I admit, as vigilant as I try to be, I’ve been an unwitting victim of a few travel scams over the years.
I’ve been taken for a ride (in more ways than one) by a tuk-tuk driver in Singapore. I’ve fallen for charming stories by a jewelry hawker on the beach in St. Lucia, and once got ripped off for some rupees by a “mind-reader” in India. I’ve even had to fend off fake police officers in the Dominican Republic.
Probably the most egregious scam was one my wife and I fell for in Shanghai a few years ago; it’s a long story, but involved some super-slick con artists who invited us to what proved to be a very expensive “tea ceremony,” which lightened my wallet considerably. The con artists were so engaging that we even debated for a day or so whether or not we’d actually been scammed. It was only when we were invited to another “tea ceremony” by a second group of con artists that we knew for sure we’d been had.
Travelers are particularly vulnerable to being scammed because they’re often in unfamiliar settings where, for instance, a tuk-tuk driver can pedal you all over Singapore when all you asked for was a ride to your hotel — or a fake (or corrupt) Dominican policeman can try to shake you down for your passport under threat of spending the weekend in jail. (Fortunately, in that instance, the person I was with spoke fluent Spanish and recognized the scam; the “officer” finally sped off on his motorcycle.)
Scam artists know that travelers may be feeling tired and a bit disoriented, yet are eager to engage with locals or at least not make a scene, leaving them liable to fall prey to often charming — or alarming — hucksters.
Today’s guest post by Alex Roland takes a look at seven common travel scams — and how to avoid getting conned.
By Alexandria Roland
Scams targeting tourists — especially seniors — occur every day around the world. Here are some to watch for and avoid:
1. Rental scams (equipment, cars, and lodging)
Whether you’re renting a car or canoe, a bike or an Airbnb, it pays to pay attention to any papers you sign, as well as to any previous damage that may have been done to the rental vehicle or property. You may find yourself being charged for damages inflicted by other renters.
Before you head off on your excursion or settle into your Airbnb, examine your rental! Do a walk-around and take pictures as proof of the “before and after” if you spot damage.
And if at all possible, return rental vehicles during office hours so the agent can inspect them and give you a receipt. Unscrupulous rental car companies (including some of the biggest names in the business) have been known to keep charging for cars that have been returned after hours, sometimes resulting in bills totaling thousands of dollars.
2. ATM thefts
Whenever you travel, what is one of the first orders of business to attend to? Stop by an ATM and take out some cash. But scammers may be watching, and stealing your card details as you do so.
An ATM scammer can install small devices in the card entry slot, allowing the device to record your card information as soon as you put it into the machine. On top of the card reader, a camera is typically hidden to see your pin. Here’s how you can avoid this situation:
- Examine and tug on the card reader before you put your card in. If there, the device should become loose or fall off.
- Notice if your card goes in smoothly or not. If it doesn’t, take your card out and do not enter your pin.
- Cover your pin at the ATM so a camera or a person in line can’t view it.
3. Public Wi-Fi scams
Let’s say you are at a coffee shop, restaurant, or in an airport, and you’re searching for a Wi-Fi connection. You may see a few different connections that are not password protected. Do not connect to any of those Wi-Fi routers! There are devices out there that can access your personal device’s information, down to the files and camera, without your knowledge.
Only connect to Wi-Fi routers you are familiar with, or get a company’s Wi-Fi information and verify it with them before using. If free, unprotected Wi-Fi sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
4. Ticket scams
If you are on your way to a concert or sporting event, be skeptical of anyone trying to sell you discounted — or even free — tickets! That ticket is likely fake. The scammer leaves with more money in their pockets, and your night is ruined when you’re turned away at the door. Avoid this travel scam by buying tickets directly from the company or a reputable online website.
5. Gold ring/lost wallet scams
The “gold” ring scam has been common in Paris and other popular European cities. Spotting a likely tourist, the scammer will “find” a gold ring or wallet on the sidewalk and ask if the tourist has dropped it. If the curious or just trying-to-be-helpful tourist takes hold of it to have a look, the scammer will demand payment. To avoid causing a scene, the visitor may pony up. (Of course, the ring is cheap gold-colored metal and the wallet is empty of valuables).
In another jewelry-related scam, some salespersons in crowded marketplaces will try to slip a necklace onto unsuspecting women who stop to browse in their shops, gushing over how beautiful it looks on them (and perhaps goading their companions into agreeing). Then, if and when they try to take the necklace off, the salespersons claim that once the jewelry is worn, they have to pay for it. Not wanting to make a commotion, they succumb to the scam.
The best way to avoid these scams is to follow Dionne Warwick’s advice and just walk on by, or, in the latter case, scamper on by until out of reach of the salesperson. But, unfortunately, you have to keep your guard up.
6. Tuk-Tuk tours
A tuk-tuk is a type of three-wheeled motorcycle (or, less common now, a pedicycle) that many tourists enjoy — unless the tuk-tuk operator is, well, an operator.
Some tuk-tuk drivers will take you on the longest possible route to your destination, then try to exact an exorbitant fee upon arrival — if they ever actually arrive. Others may present themselves as guides and, along with a sight or two, then take you to shops that they have deals with, where you will be bombarded by salespeople that make used-car dealers look shy. Although you don’t have to buy anything, you are under unwanted pressure, stuck on the guide’s route and may have wasted a good part of your day.
7. Fake police officers
Fake police typically cruise large cities and know that tourists tend to comply when approached. You may be pulled over by a “police vehicle,” when a uniformed person claims you have been speeding or have run a red light. The outcome is usually them requesting money, and everyone can call it a day.
Avoid being scammed by requesting their identification, ask them to call their chief officer, or handle the matter at the nearest police station. Police officers (unless corrupt) will not ask you for money, so don’t hand any over, or worse yet give up your passport.
The bottom line: Travel scams can take many forms, and are far too numerous to list here. But if in doubt when you find yourself in a potentially dubious situation, don’t show them the money — because scammers will always take it.
Before traveling overseas, boomers on Medicare should double-check if your insurance will travel with you. Original Medicare has very limited coverage outside the U.S., but some Medicare plans may provide for travel emergencies. To learn about traveling with Medicare, visit here.
Alexandria Roland is a Medicare expert, licensed insurance agent, and digital marketing coordinator at Boomer Benefits. As a content creator, she shares her knowledge of Medicare through many outlets, including writing. Alex helps to manage a growing online community of over 30,000 seniors in the Boomer Benefits Medicare Q&A Facebook Group.
Top photo caption: ATMs are the best option for getting cash on the road — but watch out for scam artists.
Well now I’m looking forward to post-pandemic travel! Thank you! — MLTHEW firstname.lastname@example.org