Travel scams have been around, well, as long as people have been traveling. And, unfortunately, they are live and well all around the world. Since I recently got scammed, it got me thinking about what other types of fraud people have experienced and how they handled them. So I asked some fellow travel bloggers to share their experiences with travel scams, and how to avoid them.
Bolivia: Passport Scam
from Worldly Adventurer
I was living in Bolivia and was approached by a local man asking for help in finding a hostel, and shortly after, another man in plain clothes who claimed to be an undercover police officer. He requested identification; the first guy gave his ID card over readily and encouraged me to do the same. Smelling a rat, I refused to give my passport and instead handed over a photocopy. It was clear they were working together to try and steal my passport – a well-known scam in South America. For anyone travelling here, always carry a photocopy and never go with anyone claiming to be a police officer.
Cambodia: Taxi Scam
from Skye Travels
Travel scams are not uncommon in SE Asia. One I personally ran head into was the taxi scam of Poipet, Cambodia. Once you leave immigration, you will be accosted by locals trying to get you into a taxi for three times the price you should pay. The “free” shuttle will just take you a bus stop outside the city, where you will be forced to hire the same taxis since there are no buses to Siem Reap from Poipet except at 6 AM. The only real way to avoid this is to book your ride in advance, fly directly to the city you want, or arrange a ride with a hotel or hostel in Poipet.
Cambodia: Rice Scam
from Dose of Life
The Chong Khneas floating village seemed like a very authentic attraction. It was one of the activities we actually planned (this and Angkor Wat) on our trip to Siem Reap. Unfortunately we didn't read up on it and had only decided to go there because of pictures we saw online. Big mistake. From the minute we arrived, we were scammed. From paying an exorbitant ticket price to being emotionally blackmailed into buying extremely expensive rice for the orphans. All because a local boy told his sad little story really well. At times it felt like there was something wrong with the whole situation but we were doing it because we felt bad for them. And he counted on it.
Cambodia: Milk Scam
from Teacake Travels
‘I don’t want money, I just want milk’ says a young child holding a hungry child in their arms. Out of all the things beggers ask for, a little bit of milk is OK…right? Wrong. This is a scam running throughout Cambodia and if you’ve been caught out by it already, you’re easily forgiven: I fell for it too! The child will take you to the shop to buy milk but unfortunately the milk is unbelievably expensive. If you go as far as to pay for it, the child will take it and thank you. The catch? As soon as you leave, the child takes the milk back to the shop and they and the shop owner split the earnings. It’s run by the mob and they’ve been tricking people with it for years.
Ecuador: Museum Scam
from Local Nomads
While traveling around the equator, beware of pseudo-scientific tourist attractions promoting the scientific wonders of zero degrees latitude. I Paid $30 to visit an “equator museum” that (among other BS) offers the amazing chance to see water drain in different directions depending on which side of the equator you’re on, reportedly due to the legendary “Coriolis effect.” We walked up on a water basin sitting on the equator line, the tour guide puled the plug from the basin and showed with leaves, that the water poured straight down with no vortex. Next he moved the basin 10 feet to the south, poured the water in, waited about 5 seconds for the water to become still, pulled the plug, and showed with spinning leaves that the water drained clockwise. He moved the basin to the opposite side and repeated the routine to everyone’s astonishment. It wasn’t until my questioning mind kicked in years later that I decided to do my research… turns out this is a common trick pulled on unquestioning tourists… Without getting too technical, Coriolis has no effect on such small amount of water as a sink or toilet. Coriolis only effects huge things like ocean currents and the directions a hurricane spins. The trick is in the direction the guide pours the water into the basin in the first place.
Italy: Photo Scam
During my first trip to Rome, I fell for the simplest scam of all. I was coming down the stairs towards Trajan's column, taking photos. In my line of sight was a guy dressed in a centurion. Took some general shots and then he approached me. I was traveling with my husband, so the guy first posed with him, then with me. Once done, he asked for 10 euros. I was fuming and on a very shoestring budget. Told the guy to take 5 euros and then he asked where we were from. When I told "Romania", he vanished. Some moments later I realized that I have read about this scam before but I wasn't wise enough to avoid it. The good news is that starting this summer, these guys are banned from doing this.
Mexico: Police Scam
from Burger Abroad
The Mexican Shakedown is a widespread scam all around the country that mostly affects foreign drivers in cars. Cops pull you over, invent a made-up "driving infraction" violation, confiscate your license and/or passport, intimidate you with guns, threats and jail time, and then demand you give them cash to get it all back and be set free. The made-up fines can be astronomical and then it's up to you to negotiate your way out. I had to haggle to get my license back and I ended up forking over cash just to get out of the situation and away from all the huge automatic weapons. Unless you want an adventure in a Mexican jail, carry some cash.
Mexico: ATM Scam
from How Near How Far
A few years ago my girlfriend and I had an amazing time in Cabo San Lucas. All was great until we got home and saw that miraculously around $2,000 had been withdrawn in small increments over the past few days! Turns out I was the victim of a credit card skimmer installed at a shoddy ATM near one of the places we got tacos from! An attachment was on the card reader of the ATM and skimmed the details of the card, along with a small camera that was used to read the pin! Always check the card reader in dodgy places!
Tanzania: Traffic Scam
from Mags on the Move
I was riding in a car with a friend in Arusha, Tanzania when a man ran out into the road in front of our car! Obviously, we stopped to avoid hitting him and when we did, 3 other guys ran up and put spikes around our tires. The men had badges of some sort and said that we owed a "wrong turn" fee of 50,000 shillings. When we explained that we did not have that much cash on us, one of the men jumped in our car and directed us to "his office" where we could pay. My friend kept driving aimlessly and purposefully missing turns in hopes that this man would get fed up and get out of our car. Instead, the man called his friends and they showed up in cars to block our path and essentially force us to this "office". When we got there and explained that we still didn't have the money, the fine was raised to 60,000 shillings. I was locked in an office as collateral while my friend went to find an ATM and get the money. We paid and were allowed to go, but it was a huge waste of time and money. In most places you could just call the police, but unfortunately in Tanzania the police are notoriously corrupt and would probably side with the locals trying to scam us, and request a bribe for themselves as well. Lesson learned; it sucks, but when in Tanzania carrying extra cash and just paying people off can save you a massive headache.
Thailand: Snorkel Scam
All of the passengers on-board the boats in Ao Nang were warned that if their mask and snorkel was not returned, it had to be replaced at the passenger’s cost. The time came to hand the equipment back. Guess what? A mask and a snorkel was ‘missing’. Back on land, we were asked to pay 1000 THB to replace the ‘missing’ equipment. You could by similar in Ao Nang for 250-300 THB! We hadn’t lost anything, and it became obvious this was a scam. Once the crew realised I’d started recording everything, they calmed down. I told my friends not to pay and just to walk away.
United Arab Emirates: Jewelry Scam
from Awe Inclusive
Dubai’s gold souk has breath-taking jewelry. Fortunately, some jewelry is perfect for the average Joe. Buying jewelry, clothing, and décor as souvenirs assures that I’ll use the items purchased abroad. While I love the custom-made necklace I purchased, I got scammed. I was so excited about the necklace that I didn’t inspect before I left. It wasn’t until I was on the plane home that I realized the necklace was sterling silver. I’d paid for white gold! Tip: Research jewelry prices in advance for bargaining power and examine your purchases closely before you leave!