Ready to embark on your next adventure? Before you go, it’s worth being aware of some common travel scams and learn how to avoid them. From pickpocketing to deceptive taxis, we’ll guide you on how to stay one step ahead so that you can enjoy your time away.
I’ve traveled a fair amount over the years and have experienced several travel scams firsthand. I’ve also heard stories from fellow travelers about what happened to them, and these things often happen when you least expect it!
It therefore pays to know about travel scams before your trip, that way you know what to look out for! So, read on to arm yourself with knowledge and help ensure a secure and enjoyable adventure. Let’s dive in and learn how to spot and avoid travel scams!
Common Travel Scams to Avoid in 2024
Traveling is a favorite pastime of many, and if you’ve just got back from holiday, you’re likely already thinking about your next one! And, while getting the cheapest flights and best accommodation is all well & good, we often overlook the smaller details.
It’s easy to forget about travel safety when you’re wrapped up in the excitement of planning a trip, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. When was the last time you accounted for the tourist scams you might encounter at your next destination?
Most people are wise to overpriced taxis, but there are also other common scams you need to look out for. There are even some travel scams that can happen before you get on the plane! However, you shouldn’t let this put you off traveling.
I’ve encountered a couple of scams during my time but have always continued to travel. You shouldn’t let a negative experience or a fear of something happening put you off of doing something you enjoy.
However, it does pay to be prepared. So, read on to learn about some common travel scams so that you can become a savvier globetrotter and enjoy some stress-free vacation time.
Believe it or not, you could become a victim of a travel scam long before you embark on your trip.
Booking accommodations through fake websites is a growing concern for travelers. Scammers create fraudulent booking platforms that appear legitimate to trick individuals into making reservations and payments for non-existent lodgings. In some cases, it’s not until you arrive at the hotel and find out that the hotel doesn’t have a reservation for you that you realize you’ve been scammed. By this time it’s too late and you’ve already lost your money.
To avoid this, use reputable online booking platforms with secure payment methods. Read reviews from other travelers to verify the authenticity of the accommodation. Directly contacting the hotel or lodging establishment to confirm your reservation is also a prudent step to ensure a hassle-free stay.
You should also book with credit cards to give yourself some degree of protection, just make sure you can pay them off and don’t accrue interest.
Phishing is a cybercrime tactic where scammers use deceptive emails or messages to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, like passwords or financial details.
Booking.com was a recent target of such a scam. Fraudsters managed to breach the databases of several affiliated hotels and extract info on customers’ reservations. They then sent out emails prompting people to re-enter their credit card information or risk losing their reservation. Phishing scams are common, but few have been as sophisticated so far.
Scammers usually send out fake emails to get you to reveal your personal data, or advertise on social media with incredible deals on vacation packages or airplane tickets. Clicking the links they provide leads to copies of trustworthy sites that capture victims’ info. The criminals then use your debit card or credit card details for financial gain or to commit identity theft.
Being observant is the best defense. The use of AI makes grammatical errors and other language inconsistencies harder to spot. You can still check if the email address and links are genuine, though. Contact the supposed hotel or travel agency if you’re having doubts, and don’t fall for deals that look too good to be true.
Also, regarding transfers to fake pages, one way you can tell it’s faux is if you have a password manager. How? When you book something trip-related, you likely do it on a specific page. With a password manager, you save your credentials the first time you use them, so you should be able to tell a fake page from logins not appearing on the page automatically.
Unrealistically Cheap Plane Tickets
We all love a good bargain, so perhaps it’s not surprising that scammers are taking advantage of it. Low-priced plane tickets are what every traveler looks for, but you have to be careful of anything that looks too good to be true.
The scam can work in two ways. One involves the scammer using stolen, compromised, or hacked credit cards to buy airline tickets that they sell on for bargain prices. This is often done via professional-looking travel agent websites or social networking accounts.
The scammers appear more trustworthy since they’ll book the tickets and provide you with a genuine booking confirmation while seemingly saving you a lot of money. The reality is they acquired the tickets illegally, and if the real owner of the credit card reports the fraudulent purchase while you’re away you could be left stranded abroad.
The best thing to do here is to check the prices of flights for your chosen dates on trusted flight comparison websites such as Skyscanner. That way you’ll know if the deal is legitimate or not.
