Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Travelore Tips: 12 Travel Scams To Watch For In 2015 And How To Avoid Them

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Travel scams come and go. These are the ones to watch for in 2015.
  • Free, fake Wi-Fi hubs – This is a worldwide problem. It doesn't take much computer savvy to create a fake Wi-Fi hub, then gain access to personal information and passwords from the people who connect to it. Beware of generic hubs (eg “Netgear”), location-appropriate names like “Free Coffee Shop Wi-Fi” or “[Popular carrier] Free Wi-Fi.” When in doubt try asking an employee for the proper hub name.
  • Busy worker credit card information theft – Especially popular in Barcelona, a cashier will fake being busy on the phone and while your waiting/bored eyes wander, they take a photograph of your credit card details to sell or use later.
  • Stain on your jacket/suitcase – Popular in Italy and parts of South America, someone will squirt goop on your bag or clothes, then as they “help” you clean it off they (or an accomplice) grab whatever they can.
  • Friendly local photographer – Mainly seen in Europe, a friendly local will offer to take your photo, then either demand money or just race off with your camera. Best to do the asking yourself or be VERY careful of eager volunteers.
  • Pickpockets – The oldest and still the most prolific scam. These people usually operate on busy trains/buses or tourist sites. Sometimes it will be kids, using cardboard or a clipboard (with a petition they want you to sign) to obscure your view while they fish in your pockets or bags. Other times a fake beggar will ask for money, giving a nearby accomplice a chance to see where you keep your wallet. Finally, a local will give you a warning about active pickpockets in the area and to check your wallet and phone. They then note where you keep these items for pickpocketing later.
  • Broken camera – Someone asks you to take their picture, drops the camera as you hand it back, breaking it, then demands money.
  • Practice English? – This is a shame, because in some places people genuinely want to practice their English. Alas, in other instances, the English student launches into their sad, poverty-stricken (and bogus) life story, in an attempt to extract money from the rich foreigner.
  • Shady taxi drivers – This is a worldwide phenomenon. Tricks include taking longer routes or intentionally heading into gridlocked traffic to drive up the price, and hacked meters that advance faster than normal. They may also request that you pay with a larger bill, so they can give you counterfeit change. Also, beware of the driver trying to convince you that your hotel is closed or crappy and allowing them to take you to an alternative (where they get commission).
  • Fake police – Far less common than it used to be, but occasionally seen in Eastern Europe, Mexico, and Colombia. Someone in an official-looking uniform (or, in lazy instances, no uniform) will ask to see your passport or check your money for counterfeit notes then run away.
  • Greedy tourist scam aka dropped wallet – A former favorite and still occasionally seen in Eastern Europe and Italy. A stranger will approach you (usually speaking English rather than the local language), indicate they’ve found a wad of cash or a wallet and suggest you join them to celebrate the windfall. Then a cop (often fake, but occasionally a real crooked cop) will approach, retrieve the lost/stolen item, count the money and claim some of it is missing and you’ll be pressed to replace it. In these instances, insist on going to a police station to deal with the matter and the perpetrators will often back down.
  • The friendship bracelet – This is a big one in Europe’s larger cities, as well as Cairo. Someone comes up and tries to tie a “friendship bracelet” onto your wrist, despite protests, then demands money for it. Sometimes they tie it so tight that you can’t get it off easily.
  • The found ring – Also, popular in Europe, especially Paris. Someone approaches you with a gold ring they “found” and tries to force it onto your finger, then demands money. There are similar scams with roses being thrust on girlfriends/spouses and woman selling rosemary for “luck.”
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