These are the con artists and scammers that you’ve no doubt heard about and it pays to know their trade and understand the way they work, just in case something similar happens to you one day.
It's important to have at least a little knowledge of these scams beforehand so that you are best prepared to deal with them if you encounter them when abroad.
Here’s a rundown of the most common scams that you’ll come across, exposed and explained, all designed to part you from your cash.
These are perhaps the most common of all travel scams and if you’re a keen traveler, you’ve probably experienced these more than once.
Taxis - like tourists - are everywhere and every tourist will no doubt at some point need a taxi, which is why they make ideal positions from which to scam a prospective target and this can happen in any number of ways:
The most basic and rudimentary form of the taxi scam is simply overcharging you and making you pay some exorbitant fee when really the journey should cost a lot less (this probably even happens in your hometown). This could be achieved via a multitude of ways, as the drivers have a lot of tricks up their sleeves.
The driver might have rigged his meter to run at a certain speed, resulting in a slightly more expensive end fare, or they might not even use the meter - a popular one is claiming the meter is broken - and then just making up a price at the journey’s end, a price considerably higher than what it should be.
Other popular methods include taking the longest route to your destination; for example, making a 10-minute ride take 30 minutes due to the roundabout way in which the driver goes about his duty, thereby resulting in a trip that costs three times as much as it should.
More elaborate scheme involving your friend the taxi driver includes them telling you that the hotel/attraction/destination you want to visit is closed, full or otherwise unavailable and that they just so happen to know of this fantastic place that you can stay at or visit. More often than not, this "great place" they know will turn out to be less-than-desirable, expensive and probably filled with rats and other associated filth. The driver’s reasoning behind this is that the owner of said delightful establishment will give them a sizeable commission for bringing fresh prey into their clutches - you.
Another similar approach to taking your money consists of the driver agreeing to take you to your destination, but they just have to make a quick stop off at their brother’s/sister’s/cousin’s store, which just so happens to be selling expensive items; items which you will invariably be pressured into buying as the storekeeper hands the driver their commission for bringing you in. Sometimes there will be more than one store on the route the driver has planned for you, with each consecutive store being more of a waste of time and money than the last.
It’s also worth briefly mentioning that the scam asking you to stop of at one of potentially many stores can also take place on tours. Before visiting a main attraction on your tour, you can spend hours being shepherded around various stalls, shops and the like, all the while being pressured into buying useless and overpriced items.
These are all avoidable, for example if you find out what official cabs look like beforehand, you run less of risk of getting into an "unofficial" taxi and being ripped off. If you find out some of the local rates for places you think you’d like to visit, then you can assure any driver that you know how much the journey should cost, further limiting chances of being overcharged.
As for the latter scams, just be wary of the pressure and continuously politely refrain from purchasing anything you don’t need to. If on a tour and there’s a bus, ask to remain on the bus as your feet are sore and you need a much-needed break. Don’t be sucked into buying overpriced trinkets.
Another very common scam to come across when abroad, common enough for you to have probably heard of at least one of these scams, but you can never be too vigilant as the repercussions of falling foul to a credit card scam can be grave indeed.
Most of these credit card-related scams will involve your card going out of your line of sight at some point; this is when you have to be particularly wary, as anything could be happening. What will happen is that you will pay for something in a shop or otherwise be in a situation where your card is need for some nefarious purpose. Your card will then be taken into the back of the shop and while you think it’s being charged for what you’ve just purchased, what’s actually going on is that a scammer is cloning your card so that they can use it themselves in your absence.
Sometimes this cloning/copying can take place right in front of you, under the shop desk or any number of places you can’t see. An accomplice to the scammer might even try to distract you with an argument or altercation, whilst the cloner works their heinous magic on your card, leaving you none the wiser. Sooner or later you’ll realize that something must have gone wrong somewhere down the line, as you’ll be experiencing a multitude of expensive credit card payments for items you don’t recall paying for. That would be the scammers.
A newer credit card scam has been surfacing as well. This usually takes place in your hotel room late at night, when you’re asleep or otherwise at a disadvantage. The scammer will call your hotel room phone and say that they’re calling from the front desk and they’re terribly sorry but they’re having problems with/just need to confirm some details on your bill or papers, or something equally official-sounding. The only thing they’re not quite sure about are your credit card details, which - being dozy and half-asleep - you will give them.
