Disclaimer: This information is general in nature only. While Budget Direct has endeavoured to ensure the information we’ve relied on is accurate and current, we do not guarantee it. Budget Direct accepts no liability for this information.

Scams might feel like a constant threat when you’re travelling overseas, but in reality, they don’t have to define your trip. A lot of the common (and serious) scams fall into the same clichés, and with a bit of preparation, you can usually pick them before they’ve picked you.

We’ve turned to Smart Traveller for the 6 most common (and threatening) scams out there and prepared some handy defences against each of them.

See all of Budget Direct’s travel safety guides.

The bogus police officer

This classic scenario involves someone posing as a cop (with or without a uniform) in a tourist area and making less-than-ordinary demands. 

This usually means they’ll want to check your passport or check your cash for “counterfeit currency” resulting in one of two scenarios – either they make up a bogus fine to charge you, or they simply run off with your valuables.

Fake police officers aren’t just a third-world issue, either. You might even encounter this one in the US, UK, or wealthy European nations. After all, it’s usually not that hard to find a convincing police uniform.

Your defence strategy:

  • Ask for ID – This is a fair and honest thing to ask of any proper police officer anywhere in the world. If they refuse to show you ID, you can confidently say you’re dealing with a scammer.
  • Go to the real police – Calmly explain that you’re going to the nearest police station to clear things up. Most of the time, this will be enough to scare them off.
  • Cause a scene – If they try touching/grabbing you, go ahead and scream. No scammer wants a crowd, and that should be enough to send them packing.

Unlicensed taxis

When you’re trying to navigate a foreign country, the natural instinct is to hail a taxi, and go where you need. This is exactly what some scammers feed on, and they have cars disguised as taxis to suit. Even the licensed taxis might spot you’re a foreigner and take obscure paths and clogged roads to drive up the cost.

Your defence strategy:

  • Always arrange taxis – If you finish lunch and need a taxi back to your hotel, see if you can call a taxi from the restaurant. Arranging for someone to come and pick you up is always the safest way to guarantee you’re getting into a licensed taxi.
  • Use the meter – Try and only use taxis that have a meter, so they’re kept honest. If they don’t have a meter visible to you, agree on a price before getting in and setting off.
  • Don’t overpay – It’s a rare one, but some taxi drivers will ask you to pay with large denomination bank notes, all so they can give you counterfeit cash as change. Having an idea of how much taxis should cost is always helpful, so you know how much cash to have on hand for the driver.
  • Trust your gut – If something doesn’t feel right, don’t get in the taxi. You’d rather wait for a trusted option than put yourself in danger.

Pre-damaged rental items

Say you’re soaking in the sun on a beautiful beach in Thailand. You decide to spend the last few glorious hours of sunlight on a rented jet ski, enjoying the calm and beautiful waters. All is going brilliantly, until you go to return the jet ski, and they ask you to pay for all the damage underneath it – damage you couldn’t have caused in the open ocean.

This has become quite a common scam all over the world, and not just with jet skis. Businesses will try and rent out equipment (like bikes and scooters) with existing faults you can’t see and pin the damage on you when you return.

Your defence strategy:

  • Take plenty of pictures – Take pictures of every inch of whatever you’re renting. If there is an area you can’t see (like the underside of a jet ski), maybe it’s best not to risk renting it.
  • Ask them to run it – Try not to be the one who starts the jet ski, motorbike or scooter you’ve rented. They might claim it was working perfectly, and you’ve somehow damaged the engine. If they start it and it fails, naturally, you can’t be the one at fault.

Pickpockets and distraction artists

There is a reason why pickpockets are so often lumped in with magicians – they’re often masters of misdirection. They’ll usually do something to conveniently distract you and gain access to your personal bubble, like spilling a drink on you “accidentally”. It’s usually equal parts evil and genius.

Your defence strategy:

  • Zips and barriers – Pickpockets thrive on being able to quickly gain access to your belongings and snatch them before you notice. If your phone and wallet are hidden in zipped pockets that are only accessible from inside your jacket, even a talented thief is going to struggle to take them without you noticing.
  • Don’t watch the magician’s assistant – Magicians only have an assistant at shows so you’ll watch them, not the person performing the trick. It’s often the same with pickpockets, who ask an accomplice to distract you as they set to work. If a stranger happens to stop you to ask you something, don’t be fooled if they don’t approach you closely. They might still be a part of a pickpocket’s plan.

Hotel payment “failure”

This is definitely a niche trap, but if you’re not expecting it, can easily fool you into handing over your credit card details.

What scammers have started doing is calling through to the phone in your hotel room, claiming to be from the hotel itself. They’ll then explain that their records for your room bond didn’t store correctly, and they need your card details again.

Your defence strategy:

  • Only speak to hotel staff in person – If the hotel needs your card details again, simply head to the concierge desk, and provide them. Even if they insist on taking details over the phone, speaking to a trusted staff member is always best.
  • Don’t flaunt your credit card numbers – As much as this might be a clever trap for unsuspecting tourists, if you’re ready for it, it’s by far the easiest to defend against. As a general piece of life/holidaying advice, not a lot of good can ever come from reading out your credit card numbers over the phone.

The unpredictable scammers

As old scams become less reliable, con artists will invent new ways of separating you and your belongings. This means that unfortunately, scammers will never be entirely predictable.

Your defence strategy:

  • Safety in numbers – A solo traveller will usually be targeted more than a group. If you are travelling alone, either do your best to blend in, or find trusted groups and locals you can spend time with.
  • Be protected against loss – A good way to protect yourself against a heavy loss from stolen valuables is with travel insurance. It can cover the lost items themselves, as well as lost luggage, emergency medical treatment and other unexpected calamities. Of course, each policy is different, so make sure to read the relevant product disclosure statements.

See all of Budget Direct’s travel safety guides.