Fewer things are more stressful than traveling, especially if you’re stuck in one of the worst airports. On top of different customs and unfamiliar languages, you’ve got to worry about getting scammed while abroad. These are the worst travel scams you should absolutely watch for.
1. A not-so-free tour
Many people are more than happy to make a buck off of your obvious lack of direction. A kind stranger may place you in the path to your destination or even walk you there. Once you’re outside the airport, they may even point out fun sights along the way. Once you reach your destination, though, they may demand money for the “tour” they gave you.
Instead, find a coffee shop, store, or restaurant, and ask someone who works there for directions. If someone on the street does give you directions, insist on walking by yourself.
Next: Hold up the line if it means avoiding a scam.
2. Incorrect change
This conflict can cost you in a foreign country. A vendor gives you incorrect change when you buy something, hoping you’re unfamiliar with the local currency and won’t notice. It’s often only off by a few coins. But in places like Japan or Colombia, where the currency looks much different, you could receive a lot less back than you should.
Next: Some people are slow in security; others are devious.
3. Security stallers
Some people are just bad at going through security. Others, however, are deliberate security stallers. An accomplice ahead of them will swipe your stuff while their partner holds up the line. Keep a close eye on your belongings and make it clear you’re paying attention. This scam works best on people who are distracted.
Next: Do this before you drive any rental vehicle.
4. Rental damage
You rent a car and have an accident-free trip. Then, when you return it, the employee points out a dent or scratch. You get charged for repairs and have no way to prove you didn’t cause the damage.
Whether you’re in the U.S. or a foreign country, always take pictures of your rentals, focusing on scratches or dents, before you drive off the lot. You can ask the rental car company to note issues on your rental agreement before you drive away and have the proof you need when you return.
Next: Avoid this one with a quick check.
5. False ATMs
Fake ATMs are common in big cities or heavily trafficked areas. Scam artists add a magnetic card skimmer to the real skimmer on an ATM. Then, when your card goes in, the skimmer gets all of your info. You still get your money, but weeks later the scammer uses your info to access your account. By then, you have no idea which ATM is the culprit.
The best way to prevent this: Wiggle the skimmer before you insert your card. A fake one will easily come off.
Next: Don’t stop for conversations with strangers.
6. Devious distracters
Airports are busy places; it’s easy to bump into people. But be wary if someone bumps into you and then give a long apology. Their job may be to distract you from your purse or luggage long enough for an accomplice to steal them or reach inside to take your wallet or passport. This can happen anywhere, but it’s especially common in airports.
Next: Download Uber or Lyft before you land.
7. Taxi scams
Exhausted tourists are particularly vulnerable. Imagine you just touched down in a different time zone. When you’re exhausted, you’re less likely to notice your taxi driver taking a longer route or a meter not running. Then, you’re charged a premium price for a regular ride.
Insist on your taxi driver turning the meter on before they start driving. Or, use rideshare apps, which have a set price and give you access to a map that shows you the fastest way to get from point A to point B.
Next: Even WiFi can feel insecure.
8. Pretend WiFi hubs
Scam artists will install unsecured, open WiFi networks in busy places. Once you use it, the person can see everything you enter, including passwords, bank account info, and credit card numbers. This is common in airports that don’t offer free WiFi. If you need to connect, just pay the fee. A few dollars is worth ensuring your info doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
Next: Don’t talk to strangers, just like your mom told you.
9. ‘Helpful’ luggage carriers
In some foreign countries, it’s common for a stranger to offer to grab your luggage off the carousel and carry it to your car or taxi. They’ll be friendly, but then demand payment and create a scene if you don’t pay. If you really need assistance with luggage, find a porter employed by the airport.
Next: Exchange your cash at home, if you can.
10. Shady currency exchange
The airport is not the best place to exchange currency, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Be wary, especially if you arrive at night. In some airports, the exchange counter will give you back less than you should get. They’ll explain that the posted exchange rate is for “daytime only” and that there’s a nightly currency exchange that’s lower. Don’t fall for it.
If you can, exchange currency at your bank at home. If you have to exchange it at the airport, only get the minimum amount you need to get through the night, then find a reputable exchange the next day.
Next: You’re better off buying a new charger if you lose yours.
11. Pay phones with outrageous prices
Airports are one of the few places left with payphones. If you just landed and your cell battery is dead, you may use the pay phone that charges your credit card but doesn’t give a clear rate. You’ll end up with an exorbitant fee, plus the company now has your card on file. Use cash for pay phones or keep a charger with you.
Next: Go old-school with your headphones.
12. Bluetooth scammers
Bluetooth technology is useful but has its downfalls. If your Bluetooth network is discoverable, then anyone nearby can access it. You could be using your headphones without realizing strangers can access your photos and passwords. Avoid using Bluetooth in airports and other public areas, and make sure the Bluetooth isn’t discoverable to other devices.
Next: If you thought your data plan was expensive, just wait until you get this bill.
It’s common for airports in other countries to rent cell phones to tourists. You may be tempted to get one so you don’t go over your data plan with your U.S. phone. Then return it when you fly home. But you’ll end up paying extremely high prices on top of a nonrefundable security deposit. Instead, pay for a foreign data plan with your phone.
Next: Nothing in life is free, especially when you’re traveling.
14. Free anything
Getting a free bracelet or souvenir from a stranger or little kid may seem fun. But there’s no such thing as “free” when you’re traveling. Once that bracelet is on your wrist, they’ll demand you pay and make a scene if you don’t. A good rule of thumb: Don’t take anything from anyone. If someone manages to put something on you, give it back and walk away ASAP.
Next: No, you aren’t that charming.
15. Flirty locals
If you’re in a foreign country and someone starts getting flirty with you, take note. Be especially cautious if a group of people is suddenly into you. They may be receiving a commission from the bar for the drinks they get tourists to buy. A simple thanks but no thanks is all you need to avoid getting scammed.
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