An example: "I just need to confirm, does your credit card end in 1234?" to which you will say that it doesn’t and they’ll then state that if you could just read out the full and correct card number then everything can be verified or some other such lie. Really what’s just happened is that you’ve given away your credit card details to a total stranger, who will then subsequently scam you.
Ways to avoid these types of scams are slightly more obvious. Do not - under any circumstances - let your card out of your sight. If you can see your card, you can see what’s happening to it, never giving any scammers a chance to clone it. If you’re called with the late-night card scam, try and make sure you are alert to the best of your ability.
Failing this, tell the caller you’ll bring your card and details to the front desk in the morning to sort things out in person, thus thwarting the scammer. However, do not say you’ll call them back with your details just then, as the scammer might even be using an unattended reception desk to call from.
Fake police and uniform scams are rife in some countries and are generally quite effective due to the tendency for people to place a lot of faith/believability in official-looking uniforms.
What happens with these types of scam is that the scammers will be disguised as something official (for example, the police) and ask to see some ID or search you, running off with your valuables or otherwise robbing you outright. Or maybe you will be travelling with someone whom you have just met, they seems like a nice guy and very friendly, but also an accomplice to the inbound scammers.
The "police" then turn up and search you and your friend, finding some sort of contraband such as drugs on them. You are then forced into paying a fine or risking jail time, according to the fake police and are thereby scammed out of money. Or maybe your "friend" will have planted contraband on your person, so when the fake police find it, you will be scared and confused, most likely paying up with little resistance for fear of something worse happening.
In more drastic cases, people have been known to be escorted to a "police station" whereby they are then tied up and held prisoner for days as their bank accounts are emptied. Some unfortunate detainees have even been killed as a result of being kidnapped by the "police".
It’s harder to avoid this because of the authoritative nature of the "police", one might be intimidated without particularly wanting to be and therefore act irrationally. However, the best measures to take are to avoid people you don’t trust and to never accept any item which might be considered contraband from them.
As for the police, ask to see official badges or ID (sometimes even these may be faked, however), but if you’re still in doubt, the best thing to do is to cooperate, but ask to be taken to the police station to have anything sorted out there, in the company of other (actual) police officers.
These usually occur as you’re walking along, casually minding your own business, when all of a sudden someone nearby finds a wallet or cash lying on the floor. This benevolent soul offers to split it with you, but should you agree, you risk setting off the scam. Another man claiming to be the original owner of the wallet or cash (they will invariably have convincing proof such as markings or identifying symbols) and ask to be repaid what was lost.
They will then ask to be repaid money that wasn’t there in the first place (which is unknown to you) and that you both need to pay extra. As the initial finder of the money is in on the scam, they will pay up whatever is asked for and sadly, so must you.
Another similar scam involves someone loudly blaming you for stealing their wallet, which you will naturally deny. This goes on and on until the scammer demands that you prove your innocence by emptying your pockets so they can see and as you do so, they promptly steal your things and run off, like so many thieves into the night.
Not falling foul of these scammers is easy, just steer clear of anyone "suddenly" finding some money, or hand said money over to the nearest police officer – this should really annoy the scammers. As for the latter scam, if you must appease the scammer by emptying your pockets, then keep a tight grip on everything. Failing that, either ignore the scammer and walk away, or seek out a police officer, as that should deter them from persisting with their lies.
A reason to plan ahead and exchange money before you leave your home country: the money exchange scam. Lying in wait for those that need to exchange for the native currency, the money scammer is an unscrupulous fraud of the highest order, ready to shortchange and rip off of the drop of a hat.
They operate simply by offering to exchange your money for local currency (some say they are doing you a favor to avoid the local "exchange tax", which is completely made up), but will do so using an immensely unfavorable exchange rate, sometimes even going so far as to miscount on purpose, further ripping you off. Such places are usually recommended to you by a new "friendly face" or unassuming taxi driver, who will then probably receive a commission for sending you to the money exchanger.
More elaborate money exchange scam artists will have accomplices stage a fight, argument, or other form of distraction to divert your attention away from the money-exchanging scam artist in front of you, so that if – just in case – you were keeping track of how much you were being given, you would lose count and the scammer could short-change you even more. Another trick in a similar vein is to hand over your money in excessively small denominations, making it all the more difficult for you to keep track of what you’re receiving and even more susceptible to distraction.
The best way to avoid this is to not have to experience it by having exchanged enough money before leaving for your destination. If you must still exchange having arrived, then you should really seek out an official place at which to exchange money in order to avoid scammers and being ripped off.