My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing;
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going. — Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Travel"
How to Beat European Travel Scams
A recent report by the City of London’s Police National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has revealed that visitors are falling victim to millions pf dollars worth of travel scams each year. Over a 12 month period more than 4,500 cases of travel fraud were reported.
Whether you’re distracted by pick-pocketers or fooled by bogus websites, there are a number of popular scams that catch tourists from all over the world.
However, there’s no reason to let this put you off booking or taking a trip – many of these scams are easily avoided by being extra vigilant and especially careful with your belongings and surroundings when on vacation or when traveling.
To help you stay in the know, here are some of the world’s most popular tourist scams, along with advice on how to beat them:
A distracting splat
This popular scam has claimed victims all over the world. A traveler may feel a wet splat on their shoulders, head or back – usually mustard, mayonnaise or some kind of other substance that’s sure to feel sticky and unpleasant. “Concerned” passers-by will offer to help you, potentially relieving you of your bag or valuables at the same time. This is a classic distraction, and similar tactics can involve anything that might suddenly distract you from your bag or pockets.
How to beat the scammers: Try not to get fazed if you find yourself dolloped with sticky goo, and politely, but firmly, refuse the help of anyone in the vicinity. Don’t take off your bag until you have moved to a quieter area out of site of the potential scammers. Also, keep money and other valuables tucked away in a money belt under your clothes rather than in your pockets so they cannot be easily reached.
Fake police officers
This trick involves presumed authority figures such as police officers approaching unsuspecting tourists, giving them sudden and unfair fines for small infractions that may not even exist in that country, like putting out a cigarette on the street. These figures are often impersonators who pocket the cash or even worse, take tourist's details to be used for fraudulent activity later on. Similarly they may pull you over to "check" your car, robbing you in the process.
How to beat the scammers: Always ask for identification when approached by these kinds of authority figures. If in doubt, call the local police station to confirm whether they are legitimate.
Scams can strike before you’ve even left home – often at the early booking stage of your trip. Websites advertising private accommodations may look legitimate, but many travelers have been left stranded when they’ve arrived at their destination to find out that their holiday home doesn’t even exist. Not only are you left out of pocket for the money you’ve paid, but you also then need to fork out cash for more accommodations.
How to beat the scammers: Make sure to check for reviews when possible – don’t just rely on testimonials on the site. If other consumers have had problems or have been the victim of fraud, then it’s likely they’ll have posted details about their experiences online. Also check that the accommodation provider has the relevant credentials (like being registered with a legitimate travel assocation) to ensure that they’re legitimate.
Wrong cash notes
This generally tends to take place in taxis, especially at night and often driving from airports to hotels. When it comes time to pay, you hand over say, a $20 bill – and the driver takes it from you, before turning around with a smaller note, implying it was the one you originally gave him and that you’d only, in fact, handed over $5. It’s likely that the cabbie simply switched the notes and is preying on jet-lagged tourists who are too tired to be sure of what they handed over.
How to beat the scammers: Make sure to say out loud how much you are handing to your taxi driver as you pass it over. Ensure that both you and your driver have seen the note clearly so that there is no confusion.
Gifts from strangers
Your parents may have taught you never to accept gifts from strangers, and that still stands when you’re exploring a tourist destination. Examples of this scam include charming locals placing friendship bracelets on your wrist or souvenir gifts in your hand without your permission and then refusing to leave you alone until you have given them money. If a tourist refuses to pay up, they may get angry or bothersome, causing distress until the weary traveler simply hands over their cash.
How to beat the scammers: Be vigilant with strangers bearing gifts and don’t take anything from them. If they do manage to give you a bracelet or unwanted souvenir, simply ask them to remove it or take the item back before you call the police.
Not enough change
Another popular taxi driver scam is simple but extremely frustrating for visitors, particularly when just arriving at the airport. The driver will wait until you hand over cash to pay and will inform you that they don’t have any change. It’s fairly likely that if they’re taking you from the airport, you will only have larger notes available and they will be able to pocket the difference.
How to beat the scammers: If this happens to you, stand your ground – ask them to change the note in a nearby shop, cafe or even in your hotel.
Gold ring trick
A trick that has been witnessed all over Europe involves a local scammer discovering a "gold" ring or valuable on the floor and sharing their excitement with a nearby tourist. They then offer to sell the ring to the tourist in the hope that the visitor will want to make money by selling it. Of course the ring turns out to be worthless, and the tourist ends up out of pocket.
How to beat the scammers: Here they are just appealing to greed, hoping that you will be looking to make some extra cash. Just walk away and don’t let them convince you otherwise.
Fake Airline Tickets
Bogus flight tickets account for around one-fifth of travel scams. These scam artists often claim to sell tickets on behalf of well-known airlines, but are in fact unauthorized to do so. These scammers have been known to target travelers by advertising on social networks like Facebook and then using the consumer's details to pocket the money and even commit identity fraud.
How to beat the scammers: If a cheap fare looks too good to be true, it's likely that it is, particularly when advertised through an unknown third party. Never send money or give out bank details online - if possible always pay with a credit card so you claim back lost money if necessary.
Find out more
To find out more about travel scams and what to do if you’ve been a victim, check out this guide to avoiding scams when booking a holiday.