concierge for help; the concierge called the police, and they walked back to the fruit stand. The owner—not the person who weighed the oranges—denied he’d ever seen my friend before, and besides, my friend had no proof she had bought the oranges from him. (True, she hadn’t gotten a paper receipt for the purchase.) My friend spoke no Italian, so the conversation between police and the stand owner went over her head: but in the end, my friend came out of the experience short of cash and with a pound of rotten oranges.

    Here in the US, at JFK Airport no less, there are guys dressed like Skycaps who will ask you as you approach the cab stand and ask if you are looking for a taxi. They look very official and carry walkie talkies, and they do call someone to pick you up at the waiting area. In my case, a black SUV pulled up and took me to my destination. I should have been alarmed by the lack of a meter inside the vehicle, though the “skycap” told me the ride would be $40 in cash. I did make sure the driver knew that I had already been told the price of the ride, which was important, since he got lost in Midtown and we drove in circles for 20 minutes. I was insanely lucky nothing else happened—I can think of a number of scenarios where this could have turned out very badly. But always go straight to the official queue for the cab stand at JFK, and if anyone offers to call you a taxi or give you a ride, tell them “No thanks!”

    1. Black cabs do exist in NYC but they are not supposed to take street hails. It is very possible that this guy actually worked for a legit company but since they cant take street hails it was basically the loophole that you are calling for the cab instead of hailing one in this situation. I dont know for sure on that last part though as Ive never taken a cab from the airport and dont know the nitty-gritty details of this law.

      I would say always check that the licence plate says T&LC on the bottom of it and negotiate the price in advance. With those two steps its pretty hard to go wrong (Unless the price you negotiate happens to be too high, something that is pretty likely, so you can always use the internet to try and figure out what a yellow cab or an Uber would cost first).

      I know you wrote this a year ago and your experience might have been years before that but at this time the flat-rate fee for traveling between JFK is as follows (taken from panynj.gov): “Taxis at JFK Airport charge a flat fare of $52 for trips between the airport and Manhattan. Taxis impose a $4.50 surcharge during peak hours (4-8 p.m. weekdays, excluding holidays), for a fare of $56.50.”

      Based on that and assuming that your story wasnt too many years ago it sounds like you didnt get ripped off at all and in fact might have saved money. Your cab driver probably was genuinely lost since he knew he wasnt getting more out of you than the agreed upon price (which is why its important that you let him know you knew the price in advance, just in case).

      Oh and one more thing, its been awhile since Ive been in a black cab, but from what I remember they actually dont have meters in them. You are supposed to get a flat rate price with them, usually something you ask over the phone when calling.

      Your friendly New Yorker :D

  29. It seems the taxi meter is broke scam only occurs at the airport, bus stations, and major tourist locations. To avoid this one I sometimes walk about two or three blocks away and then hail a cab. This usually always works. Have to be careful though because you don’t want to walk into a dangerous section of town, but you can always back track if it fails. Great tips.

  30. One that became very threatening for me was in Varanasi at the main burning ghat. Everyone stands around watching the spectacle from washing the body in the Ganges, laying the body on the wood pyre, dressing it, the cremation itself and the watching the cattle and dogs pick through the remains. Inevitably a fellow stands beside you waiting for the inevitable questions that everyone has. Don’t ask any! If you do, he will demand money for the information saying that it is to buy wood for the poor waiting to die in the nearby hospice (dying in Varanasi liberates one from the cycle of life and death so thousands come here to die). The money goes straight into his pocket and never to the hospice. When I refused (i mistakenly asked one simple question), he became very angry and pursued me down the ghat, grabbing at me. It actually got a little scary as he was quite physical.
    Read about it before you go and don’t open your mouth.

