5 Sneaky Travel Scams You Can Beat with Technology

Matthew Hughes 17-03-2016

Travel is a wonderful, mind-expanding pursuit. But it can also be dangerous. There are a number of scams aimed at parting tourists from their money, or from their belongings.


It’s the easiest way to ruin a long-planned vacation. Thankfully, many of them can be defeated by using common websites, apps, and gadgets, as well as basic common sense.

Here are five of the most wicked tourist scams, and how tech can stop them dead in their tracks.

The Photography Scam

I’ve seen this happen a few times. A conman will walk up to a group of tourists, and offer to take a photo of them. The tourists accept, and dutifully hand over their expensive camera or smartphone.


As they get into position for the photo, the conman will sneak off into the throngs of tourists, never to be seen again. Not only have the tourists lost their expensive camera, but they’ve also lost the irreplaceable memories stored on its SD card.


The only real way to mitigate against this is to approach every interaction as a tourist with a healthy dose of skepticism. When someone offers to do you a favor, don’t be afraid to say no.

If you want to get a group photo, just use a selfie-stick. Sure, they’re beyond obnoxious I Acted Like A Prick With a Selfie Stick, Here's How People Reacted Basically, no one reacted. No glares, shouted warnings, or lobbed projectiles. People just weren't that fussed. Read More , but it’s a far better alternative than having your camera or iPhone stolen.

In a lot of tourist cities, like Madrid and Rome (especially Rome), you can easily pick up a selfie-stick from a street vendor. They cost as little as €5, although I do question how good they are.



Alternatively, you can pick one before you set off on your travels. We’ve reviewed a few selfie sticks Battle of the Selfie Sticks [Round-Up Review and Giveaway] A week can't go by without somewhere banning their elongated presence. Despite this, selfie sticks are as popular as ever. We thought it was worth having a look at what's out there. Read More  in the past. Anker do one for less than $15, which comes highly recommended.

Travel Tip: Before you go, you should also prepare for the possibility of having your gadgets stolen, by installing Prey Use Prey & Never Lose Your Laptop Or Phone Again [Cross-Platform] Here’s the thing about mobile and portable devices: since they aren't tethered to anything, it’s almost too easy to lose them or, worse, have them stolen from right under your nose. I mean, if you... Read More on your computer or phone, and registering your camera with LensTag Stop! Thief! Prevent Your Camera Being Stolen With Lenstag Read More .

The Taxi Scam

Taxis are another hotspot where tourists get ripped off massively. It has happened to me and my friends’ heaps of times, to the point where we’ve just accepted it as an inconvenience of traveling. An opportunistic taxi driver will see their passenger isn’t familiar with the area, and they’ll jack up the prices massively. That, or they’ll pad out their fee by taking an indirect route (preferably with lots of traffic).



To beat this scam, you’ve got to be proactive.

Before you jump in the cab, make sure you know the route to your hotel or hostel. You can find the quickest one by looking at Google Maps Get There Faster - 10 Google Maps & Navigation Tips Google Maps is still the most powerful mapping service ever, despite what Apple might say. Whether you’re using Google Maps in a browser on your desktop or an app on your mobile phone, Google Maps... Read More . It’s a good idea to print the turn-by-turn directions in the local language of the place you’re visiting, and hand it to your cab driver.

Alternatively, just use Uber What Is Uber and Why Is It Threatening Traditional Taxi Services? Uber has landed, and it's fundamentally changing inner-city transit. And some might say, not entirely for the better. Read More . If your driver takes an indirect route, you can just complain, and get a partial (or full) refund. Because the price is set by Uber, and cannot be changed by the driver, there’s no way the price can be jacked up, other than through surge pricing.


Travel Tip: While Uber is often prevented from picking up passengers from certain airports, there is a loophole. Take one of the free shuttle-busses to a nearby hotel, and then use the Uber app to hail a ride from there. Problem solved.

Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud How Credit Card Fraud Works and How to Stay Safe Credit cards and gift cards are regularly stolen. How do thieves get your card? How can you keep safe from credit card fraud? Read More surges massively around tourist areas, meaning you have to be hyper-vigilant. Besides the usual ATM fraud How Scammers Can Use ATMs To Clean You Out That ATM in the wall of your local bank might look like an easy way to get some cash, but you need to make sure that the scammers didn't get there first. Read More and fake POS (point-of-sale) terminals, there’s a raft of scams aimed directly at tourists’ credit cards.

Take the hotel food delivery scam, which according to Fromers, is endemic in Orlando’s tourist resorts. This is where scammers slip fake takeout menus through the room doors, in order to harvest tourists’ credit card information.

If you really want to order pizza while you’re at a hotel, contact the front desk for a list of their preferred restaurants.

Scammers also call hotel rooms, masquerading as the front desk and ask for the guests to confirm their credit card details. Scammers will then drain these credit cards with the stolen information.


There are a couple of ways to mitigate against this. The first, and most obvious, is to always be skeptical about anyone who asks for your credit card details. If you get a call from the front desk, for example, actually go down to the front desk.

Ignore any fliers you get underneath your door. If you want to order takeout, use Just-Eat or Seamless, or any of the other legitimate online food ordering services The 10 Best Fast Food Restaurant Apps for Android Looking for the best fast food restaurant apps? We've found the best Android apps for ordering food and earning rewards. Read More . Also, double-check on Google Maps to see if the restaurant actually exists.

