Common Travel Scams
When we travel, we are already outside of our comfort zone, trying to make our way through a place where the customs and language might not be familiar. To make matters worse, we are distracted by the sights, sounds, and other new senses all around us. All of these factors compound to make even the most seasoned travelers vulnerable to scams, and given that tourism is a rich industry, there are many people waiting to take advantage of your vulnerability. The best defense is to be prepared, and learn from the mistakes of others so you don't repeat them yourself. All of the below scams are those that we, or those in our travel party, have either witnessed or been a part of.
Let's face it, math is hard, no matter what country you're in. Mix in foreign currency, exchange rates, and a foreign language, and it is very easy for a vendor to take advantage of you by handing you back less change than they should. You, being the polite, respectful traveler that we all know you are, don't want to offend the locals so you kindly smile and accept the change, even saying thank you as you walk away. It isn't until later in the day, perhaps even back at the hotel that evening, when you realize you don't have as much cash as you thought you did. This one is easy to avoid: be aware of the total cost and always count your change.
FAKE TOUR GUIDE
If you were approached on the streets of your home town by someone you didn't know saying, "Where are you going? I will show you. I know the best places. Skip all the lines. Follow me," would you follow them? Unless you were one of those kids that took candy from strangers and lived to tell about it, no, you wouldn't. So don't do it when traveling abroad. Most fake tour guides will find you near famous tourist sites, but we have also experienced this when in foreign cities and we were simply identified as tourists and approached. If you do accept their offer, at a minimum you won't receive what was promised, and the worst case is that you are led to a high pressure situation where you are forced to buy something you don't want, if not outright robbed. If you want a tour guide, find a reputable, brick and mortar establishment, ask the concierge at your hotel, or find and reserve one from a licensed operator online.
GIFTED BRACELET OR ROSES
If you haven't seen this one before, it is very aggressive and quite easy to get caught in. The scammer, typically a man, will approach a woman with her date and either offer her a dozen roses, nearly forcing it into her hands, or tie a bracelet on her wrist. Once she accepts, willingly or not, the scammer then confronts her date and demands payment. The bracelet is difficult if not impossible to remove, and if the "gift" was roses, the scammer will not accept them back even though he demands payment in return. It is best to firmly refuse any offer.
BEWARE OF BEGGARS
There are certainly people from all over the world in need to help, but in most all touristed places it is best to assume any beggar you see is a pickpocket. The way pickpockets operate typically involves some form of distraction. This can take the form of spilling something on you, parading poor children around you, flaunting a scantily clad woman in front of you, or even using a real baby as a distraction.
This scam happens all around the world, every single day. A tourist hops in a taxi and tells the driver their destination, but never negotiates or inquires about the rate. Upon arriving at the destination, the rate demanded by the driver is atrocious, and well exceeds a normal price for the time and distance. To avoid this, always negotiate the price prior to getting in the car, and always use marked and licensed taxis.
This taxi scam involves the driver of your taxi telling you that your destination, be it a hotel or a restaurant, is closed, but not to worry as they know of a great alternative nearby. The alternative they are talking about will at best by a friend of the taxi driver who wants your business, and at worst will end in a high pressure buying situation. If your taxi driver tries to explain to you that your destination is closed, insist that they take you there anyway, or get out of the taxi and find a way to call your destination. You can always hail another taxi once you know where you want to go.
WILL YOU PLEASE TAKE MY PIC...CAMERA!
Asking someone to take your picture is risky business. You never know if they actually understand how to operate a camera, not to mention take a good picture. Then, just as you get situated and settled into your perfect pose, you realize they've run off with your expensive camera and left you posing without a photographer. This is why you should only choose people you are completely certain you can beat in a footrace, and a fight, to take your picture!