Another method employed by scammers is to ask for a nominal reservation fee rather than buying an actual ticket. The airline will eventually ask for full payment or inform you that the reservation has expired. The scammers will be long gone with your info by then.
To avoid such scams you can check the status of your ticket by going to the airline’s booking information page. A 13-digit number means the ticket is legit & you’re good to go. Six-digit codes indicate a reservation instead.
Public Charging Stations
You managed to book real accommodation and a flight, congratulations! Sadly, new threats might appear before boarding the plane. Specifically, there’s the possibility of getting infected via malware someone could introduce via a public charging station. It’s called juice jacking and serious enough for the FBI to issue a warning on social media.
Malware can gain access to and copy valuable information like your personal and banking details. It could also lay dormant only to track your activity or do other concerning things later.
Avoiding this one is simple. Charge your phone before you go and just get a travel adapter plug for the country you’re visiting so that you can use a regular outlet there. If you know you’re going to be stuck in the airport for a long time get a power bank. You can top up a power bank at home and charge your phone from there to save the worry.
Wi-Fi Network Scams
Many weary travelers jump at the chance for free Wi-Fi with their drink or meal, only to get more than they bargained for.
Connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks in public places poses a significant security risk. Cybercriminals can exploit these networks to access your personal information, including passwords and financial details.
Tourist areas are prime targets for hackers who can set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots that mimic those the bar or restaurant provides. Logging onto this fake Wi-Fi lets them see and intercept everything you do.
To safeguard your data abroad, it’s better to try and avoid using unknown Wi-Fi sources. If you need to access sensitive information, you can use your cellular roaming data or secure networks provided by reputable establishments.
You should also be wary of using any unsecured network and use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your internet connection.
Should You Use Roaming or a VPN?
But which is best to use? Using your mobile carrier’s roaming is a safer alternative, but it can be highly expensive abroad. Always check your roaming charges before you travel to avoid any expensive surprises when you return home.
If you don’t want to use mobile roaming, or if you don’t have access to it, try to avoid using public Wi-Fi without securing it with a VPN first. And there’s no need for huge research – check out this VPN comparison table on Reddit to find a suitable private network more easily.
Even if you are using a VPN, you should still be cautious when entering credentials, checking emails, or exposing any other data worth stealing. Passwords are among the most commonly stolen bits of information. Losing a single password can ruin your vacation, especially if you use the same or very similar passwords for your different online accounts.
To help reduce this risk, you can install a password manager before embarking on the trip and exchange vulnerable passwords with the unique and complex ones the manager provides. Do this for all travel-related accounts and other logins you wouldn’t want someone to steal.
Furthermore, you should enable multi-factor authentication for all stored passwords. That prevents account theft even if someone does manage to steal your passwords, as they won’t have access to the second code or your biometrics to complete the login.
Alternatively, if you want to avoid the worry of choosing between roaming and a VPN, a great travel hack is buying a local SIM card. That way you don’t need to worry about roaming charges or relying on local Wi-Fi! If I know I’m going to be in a country for a while this is something that I always try and do.
Renting vehicles or accommodations through unreliable agencies can lead to various issues. Always deal with reputable rental companies with positive reviews from previous customers.
Verify the legitimacy of online listings, and if possible, visit the rental property or inspect the vehicle before finalizing any agreements.
For car rentals go with one of the well-known providers and make sure that your travel insurance covers car hire. Accidents happen so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you’re renting a car, take pictures of it before you drive off so that you’ve got evidence of any previous damage or scratches that are already on the car. You don’t want to foot the bill for damage that you didn’t cause.
Always familiarize yourself with the rental terms and conditions to avoid hidden fees or unexpected charges. If you take out car rental insurance make sure you check what it covers too. One of my friends once got stung because the car insurance didn’t cover damage to the underside of the car. So, when he unfortunately went over some debris on the road, he had to pick up the bill for the damage.
Overpriced Taxi Rides
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, one of the most common travel scams that you could encounter involves overpriced taxi fares.
Taxi scams are a common issue in many cities around the world. Unscrupulous drivers may take advantage of tourists by charging exorbitant fares or manipulating meters. Sometimes they even claim the taxi meter is broken.
Before hopping into a taxi, negotiate the fare with the taxi driver or ensure that the meter is running correctly. If possible, use reputable taxi services recommended by your hotel or locals. Avoid accepting rides from touts at airports or popular tourist spots, as they are more likely to be involved in scams.
