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15 Most Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

Let’s be honest, travel scams are a reality no matter where you go: from New York to Hong Kong, from South America to North America. 

You are there, just enjoying this new city. “Oh, look that building! It looks like gingerbread. Let’s take a picture of it”, you reach your camera, which you’d put in your backpack, but you can’t find it. Too late. It’s gone already.

Traveling is an excellent opportunity to relax and appreciate a new place, but that’s precisely when shady people decide to scam you. Not cool. I know!

That’s why I’ve put together a list of the 15 most common travel scams and how you can avoid them.

Even though the complete list is obviously much longer, I’m sure this post will give you a valuable heads up.

And if you want to share something that happened to you or a friend, feel free to use the comments section (and warm other travelers, too!).

Anyway, follow the tips below to get the most out of your trip, so (hopefully) you won’t have any bad experiences to share.

I genuinely hope you don’t need it, but know that you should never travel without travel insurance. I use and am very happy with Safety Wing.

Be sure to check them out because it’s definitely worth the money, which is not that much anyway.

Also, I’ve included some general travel tips that you probably already know, but it’s always good to keep them in mind.

Most Common Travel Scams

Being scammed by a taxi driver is something that almost all travelers either went through or had this happen to a friend.

That’s why “Taxi scams” deserve the first four places on this list. Unfortunately, it can not only occur when we’re on vacation but also when we’re in our hometown.  

1. Taxi scam: Taking long routes

Taxi drivers may think you don’t know the way to get to your hotel.

After all, you are a tourist and probably don’t know much about the city. So they will take extremely long routes to reach the address you gave them.

Where? Worldwide.

How to avoid it?

Google the route in advance and check it in on the map. What’s the easiest way to reach your destination?

Write down the main avenues so you can give him the directions and show that you’re familiarized with the place. Or, agree on a fixed price of the trip in advance.

Brown leather wallet with cards and money in the back pocket of a male pair of paints. #Travel #Scams
Avoid the most common travel scam in the world

2. Taxi scam: Closed or overbooked hotel

Many times taxi drives will say that the hotel you’re heading is closed or overbooked, but lucky you, he knows a place that’s open right now, and he can take you there.

Nope. That’s not true. He is just trying to get you to somewhere else where he receives some cash for taking new guests there.

Where? India.

How to avoid it?

Tell him to either take you to your hotel or stop so you can take another cab.

3. Taxi scam: Broken Taxi Meter

Needless to explain. If the taximeter isn’t working, the driver shouldn’t be on the streets offering his service, right?

Where? Worldwide.

How to avoid it?

Take another cab.

4. Taxi scam: Fake or changed bill

You’re sitting in the backseat, give the driver a $50 bill, and he takes it, but you can’t see the bill very well because it’s in front of his body.

Then he says he won’t accept a fake bill and gives it back to you. And that is a fake bill indeed, but that’s not yours.

Or he says it’s missing some money. But you gave him $50! “No, you gave me $5, look!”. Sneaky, huh? The scammer drivers are pretty fast at doing it, so watch out!

Where? Argentina.

How to avoid it?

Ask beforehand if he has change for $50, and say how much he owes you when you give him the bill. Also, sitting in a position where you can see his hands, or even better, on the front seat, won’t hurt.

White board with blue letters warning about pick pockets and loose women outside a bar. #Travel #Scams
Common travel scams

5. Flirt with local women

You, a solo male traveler, are sitting in a bar and having some drinks, then a local woman starts flirting with you. She is beautiful, and you’re on vacation, so why not?

There is indeed nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it might not be what you think.

The night goes on, and you drink together and start talking, but when the bill comes you have to pay a couple of hundred dollars, and the woman is gone.

Where? Eastern Europe and Asia.

How to avoid it?

Ask to split the bill and take a look at the menu prices before ordering anything, just to make sure.

6. Ghost follower

Don’t be paranoid, okay? But if you notice you have seen the same person a few times, it might be a scam. How?

