Travel scams: don’t get duped on holiday
Your holiday is finally here; you’ve been waiting and planning for months, and as you step off the plane in a new and exciting destination, you can’t wait to begin your adventures. But, hang on, what’s that? Only three days in and you’ve lost all your hard earned cash to unscrupulous scam artists? You’d better read on…
The crowded steps in front of the Sacre-Coeur in Paris are a prime spot for scammers…
Every year thousands of travellers from the UK fall victim to the cunning ways of conmen while enjoying a holiday abroad. Statistics are hard to come by, as many of these crimes go unreported; with people either too ashamed to admit they’ve been had, or not bothering to report what they class as petty crime.
Last year in Barcelona alone there were 100,000 reported thefts, and with only 5% of travel scams going reported, you begin to see the scale of the problem. This map produced by the Foreign Office shows the counties in which British nationals needed the most assistance last year, and makes for interesting reading.
But don’t be alarmed, and don’t cancel your trip; keep reading and we’ll give you the low down on the most common scams around, and arm you with simple tips so you can get on with enjoying your holiday without being taken in by the thieves…
The public argument
As you walk down a street, a women and a shopkeeper begin shouting loudly at each other. He accuses her of shoplifting; the women, usually attractive, defends herself passionately, sometimes even removing her clothes to prove her case. Once the ‘show’ is over the crowd realise that they have been pickpocketed by an accomplice whilst gawking.
- Never walk around with an open bag
- Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket
- Invest in a money belt so you know where your funds are at all times
You’re in a popular tourist spot looking at your map; a friendly man approaches you, he asks you where you’re from and you tell him, thus flows a flurry of questions and before you know it you know it, he’s tightly tied string around your finger and has woven a bracelet. Once finished his demeanour changes as he begins demanding payment. Intimidated, and as you can’t very easily remove the thing from round your finger, you cough up the money.
- Walk with purpose when in tourist hot spots
- Be wary of over-friendly men or women on the street
As you meander down a gorgeous Parisian street, a stranger in front you finds a ring on the ground. He claims it’s gold and worth a lot of money; do you want to buy it from him for a small amount? You agree and it’s only once he’s scarpered that you realise you’ve been had; the ring that he dropped and then pretended to find is nothing but cheap metal.
- There are no lost gold rings on the street of Paris, or anywhere for that matter
- Walk away!
The baby fling
As you walk past a group of women, one of them tosses a baby into your arms. Shocked by this act, you stand there stunned with the baby in your arms while your belongings are taken. It’s only after they leg it you realise the ‘baby’ is just a doll.
- Keep your valuables hidden when in crowded streets
- If anyone throws anything at you or spills anything on you, keep a tight grip on your wallet
The fake receptionist
You are awoken in the middle of the night by a call from the hotel front desk, saying that there was a problem with your card details; could you just confirm them for them now so as not to cause you further problems? It’s late; you’re tired; you read out the digits only to find in the morning that you’ve been had.
- Never give out your card details over the phone, no matter what hour it is
- Put down the phone and call reception yourself
The hotel inspector
As you’re getting ready for a day or exploring, there’s a knock at your hotel door. You open it to find a couple of hotel inspectors; they just need to check that the room is clean and it won’t take long. One of them is very chatty and asks you about your travel plans and the sights you intend to see, while the other takes a quick look around the room. After they leave you go to pick up your phone only to realise it’s gone; along with your wallet and anything else of value.
- Call down to reception to confirm the identity of the inspectors
- Never let anyone into your room unless they can be confirmed as hotel employees
- If the hotel has a safe, keep your valuable locked up even when in the room
The hotel is shut
You jump into a taxi at the airport; jetlagged and confused, you’re desperate to get into bed. You tell the taxi driver the name of your hotel and they exclaim loudly that the hotel is closed. Lucky for you, he knows an even better hotel, in an even better location, perfect for you! Reluctantly you agree; you’re taken to an inferior more expensive hotel and in the blink of an eye you’re signed up for a stay, as the taxi driver goes off with his commission.
- Don’t just take your cabbie’s word for it
- Always insist on being dropped at your hotel, even if you’re told it is shut
The fake takeaway
You get back from a long day of sightseeing; under the door is a takeaway menu for a local restaurant. Exhausted you decide eating in might be a nice idea, so call up and make an order using your credit card. You settle down and wait for your food to come, but it never does…
- Don’t give out credit card details when ordering takeaway
- Insist on paying by cash on delivery
The detouring taxi
Jumping in a taxi, you ask for a destination, estimating it will take 15 minutes and cost £10. 45 minutes and £30 later you still seem to be nowhere near where you want to be, and you’re pretty sure you’ve seen that café at least three times…
- Know your journey and how long it will take
- Make sure your cabbie is aware that you know this!
