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World’s 20 sneakiest travel scams and how to avoid them

From the daringly creative to the downright stupid, their cunning schemes can catch even the most experienced traveller off guard. Thanks to recent research from Webjet, we’ve highlighted these 20 travel scams that are by far the most creative – and financially damaging – to travellers around the world. Here’s how to steer clear of trouble.

The one with the taxi

One of the most popular tricks in the travel scamming business. There are a variety of ways to be scammed in a taxi. It will most likely involve the driver insisting their meter is broken and a price can be agreed upon arrival at the destination. Another trick to be mindful of is being informed that the hotel you booked is surprisingly closed and they “know a better place”. This better place is probably owned by one of their mates, and they’ll receive a hefty commission from the deal.

How to avoid:
Have a basic understanding of the travel costs, distance and official companies that run the taxi services in your particular destination. If the driver insists the meter is broken, then simply walk away. After some slight begrudgement they will most likely agree to a set fee or miraculously revive the meter in order to avoid losing the sale. Be sure to only get in official taxis from the airport, and, finally, take advantage of the digital age: use your smartphone to tap into driving apps, or if you don’t have access to mobile data, you can pre-download an area on Google Maps prior to your arrival. Thinking of using Uber? Avoid this scam too.

Where it happens:
The taxi scam is one of the most widely used hacks, and happens all around the world. More common in developing countries such as Thailand or Buenos Aires.

The one with the ring

In this scenario, you are approached by a caring stranger who asks, “Did you lose your ring?” You inform them that it is in fact not your ring, yet out of the goodness of their heart they insist you must keep this expensive piece of jewellery. The moment you accept this wonderful gift, they demand payment for it. What they don’t tell you is that the ring is actually worthless, yet the money you hand over to them most certainly isn’t.

How to avoid:
Flatly refuse the ring. They’ll insist you take it, but inform them you have no intention of keeping the ring. Also be wary of this situation being used as a distraction for the scammer’s accomplices to pickpocket you. And if your wallet does get stolen, here are 7 things you should do immediately.

Where it happens:
Almost entirely located in Paris, France.

The one with the ‘free’ bracelet

One moment you’re minding your own business admiring the architectural beauty of Notre Dame or the Sagrada Familia, the next you find an overly friendly man or woman aggressively strapping a cheap ‘friendship’ bracelet around your wrist. The scammer then asks for a payment for their services, even though you didn’t ask for them and, as the bracelet is strapped so tightly, there’s little opportunity for you to refuse the offer. Be mindful as this tactic may also be used as a distraction while you are pickpocketed.

How to avoid:
Be aware of those around you when in tourist hotspots. Kindly inform the individuals that you already have enough friends, or that you can be friends without the need of a cheap bracelet. If a stranger approaches you with an item, don’t accept it; there’s almost always an ulterior motive.

Where it happens:
This travel scam occurs mostly in Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Cairo.

The one with the fake WiFi

Travelling for modern tourists is now a continual search for paradise; a Wi-Fi hotspot. Finding one provides an opportunity to post that perfect selfie or capture a Boomerang video at the Trevi Fountain. The search for WiFi in a foreign land can be a long and infuriating experience, so scammers sometimes set up an unsecure hotspot in an attempt to access passwords and account details.

How to avoid:
Always use a secure network, or one owned by the restaurant, hotel or venue you are visiting. If you are unsure about which networks are secure, ask a member of staff for all the details you need. Phone scams can be just as bad. Beware of these new ones.

Where it happens:
This one is also played out in many different locations. Be careful of this travel scam particularly in Italy and India.

The one with the Trojan Horse

Those familiar with the ancient Greek story might be able to piece this one together. Essentially, thieves hide in a suitcase pretending to be a ventriloquist dummy! As the suitcase is placed in the baggage compartment, the thief emerges from the suitcase to then begin to steal items of value from neighbouring bags. The thief then reseals themself back into the case. This laughable scam is relatively new, however reports (especially in Spain) of the act are steadily increasing.

How to avoid:
Keep all items of significant worth on you when in transit (e.g. passports, cameras, laptops etc). Be sure to be aware of the items in your bag before travelling, and keep an eye out for anything suspiciously missing after your journey. Another method could be to travel with your suitcase. Try these 7 other tips to keep your personal items safe while travelling.

Where it happens:
Mostly seen in Spain. However, there are also reports of the Trojan Horse scam occurring in other parts of Western Europe.

The one with the petition

Usually positioning themselves around major tourist hotspots such as the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, these scammers approach you in a shirt that could be semi-legitimate. They may pretend to have a hearing impairment, pointing for you to sign a petition for a random charity. The petition will have other signatures alongside the amount of money that was donated by that particular person (most likely fake). Once you’ve added your signature to the petition, they’ve got you right where they want you. The scammer will demand a donation in the hope that you will give money in order to avoid an awkward interaction in a crowded location. Many people give a donation just to escape a dreaded public confrontation.