If you have a reliable internet connection on your phone you can also take advantage of ride-sharing services such as Uber to take the stress out of agreeing taxi fares completely.
Public Transportation Scams
I’ve already touched on taxis, but other types of transport are also worthy of their own section.
Using unofficial transportation services, such as unregistered taxi drivers or individuals offering rides, can lead to various issues, including overcharging and safety concerns.
Avoid accepting rides from strangers, especially in unfamiliar destinations, to minimize the risk of falling victim to transportation scams or worse.
Stick to official transportation services recommended by your accommodation or reliable local sources. Research and familiarize yourself with public transportation options in advance to ensure a smooth and secure journey. If you take local transport, keep an eye on your belongings if the area has a reputation for opportunistic theft.
Currency Exchange Scams
Currency exchange scams often target travelers seeking better rates than those offered by official channels. However, street money changers may provide counterfeit currency or shortchange unsuspecting tourists.
To avoid falling victim to such scams, use official currency exchange services or withdraw money from reputable ATMs. Be skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true and prioritize your financial safety while traveling.
Fake Tickets and Tours
One prevalent travel scam involves the sale of fake tickets and tours, particularly in popular tourist destinations. Scammers often target unsuspecting travelers, taking advantage of their eagerness to explore new places.
To safeguard yourself, research and choose reputable ticket vendors and tour operators. Read reviews from other travelers to ensure legitimacy.
Additionally, consider booking tickets through your accommodation or trusted online travel agencies to minimize the risk of encountering fraudulent activities. This should help you avoid one of the most common tourist scams.
Unofficial Tour Guides
Speaking of tours, another travel scam to look out for is the unofficial tour guide.
Some scammers pose as friendly locals offering unsolicited assistance or acting as unofficial tour guides. Politely decline their services and rely on accredited tour companies or plan your itinerary in advance.
Research popular attractions, historical sites, and local customs to enhance your travel experience independently. If you decide to hire a guide, ensure they are licensed and associated with reputable agencies to avoid falling victim to scams.
Thieves often employ distraction techniques to divert your attention and create an opportunity for theft. Be vigilant in crowded areas, and if someone approaches you with a seemingly innocent request, maintain awareness of your surroundings.
This often involves someone bumping into you, asking if you need help or requesting assistance themselves, or when an innocent-looking person picks up something that you “dropped” in the street.
Of course, in the majority of instances you won’t have dropped something and they’re just hoping that you’re not paying attention. This gives them a chance to pickpocket you or even try and sell you the item found on the floor. A gold ring is often the prop of choice!
To avoid travel scams like this, politely decline assistance or requests for directions, and keep your belongings secure. Avoid engaging in conversations that may distract you from your personal items, and be cautious if someone drops something near you as it could be a ploy to distract and steal.
The Flirtatious Local
There are a couple of scenarios to look out for here, some more dangerous than others.
Scammers, often posing as a friendly local, can strike up casual conversations and show a keen interest in you. Over time, these interactions may become flirtatious or seemingly romantic, creating a false sense of connection. This can happen while you’re abroad or even online before you go.
The scammer’s ultimate goal is to exploit your trust. This might just be to get you to buy some drinks and leave you stuck at a bar with a huge bill, or worse could involve leading you into dangerous situations where they or their accomplices can demand money, and valuables, or even cause you serious physical harm.
To avoid falling victim to this trap, maintain a friendly but cautious demeanor. Be wary of sudden romantic interests from strangers and try and stick to tourist areas you’re familiar with if you are meeting someone. Trust your instincts, and if a situation feels uncomfortable or suspicious, prioritize your safety by disengaging from the interaction and seeking assistance from local authorities if necessary. You should also avoid sharing personal or financial information with people you’ve only just met.
Of course, many locals abroad are perfectly good people and you shouldn’t let examples of bad instances prevent you from interacting with them and enjoying yourself. Just make sure you take the necessary precautions and exercise good judgment.
Fake Police Officers
The fake police officer scam is a dangerous one, as the last thing you want to do is fall foul of the law when you’re abroad.
Unfortunately, in some destinations, scammers may impersonate police officers to trick travelers into revealing personal information or handing over valuables. Always ask for proper identification and verify the officer’s credentials if approached.
If you have doubts about the authenticity of the situation, insist on going to the nearest police station to address the matter. Legitimate police officers will not mind you taking precautions to ensure your safety.
