9 Prevalent Scams to Avoid While Travelling

Scams to Avoid While Traveling
Scams to Avoid While Traveling

Scams to avoid while travelling are most important thing to look out for. For most of us, travelling is a luxury and we spend quite some time saving and planning for an overseas trip. All the excitement of arriving somewhere new and exploring the local scenery can sometimes make us oblivious to possible (and very common) scams.

Scams to Avoid While Travelling

Very few places are safe from scammers who prey on unknowing tourists. Here are some of the most common scams and tricks, hopefully, this will help you recognize and avoid them.

1. Faulty Taxi Meter

scams to avoid while travelling
Faulty Taxi Meter

One of the common scams to avoid while travelling, are the Taxi drivers who operate near airports will often pull the “my meter is broken” trick. Being a tourist, you are unsure of how much regular cab costs are, and by them not recording the trip on the meter they are able to inflate prices tremendously.

If your taxi driver pulls something along these lines, rather get out and let him know you will wait for a taxi with a proper meter.

Unlicensed, unmetered drivers often operate from airport arrivals halls and major tourist destinations. These drivers offer flat-rate fees to tourists. In many cases, the fees are much higher than metered fares.

Be aware of apparently friendly taxi drivers who offer you cheap tours. They will take you to shops where they receive a commission. You may be overcharged or sold worthless goods.

To protect yourself from taxi scams:

  • only use licensed taxis
  • find out what transport services are available at the airport before you travel
  • follow signage or advice of authorities to official taxi services only
  • always ask if the driver will use the meter, or agree on the fare before you get in a taxi
  • at the start of your trip, take note of the vehicle number, the taxi company name and the driver’s name

Unlicensed taxi drivers at airports will likely intercept you at the terminal. They’ll try and convince you to use their services. Most licensed taxi providers will be outside the terminal in their vehicle at the official taxi rank.

2. Taxi/Hotel Scam

Taxi/Hotel Scam
Taxi/Hotel Scam

Once again with cab drivers. Another kind of scams to avoid while travelling. When you let them know your hotel destination, they will try and inform you that this hotel is in fact closed of overbooked and will redirect you to a more expensive hotel. By doing this, they get a tip from the hotel for bringing in customers.

If this happens to you, rather phone the hotel directly and ask if this is true or not.

3. Friendly Stranger

Friendly Stranger
Friendly Stranger

You are walking around the streets looking like a tourist, and you feel something spill or mess on your shoulder or clothing. Most common scams to avoid while travelling is this. Out of nowhere a friendly stranger pops up and starts wiping the mess off for you. Don’t be fooled – their hands are often in your pocket picking up your wallet and any other belongings.

Rather than keep walking and decline their “friendly gesture”- keep a hold of your belongings.

4. Help with the ATM

Help with the ATM
Help with the ATM

This is a very common scams to avoid while travelling that happens to many people – not only tourists. You are busy withdrawing money from the ATM and somebody pops over your shoulder to try and assist you. There are often two of them working this scam and are actually trying to scan your ATM card while the other read your pin.

Refuse help profusely and call the authorities if somebody does this to you. Cancel your transaction and grab your card straight away.

5. Credit card skimming scams

Credit card skimming scams
Credit card skimming scams

Card skimming is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit or ATM card.

Skimming usually occurs when you buy something and somebody takes your credit card out of your sight.

To reduce your risk of credit card skimming:

  • ask for your card back straight away if a shop assistant wants to swipe your card out of your sight or in a second machine
  • pay with a cheque or cash, or don’t buy the item
  • never share your PIN, or keep a copy of it with your card

6. Vehicle hire scams

Vehicle hire scams
Vehicle hire scams

Jet ski, motorcycle and car hire scams can happen overseas. Australians have been harassed and threatened by transport operators for returning allegedly damaged hire vehicles. Some operators have demanded 1000s of dollars and taken passports as collateral — they will keep your passport until you pay for the damage.

To protect yourself from scams, before you hire a vehicle:

  • read online reviews of local travel companies
  • check the vehicle and take photos of any previous damage
  • check if your insurance covers you for recreational vehicles, especially if you’re unlicensed in Australia

Never leave your passport as a security deposit or collateral.

Learn more about the ‘lost deposit’ scam in the CHOICE guide on travel scams and tourist traps.

7. Wrong charge or overcharging scams

Wrong charge or overcharging scams
Wrong charge or overcharging scams

A common scam is to be overcharged by merchants, taxi drivers or ticket agents. They may also try to give you the wrong change — for example, giving you a change for $10 when you paid with a $100 note.

Bars and restaurants can also overcharge travellers. Staff may invite you to order without a menu or avoid questions about price until they give you an expensive bill.  

Before you travel:

  • familiarise yourself with local currency
  • get a sense of how much things cost

When you’re travelling, avoid using large bills to pay for small items. Read reviews of local bars and restaurants you intend to visit and always ask to see a menu. Check the price of food and drinks before ordering. Don’t accept extra food you didn’t order without confirming if it’s on the house.

Pay attention and take your time to check you have the correct change.

8. Pickpocketing scams

Pickpocketing scams
Pickpocketing scams

In crowded tourist areas, thieves may create a diversion. Allowing thieves to pickpocket you while you are distracted from your valuables.

Ways to distract you may include a crowd of beggars jostling you or an offer of help from someone you don’t know.

You can reduce your risk of pickpocketing by:

  • staying alert in areas where pickpocketing is common
  • treat any unusual event as a potential pickpocketing attempt
  • put valuables in pockets that are harder to access
  • use a tamper-proof backpack or handbag

9. Visa scams

Visa scams
Visa scams

Visa scams involve travellers buying visas that are not needed, illegal or overpriced.

Some third-party websites charge a fee to submit a visa application on your behalf. Some of these websites are fraudulent.

Avoid visa scams by:

  • applying for visas using links or organizations recommended by the embassy or consulate of the country you’re visiting
  • reading the travel advice for information on entry and exit requirements before you travel

If you travel on a fake visa, you may be arrested, jailed or deported on arrival.

So there are a few of the most common scams worldwide. Hopefully being more aware of them will help you avoid any issues on your next trip!

About the author

Rebecca Brown