Travel scams are everywhere. Probably even where you live or like to visit, but since you’re a local, you’re not a usual target…you can detect bullshit. It’s not until you’re in a new or unfamiliar place that the risk of becoming a victim increases. The “good news” is that the intention is to rob you, not cause physical harm. Trust me, I know this is small consolation.
Travel scams are as old as…well, travel. Tourists always stand out and make for easy marks. We want to seem friendly to those who approach us. We want to enjoy our journey, not be paranoid. But we do not want to be sitting ducks.
Basic Travel Safety
Always be prudent when you travel:
- Only carry enough in your purse or pocket to cover the day’s expenses.
- Use a crossover bag…and don’t hang it over your chair when you stop for lunch.
- Don’t keep everything in one place. Money in one pocket, phone in another, etc.
- If a friendly person, adorable child, or pleading woman approaches, do not engage.
I already told you about the new Ketchup Ploy:
Thieves coordinate efforts to swindle folks who are using an ATM or coming out of a bank by squirting ketchup or mustard on the victim. A “helper” rushes in to exclaim dismay and to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, the victim loses everything…including a clean coat.
Travel scams that are always popular:
- The Friendship Bracelet: As you stroll through your new destination, a smiling person comes up and attaches a bracelet to your or someone you’re with. Go ahead and protest, they won’t stop…and they will then demand payment for the bracelet. Do your best to ignore them and pull your wrist away. Shout “No!” to gather attention.
- The $$$ Taxi Driver: It’s not hard to detect tourists. A dishonest taxi driver will take longer routes and alter the meters. With current smartphone technology, you should be able to stop him in his tracks.
- The Dropped Wallet: As you walk past a wallet on the sidewalk, you’ll automatically check the pocket where your own wallet is, just to be sure it’s safe. This action is noted and later the pickpocket will zoom in.
- The Begging Woman: Rick Steves has a great article on this. Women with infants approach and ask for a coin. No matter the language, you figure they must be poor. Wrong. They can be aggressive, following you and demanding money. Often, they are also talented pickpockets! Step away.
What’s new in travel scams?
Over time, thieves have become more clever. they know you’re not going to fall for a suddenly-friendly person or a Roma beggar. So, they’ve upped their game. Here are some new travel scams:
- The Businessman: Dressed in a smart suit, surely this “gentleman” is not a thief. He tells you that he left his wallet in his hotel and needs just a small amount to pay for parking or whatever. When you take your own wallet out, he grabs it and runs.
- The Hotel Credit Card: There you are, sleeping peacefully, when the hotel “front desk” calls to say there is a problem with the credit card that is on file. Knowing you aren’t about to get up and go to the desk, you provide your credit card information.
- The Take-Away Menu: You come back to your hotel, completely fatigued after a day of touring. A menu has been slipped under the door, and it seems fortuitous! You call the number, make your order, give the credit card information….and wait. No delivery, but your credit card goes wild.
I know, I know. You’re a smart traveler. You’ve been around a few blocks. But it bears reminding that in a new place, you can still be vulnerable. Just be aware that there are always folks who want to make money off your goodwill and kindness.