Well, someone has been following you for a while, like an old woman with her daughter inside a museum. She’ll follow you literally to all the rooms in that museum and will continuously be texting on her phone.

She is actually texting the real “thief” with your details: if you have a camera, if you have expensive glasses, a watch, etc.

Once you’re out of the museum, the thief will approach you as soon as he has an opportunity.

Where? Brazil.

How to avoid it?

Watch your surroundings, if that’s really the case, get into a taxi right away or walk in a group.

7. Fake police officers

You’re walking through the streets of a new city, and a police officer stops you to ask for your documents.

For obvious reasons, you give it to him, but there is something wrong with it, he says. Well, apparently, he can let it go if you pay him out. No, thanks!

Where? Eastern Europe.

How to avoid it?

Ask for his badge and identification before you give him any documents.

Hands of a person of color counting a lot of money #Travel #Scams
It’s all about money, money, money…

8. ATM Scams

An old lady (very friendly, by the way) offers her help when you’re trying to withdraw some money from the ATM.

After all, you’re struggling with it because the options are confusing, or it just doesn’t have your language. Nice of her, right?

She helps you out, you get your money, and she leaves. Later on, when you look away from your bag for a second, it will disappear. Together with your wallet and cards.

And if you don’t call your bank fast enough, the scammers will empty your bank account because somehow the lady saw your PIN code.

Ps: I had this happen to a friend.

Where? Eastern Europe.

How to avoid it?

Don’t accept help from anyone and when you enter your PIN code, cover the numbers so no one can see them. Also, keep a credit card in the hotel room, so you have another way to access your money, in case you lose your money.

9. Fake Card Reader or ATM

Instead of having people approaching their victims as in the previous scam, sometimes the scammers fake the whole ATM machine surface or parts of it to try to steal your information and PIN code.

Or they even open a tiny hole in the machine so they can place a camera in the direction of the keyboard. Yeah, folks, they’re sneaky.

Where? Worldwide.

How to avoid it?

Before putting your card in the machine wiggle the card reader to make sure this is the real one.

Also, take a quick look around the whole surface. Does it have cracks? Isn’t the headphone socket precisely aligned to the opening? Then head to another machine.

And call the police (you don’t want this to happen to other people, right?).

10. Golden ring found

You’re just walking on the street or taking a picture of a beautiful place, and someone passing by bends next to you and asks if that golden ring he just found belongs to you.

Well, it doesn’t, so “no” will be your answer, of course. But then he will ask if you want it anyway, after all, it’s a golden ring. Nice, you take the ring, and that’s it.

Where is the scam then? He gave it to you but wants something in return. Now comes the moment where he asks for some kind of compensation. And insists in an intimidating way until you give it to him.

Where? France.

How to avoid it?

Don’t accept the ring. And it’s not real gold, by the way.

Many bills of dollars spread across a table #Travel #scams
Scams to avoid on vacation

11. Shell Game

In the shell game, three or more identical shells (or little cups) are placed face-down on a table or on the sidewalk, and a small ball is positioned beneath one of these containers so that it cannot be seen, then they are then shuffled by the “magician” in plain view.

After that, the players have to bet in which cup the ball is. Typically, there’s someone who gambles a lot of money on one cup. That is a bait! He wants to influence other players to bet more and more.

You might ask how this is a scam. Well, the man shuffling the cups will try to trick you using sleight of hand or removing the ball somehow, while the other is trying to raise your bet.

Where? Europe.

How to avoid it?

Don’t bet on the shell game, which is illegal in many countries.

12. Gypsy baby toss

A woman will approach you with a baby in her arms to beg for money/ food, then suddenly, she will toss her (fake) baby at you.

Desperate, you’ll try to help the poor child, of course, but in the meantime, someone else is pickpocketing you. This all happens very fast, they’re professionals.

Where? Europe.

How to avoid it?

Keep your belongings in a pocket with a zipper and the bag in front of you. Say “no, sorry” when they approach and walk away.

