10 Travel scams to be wary of

Your correspondent has just returned from some time in South America and the topic of travel scams, cons and dodges is foremost in his mind. Here are some common ones.

1. Hotel Safe Secure?
You put your wallet and valuables in the ubiquitous hotel room safe and go out knowing all is secure. Right? Well, no. Those safes don’t offer great security and can be easily opened by those in the know. The clever thieves just take a small amount of cash from your wallet and expect that you won’t notice. While there’s nothing you can do against wholesale theft, leaving a note with a list of the money in your wallet will certainly be a disincentive against pilfering.

2. Sauce on the Shoe
If you are walking around a city and a kindly passer-by points out that you have something on your shoe and offers to clean it for you, expect they have an accomplice waiting to grab your bag or wallet while you are distracted. Likewise, go on alert if you’re suddenly surrounded by children clamouring for your attention. The best step in either case is to keep walking or to step into a shop while firmly hanging onto your wallet or bag.

3. Counterfeit Currency
In some countries there’s a healthy black market for foreign cash, especially $US. The difference between the official and unofficial exchange rates can be large – and attractive. Beware: the local currency you get may be counterfeit. If you do buy on the street closely examine each note you are being given. An alternative is to ask shops and restaurants what exchange rate you’ll get if you pay in a hard currency – it may be the same favourable rate without risk.

4. Credit Card Insurance
You vaguely remember that your credit card offers some insurance protection so decide not to take out travel insurance. Bad move. The insurance provided by your credit card is likely to be very limited and hedged with conditions. Also, it may only work if you put every element of your travel on that one card. Take out travel insurance – an annual policy is an easy way to set and forget (but be aware it probably only covers 90 days of consecutive travel).

5. Rental Car Excess Waiver
You do your research and find a great rate for a rental car. Then, when you go to pick up the car you find that the daily rate increases dramatically when you include the cost of reducing the insurance excess to a reasonable level. This is a time when your travel insurance or credit card insurance may offer the cover the rental company wants a fortune for – check each before you arrive at the counter so you know whether to tick “accept” or “decline”. In Canada I was informed that there would be no insurance at all unless I accepted the firm’s insurance. Check if your “excess reduction insurance” applies in such a case.

6. The Real cost of Your Flight
Legislation limits how much Australian websites can fudge on extras that will greatly increase the ultimate cost of your air travel. But if you want food, legroom or even your luggage travelling with you, you may still be paying extra. Always keep your airline options open till you know the total cost for each.

7. Airport Touts
Foreign airports can be noisy, confusing places and a lot of people may be there to profit from the confusion. Ignore people offering you deals on hotels and transport and only deal with the official booths and ranks – or organise transport and accommodation (perhaps with transfers) in advance.

8. “That’s Closed Today”
This can happen worldwide: you are walking to a museum only to be told “it’s closed for renovation/festival/special event but I can get you in for a private tour”. Keep walking. Or your cab driver says “I just dropped someone at that hotel/restaurant and it’s overbooked and they are turning people away. I know a better one”. Insist they take you to your original destination – and check that it really is the right place before you pay them.

9. Junk Jewellery
Unless you have some expertise in gemstones and precious metals approach any overseas jewellery purchase with caution. If it’s a “special deal”, run. Strangely, this is a trap that many travellers continue to fall into.

10. Rental Car “Damage”
You return your rental car to the airport and fly home only to be welcomed by a message that you returned the car damaged and your credit card will be deducted for the cost of repair. This claim can be hard to argue against. My suggestion is closely examine the illustration of damage that you are given with the contract. Then closely examine the car and report any scratches or dings they have missed before you drive away. In this era of phone cameras it’s not hard to comprehensively photograph the car at the beginning and end of the rental period so you have documented evidence if there’s a later dispute.

These are just some of many travel scams. If you know others, or have experienced your own, it would be very helpful if you tell us about them.