We all like to think that we are too smart to be scammed, but it can happen to anyone at any time. We are especially susceptible when we are on vacation and are guards are down so it’s important to be skeptical when approached by strangers offering deals that are too good to be true.
Here are some new scams that have been reported recently and some old favourites that have been successfully parting tourists from their money for generations:
The non-existent vacation scam
Perhaps it’s because of inflation and the rising cost of travel, but this scam seems especially popular these days. It involves fake travel agents selling discounted bookings on flights, hotels and cruises to unsuspecting victims who fork over their money then arrive at the airport only to discover that all of their booking confirmations are phony. There are variations of this scam that involved Airbnb catfishing where people put up impressive-looking listings for vacation rentals and either it doesn’t actually exist or it’s not even close to what was promised.
How to avoid it: If a deal is too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Stick with reputable travel agencies, not some guy with a flashy video on TikTok. Better yet, book directly with the airline, cruise company or hotel yourself. You’ll probably save some money by cutting out the middleman.
The special bar/restaurant/shop scam
This is one of the oldest scams in the book. It usually involves a friendly local who approaches you on the street and offers to show you a hidden gem, such as a bar, restaurant or shop that only locals know about. They may claim that it has a special discount, a unique product or a cultural experience that you can’t miss. Once you get there, however, you find out that the place is overpriced, low-quality or even dangerous. You may be pressured to buy something, pay an exorbitant bill or even robbed or assaulted.
How to avoid it: Be wary of strangers who approach you unsolicited and offer to take you somewhere. If you want to try a local place, do your own research online or ask your hotel or hostel staff for recommendations. Always check the prices before ordering or buying anything, and don’t be afraid to walk away if something feels off.
The free gift scam
This scam involves someone who pretends to be friendly and offers you a free bracelet, necklace or other accessory. They may say that it is a gift, a souvenir or a sign of friendship. However, once they put it on you, they will demand money for it, claiming that it is handmade, valuable or blessed. They may also try to sell you more items or ask for a donation for a fake charity.
How to avoid it: Don’t accept anything from strangers who approach you on the street, especially if they try to put something on you. Politely decline and walk away. If they insist or follow you, be firm and loud. Don’t let them guilt-trip you or make you feel obligated to pay for something you didn’t want or ask for.
The lost item scam
This scam involves someone who pretends to find a ring on the ground near you and asks you if it is yours. They may show you the ring and say that it looks valuable. They may also say that they don’t need it and offer to sell it to you for a cheap price. Needless to say, the ring is actually worthless. There are instances when they are working with a partner and may distract you so their colleague can pickpocket you while you are looking at the ring.
How to avoid it: Don’t engage with anyone who claims to find something near you and tries to sell it to you. Ignore them and walk away. If they persist or harass you, call for help or go to a nearby shop or police station. Don’t let them touch you or your belongings.
The counterfeit money scam
This scam involves receiving counterfeit money as change when paying for something with cash. The scammers may use fake banknotes that look very similar to real ones, but have subtle differences in colour, size or texture which you, as a foreigner, would probably not notice due to your unfamiliarity with local money. They may also use notes or coins from other countries that have lower value than the local currency. You may not notice the difference until later, when you try to use the money and get rejected or arrested.
How to avoid it: Try to pay with exact change or use a credit card whenever possible. If you need to exchange money, use official banks or exchange bureaus that have security cameras and receipts. Familiarize yourself with the local currency and check the notes carefully before accepting them. Look for security features such as watermarks, holograms or serial numbers.
The fake hotel invoice scam
There are plenty of phishing scams trying to get you to click on links that take you to malicious websites to steal your personal and financial information. They are commonly disguised as coming from financial institutions or utilities like the electricity company or maybe your mobile phone provider. A new, post-holiday version is arriving in people’s mailboxes in the form of an unpaid hotel invoice, hoping that you’re just back from a vacation thinking that maybe you forgot to pay for something in the mini-bar.
How to avoid it: Always be suspicious of anyone asking your for payments online. If you’re in doubt of the message’s authenticity, seek out the official website of the hotel or other institution that purports to be asking for payment and try to contact them directly. Don’t use any of the contact information from the email, but only use official channels to ascertain the validity of any invoice that is sent to you.
The lost luggage scam
This is a new one that’s been reported in Australia and New Zealand, but it’s likely going to make its way to this part of the world before long. And while it doesn’t directly affect travellers, it is definitely travel related. It involves social media reports of airports selling off lost luggage at crazy discount prices. Just click on a link and buy a bag for yourself. Of course, there are no such offers and you end up paying someone for nothing.
How to avoid it: If you see such a report on social media, check who is sending it and see if the account is legitimate. If it comes from an authorized airport social media account then it could be real, but if it’s from an account name with seemingly random letters and digits, it probably isn’t.