Every year, millions of eager travelers jet around the world to top tourism hotspots, with the vast majority having an excellent time. Their collective experiences change them for the better, validating the risk of venturing away from the familiarities of home.
However, some voyagers wander around these foreign environments aimlessly and carelessly, and put themselves in a position where savvy con artists and smooth criminals can exploit their naivety (it’s even happened to me in Argentina, China and Hungary!). This leaves this unfortunate minority with an intensely sour taste regarding travel, made even worse by the fact that virtually all of these incidents could have been avoided with a little research before their trip.
In this special report, we will profile the most common travel scams that exist in fifteen nations that are popular with travelers, so that you may be ready for any shady scheme that you might be confronted with during your time in these places.
Of all the nations in Southeast Asia, Thailand is the most popular destination for foreign visitors, and no wonder, as its beaches, food and the overall friendliness of its people are perceived by many to be the best in the world. The prevailing sense of trust and relaxation that exists here leaves a door wide open for brazen criminals, who show no qualms towards exploiting it for maximum gain.
Bangkok is home to many of these scams, such as one where a man claims popular attractions like the Grand Palace are closed, and then subsequently comes to your rescue with a bunch of sightseeing recommendations. His buddy is a tuk-tuk driver who will take to all of these sights, for a ridiculously low price (10-20 baht). This will result in you eventually being taken to a bunch of suit shops, where the pressure to buy garments will be heaped on, lest you be taken later to a dangerous neighborhood, where you could be coerced to pay a ludicrous sum of money.
During your time in Beijing, you will likely be spending ample time exploring the many splendors around Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. While you are busy admiring the architectural styles employed in these attractions, some young Chinese college-aged girls may approach and befriend you.
They will eventually let it slip that they are poor college students looking to raise money to pay for their tuition and supplies at the art school they attend. The confidence hustle hits pay dirt for the scammer when you are persuaded to buy what are really mass reproductions of an art piece (not an original work as claimed) at vastly inflated prices with respect to their true value.
I actually fell “victim” to this scam, but, I bargained with the guy way down and paid $60 for 4 pieces of art that I still think look pretty nice! There were plenty of people trying to speak English with me though that definitely felt like a scam.
India is a chaotic country with countless enterprising people looking to spin up some rupees any way they can, but some of these folks look to prey upon the greed of western visitors. Be aware of men in places like Jaipur propositioning you to buy up gems on the cheap, so that you can sell them to his friend back in the west at a deliciously inflated profit. Of course, it almost always the case that you’re purchasing worthless bits of glass crystals, so unless you’re a trained geologist, give this tempting scam a miss.
Every year, party people from across Northern and Western Europe go on holidays in Central and Eastern European nations like Hungary, looking to enjoy the vastly discounted price of accommodations and beer. In Budapest, many young men have fallen into a trap that is all too common in this city, walking into a strip bar looking to knock back some lagers and enjoy the company of some scantily clad and seductive women.
This all goes pear-shaped quickly however when the bill arrives at the table: 100 Euro (often much more!) for beers you bought and for the women that have been entertaining you. An intimidating bouncer that can beat you to within an inch of your life (or take with a weapon at the ready) will block your escape and ensure that you’ll promptly cough up whatever you owe!
While this rising Eastern European country is quite a safe country on the whole, it is nonetheless home to some savvy operators when it comes to separating tourists from their cash. One scam to watch out for in Bucharest is one where a person finds a wad of cash on the ground, proclaiming that it is only good luck to share half of it with you.
If you take the bait and start to divvy up the money, he will accuse you of taking more than your share, eventually escalating it to the point where he/she calls the police. At this point, the scammer will even claim you pocketed some of their money (i.e. all the money you have on you), and frequently, the officer will side with the local rather than with you. Effectively, it will be the most bizarre mugging that you will ever experience in your life.
In travel publications across the world for some time now, France has been either the most visited nation on Earth, or close to it. This sort of traffic attracts a criminal element, one that is skilled in the art of misdirection and sleigh of hand, all in the name of picking your pocket.
These characters work in gangs, with one common foil involving getting you to a sign a petition, while their accomplices help themselves to whatever is in your pockets. Take care around ATM’s as well, as some Roma kids might try to strike up a conversation with you as you are entering your PIN number, with the plan of stealing the card from you moments later. They will then use this vital bit of personal information to take out as much money as they can before you can slam the door shut by contacting your bank.
