Every day, countless travelers across the globe fall victim to various scams designed to take money from the overly hopeful and unsuspecting. While traveling to another country can increase the likelihood that you’ll be swindled, it doesn’t have to spell disaster. By familiarizing yourself with some of the most popular scams out there and learning how to spot—and avoid—rip-off artists, you can have a safe, smart, scam-free trip.
Rental and Timeshare Scams
Hotels are great for some travelers, but others prefer something a little homier when they vacation abroad. Renting a house or apartment can be ideal for them—but it’s also dicey. There are many scams involving the rental of fake locations, a move designed just to get your deposit. Other cons include or renting a location in an undesirable condition, which the traveler won’t discover until after arrival.
Timeshares offer another opportunity to swindle. The National Consumers League reports that many unsolicited offers for timeshare investment have giant fees that are completely misrepresented and hidden until you want to take advantage of your time to visit. Others misrepresent the quality of the timeshare or its location. Sometimes, the timeshare companies go out of business after the purchase is made, leaving the vacationer high and dry.
An Offer so Good, You Should Refuse
Many scams take advantage of travelers by offering something that seems to good to be true, but in desperation to spend less, wait less, or do less, travelers ignore that nagging in their gut and go along with it. One example of this is found in the taxi scam mentioned on Scambusters,org. In this swindle, the scammer will approach someone standing in a long line of tourists waiting for a cab and offer them a taxi ride well before their place in line would normally allow. As it turns out, the scammer isn’t a real taxi operator and just wants to steal the traveler’s luggage and valuables.
Other examples of these kinds of scams include “prizes” awarded for free trips that require a small fee to claim, some heavily discounted vacation packages, and even unreserved hotel rooms sold in-person by seemingly authorized individuals with badges, who hang around airports, train stations and so on.
The Little Con
Not every scam is a long con requiring preparation and materials. Sometimes beggars, pick pockets and even merchants can try to swindle or steal from travelers. It would be impossible to outline every possible scenario, but travel expert Rick Steves has a fantastic article about travel scams and rip offs on his site, as does LonelyPlanet.com. Some of those mentioned include merchants counting back change slowly in hopes that you’ll lose patience and skedaddle without making sure the change is correct, locals becoming friends with you on-the-spot and taking you out for a drink, only to pad the bill with extra charges, and seemingly trustworthy people who need your assistance on the street.
Figuring Out the Fraud
It would be a sad world if every good deal, every shop merchant, and every helpful local were secretly a fraudster out to get what’s yours. Thankfully, that is simply not the case—although that does make watching out for scams harder. Here are a few tips:
- High pressure sales and limited time offers are often a tactic used to get you to forgo thinking and fall for a scam. Don’t allow anyone to pressure you; it’s better to walk away and miss out on the deal than to fall for a scam.
- Don’t pay for any travel arrangements or lodging without securing a contract.
- Always use a major credit card when paying deposits so you can later dispute the charges.
- Verify offers and service providers through a third party. Scammers take their “work” seriously and will set up sites and references for you to check and verify their veracity. Instead, do your own independent research and check for complaints through sites like the Better Business Bureau.
- Watch those “prizes.” It’s hard to win a contest you didn’t enter—and yet scammers use this line all the time to get unsuspecting travelers to part with their credit card information.
A trip abroad isn’t as casual as taking a drive in the country—and it shouldn’t be treated as if it is. Do your research on what to look out for in terms of scams and secure the proper international insurance plans to help reduce the likelihood of financial loss due to cancelled travel reservations, lost luggage and more.