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Top 7 Overseas Travel Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

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Top 7 Overseas Travel Scams (and How to Avoid Them)

Travelling abroad? Make sure you don’t fall for tricksters eager to separate you from your cash.

When you’re busy enjoying the holiday of a lifetime, the last thing you need is to be confronted with a travel scam. Even the most experienced jet-setters can fall victim to dodgy taxi drivers, credit card scammers, slick pickpockets and other unpleasant surprises.

The best defence against these scams is vigilance and knowledge of the most common tricks, traps and frauds. It’s not a matter of being paranoid – it’s about avoidance through reasonable care and common sense.

Tourists who don’t speak the language, don’t know the area, aren’t familiar with the money and don’t understand the dangers are prime targets for foreign thieves.

Here are this year’s most common scams, and some tips to avoid them.

The bogus policeman

This classic scenario involves someone posing as a cop (with or without a uniform) in a tourist area and demanding to look at your passport or to check your wad of cash for counterfeit currency. The perpetrator will then either charge you an on-the-spot cash fine for some made-up infringement or simply run off with your money and documents.

If faced with this situation, ask for identification. If still not satisfied, indicate that you are going to the nearest police station to clear things up. This should get rid of them. If they grab your arm, screaming usually works.

Fake police officers aren’t just a third-world issue, either – this happens in wealthy European countries and in the US and the UK as well. It’s not that difficult to buy a spotlight, a flashing siren or a convincing police uniform.

The dubious taxi driver

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Taxi scams abound. Giving the impression that you’ve been in a city before can sometimes help when it comes to drivers who take the ‘scenic route’ or intentionally pick the busiest, slowest roads in order to jack up the metered fare. It’s always safer to ring for a taxi than to summon one from the street (fake taxis are not uncommon).

If the taxi has no meter, agree on a price before you roll. And be suspicious of a driver who asks you to pay with a large denomination note: they may be trying to unload some counterfeit money as change. The best way to avoid most taxi scams is to use a reputable cab company, have a good idea of expected costs beforehand and never get in a taxi that ‘doesn’t feel right’.

The damaged rental item

If you hire Jet Skis at coastal resorts in some parts of the world, beware of being charged exorbitant amounts to pay for alleged damage when you return them.

If you hire Jet Skis at coastal resorts in some parts of the world, beware of being charged exorbitant amounts to pay for alleged damage when you return them.

One problem with hiring jet skis when they’re already in the water is that you can’t see the undersides, so look over the entire Jet Ski before hiring it – and take some close-up photos.

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The Australian Smartraveller website has issued warnings about Aussie tourists being harassed and even threatened with violence in Thailand beach areas (including Phuket, Pattaya and Koh Samui) by Jet Ski operators demanding large sums of money.

This scam has also been reported by Aussie travellers in Mexico[1] and may be happening in other countries as well. These scams started receiving serious global publicity around 2010, but the problem hasn’t gone away. Hiring motorcycles or scooters can also leave you vulnerable to the same ‘damages fee’ scam.

Pickpockets and distraction artists

It’s much easier to takes someone’s money if they’re distracted, and light-fingered thieves have plenty of clever ways of achieve this. They might spill something on your shirt, ply you with drinks in a bar to make you less aware or simply bump into you.

Such thieves often work in pairs: one strikes up a friendly conversation with you while a companion sneaks off with your purse, wallet or mobile phone. Be alert for quick-getaway thieves on motor scooters, jostling crowds and unsolicited offers of help from strangers.

The best way to avoid pickpockets is to keep your money in a secure, zippered front pocket or use a neck pouch, hidden waist wallet or one of those clever belts or socks with secret zippers.

Don’t hand your expensive camera to someone who offers to take your picture, and never carry more cash than necessary for immediate needs. And don’t be one of those people who wears a money pouch on the outside of their shirt against the stomach.

It’s like hanging an ‘I’m a tourist, please rob me’ sign around your gut. Two seconds with a sharp razor can cut the strap, relieve you of your valuables and might also result in a nasty gash to your midsection.

Hotel scams

Thanks to TripAdvisor and other websites that rate the quality and integrity of hotels, it’s getting harder for dodgy hotel staff to get away with as many obvious scams these days – it’s bad for business. But there are still a few things to watch out for when it comes to overseas accommodation.

A common trick is to get a call from hotel staff (you think) informing you that they’re having trouble with your credit card, and asking you to provide your details again over the phone. Okay, maybe they work for the hotel, but maybe they’re just a random thief who happens to know your room phone number.

If you don’t know who is on the other end of your phone line, walk down to hotel reception yourself to see if there’s actually a problem. When travelling, never give credit card details over the phone.

The only reliable way to ensure you’re covered for stolen valuables while holidaying is to take out appropriate travel insurance, which should also cover you for lost luggage, emergency medical treatment and other unexpected calamities

Many travellers believe hotel safes are a lot safer than they actually are. Hotel staff will always have a way to get into your safe in an emergency – like when you forget your code – which means you are always vulnerable to theft by unscrupulous staff, who may just steal a small amount of cash so you won’t notice.

A hotel’s liability when it comes to in-room theft varies widely from country to country, but often you’ll have no recourse to try and get your money back.

The only reliable way to ensure you’re covered for stolen valuables while holidaying is to take out appropriate travel insurance, which should also cover you for lost luggage, emergency medical treatment and other unexpected calamities. Each policy is different, so always check the product disclosure statement for details of your cover.

The accommodation booking that isn’t

Most of us have received those emails that try to con us into clicking onto a cleverly disguised but thoroughly bogus website that pretends to be our bank, PayPal or some other financial entity. Well, the same thing happens with websites providing overseas holiday listings – some are complete fakes.

Most of us have received those emails that try to con us into clicking onto a cleverly disguised but thoroughly bogus website that pretends to be our bank, PayPal or some other financial entity. Well, the same thing happens with websites providing overseas holiday listings – some are complete fakes.

They look awesome: stunning photos of palm trees, friendly people at hotel desks, close-ups of colourful cocktails with tiny umbrellas in them, and a handy button you can click on to pay your deposit online and get that ‘never-to-be-repeated special price’.

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It’s not that the property doesn’t exist – it’s that the scammers are using easily-obtained information from the hotel’s genuine website to create a convincing fake site that is in no way related to the real thing, and has been created for the sole purpose of getting your credit card information and/or relieve you of money for a reservation that doesn’t exist.

When you arrive at your destination and front up to the hotel desk, you’ll discover you have no reservation at all, and have been scammed out of several hundred (or thousand) dollars through your credit card.

The cure for this scam is simple: always book through your travel agent or a reputable accommodation site you’ve used before, or book your room directly with the hotel itself (most decent hotels have a reservation website these days).

Hey, all I wanted was a cup of tea

According to Mitchell Blatt (Panda Guides author), the most common scam in China at the moment is the ‘overpriced tea ceremony’ scam2. A well-dressed local woman or couple will approach you and ask if you would like to see an authentic tea ceremony at a cafe or private home.

You go, and when it’s all over you’re presented with a hefty bill well above market price. Of course, there’s also the possibility of being drugged from the tea and robbed. Best advice: never go anywhere with strangers you’ve just met on holiday.

1 http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/the-worlds-worst-travel-scams/story-e6frfqfr-1226928812296

2 http://origin.smartertravel.com/photo-galleries/editorial/the-9-surprising-travel-scams-you-need-to-know-about.html