Whether you’re a seasoned globetrotter or a newbie adventurer, you’ve probably heard of tourist scams. Unfortunately, they’re a sad reality of modern travel, and even the savviest tourist can fall prey to these con artists.
Don’t kid yourself that you’re not a candidate to fall for tourist scams. Has it happened to me? Yes, and I’ve been vigilant ever since. I was in my very early 20s and in Greece.
Greece is a great place to buy gold jewelry, and I bought some pieces from reputable dealers. I was also hanging around with a charming young man who eventually convinced me to buy a gold chain from him.
It wasn’t long before it started to tarnish and turned a bronze colour. I kept that “gold” chain for a long time to remind me that I’ve been taken advantage of.
If you find yourself the victim of a fake jewelry scam, don’t beat yourself up about it. Scammers are professionals, and they know how to manipulate people. Instead, learn from the experience, move on, and report the scam to the local authorities to help prevent it from happening to others.
We may be older and wiser, but that doesn’t mean we must let our guard down. Scams and frauds are much more sophisticated, so the old saying is valid… if it’s too good to be true…
Now that you know about some of the most common tourist scams in different cities, it’s important to remember a few key things. First, be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuables safe. Overall, the best way to avoid scams while travelling is to be informed, vigilant, and skeptical of anyone who seems too friendly or offers deals too good to be true. By staying safe and savvy, you can enjoy your travels without falling prey to scammers.
Remember, even the most experienced traveller can fall victim to a scam. But by being informed and cautious, you can reduce the chances of it happening to you. So, be safe, be wise, and enjoy your travels!
To avoid many tourist scams, you must be skeptical of anyone approaching you on the street offering to sell you something. By being aware of these common tourist scams, you can protect yourself with peace of mind. Remember to stay alert, use common sense, and trust your instincts.
Unfortunately, elderly tourists are often targeted in specific ways by scammers due to the perception that they may be more vulnerable or less tech-savvy. Before we look at the various tourist scams, let’s first briefly cover pickpocketing.
1. The Fake Third-party Booking Websites
A girlfriend of mine, who is a very seasoned traveller, recently fell victim to this scam.
These deceptive platforms mimic legitimate travel sites, pretending to be a well-known brand. Look VERY closely at the URL. Sometimes, they entice unsuspecting travellers with seemingly fantastic deals, however, behind the flashy facade lurk scams and risks. Fake sites may steal your personal and payment information, leading to identity theft or financial loss. Their listings often misrepresent accommodations, leaving you disappointed upon arrival. Protect yourself by booking directly with reputable hotels or using well-known travel agencies.
2. The Pickpocket Scam
Pickpockets are a common problem in many cities worldwide, and they often work in crowded areas like markets, subway stations, and tourist attractions. They may work alone or in groups and often use distraction techniques to steal your wallet or purse. This scam can happen in any city, but it’s particularly common in Madrid, Rome, and Paris.
It’s essential to keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t carry all your valuables in one place, and keep your bags and pockets zipped up. If you’re travelling with a backpack, wear it on your front in crowded areas. And if someone bumps into you or tries to distract you, be on high alert.
In Barcelona, pickpockets target tourists in popular areas like La Rambla and the Sagrada Familia. According to a survey by the Spanish government, the city has the highest number of pickpocketing incidents in Europe. So, be extra vigilant when you’re exploring this beautiful city!
3. Friendly Photo Offer Scams
I think most of us are aware of this one. Years ago, I offered to photograph a couple overlooking the Kremlin in Moscow. The truth is I wanted my picture taken. After some reservations and a determination that I was a tourist, they agreed,
Photo scams often occur when a friendly stranger offers to take a photo of you or your group in front of a famous landmark or tourist attraction. They’ll take the photo and provide more shots with their camera or phone. Once they have your trust, they may walk off with your camera or phone or ask for excessive money in exchange for the photos they took. This scam can happen in any city but is especially common in tourist hotspots.
To avoid falling for a photo scam, it’s best to decline offers from strangers to take your photo politely and instead ask someone who works at the attraction or a fellow tourist to help. If you decide to let someone take your photo, keep a close eye on your camera or phone, and don’t hand it over until you’re confident the person won’t run off with it.
