When you’re travelling, you’ll often find yourself in unfamiliar territory. It can be confusing and even overwhelming — and local criminals know this. In fact, they use it to their advantage to catch out tourists using a selection of devious tricks. Here are 20 common cons you should look out for.
20. Bogus photographers
Where there are tourists there are inevitably cameras, so it’s no surprise that some popular scams involve taking advantage of photographers. For the first common trick, a con artist approaches the mark and offers to take their photo. However, this isn’t just a kindly gesture — they reveal afterwards that they want money for their service.
In some cases, the scammer will become tenacious in their pursuit of payment. There’s also a version of the con where the voluntary photographer will simply run off with your phone or camera. So be wary of anyone who seems overly enthusiastic to take your picture, and hold on to your camera.
19. Bump and grab
Have you ever returned from a shopping trip only to find your wallet or purse missing? Think back — do you remember colliding with someone while you were out? If so, you’ve probably been a victim of the “bump and grab,” a scam commonly found wherever crowds gather. Furthermore, tourists aren’t the only target.
For this scam, the bumper might use the collision as an excuse to pick your pocket. In other cases, several members of the crowd are working together to discreetly lift your valuables. To avoid this scam, try and keep your goods in different places and away from potentially prying hands.
18. Overly friendly locals
Meeting new people can be one of the best aspects of travel, but keep an eye out for overly friendly people. Some scammers prey on tourists’ emotions with flattery or flirtation and the promise of good company. Your enthusiastic friend only reveals the true extent of their con once they’ve gained your affections.
The new friend you’ve just made might drag you into a nearby shop and try to sell you something. They may take you out for a meal and drinks, only to run out on you when the tab arrives. Even worse scenarios are not unheard of, either. So if you feel uneasy, be polite but assertive and make your excuses to leave.
17. Street magic and games
Street performances attract crowds which, in turn, draws con artists. To begin with, there’s always the risk of pickpockets roaming around, but that’s just the beginning. Indeed, sometimes the performers themselves are part of the con, either acting as a distraction or actively scamming tourists. You needn’t look any further than the infamous shell game for an example.
It’s a classic con — the performer has three shells or cups in front of them and one conceals a ball. They shuffle the cups around and you have to guess which one contains the ball for a cash prize. You might win the rigged game initially, but you’ll be the only mug in a game of cups when your losing streak begins.
16. “Accidental” spill
If you’re ever on holiday and suddenly find yourself splattered by a drink or condiment, be alert. It could be an accident but in many cases con artists intentionally squirt tourists with liquid. How could they benefit from that? Well, it gives them an excuse to get up close and personal.
After the “accident,” an apologetic person may approach you and try to clean up the mess. However, they’re actually trying to separate you from your valuables, or they’re causing a distraction so an accomplice can. So if someone squirts you, distance yourself from them and assess the damage in a safe place.
15. Friendship bracelets
Some street sellers force “gifts” on you, such as tying friendship bracelets or prayer beads around your wrist. Initially, they seem free but hold on to your scepticism. Often the seller is actually trying to part you from your cash. By accepting this apparently free token, it gives the salesperson a chance to wring some money out of you.
But that isn’t the full extent of the con. Con artists can also try to leverage your emotions by dressing as a Buddhist monk or even posing as a disabled person. Just bear in mind that you’re under no obligation to buy anything if you don’t want to. Give the seller their wares back and deny payment if you’re not interested.
14. Fake vehicle damage
Tourists driving a car or riding a motorbike are perfect targets for various vehicle damage scams. For the first one the scammer will discreetly throw a cup of oil on your ride and claim it’s a leak. But what a coincidence — they know a garage owner nearby that can fix it… for a price.
In some cases, when rental vehicles get damaged the owners are actually in cahoots with the offenders in question. Unscrupulous rental owners sometimes arrange to have their own hired property damaged then charge extra for repairs. Use your own locks rather than the ones provided and never go to garages recommended by the rental owners themselves to avoid potential scams.
13. Found ring
Scams involving rings are quite common in Europe, where you’re approached by kindly strangers bearing bands. Supposedly, the stranger found the ring and asks if you dropped it. When you deny ownership, they then try to sell it to you, claiming the stamps on the ring prove that it’s authentic gold.
The prospect of earning a profit and the pressurized sales situation might convince you to buy the ring. However, in all likelihood it is a cheap fake, not even worth the asking price. If someone tries to sell you jewelry that they claim they found on the street, walk away. Save your cash for something genuine.
12. Goods switcheroo
When you’re buying products, don’t expect everyone you meet to be honest because some of them won’t be. The old switcheroo con is a good example of this. There are several versions of it, but they all involve a vendor showing you a high-quality item. Furthermore, they’re selling it at a bargain price.
When you get the goods back, though, you realize that you’ve been duped — it’s either a knock-off or damaged. It’s possible this was the case from the start. But sometimes vendors use distractions and sleight-of-hand to switch the offered item with a cheaper version. So always check your goods before you leave a store.
11. Counterfeit money
Tourists who are unfamiliar with the local currency should definitely keep an eye out for this con. Suspect restaurant staff and cab drivers are known to favor it and it begins when you’ve paid for your service. They then tell you that you’ve just given them fake money and ask you for a genuine payment.
