One of the most common travel scams doesn't happen in the taxi, or even the hotel. In fact, many travelers don't even know it's happening until after they have willingly handed their money over. At that point, it's far too late to do anything about it.
Point-of-sale scams are some of the quickest ways to part travelers with more money than they originally had in hand. Travelers are often targeted at the checkout counter by a number of telltale signs, including holding cash in hand, fumbling through bills, and asking questions about how much is owed.
As a result, travelers end up spending more by accident, with only the bill to show for their troubles.
Savvy travelers know how to avoid a scam before it becomes a problem by looking for the common telltale signs. Here are three common scams travelers run into while adventuring a long way from home.
Gifts from locals: when a gift isn't a gift
The "free gift" scam is common in countries where travelers are either not familiar with the local customs, or suffer from a language barrier. While there are many variations, the scam works basically the same: a local offers the traveler something as a gesture of luck or local good will. In return, the scammer will ask the traveler in return, usually in the form of money. If the traveler doesn't comply, then the scammer will either harass the traveler, intimidate them with mob tactics, or otherwise make a scene until the traveler complies.
Around the world, the scam takes a number of variations.
In the Caribbean, travelers lounging on a beach will often be approached by a woman offering a massage for free. In developing nations, children may give travelers friendship bracelets as a show of international goodwill. On the streets of New York, an aspiring musician may give travelers a "free" CD for publicity, just to have his friends "convince" them to give the musician some money for the disc.
In any event, travelers should be aware of the intention of the scam, and do the only reasonable thing: politely decline the gift and walk away.
Fake tickets: When a good deal is too good
It's often been said: "if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Free tickets are the epitome of when good deals go bad. The scam works as travelers stand in line to buy a ticket for an attraction. That's when someone will approach saying they can't use the tickets because of an emergency or obligation. The person will then offer to sell the attraction tickets to the traveler at a discount, allowing the scammer to "recover" their cash while giving the traveler a discount. The only catch is that those tickets aren't actually valid.
This scam comes in different flavors at different places around the world. In Europe, scam artists usually strike with travelers standing in long lines for popular attractions or at train stations with high demand. In Las Vegas, this scam usually happens on the street as vendors often hand out free VIP passes for tips. Regardless of what the scam looks like, the result is always the same. Always buy tickets from a reliable outlet, and never accept tickets from somebody walking up. Instead, firmly decline and stay in line for the real thing.
Currency exchange: a nice gesture for the shop owner
This is a scam that routinely happens in border towns around the world, as well as shops surrounding hotels and high-traffic tourist destinations. But unlike the other two scams outlined above, the currency exchange scam is uniquely international.
This scam can show up in one of two ways. Travelers show up straight off the airplane or hotel holding a handful of cash from their home country. When they go to buy an item or pay for a taxi fare, the operator offers to exchange the traveler's currency to the local currency as a convenience. The result is an exchange that devalues the traveler's currency, giving the difference to the scam artist.
Another way this scam may occur is when paying with a credit or debit card. As a convenience, the shop owner will ask the traveler if they want to pay in their home currency.
If the traveler says they'll pay with their home currency, the exchange rate given often favors the shop instead of the traveler.
Anyone who offers to exchange money and isn't at a bank is looking to part a traveler with their money. When in another country, it's always best to pay for items in the local currency and exchange money at banks alone. When paying with a credit card, it's always best to pay in the local currency, in order to get the most competitive exchange rate.
Even in the most unsuspecting of places, travelers are targets of scam artists. By knowing the scams ahead of time, travelers can make sure they get exactly what they're paying for without losing a dime.