It’s finally time for the vacation you’ve been planning for months. You’ve saved up money, packed your suitcase, and forwarded your mail. Nothing can kill your vibe at this point except for one little thing … a travel scam.
Whether you’re in an airport or on the streets of Rome, there’s always a scammer lurking to take advantage of your good-hearted tourist nature. To protect your wallet and what’s inside of it, here are some popular scams to look out for the next time you travel.
Tie me up
Where: Paris and Rome
Scam: As you’re walking near the famous Sacre Coeur or Spanish Steps, a charismatic man strolls up to you and starts a conversation. Before you know it, he’s tying a bracelet around your wrist or finger and double-knotting it better than a Boy Scout. Then he demands payment. Of course, you can say no. But if you do, he’ll scream that you are stealing his bracelet and embarrass you in public. Most tourists give in to the pressure and pay just to prevent a scene.
Tip: Don’t get too close. If someone is being superfriendly, you have the right to be suspicious. And if he or she gets close enough to put a bracelet on your wrist, don’t be afraid to just walk away.
Putting mustard on a hotdog looks so innocent…(Thinkstock)
Where: Airports and train stations
Scam: This scam comes in many different forms. One is the “hot dog trick,” whereby a stranger accidentally squirts mustard on you while eating a hot dog. As he apologizes and tries to help you clean up, an accomplice grabs your bag and slips away. Another form of this scam involves an old lady falling in a public place. As everyone runs to her assistance, her partner swoops up as many bags as he can carry and disappears.
Tip: Whether you’re sitting or standing, always be in contact with your bags. Keep a hand on your carry-on, or place it between your legs, if you want to keep it from going missing.
Security line switch-up
Make sure there is no cutting in the security line at the airport. (Thinkstock)
Scam: Picture this: You’re about to walk through a metal detector when the person behind you cuts ahead of you. Annoyed, you let him go, but your frustration builds as he repeatedly sets off the alarm. He’s forgotten to remove his watch and loose change, so he is holding up the line. What you don’t know is that on the other side, his accomplice has snagged your belongings and is already in another terminal.
Tip: Wait until the last moment to put your stuff on the conveyor belt; this way no one can slip in front of you. Also, keep an eye on your stuff if you get held up at the metal detector. If you see some fishy business, alert the TSA agent.
The drop and swap
Make sure you are familiar foreign currency before you travel. (Thinkstock)
Scam: You’re a tourist in the country and just getting the hang of the foreign currency. You take a taxi, and when you arrive at your destination, you pay the fare with a 50-lira note. Without your noticing, the driver switches your payment with a 5-lira note, which, unfortunately for you, looks quite similar. He accuses you of shortchanging him, and since you’re not totally sure he’s wrong, you give him another 50-lira note.
Tip: Be a confident traveler. Familiarize yourself with the currency before you go, and pay attention when you pay for services. If you think you’re getting duped, threaten to call the police. Local law enforcement officers know about this trick, and the driver probably won’t want to lose his license.
Bait and switch
Be sure to read reviews before you check in. (Thinkstock)
Scam: You’re planning a vacation on a budget, and you find an amazing-looking hotel in your price range. It seems too good to be true, but the pictures on their website look idyllic, so you enter your credit card info and book the room. Unfortunately, when you arrive, you discover that the hotel is a dump, and they won’t refund your money. In some countries, one-star hotels will even copy the name of a popular hotel just to lure tourists to their location. Tricky!
Tip: It always pays to book through a reputable tour operator because it will take responsibility for the booking and guarantee that you don’t lose money. Sites such as Oyster and TripAdvisor are also great resources for checking out reviews from customers who have stayed at the hotel.
Wi-Fi data skimming
It might be free, but you’ll definitely pay the price. (Thinkstock)
Where: Airports, hotels
Scam: Let’s be honest, no one ever turns down free Wi-Fi. This fact has made the practice of “skimming” all too common at hotels, cafés, and other public venues. A free W-Fi hotspot is set up and made public for anyone to access. Sure, the Internet is free, but while you’re checking Facebook, your data is getting sent to the host’s computer. Just like that, they have access to your usernames and passwords.
Tip: Only connect to legitimate networks. Check out this list of airports with free Wi-Fi so that you know you’re connecting to a secure network. At a hotel, don’t connect to another guest’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Instead, ask the front desk for the hotel’s preferred network and use it!
Tricky exchange rates
Always make purchases in local currency while traveling. (Thinkstock)
Where: Western Europe
Scam: You find a great souvenir at a shop overseas, and as you hand your credit card to the merchant, she asks if you’d like to convert your credit card transaction to U.S. dollars. You oblige, because it sounds easier, but actually it’s not. It’s called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC), and by using a conversion rate that is higher than the going rate, the merchant is making an extra profit off of your purchase. She pockets the money and you’re left in the dark.
Tip: Always pay in local currency. Also, DCC fees can be added only to Visa and MasterCard credit and debit card purchases. American Express cards use a closed system.