  31. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for sharing. Most of these sounds so familiar in India (Where I come from). Especially the one with the child beggars. It is so common and sadly the money that they collect, doesn’t even go to them as it is a huge racket and they are just a medium to earn money

  32. I literally just decided this weekend that I am so tired of my 9-5 working in a cubicle daily grind of a life. I feel there has to be more out there for me, more experiences, to “find myself”. So I started googling anything and everything about quitting my job to travel. My biggest fear is that I don’t trust anyone and I wonder how anyone travels the world and survives in places they can’t even speak the language. So this article just scared the crap out of me. hahaha Anyway, I really do feel there is more to life than this so traveling would be a dream. I know it won’t be easy, especially as a female solo traveler but I know the rewards must be worth it.

    So thank you for all the tips…..and to everyone that replied with additional tips. I’m sure they will be helpful.

      1. Nah it hasn’t scared me away from traveling. But I am grateful for the heads up and WHEN I finally quit my job and travel, I’ll be more aware. Thanks. :)

      2. Hi Matthew,
        You stuck the nail on its head by pinpointing the exact essence of the whole post.

        Yeah, the mentioned scams are to be careful for our future travelling needs and they will eventually save us from the scammers as well. I fully agree with you and Cheli, I assure you that there is nothing to be actually scared about.

  33. Thanks for this post! Being a tiny Asian tourist, I’m very wary of being scammed. Here are some of my experiences:
    – Malaysia and Indonesia: Helpful men at the airport who will carry your luggage (without asking permission first) then charge you disproportionately later on. Just say no and walk away.
    – Paris: Oh, where do I begin. I love Paris to bits but I was scammed three times in 5 days. 1) I bought stamps in a tobacco shop and the lady sold me 10 stamps, claiming that’s how much I needed to send a postcard —- so that would take up the WHOLE postcard; 2) A waiter (in a moderately upscale restaurant, so we were unsuspecting!) added a meal to our bill. Heard the same waiter being asked by another table of tourists to correct the bill because there was an extra meal; 3) A little boy approached us asking for signatures for a petition; we kept on walking. Later found out that same boy had back-up who would suddenly swarm you if you stopped to sign his petition.

  34. In Egypt you will find corrupt guards that for a fee will let you go inside (and take photos) in restricted areas only to blackmail you afterwards and demanding an even higher fee! When it comes to travel scams, I think that a 10000 page essay about Egypt is not nearly enough to cover all of them (fake students inviting you to drink coffee, camel handlers that extort you after your tour, and the list goes on and on…! )

  35. Oh man, scammers make me so angry. Not because they prey on people by pretending to be good guys and then turning out to be scammers. But mostly because they take money (and respect) away from all the legitimately hard-working people out there who are honestly trying to earn a fair wage. For example, I’ve almost never gotten into a taxi outside of North America where some kind of scam wasn’t tried. So now, I always take public transport or walk instead of getting into a taxi.

    Who loses?

    The honest taxi drivers who could have earned a fee from me.

    Grrrrr.

    J

  36. Ahhh travel scams are the worst. We had a version of the taxi scam happen to us in Hanoi after getting off the overnight train from Sapa. The meter was broken and was jumping up way too fast. We ended up just throwing half the fare at him and bolting out of there.

    The problem is that I often feel like I sometimes miss out on travel opportunities and experiences with genuine locals because of the fear of scams. It’s a delicate balance!

    1. I think I caught that same taxi in Hanoi several years ago! (Or maybe it was his cousin’s in Ho Chi Minh City..) ;)

      We were watching the meter and it sky-rocketed for the distance travelled – told the drive “Stop!!”, gave him the fare (we hadn’t gone too far yet, but at that rate, it’d be expensive when we arrived at the destination), jumped out and found another cab.

      Yes, it sucks that you have to be paranoid whenever a local even talks to you..
      But we managed to do a full year RTW trip last year with only one overcharging taxi incident in Bratislava ( http://trippinforayear.blogspot.com/2014/08/rip-off-ridin.html )- where we didn’t read the fine print on the fare schedule..

  37. Haha great post Matt!

    People have tried to pull a number of these on me as well! Luckily, after traveling for a long-time you learn to spot scams easily!

    I think it is great you wrote these down to help others!