The flat tyre
You’re driving along in your recently acquired hire car when suddenly you get a flat tyre. Stranded at the side of the road you start to change the tyre, but luckily for you some very friendly locals stop to help you. While you are distracted, they also take the chance to lift all your valuables from the car, and then head off to lay down a nail in the road for their next victim.
- If you get a flat tyre, pull over safely and then lock your valuables in the car
- If you are offered help, firmly turn it down and say that you can manage
The getaway driver
As your taxi drops you off, the driver rushes around the car to help you take out your bags, he pops them on the side of the road, takes his payment and then screams off into the distance. It is not until he is out of sight that you realise he deliberately drove off with one of your smaller, more forgettable bags still in the boot.
- Make a note of your bags and the number you are carrying
- Keep smaller ones with you in the taxi
The note swap
Your taxi driver tells you the fare, you hand over a large note, and without you seeing he drops the large note and swaps it for a similar looking but much smaller note. He exclaims that you have short changed him and demands proper payment; flustered you hand over more money.
- Get to know the currency
- Confirm the amount of the note out loud as you hand it to the driver
The busted camera
A friendly man approaches you at a tourist hot spot and asks you to take his picture. You try to take one but the camera doesn’t appear to be working. You hand it back to him but he fumbles and drops the camera. Exclaiming that it is broken, he demands money to pay for the repairs.
- Firmly refuse to pay
- Threaten to call the police who know all too well about this scam
The scratch card
A man in uniform approaches you on the street; he says he’s from the tourist board and hands you a free scratch card; and how lovely, you won a holiday! All you need to do is go with him to claim your prize. You tag along and find yourself in a meeting where you are pressured into buying into a ‘holiday club’ for thousands of pounds that will give you ‘incredible’ discounts on holidays. Funnily enough, your prize never materialises.
- If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
- Avoid anyone giving away ‘free’ scratch cards
The over-friendly local
You are in a new city or town, map in hand, looking for a street sign. As if by magic an incredibly friendly local approaches you and offers to help. He might show you how to use an ATM or how to buy a train ticket, but all he really wants is your PIN number, and once he has it he’s off, but not before marking you to his accomplice for pickpocketing.
- Beware the friendly stranger!
- Keep your wits about you
- Never let anyone see your PIN
You’re a solo male, out for a quiet drink in a bar. An attractive girl approaches you and begins chatting, she invites ask you to a bar with her where some of her friends are meeting. Jumping at the chance to chat to attractive locals, you go with the girl. At the end of the night the girls vanish leaving you with a rather hefty bar bill, often running into hundreds and no chance of escape thanks to the scary looking bouncers on the door.
- Never go to a bar with someone you’ve just met
- If you want to carry on the fun, suggest going somewhere that you have chosen
The slow count
You’re changing some money into local currency, the cashier hands you back your notes but does so incredibly slowly, pausing inexplicably, until impatiently you snatch the notes, thank her and walk off. It’s not until later in the day you realise you have been massively short changed.
- Check your change before leaving
- Use smaller bills
- Only change money at authorised outlets
Buying groceries from the local supermarket, you notice that the cashier is on the phone; as you pay for your goods with your credit card however, she sneakily takes a snap shot of your card.
- Wait for the cashier to put the phone down before paying
- Carefully cover your card as you pay
The fake policeman
A policeman approaches you on the street, he tells you that they are having a real problem with counterfeit notes, and could he take a look in your wallet to make sure you don’t have any. Not one to disobey the law, you hand over your wallet and sigh with relief when it is given the all clear. Unfortunately the policeman is a fake and has lifted notes from your wallet whilst ‘checking’ it.
- Never give anyone your wallet!
- Ask to see official ID
The ticket seller
The queue for an attraction is off the charts; you’ve been in it for an hour and are still nowhere near to the ticket desk. A man in an official looking uniform approaches you, offering to sell you tickets to save you queuing, he flashes you an ID badge and you quickly hand over the money. Alas, when you get to the door, you and your fake tickets are turned away.
- Only but tickets directly from an attraction
- Pay with a credit card so you are covered for fraud
- Leave non-essential valuables safe at home
- Don’t dress like you have money to burn
- Trust your instincts, they are almost never wrong.
- Do you research; find out about your destination before you step off the plane
- Avoid dodgy neighbourhoods; ask your hotel or do some googling!
- Be cautious, not hysterical! Most people are just trying to help…
For government advice on any country in the world; head to the FCO website.