Thankfully, most of us don’t have much in the way of day-to-day dealings with truly terrible crimes. That’s not to say that we’re all protected from crime, though. In fact, most of us veer pretty close to being victims of it every day.
Perhaps the biggest threat to us comes financially. There are scammers everywhere. Mostly, they exist online, but swindlers, con-artists and grifters operate ‘IRL’ too.
One of the times we’re most at risk is on holiday. We’re vulnerable then; often we’re relaxed, off guard, trusting and unaware of the various systems and processes in our host countries.
So, to help you spot the rogues trying to part you from your holiday budget, we’ve put a list together of 10 of the most common, interesting and clever holiday scams…
Because forewarned is forearmed.
1. Beware the ‘gift’
‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth,’ some folks say. Well, apart from being a rather clumsy phrase that barely makes any logical sense, it’s also terrible advice when it comes to avoiding holiday scammers.
If a stranger approaches you on the street with a gift - any gift - it’s not a gift. They’ve not just taken a shine to you and decided to offer you a no strings attached present. There very much are strings attached.
Be sure to avoid taking these seemingly innocuous tokens. They may be fruit, flowers or even a friendship bracelet. Whatever is offered, do not accept it. You’ll be expected to pay for it. Refuse to pay and you may be threatened or worse.
2. Don’t be lured away while booking online
Be it your flight, accommodation, excursion or anything else, if you’re asked to pay online, only do so via a site or company you know and trust.
If you’re ever asked to pay away from a trusted site, this is a red flag. Let’s say, for instance, you’ve found a bargain on Airbnb. The very friendly host suggests you complete the deal away from the website to ‘save on fees’ or similar. You’ll lose the protection that Airbnb offers and most likely find yourself giving money to someone that doesn’t even own a holiday let.
3. Dropped jewellery
You’re stopped on the street by someone you don’t know. Why would you know them? You’re on holiday, after all. ‘You dropped this,’ you’re told. It’s a gaudy-looking gold ring. One that’s not yours…
Keep walking, state firmly ‘that’s not mine’ and do not handle the item. Stop and get involved in an exchange and you could find yourself pickpocketed by a third party in the following confusion. Alternatively, the person may become insistent and demand that not only is the item yours, but that they’re now owed some form of finders’ fee for reuniting you with it.
4. Taxi fares
It’s always best to agree on a fare with a cab driver before you set off. Tourists are often easily identifiable and generally aren’t aware of local cab fares. As such, more unscrupulous drivers may attempt to overcharge. That isn’t a problem if you’re yet to set off, but it can be once you’re at your destination.
Research fair prices in advance and don’t be afraid to haggle before getting in. If you’re told it’s ‘meter only’, ensure the meter is running as you set off. If the driver informs you it’s broken or that it’s somehow ‘cheaper without it’ - get out. You can then either find another driver or - more likely - your existing driver will realise you’re smart and just charge you an accurate price.
5. The stain
A classic distraction technique, a fake bird poop or ‘accidental’ condiment squirt on a tourist’s shoulder is not unheard of. The mark stops, shocked. A passing local helps clean the muck off with a napkin. They thank them and go on their way. Sans their wallet…
This is a popular scam. So, if it happens to you, just keep walking and deal with the laundry issue yourself.
6. Wrong change
It can sometimes be tricky to get your head around foreign currency and exchange rates, especially in countries where you’re dealing in tens or even hundreds of thousands of units and handfuls of paper cash.
Local grifters will be aware of this and quite literally cash in. So be careful of being shortchanged. Acquaint yourself with the local currency, learn what the notes and coins look like and work out the maths. Fail to do so and you may find yourself overpaying for things. Or being palmed off with counterfeit currency.
7. The recommendation
There’s nothing better than soaking up the local culture when abroad from locals and their superior knowledge of the area. Do be careful, though. Unsolicited advice from someone could spell danger.
If someone insists on showing you a tourist attraction, bar, or restaurant themselves, they could be trying to lure you to some inferior spot somewhere on behalf of that attraction. Worse still, if it’s a ‘short taxi ride away’ you may be ripped off by the cab driver who’s in cahoots with the ‘helpful’ local.
8. Fake tickets
It may seem obvious, but always purchase tickets for anything via an official source. Be as careful in real life as you would be online.
Your friendly cab driver may offer to take you to their friend who can get deals on excursions, but however friendly they or their friend are, there’s every chance you’re being lined up to buy a counterfeit ticket.
9. Be careful with Wi-Fi
Data usage may be pricey abroad, so it’s often a smart idea to hook up to free Wi-Fi when you’re on holiday. Be smart with which hub you connect to, though. Try to only connect to those run by your accommodation provider or a known and trusted bar, restaurant or institution.
Double-check with staff if you’ve got the correct hub. Online scammers have been known to set up unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspots and then hack devices that connect to them.
10. Be vigilant at ATMs
Cash machines can be confusing abroad. They’re often set up different from the ones you’re familiar with. There are language barriers, as well as possibilities for fees and charges.
Don’t be tempted to accept unsolicited advice from a stranger when you’re standing at an ATM. Some fraudsters can scan your card in an instant and without you even noticing.
Have a safe journey
Don’t head to the airport downhearted, though. Holidays should be fun. There’s no need to tiptoe around frightened of being scammed. Just be careful, look out for the tell-tale signs and you’ll be fine. And, hey - enjoy your trip!