  38. Yes, it is soooo sad they attempt to scam tourists and so short term as well. A common one in Vietnam is from the street vendors offering to clean you shoes. You have to agree a price up front or it will be exorbitantly expensive. I agreed a price up front it was about $2. The trim was coming off my shoe and he glued it back on, suddenly upon completion the price had become $25. I am not sure if he thought I was an idiot about the exchange rate, but I about fell over. I just started laughing. I offered to pay the original $2 but he would have none of it. In the end he got nothing. Amazing! I am sure some people would give him the money and realise later what had happened.

  39. So many great ones in here! You really have to be on your guard don’t you?! I remember many years ago in Marrakech having a woman attack my leg with henna. I didn’t want a henna tattoo but I ended up paying her for it!!! Ever since then I’ve stuck up for myself and I’ll argue on principle, even if someone’s only trying to rip me off a few pounds.

  40. Sadly, scammers are all over and there are probably a million different travel scams. It’s definitively one of my least favorite things about traveling, especially when you don’t speak the local language well enough to argue your case.

  41. Over the course of time, I have become very wary of scams. I think Cuba has been the greatest lesson for me in this sense. Every day it was a real fight to survive all the scam attempts – so much so that the first thing I did when I got back home was to open up a blog and start writing about Cuba (that is another story though!!). I recently even wrote a post for Travel Dudes about the scams in Cuba, and how to recognize them, avoid them and react to them – similar to this actually! Scams can really ruin a trip!!

      1. Sure! Let’s see:

        “Today is my birthday” or “My father died yesterday” or anything along these lines. It is meant to induce you to feel pity, offer a drink (you’ll inevitably be taken to a cool, local place *sarcasm*), pay for the drink (perhaps double or triple of what is normally worth) and the person gets the drink and the commission.

        Another one is similar to the “very friendly person” – sees you a bit lost in the street, asks if you need help, says he can suggest a good restaurant and turns out that is about 5 times more expensive than the rest (he gets a commission). The opening line usually is “I am not like all other Cubans”.

        My favourite though is “I invite you to…” – complete the sentence with “my home, a drink” or whatever else. You will be presented with a bill – aka having to pay your meal and that of the rest of the people who joined.

  42. Haha yes the “Attraction is closed” scam…I had this when visiting the Grand palace in Thailand about 2 minutes after getting out of the taxi i was approached by a guy claiming it wasn’t open until x amount of time and it would be “better” for me to go in his tuk tuk for a tour around until it opens.

    The thing was i was right outside the grand palace when he told me this and i could see people entering and exiting it ahaha!

  43. I can relate to 2 of these scams. #1 was the the rosemary or bracelet scam. Except it was rose for my wife, in Rome. The guy said here’s a free rose for the pretty lady. We declined. He insisted. So we thanked him and took the rose. We carried on taking photos on top of the Spanish steps. After a minute or two he started asking me for money. When I politely refused and was prepared to give the rose back he got a little pushy. Which resulted in us swiftly putting the rose down and speed walking away.
    # 2 was actually my brother. And as we are from South Africa I’m surprised he fell for the atm scam. A “friendly” local tried to help him at the atm one evening. Next thing there was a split second distraction and when he turned around, the local had vanished. With my brothers card. Not 20 mins later he received a text saying money had been withdrawn from his account a few atm’s away. Luckily the bank cancelled the card and he got his money back.

    1. I’m surprised I almost fell for the ATM scam. It seems so obvious after the fact, but they were very convincing. It happened fast, and seemed natural in the moment. Who doesn’t want to avoid the ATM fee? And the other customer behind me agreed!

      Whoops. What’s worse, is my bank refunds my ATM fees anyway. LOL.

  44. Search “confidence scams” on Wiki.
    Don’t forget three card Monte, the thrown baby scam, dropped coins, gum in hair, dropped food, dropped bottle of expensive whiskey, pedestrian vs motorist scams and so many more.

  45. This is a fantastic page to have, something I will look to be building on with my own experiences, It is one of the most important aspects of travelling! Even when there’s more than one in your group they will distract your friends by having extra people speaking to them. This happened to me in Spain, they can cover it with acts of light aggression making you think you have avoided a fight as a distraction.

