Staying safe abroad

Scams to watch out for on your travels

"There's a sucker born every minute." Though we can't be completely sure who said it, we can be sure some shady dealers try to exploit it. For many scammers trying to make a sucker out of someone, travellers and tourists can be easy targets.

Falling for a travel scam isn't something to be embarrassed about. But with our helpful hints about the most common scams to watch out for, you'll find it much easier staying safe abroad, and enjoy the world without any worries.

Travel scams

What are some common travel scams?

The broken taximeter

Some taxi drivers can spot a tourist a mile away, and might try to take advantage of your lack of local knowledge. If you get into a licensed taxi, check that the meter is running. Without a working meter, they could try and land you with an absurdly high fare at the end.

The locker key scam

Popular tourist destinations often have lockers at or near big stations – so travellers can store luggage while they explore, before travelling on.

The scam to be aware of is if somebody offers you a key to their locker. Though this might seem like goodwill between fellow travellers, you could find your locker emptied of its contents when you come back to it.

The scammer could have a duplicate key, or they'll convince you that your locker key isn't working and will demonstrate how to lock it for you. When they hand you back your key, it might not actually be the key to the locker. You think you've saved a few coins, but this scam will prove costly.

An unwanted gift

Nothing comes for free in life, not even a bit of rosemary from a fake Buddhist. People can dress as religious members, charity workers, or pretend to be deaf or blind and come up to 'gift' you something.

Whether it's a bracelet, a bit of rosemary or some other trinket, you'll be presented with it in such a manner that it's hard to refuse – scammers will play on your politeness. But once you've accepted the gift, you'll be expected to pay, and they may well cause a scene to embarrass you in to paying up quickly.

Cleaning up or cleaning you out?

Bird droppings landing on you are traditionally a sign of good luck. But not when it comes to this scam.

Some cunning individuals will pretend that something has dropped on you – like bird droppings or ketchup – and offer to help you clean up. As they clean the stains away, they'll make a fuss to distract you as they, or a friend, try to pinch any expensive belongings you might have in your bags or pockets.

The con coppers

The faux police (fauxlice?) officer scam is thought to be quite a popular one. Usually somebody will approach a tourist, offering them something illegal, like drugs. While this exchange takes place, others will approach, presenting themselves as police officers. They'll then insist the unwitting traveller hand over their passport and wallet.

Bills, bills, bills

Just like the story about a Venice restaurant presenting one unlucky group of students with an eyebrow-raising bill, some restaurants and bars will try to take advantage of tourists. Always ask for an itemised receipt – it's a legal requirement in most countries to provide one – and be sure to check if they've charged for any hidden extras.

Travel safety tips

  • Don't leave your drink unattended – A smart traveller will know to guard their drinks wherever they are in the world. If you can, keep your drink in your hand at all times.
  • Avoid 'private cars' you haven't booked yourself – The thought of beating the queue and jumping straight into a taxi might seem appealing, but you should only get in a taxi which you've ordered, or is part of an official company.
  • Keep money in different locations – Divide it between your bags, wallet and a safe. This way you'll have back-up funds if one of your bags get stolen.
  • Don't look too touristy – Checking your maps (Google or paper) and taking selfies everywhere will draw attention to yourself. Even if you do find yourself a bit lost, try and act like you know where you're going. You don't want to be mugged or led to a bad area.
  • Plan your journey out before you leave – If you plan ahead and work our where the transport stops are, you're more likely to look like a local than a confused tourist.
  • Get travel insurance – This might not stop you from being scammed, but depending on your level of cover you could be reimbursed for some money stolen or the cost of replacing your belongings.

Given the scams that are around, you still need to take reasonable steps to prevent loss, theft or damage to everything that's covered under your travel insurance. Otherwise there could be a deduction in a claim payment, or your claim may even be declined.

Lastly, do remember that many scams are in fact crimes, such as theft. Therefore if you're unlucky to be a victim, report the incident to the local police in the country where it happened as soon as possible. You'll need the crime reference number or incident report for an insurance claim.

We don't want to scare you off exploring new horizons and having a well-deserved rest, yet with some common-sense precautions you'll be able to enjoy a much more relaxing holiday.