4. The Taxi Tourist Scams
Taxi scams can happen in any city, and they often involve drivers who take longer routes or charge higher fares than they should. To avoid this scam, only use licensed taxis, negotiate the fare in advance, and use a GPS or map to track the route.
If you’re travelling to Bangkok, you may encounter the infamous tuk-tuk scam. Tuk-tuks are a popular form of transportation in the city, and they can be a fun and exciting way to explore the streets. However, some drivers may try to scam tourists by taking them to overpriced restaurants or shops where they get a commission for every customer they bring in. To avoid this, negotiate the price of your ride before you get in and be clear about your destination. If you’re uncomfortable with the driver’s suggestions, politely decline and find another driver.
5. The Hotel Scam
In this scam, someone will call your hotel room or knock on your door and claim to be a hotel staff member who needs to verify your information or fix a problem with your reservation. They may even ask for your credit card information over the phone. However, they are not actual hotel staff members, and they are hoping to steal your personal information. To avoid this scam, always verify with the front desk before giving out any personal information, and never give out your credit card information over the phone.
6. The Fake Tour Guide Scam
In this scam, someone will approach you on the street and offer a tour of the city or take you to a famous landmark. However, they are not actual tour guides, and they may take you to places that are not worth seeing or charge you exorbitant fees for their services. This scam can happen in any city, but it’s widespread in popular tourist destinations like Rome, Paris, and Barcelona.
7. ATM Tourist Scams
This scam can happen when you use an ATM to withdraw money. Scammers may attach a skimming device to the machine to steal your credit card information, or they may try to distract you while you’re using the machine so they can steal your card or cash. To avoid this scam, use ATMs in well-lit and busy areas, cover your hand when entering your PIN, and be aware of your surroundings.
Personally, I have one of us keep a lookout while the other withdraws, and we don’t do it if anyone is hanging around. In Egypt, our guide ensured we were taken to an acceptable ATM.
8. The “I am deaf” scam
This scam often involves someone who claims to be deaf and is asking for money or trying to sell goods on the street. They may approach you with a note explaining their situation and asking for donations, or they may try to sell you cheap items. While it’s true that many deaf people face significant challenges in their daily lives, this scam is unfortunately common, and scammers often use this guise to exploit the generosity of tourists.
To avoid falling for the “I am deaf” scam, it’s best to be wary of anyone approaching you with a note or trying to sell you something on the street. While it’s certainly possible that they are genuinely in need, it’s best to donate to a reputable charity or organization that works with the deaf community instead.
9. The Fake Charity Tourist Scams
In this scam, someone will approach you on the street and ask for a donation to a charity or a good cause. However, the charity is often fake, and the person hopes to steal your money. This scam can happen in any city, but it’s prevalent in tourist hotspots like Bangkok, Marrakesh, and Phnom Penh.
To avoid falling for this trick, only donate to well-known charities and always ask for proof of their legitimacy.
A variation of this is the “prize” scam. A scammer will approach an elderly tourist and tell them they have won a prize, such as a free vacation or a large sum of money. However, the tourist must first pay a fee or provide personal information to claim the prize. To avoid this scam, never give out personal information or pay money to claim a prize you didn’t enter to win.
10. The Fake Ticket Scam
In this scam, someone will approach you outside a popular attraction or event and offer to sell you a ticket for a higher price than the official price (or discounted). However, the ticket is often fake, and you will be turned away at the entrance. This scam can happen in any city, but it’s pervasive in New York, London, and Tokyo.
If you’re planning a trip to New York City, be on the lookout for the ticket scalping scam. This scam involves people selling tickets to popular shows, concerts, or sporting events at a much higher price than the official ticket vendor. However, the tickets may be fake, or you may end up paying much more than the actual price of the ticket. Always buy tickets from the official vendor or a reputable reseller to avoid this scam.
This scam is prevalent in Rome around the Colosseum, the Vatican, and other popular tourist destinations. To avoid falling for this trick, only buy tickets from reputable sources like the official ticket office or authorized vendors.
11. The Fake Ring or Jewelry Tourist Scams
In Paris, you may come across “the ring” scam. This scam usually involves a friendly local approaching you and claiming to have found a gold ring on the ground. First, they will ask you if it is yours and if you say no, they offer to sell it for a low price. Trust me, it’s just a cheap trinket.