Travel Tip: Try to avoid using your debit card abroad, as you have fewer protections than you would with a credit card. If you don’t have a credit card, get yourself a decent prepaid one, like the one offered by WeSwap , and only load it with as much money as you can afford to lose. WeSwap makes exchanging money easier, faster, and cheaper Avoid Getting Ripped Off When Exchanging Currencies or Sending Money Abroad If you've sent money abroad or exchanged currencies before a vacation, you probably got a poor deal. Here are some better alternatives to banks and currency exchanges. Read More .

The Closed Hotel

This scam is endemic to East Asia. You’ll get a taxi from the airport to your hotel. When you get in, your driver will tell you that your hotel is closed, or is just plain bad. But don’t worry: He knows somewhere nearby that has availability, or is way better. He’ll take you there!


Really, your hotel probably isn’t closed. It’s probably not that bad. Your driver is lying. He’s actually taking you to a hotel which will give him a large commission, and in turn bump up your roommate.

Travel Tip: It’s always a good idea to have the phone number of your chosen hotel on standby for these occasions. Better yet, on the day before you set off, you should check TripAdvisor or a hotel search engine The Best Hotel Search Engines to Grab Great Deals When You Travel We sat down to look for the best hotel booking experience online. The ones who are making it cheaper, easier and safer to get a room. Here are our definitive top 10. Read More to see whether it really is closed. Recent reviews will suggest it is, in fact, open for business.

Fake Wi-Fi Hubs

When you’re traveling, you’re going to be on the constant lookout for Wi-Fi hotspots. After all, you’re going to want to check your email, and show the folks back home your travel snaps.

Scammers know this, which is why in some tourist hotspots, they’ve placed fake Wi-Fi hotspots, designed to harvest your private information.

To avoid this, you should always use a VPN (virtual private network) The Best VPN Services We've compiled a list of what we consider to be the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) service providers, grouped by premium, free, and torrent-friendly. Read More whenever you connect to a public network 8 Instances You Weren't Using a VPN but Should've Been: The VPN Checklist If you haven't already considered subscribing to a VPN to secure your privacy, now is the time. Read More . This will encrypt your traffic, making it impossible for a third-party to intercept it. Alternatively, you can buy (or quite often rent) a local SIM card at the airport, and shove it in a mobile Wi-Fi router.


Travel Tip: When it comes to the best travel router, I recommend the SkyRoam. The device itself costs $125, which is expensive for a travel router. However, it gives you unlimited Wi-Fi anywhere in the world for a flat fee of $8, which is reasonable, especially when compared to mobile roaming data rates. Since it’s your personal Wi-Fi hotspot, you’ll know that it’s safe.

How Do You Stay Ahead of the Scamster

Travel guides like Lonely Planet and WikiTravel can be places to pre-emptively hunt for scam tricks and tips.

The enterprising scammer is looking for the next ingenious ruse. Every destination has its own unique tourist scam. Some precautionary online travel research and a few tools can help you stave off most of them. And yes, a dose of common sense.

Have you ever been scammed abroad? Has a website or a gadget ever stopped you from being scammed? Let me know about it in the comments below.

Image Credits: Samsung NX Mini (Henry Soderlund), P1000319 (Ed and Eddie), Taxi (Moyan Brenn), Bangkok (Jo sau), Credit cards and cash (Sean MacEntee)

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Anonymous
    March 21, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    Using a VPN would be best while you are on travelling. PureVPN for instance is best to shift your IP, choose from hundreds of server locations worldwide and access any desirable content which could be restricted in visiting country. It gives you anonymity and secure your internet presence.

    • Matthew Hughes
      March 26, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      You wouldn't work for PureVPN would you? ;)

  2. ben
    March 18, 2016 at 10:39 am

    When taking a taxi ask how much to go to your destination before getting into the cab. Often the price doubles if you ask after getting in, and may double again if you wait until getting to your destination before finding out how much. In many countries the meter is just for decoration and is often not even used or turned off or set to show a higher fee to enable the driver to make more from dumb tourists.

    When signaling for a taxi in a strange city, be sure the car that stops is really a taxi. This has been used as a easy way to kidnap tourists and hold them up. Instead of taking you to your destination, they take you to an out of the way place and demand an exorbitant fee in advance to take you where you wanted to go.

    For photos, ask another tourist who is with a family group instead of a single local. I have had a Credit card number (not the actual card) stolen once, in Miami Beach. The credit card company fraud people called me when the thief tried to use it.

    • Matthew Hughes
      March 26, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      All good advice. Thanks Ben!

  3. Anonymous
    March 18, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Taxi Scams - Nothing foolproof, but as a solo traveler, I always sit up front and chat away a storm -- while eyeing my compass (in the olden days) or tablet (nowadays). Just being friendly -- and also attentive -- are two strong incentives for the driver to be nice and play honest in return.

    Photography Scam - I've done that myself! At the Acropolis, Athens - a city all-too-famous for scammers -- a family asked me to take a photo for them -- I happily obliged -- then held on tight to their camera and demanded 20 euros! The look on their faces was priceless!

    But really, exercise common sense precaution is usually all that's needed. Then relax. Touts can pick up on uptightness instantly.

    • Matthew Hughes
      March 26, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      "Photography Scam – I’ve done that myself! At the Acropolis, Athens – a city all-too-famous for scammers — a family asked me to take a photo for them — I happily obliged — then held on tight to their camera and demanded 20 euros! The look on their faces was priceless!"

      I seriously hope you were just joking.

      • Anonymous
        March 26, 2016 at 3:20 pm

        Matthew, Matthew...

        Of course I was just joking! But I waited about a second and a half before telling the family - and with a big grin...