The Following is a Guest Post from Emily Buchanan.
It’s a well-known fact that when you’ve been travelling on a sweaty chicken bus for 12 hours straight, you’re going to be more susceptible to scams. Even if you’re the most scam-aware individual in town, fraudsters will prey on the unwitting, weary foreigner who just wants to bunk down for the night. It can and does happen to anyone (and yes, it can even happen to the clued-up, hardened travelers amongst us. Just read what happened to Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps and heed her advice). Therefore, whether you like it or not, it pays to practice extreme caution when travelling the wonderful (and wicked) world. After all, there are a lot of destinations that thrive on the tourist trade, which means there will always be those shady, unfortunate neighborhoods that prosper from the ignorant, the gullible and the easily lead. Sure, it’s not your fault that you’re an open target, that’s just a risk of travelling.
To begin with, repeat after me: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’” Keep reiterating this phrase in your mind’s eye and the old adage may just act like a protective force-field of scam deflection.
However, if that doesn’t work, you need to know what to look out for. These hustlers are smart enough and bold enough to catch you off guard, even if you have started to scrawl that immortal advice across table tops and street urchins. For example, my folks went to Paris for the first time last month and usually, they are very savvy travellers. They’ve been all over the world, often with four children in tow and, what with my dad being 6 foot 8 and an ex-copper, have never encountered problems with scamsters. However, even he fell prey to an opportunistic Parisian at the Gare du Nord who spotted their British confusion and ‘helped’ them buy tickets that were quadruple the price they should have been. What a way to start a city break. They say now that their mistake was not researching Paris before they went. They didn’t have the time, they’d been to France many times before, it was only over the pond etc. etc. etc. But, as my parents soon found out, cities are hotbeds of illicit activity and there’s no such thing as being over-prepared. There is, however, a definite issue with not preparing at all.
Many hustlers are also extremely convincing actors. It’s been known for some to charade about town like a police officer, a police officer that searches you and then proceeds to make a sharp exit with the contents of your wallet. You might have hidden the majority of your funds under the mattress at your hostel, but it’s still going to ruin your week.
So, since fraudsters even managed to make victims out of my practical parents, I’ve decided to round up a collection of comely honey traps and credible cons, ones that every traveller should be aware of if they want to avoid a swindle session.
Taking a taxi is wrought with danger. Does it have a license? Is the driver taking you around the block and then back again just so they can clock up their meter? Is the change they’ve given you enough? Is it real? With so many questions, it’s enough to put you off taking a taxi for life.
Unfortunately, taxi drivers have been known to prey on unsuspecting tourists who don’t know the area or the currency very well. A common scam is money swapping – when you pay with a note of ten, they will claim it was a note of one and ask for nine more, that sort of thing. Like I said, these people can be incredibly convincing, especially after long flights. Therefore, always practice extreme caution and, if you can, hire a car. This saves you so many problems with public transport, taxi fares and general travel logistics. Economy Car Hire covers countries and continents all over the world so contact them before you go.
How well do you know the currency of every single place you travel to? Well enough to spot a fake? There’s plenty of phony dough in circulation, and some of it is pretty difficult to decipher. Make sure you check every note that is handed to you, even if it’s from the exchange office and know the exchange rates off by heart. There’s a scam operating on border crossings at the moment called the reverse exchange rate scam. Quick fingered currency clerks can spot a blithering tourist a mile off and will swap the exchange rate figures so that you’re cut a lousy deal. This seems like quite an obvious problem to look out for but you’d be surprised at just how many weary travellers are short exchanged.
There are a number of scams in operation that rely on cab drivers and hotel staff being in cahoots. When you jump in the cab and ask to be taken to your pre-booked hostel, they’ll inform you that it’s closed down or been sucked into a black hole or under a new name. Then, you’ll be left on the side of the road, outside a dingy squat that no one in their right mind would want to stay in. The cab driver gets his commission and the run down hostel gets their first guest in 60 years, (well, if you exclude the cockroaches).
If this does happen to you, don’t settle for the creepy horror house. You might not come out alive. Try to hail down another cab, they can’t all be corrupt, or go into a reputable business and ask for advice and directions. Remember, there are good people everywhere. Sure, it’s easy to lose sight of that when reading this miserably cynical article, but it’s true! 80% of people are kind and loving and up for a nice cuddle. It’s just those misguided opportunist who confuse money for love, or are so desperately poor that they’ve got no other choice.
Again, I’ll tentatively inform you that not all hotel staff are corrupt, but caution is extremely wise. Never give your credit card details over the phone, even if the person on the other end claims to be a receptionist and never hand your passport over to anyone. Carry a photocopy. If they genuinely want it, this should suffice and if it doesn’t, make sure you seem some identification.
Do you know of any other scams to look out for while on the open road?