10 Travel scams and how to avoid them

BY Richard Mellor

1st Jan 2015 Travel

10 Travel scams and how to avoid them

These are 10 of the most common travel scams out there. Heed Richard Mellor's advice and deter passport-pilferers and double-billers with some good old-fashioned vigilance.

Speedy visas

how to avoid visa scams

The scam: It’s a faff getting to the embassy, so you plump for a visa on arrival. But after you landed, the perma-smiling customs officer lists two options: wait for an unspecified amount of hours and risk spending half your holiday at the airport or slip him/her a friendly $50. Hey—it’s business!

The solution: This one is simple. Always sort your visa in advance through an official body.


Biased tour guides

The scam: Hired to take you round the souks, local rep Mohammed seems strangely keen on certain shops.

“This one looks nice,” you say. “No, no,” he retorts, firmly. “This one better.” Why? Because the owner’s his brother and Mohammed’s on 20% commission, that’s why.

The solution: Remember who’s in charge; you’ll buy where and what you want. If he persists, threaten a complaint to your hotel.


Currency cons

currency con

The scam: There are infinite variations here. The most common have retailers applying highly-creative exchange rates or vendors taking one currency and giving (not nearly enough) change in another.

The solution: Learn the local currency (and exchange rate) as quickly as you can.


Double bills

The scam: “We just need to take a credit-card deposit”, says the cherubic receptionist. Later, checking out, you pay in cash and get a receipt, only to later clock that the receipt is for a credit-card bill.

You can complain, sure, but you’ve no proof of making the cash payment. Hook, line, sinker.

The solution: Check your bill very carefully before leaving the hotel.


Fake take-aways

takeaway boxes

The scam: Some helpful Harry slides some takeaway menus under your villa door. The seed now planted, you later order pizza over the phone.

It’s card-only payment, so you recite the details. Sadly, that Margherita won’t ever come; the only thing you’ll be eating is humble pie.

The solution: Pay in cash only, and research the company online before placing your order.


Illegal taxis

The scam: Arriving at the requested destination in your meter-less cab, you’re charged a meter-less fee which breaks all known rip-off records.

Beyond paying, the only options are doing a runner (tricky with suitcases) or a stand-off. Neither tempts.

The solution: Ensure your taxi has a meter, or agree on a fee upfront and pay upon arrival.


Non-free nibbles

bread and olives

The scam: Everyone knows that bread and olives—nom, nom, nom—are free aperitifs. Everyone, that is, except for some unsympathetic restaurateurs who bill you for said accompaniments.

Unhappy about it? Too bad: you’ve scoffed them now, greedy.

The solution: Memorise the local word for ‘free’ before you travel, then indicate each snack and enquire whether it’s gratis.


Pretend policemen

The scam: A smartly-dressed man comes over and says he’s a policeman. There’s a drug-smuggling ring going on, and he needs to see your passport.

This seems a reasonable request, so you hand it over. But, hang on—why is he running off?

The solution: Always ask for identification, and say you’ll only hand over your passport at a police station.


Damaged hire-cars

scratched hire car scam

The scam: Everything goes well at the car-hire office, and you vroom off in a borrowed Peugeot.

When you return, however, there are apparently numerous new scratches, scars and dents which translate to a small army of fines. Strange, given you barely drove it anywhere…

The solution: Ensure all imperfections are well documented before you drive off.


Non-optional donations

The scam: Leaving the supposedly free temple / shrine, you’re offered the chance to make a donation. And offered again. And again, a little more grumpily.

You might even be shown photos of some sick people to tug at those heartstrings.

The solution: Carry some low-donation coins for moments like these, or just be firm—free means free.


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