Are you planning a trip abroad soon? As excited as you are about that white sand beach or famous museum, scammers are just as excited to rip you off. Travel and foreign currency scammers target even the most seasoned travelers in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, and Istanbul. Before you jet off to your next destination, learn about the latest global street scams and how to protect yourself.
6 Common Street Scams
Friendship Bracelet Scam
The friendship bracelet scam is prevalent in Italy, Spain, France, and other parts of Europe. Victims of the friendship bracelet scam are most commonly women. The lure is a friendly face who approaches you and offers a free friendship bracelet to tie around your wrist or a sprig of rosemary for good luck. After a few minutes of admiring your new bracelet or trying on multiple, these scammers will demand payment. If you refuse? They’ll create a loud, uncomfortable public scene. More often than not, people will pay up just to escape the situation.
Stay Safe: It’s always okay to offer a smile, just keep moving. Don’t take anything and don’t accept anything from a stranger.
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Broken Taxi Meter Scam
The broken taxi meter scam is a popular tourist scam in India, Thailand, and Central America. Taxi or rickshaw drivers will charge outrageous fees for a ride, claiming a broken meter. Not only are they dodging taxes, but they’re also scamming you out of more money than the trip would normally cost.
Stay Safe: To avoid this scam, always ensure a meter works properly before you accept a ride.
Group Photo Offer
The group photo offer street scam is in Paris, London, and Amsterdam, although you may encounter it worldwide. This scam happens when a stranger approaches your group, offering to take your picture. However, while you are getting in position, they dash off with your smartphone or camera before you can react.
Stay Safe: To ensure the safety of your belongings, be cautious about whom you give your expensive items to. Consider bringing along a disposable camera, just in case.
The animal scam happens most frequently in the Caribbean and other tropical locations. Someone will place an animal on your shoulder or give you a baby animal (a bird, an iguana, a monkey, etc.) and then demand payment after taking your picture.
Stay Safe: Kindly decline when a stranger offers to give you an animal while traveling abroad.
This scam is common in India but also very prevalent across the globe. This scam happens when someone spills sauce or another substance on you and then tries to help you clean it off your clothing. While one or two people are “helping” you, another will take advantage of the distraction and pickpocket you.
Stay Safe: The key to avoiding this tourist scam is awareness. Don’t let a stranger touch you, and don’t search your clothes for a stain spotted by a stranger.
The rug scam is a common Istanbul tourist scam where locals convince you to come and check out their carpets, offering you tea while you look. Store owners will not only charge you for the “complimentary” tea but will try to sell you carpets 75% over average prices.
Stay Safe: If you’re rug shopping, limit your stops to stores you’ve vetted online.
Street Scam Red Flags
Aside from the more obvious global travel scams listed above, also keep an eye out for the following:
- Strangers displaying unexpected friendliness or approaching you with offers of assistance when you haven’t requested help.
- People who physically touch you in any way, with no reason to do so.
- Cars without proper licensing displayed.
- Menus at restaurants or cafés with no pricing.
- People holding wild animals in a city setting.
How to Avoid Travel Scams
If you encounter any of the situations listed above, use these strategies to safeguard yourself and your belongings.
- When someone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, put a hand up and say “no” firmly. Walk away, break eye contact, and do not engage in conversation.
- Utilize the in-room hotel safe and stay at internationally recognized hotel chains.
- Avoid handbags that don’t zip completely and wear cross-body styles that are harder to rip off.
- Keep your passport and cards in a “traveler’s wallet” around your neck or under your shirt, not
in a pocket
- Leave the diamonds at home and, if you must, take some travel jewelry (made with sterling silver and cubic zirconia).
- Visit the U.S. Department of State website to review any travel-specific warnings before you depart. This will give you a good idea of advisories and security updates.
- Consult a travel agent familiar with destination-specific scams.
- Talk to friends who have previously traveled to your destination.
- Buy a local guidebook to learn about local customs, tourist scams, and insider tips.
What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed
If you do get scammed while traveling abroad, go to the local police to make a report, for documentation and insurance claims purposes. Take photos of the police report and email it to yourself for backup. If the local police are unhelpful, reach out to your embassy. This is especially crucial in cases of personal safety concerns, such as being forcibly taken by someone pretending to be a guide or taxi driver. Also, consider contacting your embassy for high-value stolen items like expensive jewelry or an entire suitcase.
Scammers are always on the hunt for unsuspecting tourists to prey on. Do your due diligence before you travel — research your destination, prepare, and have a plan. Awareness and caution are the keys to a peaceful trip where you can leave with what you came with and more!
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