5 Common Travel Scams: Could You Be a Victim?

Some of us are extra careful when traveling while others throw caution to the winds. For those of you in the latter group, there are scams out there, but a little prudence helps (along with common sense).

LISTEN: How about some personal scam experiences?

Five Common Travel Scams

First, read about these common scams so you’ll recognize them; to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Then see our tips to avoid being victimized.

1. Distraction Dodges: Bracelets, Strippers and More

A friendly fellow asks your help for a demonstration and next thing you know, he’s weaving a string bracelet around your wrist while keeping up a steady stream of innocuous questions (where are you from, do you know the capital of my country, etc.). Within a few minutes you’re wearing a bracelet that can’t be removed without cutting it, and you’re being asked to pay for it. You may not be able to, though, because your wallet has gone missing.

In another scenario, a good-looking young person starts removing his/her clothes as a crowd gathers. While tourists gawk, pickpockets go to work.

These are distraction dodges. Others involve someone accidentally spilling a drink or ketchup on you, or maybe they just bump into you; profuse and lengthy apologies follow, but by the time all has calmed down, the phone you’d left on your table is gone, the purse slung over your chair has vanished or your pockets have been emptied.

What to do: Keep valuables close to you, in a safe place. In public, keep arms over purses and no wallets in back pockets, please. Consider a compact under-clothing money belt to hold cash, cards and passports.

2. Romance and Dating Scams

The U.S. government warns us about people falling victim to internet romance and dating scams; so is the British government and authorities in Australia. These often involve scammers who strike up acquaintances with victims in other countries via online dating sites; as relationships flourish via email (and perhaps calls), the scammer announces an impending visit, but it never comes off (and never will come off). Something always happens such as an accident or a false arrest or other difficulty which can only be resolved with money – your money.

What to do: Never send money to someone you do not know (and you do not know someone you’ve only ‘met’ online). If this was legitimate, don’t you think they’d have closer resources to turn to?

3. Freebies that Are Not Free

Increasingly common are mail or internet notifications that you’ve won a free trip. You may have won but it may not be free, since the fine print often says you may be responsible for taxes, fees and other payments.

What to do: Find out exactly what you’ve won, and once you do, if you still want it (at least you know what you’re getting). If you can’t get straight answers, our advice is forget it.

4. Middle of the night  caller

It’s midnight, you’re in bed, and the front desk calls. So sorry, they say, but there was a mix-up with credit cards so can you just give us the number again? No, no, over the phone is fine, no need for you to come down.

What to do: Don’t give the card number over the phone, just say, you’ll call them back, then do so – or go to the front desk in person. Chances are excellent no one there will have a clue what you’re talking about.

5. Vacation Rental Scams

An ad offers a vacation rental property for way below the going rate. You contact the owner and send the money. But is that really the owner?

What to do: Don’t just take the owner’s say-so for this, says the U.S. Federal Trade Commission; don’t even take their word for this that the property actually exists! Do some research online, ask questions and look for red flags, such as under-priced rentals.

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Updated: February 25, 2015