How to avoid:
Don’t sign the petition. Ask to see their identification as part of a charity organisation. The impersonation of a charity official is an offence, so don’t hesitate to report this to the local police.

Where it happens:
Commonly seen in France, Italy and Spain.

The one with the stained shirt

This will happen in a crowded space. Someone will approach you with a cloth or towel and will kindly remove the bird poo or smudge from your clothing that mysteriously wasn’t there just moments ago. There isn’t actually anything mysterious about this situation at all. The same individual with the cloth (or their accomplice) spilled something on you when you were busy getting a photo of the sights. After cleaning up the mess, they ask for a small donation for their time. If they don’t ask for this donation, they are most likely causing a distraction for you to get pickpocketed.

How to avoid:
Be mindful in crowded spaces and weary of anyone being overly nice. Also keep an eye out for anyone wielding a rogue bottle of tomato sauce!

Where it happens:
The stained shirt is seen throughout South America. Common in Rio De Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

The one with the fake police

This one usually involves a fake police officer accusing you of a crime you didn’t commit, often demanding money or your passport to avoid any further sanctions. Handing over your valuable documents can result in them going on to demand a payment in return for these documents. Just like Frodo’s ring in the Lord of the Rings, your passport is your “precious” when travelling overseas. Try not to give this up to someone when you’re not absolutely sure of who they are.

How to avoid:
If you’re in a safe public space, don’t be afraid to call their bluff. Ask them if they would kindly take you to the nearest police station so you can sort out this situation you have found yourself in. If they aren’t police officers they’ll probably leave you alone after mentioning going to the station. Check out our list of the safest and most dangerous countries in the world to visit.

Where it happens:
Particularly common throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. Cities like Budapest and Bangkok have a high number of cases reported each year.

The one with the flying baby

One moment you’re admiring the architectural masterpiece of St. Peter’s Basilica, the next you see a baby launched into the air. The baby is heading for either you or the ground. What you don’t realise is that it’s just a toy, not a real human child. As you assist in the chaos you’re pickpocketed.

How to avoid:
We aren’t saying don’t catch a flying baby. Just that be mindful of those around and the location of your valuables when the situation unfolds.

Where it happens:
Reports of the baby toss come from such tourist hotspots as Rome and Barcelona.

The one with the fake accommodation

After scouring the internet looking for that perfect hotel deal, you finally find it! As you arrive at your destination eager to check out your accommodation, you realise the hotel or apartment doesn’t in fact exist. Although unwanted at any time of the year, this can be more prevalent during major sporting events and festivals as people are more desperate to find accommodation.

How to avoid:
Be sure of the site you are booking through. Avoid sites you’ve never heard of before. Just because it’s posted on the internet doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Check out these other online shopping scams and how to avoid them.

Where it happens:
With this scam occurring through online platforms, it can happen anywhere with internet access.

The one with the free holiday

The age-old adage about something looking too good to be true comes into play here. In this situation, you are offered a ‘free’ all-inclusive holiday by a company no-one has ever heard of before. Quite simply, small travel businesses don’t do this without a major catch involved.

How to avoid:
A big red flag for this scam will be the deal not mentioning any specific hotel, resort or airline. Dates are not usually specified, further fuelling the need for caution. For this one, make sure you read the terms and conditions located at the bottom of the page. In here you’ll find the clause in the ‘free’ holiday.

Where it happens:
With this scam occurring through online platforms, it can happen anywhere with internet access.

The one with no prices

You’re approached by a lovely waiter holding a menu and you’re convinced to take a seat. You sit down, you’re given the menu and suddenly you realise the menu doesn’t show any prices. You may be in a relatively cheap area so you ignore this misprint and continue to order and eat. The bill arrives at the table and so does that gut-wrenching feeling of overpaying for something mediocre. You’ve been charged a colossal amount for a pretty basic service.

How to avoid:
In most countries, not providing a price on the menu is in fact illegal. If you can’t locate the prices on the menu, just ask the waiter. If they don’t give you the price, they don’t get your business. You can also report this to the local authorities.

Where it happens:
No priced menus are common in restaurants across Italy and Spain.

The one with the fake restaurant voucher

This one involves someone giving you a restaurant voucher to use at a nearby eatery. What a kind and generous offer this is from someone who doesn’t even know you! After you tuck into your delicious discounted meal and go to use the voucher during payment, you’re informed that it has expired or is no longer valid. You’re then left to pay a hefty bill for your meal.

How to avoid:
The easiest way to avoid this scam is to confirm with the restaurant beforehand that the voucher is valid. If it’s not, leave. No harm done.

Where it happens:
Common in both Europe and Asia. Be mindful in Italy, France and Thailand.

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