ATM skimming is a prevalent form of fraud that can compromise your financial information. When withdrawing cash, carefully inspect the ATM for any unusual devices or attachments. Cover your PIN with your hand to prevent unauthorized viewing.
Opt for ATMs located in well-lit, secure areas, and be cautious if someone is lingering around the machine. Regularly monitor your bank statements to detect any unauthorized transactions promptly.
While many beggars are genuinely in need, some may be part of organized begging schemes. Be cautious of individuals with aggressive panhandling tactics who demand money or those with elaborate sob stories.
To contribute responsibly, you can make a cash donation to reputable local charities that collect money to help homeless people instead of giving money directly to individuals on the street. Research local organizations that support the less fortunate and contribute to their efforts to make a positive impact on the community.
Free Bracelet/Gift Scam
In tourist-heavy areas, scam artists may approach you with seemingly friendly offers of free bracelets or gifts. Be extremely wary, as accepting these items could lead to demands for payment afterward. I once got stung by this in Paris, where someone tried to put a friendship bracelet on my wrist only to start aggressively demanding money when I said I didn’t want it.
If this happens to you, politely decline such offers and avoid engaging with aggressive street vendors. Keep your distance if they try and put something on you. Maintain a firm but polite demeanor, and be cautious of any situation that may escalate into a confrontation.
Hotel Room Phone Scams
This one is an old one but it can still be effective. Scammers can target hotel guests by making fake calls to their rooms, posing as reception or management, and requesting personal information. I know this scam works because some friends once played a joke on another friend convincing him that he had to come down to reception to talk about his reservation. He wasn’t very pleased when he found out they didn’t call!
To avoid falling victim to such scams, confirm any requests for information or services in person at the hotel’s front desk. Legitimate establishments will never request sensitive information over the phone, and verifying such requests ensures your personal data remains secure.
Pickpocketing & Petty Theft
Large cities and crowded touristy areas are hotspots for pickpockets seeking to take advantage of distracted travelers. Train stations and busy streets are some of their favorite spots.
Protect your belongings by using anti-theft bags and keeping valuables secure. Be mindful of your surroundings and exercise caution when navigating through busy areas.
Consider wearing a money belt or using a secure backpack to minimize the risk of theft and ensure a worry-free exploration of popular tourist attractions.
If you’re planning on having a few drinks try and stick to the main areas, especially if you have a wild night! The last thing you want to do is wander off and put yourself in a vulnerable situation. If you do happen to be a victim of theft, some locations like Thailand now have tourist police who you can turn to for help.
Closed Attractions Scam
Scammers may attempt to mislead tourists by claiming that a popular attraction is closed. To verify the information, consult official sources such as tourism websites, information centers, or local authorities. Or, if the attraction isn’t too big, just walk around it to see for yourself!
Avoid following strangers to alternative destinations, as they may have ulterior motives. Trust reliable sources and stay informed about the operating hours and status of attractions to prevent falling victim to this common travel scam.
Restaurant Bill Padding
Restaurant bill padding is a deceptive practice in which establishments add extra charges or alter the bill to overcharge patrons.
If you don’t want to pay an overpriced bill, carefully review the bill for any discrepancies before settling the payment.
If you notice any questionable charges, address them with the staff before making payment. Being vigilant about the details on your bill ensures that you only pay for what you ordered, protecting you from falling prey to restaurant bill padding scams.
Avoid Travel Scams & Enjoy Yourself!
Going on a trip and leaving your worries behind for a while can be exciting! However, whilst traveling should be a carefree time, it’s still important to protect yourself. After all, you want to come home with happy memories rather than a tale of being scammed!
To protect yourself, awareness is your best defense against the myriad travel scams that exist worldwide. By staying informed and vigilant, you can safeguard against unscrupulous individuals seeking to exploit unsuspecting tourists.
So, remember this article next time you’re booking a flight or sitting down for refreshments at a beachside café! Who knows, it might help to ensure your vacation becomes unforgettable for all the right reasons. And, don’t forget to take out travel insurance just in case you do fall victim to a scam!
While these travel scams may cast a shadow, keep in mind that the vast majority of your travel experiences will be positive and enriching. So, embrace the adventure, immerse yourself in new cultures, and forge unforgettable memories. With that, I wish you safe travels, and have a great trip!