  46. I’ve had a great deal of this happen to me actually. Some I fell for, others not so much, but it is pretty common in the travel world (as you know very well of Matt!) lol

    The one I’d be most hesitant about is the fake police officers. Anyone carrying a gun, period, makes me super nervous…especially if they’re standing outside a major store or attraction…

  47. Don’t forget the friendly helper scam. When we were going from the very touristy, very scammy ChungKing Mansions to our new apartment in Hong Kong we had a local guy that looked like any other guy offer to help us out to get a taxi (we had large suitcases and a large box that he used his folly to help us move). We had already planned on giving him some money as a thank you even though he didn’t really give us a choice and he then said no and we were like yes, thank you, turns out it was no not enough, he wanted 40 hkd and then tried causing a scene, we ended up just getting in the taxi and leaving. Though with the ticket scam, sometimes they’re real tickets, just more expensive. During Chinese New Year we had to go to Macau to activate my work visa and I had read up on how there were plenty of ferries and how you can always buy tickets when you get there… Turns out the travel agent companies got smart and bought up all the cheap tickets to then sell back to us poor saps. It ended up costing an extra 20usd.

    1. Hey I recognise the gypsy “gold ring” from France it was tried upon us along side the river. Also a Deaf charity underneath the eiffel tower tried to create a scene after demanding £25 (I put a stop to that) The trick is to create a bigger scene, they are the wrong doers after all.

      We also experienced fake police officers in Dubai demanding our passports, this one was scary as they had guns, as luck had it we left our passports in the Hotel, they stopped us for no reason.

      Here is one that hasn’t been mentioned, we were visiting st mark’s basilica at Piazza San Marco square, venice. A young gentleman set upon us and began to ask us friendly questions like where we were from, what university we went to etc etc. As he is questioning us it becomes apparent he is cutting my silhouette out of plain paper, I explained i had no spare money which he quite aggressively stated he hadn’t asked for any (fair point). He then continued to question us and on finishing his project he said, as loud as possible, “There you go sir, as you asked for only 7 Euros!!! Are you frikkin kidding me!! -_- I politely declined his artwork yet gave him a single euro and said “for your efforts” :p

  48. I’ve travelled to over 70 countries around the globe, and thought I was savvy sharing your affront at being caught out. In Cambodia we are pretty sure we were scammed at Tonle Sap in what I can only describe as disgraceful taste. We took an overpriced boat out on to the lake and was told we could visit the floating children’s orphanage. It was customary to take rice or noodles. Rice turned out to be $60 a bag and noodles $ which seemed excessive. This was after the friendly guide had been asking lots of forward questions about our jobs and earnings. We bought noodles but on reaching the orphanage it just didn’t seem right. The kids who supposedly were being schooled there were just sat around playing, there were no teachers and the kids were in uniforms of the local school. The overpriced food was swiftly taken from us and then they tried to get us to cough up more money. At this point I just got mad and asked to be taken back, but they still weren’t finished. On the return journey they tried to get us to pay another $20 each for a dugout canoe into the mangroves, and then demanded a tip of $20 each. We didn’t pay. I would advise against visiting as we have since checked it out and it would appear to be a very unethical scam in which the whole floating village is involved.

  49. Wow! I had never heard of the “Fake Hotel Wakeup Call” I’m amazed of how creative people get to scam tourist. Recently, I went on a “free” tour in mexico, but the guide forgot to mention that an obligatory tip was needed. At the end of the trip, the guide started shouting at us with his speaker, and chasing us down the road. Thankfully, a friend of ours, who happened to be local, stepped up and told the guide that she had already given a tip on our behalf.

    1. The gambling scam happens everywhere and they’re so good they almost convince you that you could easily make money because the other people playing are too “stupid” to see which cup the die in under. There are always people playing that are in on the scam, at least 2/3, and usually more. Rule of thumb, don’t fall for anything free, nothing is free but the air and the views.

  50. This is insane! Thank you so much for this post, I never would have guessed that these things happen. Kind of scary if you think about it.