Sure enough, the money they return to you is counterfeit. But that’s because they’ve just switched it for the genuine article, which they keep for themselves. The best solution here is to learn the local currency when you’re abroad. You can also change larger notes for smaller ones at banks and check your receipts carefully to avoid this scam.
10. Bogus beggars
Giving money to those in need is a noble ideal. However, there are many criminal gangs that use the kindness of tourists to their advantage. For example, some use dolls to convince passers-by they have babies. Some even throw them to surprised travellers as distractions while a nearby thief picks their pocket.
In addition, con artists aren’t above using real children, pregnant women or disabled people to further tug at your heartstrings. Sadly, giving them money rarely helps. The money is probably going to the gang’s leader and not the beggar in question. If you want to help, it’s far better to give them food or water rather than cash.
9. Wrong change
Of course, not all instances of receiving the wrong change in a transaction is a con. Nevertheless, some scammers rely on high tourist volumes to skim a little off the top when they can. As with fraudulent notes, this is another problem you can face if you don’t know the local currency.
It’s easy for a local to tell when someone is struggling with their change. That makes it easier to slip the wrong amount of coins or notes into their hands. Whenever you’re buying something, count your change before leaving the store and correct any errors you find with the cashier.
8. Survey scams
Lots of charities approach people on the streets but it can be hard to tell which ones are genuine. As a tourist you should certainly be suspicious of such instances, especially if the person is a youth. A popular scam employs young people to ask tourists if they’ll take a quick survey but it ultimately costs more than your time.
Initially, it’s only basic questions like your name and attitude to the charity the scammer claims affiliation with. However, they will soon ask you to make a donation to their cause and attempt to get your card details. If you agree, you’ll be signed up for monthly donations or hassled for money upfront if you refuse.
7. Police impersonators
Being confronted by a police officer in an unfamiliar country is an intimidating prospect. Unfortunately, scammers are all too aware of this and some impersonate law enforcement to trick tourists. The guise of authority opens several doors to criminals, but they’re only after one thing — the contents of your wallet.
Some con artists take advantage of your unfamiliarity with local laws by accusing you of crimes and fining you. Others might inform you that they’re investigating counterfeit money rackets and try to confiscate your travel documents and wallet. If you’re confronted by officers, request identification and insist on continuing the process at a police station.
6. Tuk tuk trickery
For people who don’t rent vehicles, taxi cabs or tuk tuks are often essential for travel. Yet that exposes tourists to another scam which the drivers themselves practice. By luring you in with the promise of a tour, the drivers can take you anywhere they want — which is where their partners come in.
It’s possible the cab drivers have a commission-based deal with local businesses to bring in customers. Consequently, you’re exposed to time-consuming sales pitches that eat up your day trip — assuming you ever reach your destination. Some drivers even claim their vehicle’s meter is broken. Then they charge you extra fare by taking you the longest route they can.
5. Avoid public charging stations
With useful apps, maps and a camera, smartphones are a tourist’s lifeline. But they also only last as long as their battery, which drains quickly with constant use. This, in turn, makes public charging stations an attractive proposition. You should think twice before using them though, since you could get “juice jacked.”
Modified USB ports can send viruses or malware to your phone to mine it for data. That includes your saved passwords and other sensitive information on the device. While the technology is relatively rare, it might become more commonplace in the future. Charge your phone up via wall sockets with your own charging cable and use mobile battery packs instead.
4. ATM skimmers
As convenient as ATM machines are for withdrawing much needed holiday funds, it’s not always a risk-free procedure. In fact, some thieves have access to technology they place inside the machine’s card slot. When someone subsequently uses the ATM, this device pulls the card’s bank number from it as it passes.
While actions with just a bank number are limited, the criminal usually pairs ATM skimmers with hidden cameras. Then, when you key in your PIN number, the criminal has all they need to access your bank account. With this in mind, always cover up your PIN when you use ATMs.
3. Travel voucher scams
For people who don’t want to deal with cash or cards, travel vouchers are a good alternative. Some travel companies also offer this usually digital currency in place of cash for cancelled trips. However, not all vouchers are genuine. Indeed, criminals are known to exploit the system with fraudulent vouchers and walk away with your money.
When it comes to avoiding such scams, you have to be alert when dealing with travel vouchers. Never give out voucher information to anyone who can’t prove they’re from a legitimate travel company. You should also only buy travel vouchers from trusted companies. Lastly, look out for deals too good to be true — they may be criminals dealing in stolen vouchers.
2. Watch out for public Wi-Fi
We’ve come to expect that everywhere we go has some form of free Wi-Fi. And for the most part they do but that doesn’t mean you should use it. Many places have poor protection against hackers. This, combined with access to all that juicy personal information, makes it the ideal platform for cyber criminals.
There are loads of different scams used through public Wi-Fi. However, most of them involve taking personal data from your phone to use illegally. Avoid public hotspots when you possibly can. But if it’s unavoidable, get some virus protection and don’t use any websites that require passwords.
1. Bag slasher
The bag slasher is a con artist’s pincer movement targeting people carrying bags and luggage. The first part involves quite a scary encounter with an armed cyclist. They ride by tourists and slice the straps off the target’s bag with a knife. But the worst thing you can do is pursue the criminal.
Not only is chasing after an armed stranger dangerous, you’re also falling right into their hands. You see, they generally have an accomplice who will steal any bags you leave unattended during your pursuit. Prevention is the best course of action here. Carry your money in concealed pockets and never leave your bags unattended.