February 7, 2018
Every year, unsuspecting holidaymakers are taken for a ride by unscrupulous scammers, who use a whole host of tricks to dupe their prey.
Once you know what you’re looking for though, it’s much easier to spot a con coming. Here we’ve rounded up eight of the most common scams used against tourists to help you avoid an unwelcome holiday experience.
The scam: After you ask the cost, the driver gives you a shrug and tells you the meter is broken. “Don’t worry, it’s cheaper this way”, he assures you.
Except that it’s almost definitely not going to be cheaper and once you’re at the destination, it becomes much harder to argue about the price of the fare.
How to deal with it: Agree a price before you get in or keep searching for a taxi with a working meter.
So you know roughly what a fair price should be, do a bit of online research before your holiday. Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides sometimes offer this kind of information and you can ask at your hotel when you get there.
The scam: A number of people approach you dressed in something similar to police uniforms. Flashing badges, they offer you something illegal or illicit. They want to see your passport and wallet.
It can be daunting having anyone official-looking questioning you, but that’s what the scammers are banking on: panic. Remember, while a police officer in some countries (Colombia, Cuba and Mexico, for example) might ask for your travel documents, alarm bells should ring when any ‘official’ asks for your wallet.
How to deal with it: Ask to see some ID or say you’ll call the police to check. If this doesn’t dissuade them, simply walk away, making sure you are in a busy area.
The scam: Walking down the street, you suddenly feel something wet hit you on the back or shoulder. Almost immediately, a friendly bystander leaps into action and helps to clean you up. In the confusion, he’s also helping himself to your wallet.
How to deal with it: Shock and confusion play a big part in this scam, so try and compose yourself as best you can. Step back from anyone trying to “clean” you and insist you do it yourself.
Bear in mind that this trick can work with any kind of distraction, from having a fake baby thrown at you to a street-side magic show.
The scam: Upon hearing the name of your hotel, a concerned taxi driver informs you that it is in fact closed for refurbishment and that you will not be able to stay there. Luckily for you, he knows a much better one nearby.
Of course, it’s not nearby, it’s not better and your original accommodation is not closed. The driver is in cahoots with the hotel, receiving a little commission for every unsuspecting traveller he drops at the door.
How to deal with it: Look for alternative transport such as a shuttle or public bus, or seek out a different taxi. You can often arrange an airport shuttle service before you fly. Always keep the hotel’s contact number handy in case you need to call.
You might come across similar swindles outside bus stations (“the bus is full, use my taxi”) or for popular excursions (“this trip is much cheaper and better!”). The key is to not be swayed by these random offers. Stick to your original plans.
A USA-specific rip-off, highlighted by the FCO
The scam: You pull into a petrol station that does not have the price of gas clearly displayed. Once you’ve filled the tank, you go into pay and find that the cost is way more than you’ve been paying and much higher than the national average.
How to deal with it: If you can, avoid filling up around tourist hotspots and airports and keep an eye out for gas stations that display the price clearly. Consider filling an emergency fuel can for long distances.
The FCO states that this type of gas-station con is notoriously rife around Orlando International Airport, a hotspot for holidaying Brits.
The scam: After a purchase, the cashier slowly counts out your remaining change. But not just slowly, you can actually see the hair growing on your cashier’s head. Eventually, annoyed that your precious holiday time is being wasted, you grab the money and walk away.
Only later do you realise that you’ve been significantly short changed.
How to deal with it: Make a note of what your change should be and be patient – hold up the queue all day if you have to.
The deal that really is too good to be true
The scam: A ring/gem/jewel of such worth that you can finally think about moving out of your mum’s is offered to you by a stranger for a fraction of its value.
Desperate to seize upon this tremendous piece of luck, you buy the precious item for a steal. Later, of course, you realise it is worthless and your dreams of independence vanish.
How to deal with it: Be wary of anyone who randomly offers you an incredible offer: it is almost certainly a con. A firm “no thanks” will usually suffice to deter this type of scammer, but if they keep persisting simply walk away.
The scam: Similar to the fake police, two official-looking hotel staff knock on your door and ask if they can carry out a “routine inspection”. While one keeps you occupied, the other covertly steals any valuables on show.
How to deal with it: Don’t let anyone in that you weren’t expecting. Call reception and check if someone comes to your door asking to look around the room. It’s likely that the mere mention of doing this will see your ‘inspectors’ vanish as quickly as they appeared.
General advice on avoiding a scam:
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The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides valuable up-to-date travel advice for British citizens abroad. It is the best resource for reliable safety and security information. You can also find other important details, such as local laws, passport information and visa requirements. Stay safe abroad – check the FCDO before you travel.