Those seeking the classic safari experience in Africa flock to Tanzania, seeking out giraffes, rhinos, lions, and more. Some end up getting much more than they bargained for though, as some operators will sell your reservation to a third party, understating the reservation and pocketing the extra money. Others are straight up fly by night companies who will take the money from your bank wire transfer and disappear into the background of this developing country, leaving you in the country with no lions, giraffes or rhinos to seen by you.
In the wake of the implosion of the Zimbabwe dollar, many currencies are exchanged and accepted in this nation, creating the need for tons of money changers. One scam that dishonest changers will pull involves passing you less money than you’re entitled to, but you won’t realize this until moments later after you’ve walked away, as the slick hands behind the transaction will pull bills from the bottom or the middle of the stack, out of the view of your distracted eyes.
With Morocco being a chaotic departure from the orderly way of life experienced in Europe, it creates openings for pickpockets, so be aware of your belongings here as you tour the souks. One unique foil here plays on your guilt, as a friendly local in some of the more popular destinations will come up to you and start pointing out historical attractions, giving you their background in history via some uncharacteristically good English.
As you attempt to part ways, your friend will claim he was providing you a service as a guide and will loudly demand payment. While you won’t be in any real danger with this one, it can throw you off your guard, so beware!
Generally speaking, corruption is not as big a problem in America as it can be in other places around the world. However, savvy con artists will use this fact to take advantage of your lowered guard in busy urban centers frequented by tourists, like in New York City.
Here, the street life is varied and lively, and in midst of all this excitement, the temptation to play games like three card monty or the ageless shell game can be hard to resist. These games are all run by those with hands faster than you can imagine and with the odd misdirection trick thrown in, the ball will never be where you think it is, or you will suddenly start picking the wrong card over and over again.
While Central America ranks favorably for its tropical climate, beauty, and affordability, its deep poverty and drug trade has fueled a level of criminality that can put unaware travelers at serious risk. While there are official cabs in the capital of Managua, many more are unmarked, as desperate citizens turn to any means they can to make some money.
Some though are piloted by brazen crooks, who shortly after picking you up, will pick up their colleagues nearby, who will get in on either side of you with their weapons drawn. They will rob everything of value from you, and will hold you until your ATM card is completely drained (due to withdrawal limit loopholes in Nicaragua, they just drive around to different banks until they have all your money).
The alluring beauty of the islands of the Caribbean can lead many travelers with financial means to immediately start considering a real estate purchase in this easily reachable paradise. Often while hanging out in a restaurant or bar, a local will befriend you, mentioning after a lengthy exchange that he is in the process of selling his condo, often quoting an unbelievably low price. If you fall for it, your money ends up falling into his hands, but the deed to his property won’t fall into yours – as he never owned the unit in the first place.
After years of being ostracized from the global travel community due to a simmering but active civil war, and ultra violent clashes between drug lords during much of the latter half of the 20th century, Colombia is back on the world stage. However, the local’s knowledge of powerful narcotics has not faded since that time, as the criminal element here uses the seeds of a local flowering tree to create a frightening drug known as scopolamine.
Known on the street as Devil’s Breath, predators use it to drug their prey, most commonly by placing it in the unattended drinks of targets, but it can also be blown in the face of victims by handing them a folded up paper and then striking when it is opened. The mark will obey commands while drugged without question, but retain no memory of what happened while they were under the influence. You lead the criminal to all your valuables, and you will empty your bank account for them without a second thought.
After they have had their way with you, they will often dump you in a park with absolutely nothing, and you’ll have no idea how you got there.
When traveling through South American countries like Ecuador, taking local buses will often be a necessity, but they can also be a great way to connect with the local culture. Sometimes though, local criminal gangs will get on the bus with no other intention but to rob foreign travelers of whatever valuables they can grab. After snaking their arms underneath the seats to snag cameras and wallets from the side pockets of unattended backpacks, they disembark at the very next stop. Laden with their newly found booty, a ride will be waiting to spirit them back to the town from whence they came.
Finally, if you’re driving around Buenos Aires via cab on a furious mission to see its sights, take special care to note what peso bill you hand your driver. Some unscrupulous drivers have been known to pull a fast one on fares that aren’t paying attention, as they will quickly exchange your legit 50 or 100 peso note for a counterfeit one, claiming they don’t have change for such a large denomination bill. By familiarizing yourself with the security features and look and feel of the bill that you hand your driver, you avoid being had in this manner.
What travel scams did I miss? Please share any you know about in the comments below!