September 11th, 2014
Most Notorious Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them
Travelers beware: Don’t be taken by these all-too-common scams.
When traveling to a new destination, it’s easy to lose yourself in your new surroundings. Perhaps you take a few moments to admire a beautiful cathedral in Florence, have a sip of Guinness in a Dublin pub, or watch flamenco dancers in Madrid. After all, it's important to relax a little and enjoy yourself when you're on vacation.
But if you get overly comfortable and forget to stay alert while traveling, you could become easy bait for a scam artist. Look out for these five notorious travel scams, and follow these travel safety tips so you know how to react if these travel scams occur.
1. The Front Desk Fake-out
- What it is: You receive a call in your hotel room from someone who claims to be from the hotel's front desk. The person says, "I'm having trouble processing your payment. Would you please re-read your credit card information to me?"
- Why it's trouble: This call could very likely be from a scam artist, not a person from the front desk. The scammer could take your credit card information, make lots of purchases and then leave you with the extremely high bill.
- How to avoid getting scammed: Never your give credit card information to anyone claiming to be from the front desk over the phone. Insist on dealing with any payment issues in person, because this is one of the most popular travel scams.
2. The Baby Toss
- What it is: While walking around, a woman tosses what appears to be a baby toward you. Your instinct would probably be to drop all of your bags and try to catch the baby. (This is a common scam in Rome.)
- Why it's trouble: The bundle that looks like a baby is usually just a doll or cloth—a distraction created by a team of pickpockets that surrounds you and lunges for your bags the moment you drop them.
- How to avoid getting scammed: Follow these two travel safety tips. First of all, don't drop your bags and attempt to catch any fake babies. Walk away from the area, since that scam warns you that pickpockets are near. Secondly, give yourself extra protection by carrying your valuables and wallet in a hidden pocket or neck wallet.
3. The Not-So-Free Massage
- What it is: While you're relaxing on a beach, soaking up some rays, a person comes over and offers you a complimentary massage.
- Why it's trouble: In reality, this massage is anything but complimentary. (This also goes for "complimentary" bracelets, CDs or flowers that are shoved into your hands by strangers.) Con artists are going to scream and make a scene until you’ve (over) paid for the service or item.
- How to avoid it: Be wary of accepting any free gift or service. Your safest bet is to say "no thanks" in the country's native language or shake your head from side to side and then walk away.
4. The Double Menu
- What it is: You enjoy what you thought was a reasonably priced meal at a restaurant, but are then slapped with a bill that's twice as much as what you were expecting.
- Why it's trouble: If you contest the bill, a scheming restaurant owner or server might hand you a menu that's different from the one you originally ordered from and lists much higher prices.
- How to avoid it: After ordering, keep one of the original menus at your table to protect yourself. In some places they have a stand-up and sit-down menu, the stand-up is cheaper and more prominent. Always look for this.
5. The Non-Existent Rental Properties
- What it is: After finding a rental property online, you make a large payment to hold the reservation.
- Why it's trouble: Upon arriving to the address, you are shocked to discover that the property either does not exist or does not belong to the (now unreachable) “owner” you paid.
- How to avoid it: Don’t let even the most realistic-looking ads fool you! Often scammers will copy and paste listings from a legitimate rental property site and then alter the contact information before posting on Craigslist. Your best bet: Stick with vetted rental property sites, such as airbnb and VRBO.
Now that you know about the five most common travel scams, you can protect yourself better on any trip by using the above travel safety tips.
Caila Ball is a freelance writer and full time travel enthusiast. You can see more of her work at CailaBall.com
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