Trust me again; don’t be foolish to say it is yours. I got fed up with being mistaken for a tourist while on my lunch break on the Champs des Elysees. So once I said yes and well did, I got a barrage of insults. I was used to the abuses, having warned others about pickpockets trying to take something out of women’s purses.
To avoid this scam, walk away from anyone approaching you with a similar story. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
In Istanbul, be careful of the carpet scam. This variation of the Jewelry scam involves a friendly local who invites you to their carpet shop and offers you tea or coffee. They then show you a variety of beautiful carpets and try to persuade you to buy one. However, once you’ve made your purchase, you may discover that the carpet is of poor quality or that you’ve been overcharged. To avoid this scam, only buy carpets from reputable shops and always negotiate the price before purchasing.
12. Fake Police Scam
In this scam, someone will approach you and claim to be a police officer or other authority figure, and they will ask to see your passport or identification. They may even threaten you with arrest or fines if you don’t comply. However, they are not legitimate police officers hoping to steal your personal information or money. To avoid this scam, always ask for identification and verify that the person is a legitimate authority figure.
We experienced an attempt at a police scam in one of the Pacific Islands. This was a combo scam with a taxi driver who claimed we wouldn’t pay him what was agreed. He showed up at the coffee shop, where he dropped us off with a “policeman.” We suggested going to the police station if necessary, but neither wanted that. Fortunately, at the time, we had our diplomatic passports and just showed them and walked away. And we then got out of the area as quickly as possible.
13. The Fake Currency Exchange Scam
In this scam, someone will approach you on the street and offer to exchange your currency for a better rate than at a bank or official exchange office. However, the cash is often fake, and you will lose money. This scam can happen in any city, but it’s widespread in Istanbul, Prague, and Bangkok.
To avoid these scams, it’s critical to be aware of your surroundings, trust your instincts, and use common sense. Don’t trust strangers who approach you on the street, be wary of anyone who offers you a deal that seems too good to be true, and always verify information with a trusted source. You can enjoy your travels without falling prey to scams by staying vigilant and informed.
14. The Stealing Luggage Scam
Usually, a thief will wait for a crowded subway car and then snatch a bag or backpack as the doors close. They may also work in teams, with one person creating a distraction while the other steals the bag. It seems thieves are becoming even more brazen.
On the metro in Paris, I saw someone trying to pull a suitcase away from an Asian tourist who was holding on for dear life. The metro pulled away, and I never did know the outcome.
The key to avoiding this scam is to be aware and alert. Keep your belongings close and be mindful of your surroundings, and you can enjoy your travels without worrying about thieves stealing your luggage.
This scam can happen in any city with a metro system, but it’s widespread in crowded cities like Paris, Barcelona, and Rome. Thieves often target tourists carrying large backpacks or suitcases, as they are easier to grab and run with.
You can do a few things to avoid these tourist scams. First, always keep your luggage close to you and be aware of your surroundings. Don’t leave your bags unattended, even for a moment, and try to avoid carrying large backpacks or suitcases if possible. If you need to carry luggage, try to keep it in front of you where you can see it.
It’s also a good idea to keep your valuables and essential documents in a separate bag you carry with you at all times, such as a small backpack or crossbody purse. This way, you won’t lose everything if your luggage is stolen.
If your luggage is stolen, report it to the local authorities immediately and provide as much detail as possible about the bag and its contents. You should also contact your embassy or consulate for assistance, especially if you lost important documents like your passport or travel documents.
One standard team scam is the “friendly locals” scam, in which people approach a tourist and initiate a conversation, often in a public place like a park or a square. The scammers may be very friendly and chatty, asking the tourists about their home country and offering to show them around the city. While the tourist is distracted, one of the scammers may pickpocket them or steal their bag.
Teams aimed at tourists are some of the most sophisticated and dangerous. A group of people work together to target and exploit unsuspecting tourists, using a combination of distraction, confusion, and intimidation to steal money, valuables, or sensitive information.
If you encounter a team scam, don’t engage with the scammers and don’t try to fight back. Instead, try to get away as quickly as possible and report the incident to the local authorities. You should also notify your embassy or consulate for assistance.