13. Friendship Bracelet

Someone will approach you, usually a man, and offer a thin bracelet/ string saying that it’s from the church nearby or even that it’s a gift for you.

He will tie it to your arm, and once it is done, he will ask you for money for your new souvenir. They can be intimidating and follow you around until you give them a ridiculous amount of money.

Where? This is a common scam in Spain, Italy, and France, mostly in Paris.

How to avoid it?

When someone offers you the bracelet, say firmly, “No, thank you!” and walk away.

It's a fact: there are shady people in all countries! That's why I’ve put together a list with the most common travel scams and how you can avoid them. #Europe #Tips #TravelScams #World #Vacations #News #Money #trips #summer #hotels
Female travelers: watch out for your drink!

14. Bird poop

You’re just walking around or taking a picture then suddenly a strange will begin to tap you on the shoulder saying that you have bird poop on your back.

For obvious reasons, you take your backpack off to clean yourself, and when you realize it someone ran off with your belongings already, and so did the “helpful” stranger.

There was never bird poop on you. He probably threw some mustard on you to play the whole scene.

Where? Worldwide.

How to avoid it?

If someone approaches you like this, walk away and watch out for your belongings. Then get into a restaurant and use some napkins to clean it.

15. Wrong change

Everything around you is new, you’re not really paying attention as the cashier gives the change back to you, and later on, you realize you have less money than you should have.

This is a very “safe” kind of scam to do because if the person notices it, they can apologize and say “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.” Uhum. Nice try, though.

Of course, this can be an honest mistake, I’m not a master in maths either, but now you’re not letting it happen to you.

Where? Worldwide.

How to avoid it?

Check your change in front of the cashier.

How to Avoid Travel Scams

This is a list of the most common travel scams, but there are many other ways shady people take advantage of tourists.

Above, you found how to avoid them, but I have a few more tips for you, just to make sure you won’t get robbed or anything.

  • Pickpockets are a real problem everywhere. Don’t put your new phone or wallet in the back pocket of your jeans;
  • Keep your purse in front of your body and always put your wallet in the main compartment, not in external pockets;
  • Don’t leave your belongings unattended, by that I also mean when you hang your purse on the chair or put your phone on the table. I got my backpack stolen inside a church, and it was right next to me. Again, these people are professionals!
  • Google the place in advance to check if it’s safe to walk around with your camera. In many countries, criminals approach is more violent than just pickpocketing;
  • Make friends abroad, but be cautious, especially if you’re traveling solo because people might think you’re an easy target;
  • For solo female travelers: Never. EVER. Leave. Your. Drink. Unattended. I don’t even mean to leave it on the table and go to the toilet. I mean when put it on the table and look to the other side, like in this video. If someone offers you a drink, open the bottle yourself. This is a real problem and, unfortunately, it happens quite often.

Essential items to keep you safe

Have you ever been scammed abroad? Or do you know any other scams to share with fellow travelers? Drop your experiences in the comments!

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Our best travel tips & resources:

Here're our all-time favorite travel tips & resources so that you can save money and plan your travel logistics hassle-free! For more travel resources, check out our travel tips.
  • Saving money: Fly on offseason, winter (not Xmas or NYE), Tuesday, or Wednesday! According to experts, these are the cheapest days to fly.
  • Travel insurance: Before you leave for your trip, make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy because accidents happen on the road. We have been paying for Safety Wing travel insurance for a little over a year now, and we happily recommend them to our family and friends.
  • Accommodation: We usually stay in mid-range comfy hotels or private rooms in hostels. These are the sites we use to book accommodation: for hotels (excellent flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld for hostels (low deposit and easy cancellation).
  • Tours:We absolutely love booking guided tours with locals to get a history lesson while sight-seeing, especially food tours and walking tours! We book all of our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
  • Transportation: We use Google Maps to figure out how to get around a place using public transport. When we book a rental car, we always use Discover Cars to find the best deal.