tourist scams woman travelling pickpocket stealing airport

Avoiding Tourist Scams

In Travel by Kyle RammlerLeave a Comment

Summer is just around the corner, and that means it’s time to start planning your next big trip! But there is another group of people looking forward to tourist season – pickpockets, fraudsters and criminals.

Whether you’re heading just south of the border to the US, a bit further to Mexico, across the pond to Europe or over to Asia, it is important to protect yourself from tourist scams. There is no better way to keep yourself and your valuables safe than by familiarising yourself with the tricks of the trade. To get things started, here are five of the most common scams to look out for.

With friends like these…

rosemary bushel mortar herb

A woman offers you a sprig of rosemary which she explains is a sign of friendship, she forces it into your hand and maybe even starts offering to read your fortune. No mention of money is made, but once you try to walk away she suddenly starts demanding payment. If you hold out and don’t pay up the (usually elderly) woman will start yelling, and even placing curses on you and your family… an uncomfortable situation to say the least.

Most prevalent:

Parts of India and Madrid

How to stay safe:

Don’t accept gifts from strangers, they will very rarely be free and are even less likely to be well intentioned. Just say ‘no’ and walk away with purpose.

The Hotel no-tell

hotel sign broken sketchy lodging

You’ve had a long flight so you catch a cab to your hotel. Only one problem, your hotel is closed… or so your cab driver says. Thankfully he knows another place. You end up overpaying for a substandard hotel while your cabbie gets a nice kickback from the shifty hotel operators. Sometimes these hotels will even steal the name or logo of reputable chains to throw off unsuspecting visitors.

Most prevalent:

Parts of Continental Europe

How to stay safe:

Know your hotel address, and hours of operation and keep their phone number handy. Remember that you are the customer so if a cab driver takes you off course, demand to get out.


delivery pizza woman paying take out

You’ve finally made it to your hotel, and while you are excited to start exploring your newest destination, it’ll have to wait until the morning. In the meantime it would be much easier to just order-in. You find a menu under your door, pick your favourites and pay by card so you don’t have to worry about fumbling through some foreign cash. It’s been an hour now and still no food, then another hour goes by, you try calling back and they tell you it is on the way. You call again and no one picks up. An empty stomach is now the least of your worries. Turns out the restaurant never existed and your card details were stolen. Instead of a large pizza, you’re now paying off a large bill racked up by crooks on a shopping spree with your details.  

Most prevalent:

America and Europe

How to stay safe:

Buy currency ahead of time and pay in cash. If it is your first time in a new place it can be difficult to distinguish between reputable businesses and scam artists. Paying with cash protects your personal information.

Beggars Can be Choosers

beggar homeless change loose gloves fingerless alms

You’re walking through a foreign city and you notice a beggar, or maybe they approach you. You feel bad for them and since you are in a position to help you pull out your wallet and hand them a couple notes. Or maybe you are wary and try to walk on but they pressure you with a sob story and won’t leave you alone, so finally you relent, pull out some change from your wallet and hand it to them. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished and a pickpocket has been watching you the whole time – and now they know exactly where you keep your wallet.

Most prevalent:

All over the world

How to stay safe:

Keep your wallet in a safe location (not hanging in a purse or in your back pocket waiting to be gnabbed by an opportunistic pickpocket) and only pull it out in a safe location. Not everyone in this world is fortunate, and if you want to help, or give back to the country you are visiting consider donating to a registered charity.

Grocery Score

grocery store shopping cart empty pushing

You’ve decided against take out and want to make a nice homemade meal. At the checkout the cashier counts your change slowly, very slowly. Then they go back through it and count it again. How long can it take? By the time you finally get your change you don’t bother to count it, you are in a rush and they counted it twice so how could they have got it wrong! Well, they did and they did it on purpose. Knowing that you are a tourist and unfamiliar with the currency, they shortchanged you – literally!

Most prevalent:

Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Central or South America

How to stay safe:

Know your currency! Familiarise yourself with the look, feel and denominations of your travel money. Great resources like Continental’s Currency Spotlights are HERE to help you get to know your currency before you buy it!

Stay informed, stay safe and stay Current.