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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, 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.
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. 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. 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 surges massively around tourist areas, meaning you have to be hyper-vigilant. Besides the usual ATM fraud 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. 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.
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 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) whenever you connect to a public network. 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
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.