Seven Classic Travel Scams That Can Be Avoided

by Steve Gillick
Seven Classic Travel Scams That Can Be Avoided


Forewarned is forearmed. There is still some reluctance in the travel industry to detail some of the scams that can impact your clients' vacations, with the reasoning that travelers may find the news upsetting and choose to rethink their travel plans. Often citing the warnings that appear on government travel sites that "travelers should exercise normal safety precautions and ensure that personal belongings, including passports and other travel documents are secure at all times," they rationalize that this advice is sufficient. 

But many travelers are blindsided by scams. And then usually out of embarrassment that "they fell for it," they don’t report the incident to the police, the consulate, or even their travel advisor.

Here are seven classic travel scams, out of the hundreds that exist. The suggestion is to start your own list to share with your clients, should the occasion arise. Scams can occur in any destination, to men or women, and may be perpetrated by adults or children. Scams don’t discriminate.

You dropped your wallet! A man runs toward you, holding up a wallet and yelling, “Excuse me, you dropped your wallet.” You immediately frisk yourself to find where you put your wallet (coat pocket, purse, etc.). And then, relieved, you inform the person that it’s not yours. A few blocks later, you are pickpocketed.

Comment: The person holding up the wallet simply wanted to know where you kept your wallet. S/he then communicated the information to a partner who later relieved you of your money and credit cards. Bring one or two credit cards with you and enough cash for the day. Leave your wallet in the hotel safe, or if you need to take it, always keep it in a discreet place.

Say cheese. You forgot your selfie stick and you would love to have a photo of yourself standing in front of that 17th century fountain. Out of nowhere a man offers to take your photo. You give him your smartphone. He asks you to back up a bit … then a bit more … and then a bit more. In the movies, you would have already fallen into the fountain, but in reality, the man has created a comfortable distance between you and him and he now runs off with your phone.

Comment: Don’t share your valuables with people you may have known for 20 seconds (or less). 

Do unto others. You’re in the departure lounge waiting for boarding to begin. A woman asks if you will watch her luggage while she uses the restroom. She returns a few minutes later and suggests that if you would like to use the facilities, she’ll watch your bags. You agree. You return. No woman. No luggage.

Comment: You meet many people on your travels who are good Samaritans, but not everyone who offers to do you a favor has good on their mind. Watch your valuables at all times, and even better, tie them to you with a string, bungee cord or whatever works.

It’s in the bag! Usually this expression means you’ve succeeded in accomplishing something. But scam artists see "the bag," that is to say, that waist pouch that contains your wallet, passport, travel vouchers, itinerary, etc. as their own accomplishment. It happens in a second. You’re in a crowded area, someone trips into you or pushes up against you, and seconds later your waist pouch is empty. The thief used a knife to cut the bottom of your pouch, and out tumbled your valuables.

Comment: A waist pouch is a walking advertisement that "here are all my valuables, help yourself." There are many under-the-clothes money belts that can be purchased. Use the safe in the hotel to store valuables.  

Friendship bracelets. You’re taking photos in the town square when a young boy smiles and shyly shows you his colorful string bracelet. He explains that his mom gave it to him for good luck. After a bit of conversation, he asks if you would like one, too. You agree as this seems to be such a sweet, innocent gesture. He takes some colored string out of his pocket, tells you to hold out your left hand and wraps the string around your wrist. Then he says, “two will bring you twice the luck,” so you agree. He takes out a pair of scissors, explains that he will tie the string around your right wrist and then cut it in the middle, so you will have two bracelets. You hold out your right hand. He ties the string. Grabs your camera and runs off. You are left standing there with both wrists tied together. 

Comment: Always be vigilant for your safety and think of the consequences of your actions. In some countries, kids are exploited by their parents or gangs to dupe strangers into relinquishing their valuables.  

The hotel welcome. You check into the hotel and take the elevator up to your room. About 10 minutes later, you receive a phone call telling you that it’s the front desk calling, and that your credit card didn’t process properly. Would you mind returning to the front desk, or s/he can take the card information over the phone to save you the trouble. You don’t feel like going back to the lobby, so you give the person your credit card information. Several minutes later, unbeknownst to you, a $3,000 charge has been posted to your credit card.

Comment: Credit cards contain a whole slew of personal and financial information. Guard them carefully. If a hotel ever did call you about an issue, then you should go to the front desk to sort it out. A reputable hotel representative would not ask for this information over the phone.

Taxi turmoil. Disreputable taxi drivers flourish in just about every tourist destination. The tourist is in a hurry, pays the driver and waits for the change. The driver hands the tourist a bundle of folded bills and quickly drives away. The tourist then discovers s/he was short changed. Or, the driver reveals that his brother’s souvenir shop has the best prices in the city. The tourist agrees to visit, discovers that the prices are very high and then is intimidated into purchasing something before being allowed to leave the store. 

Comment: Take your time to count your change in front of the driver. And don’t fall for the “my cousin/brother/sister owns a store” routine. 

A few words about common sense: When a client asks for travel advice, the response from family, friends, and yes, even travel professionals is often, “just use your common sense and you’ll be fine.” But “common sense” is rarely defined. It means establishing rules or a "commonality” of what makes sense when you travel. The comments noted above are part of the common rules that could make the difference between a ruined vacation and a great travel experience. Be a hero to your clients by giving them some insight into safe travel practices. It’s all part of building the trust relationship that leads to return sales.

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