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If you have an impending trip, you may already be scouting the best hotels, applying for travel-friendly credit cards, and researching local culture. But according to Brian Acton, contributor to Credit.com, there might be one set of local customs you aren’t prepping for: travel scams. “Scam artists around the world often try to separate tourists from their money or possessions.”
Acton lays out four common travel scams and tips to help you avoid these cons and traps so you can enjoy your vacation without the headache of being scammed.
- The Taxi Scam
There are a few variations on the taxi scam. In one version, your driver will claim their meter is busted and negotiate a dramatically over-inflated fare. In another, the driver might take you on a long detour to your destination, artificially driving up your fare.
To avoid these scams, you could decline any ride with a “busted meter.” You may also want to bring a map. While you probably can’t memorize all the local roads, you can study the map before and during your trip, gaining a general idea of the area’s layout. If you must, you can negotiate a price before you get in the taxi to help avoid surprises.
- Card Skimmers & Readers
Card skimmers and readers are devices that pull data from credit cards and bank cards used at a register, kiosk or anywhere you swipe your card. Once you’ve scanned the card through an unauthorized device, the skimmer sends thieves your card details, which can then be transferred to a fabricated card.
To help you improve your odds that this won’t happen to you, you may want to avoid giving anyone your card unless they’re about to process a purchase. Try to only use ATMs located inside a legitimate bank. For credit card readers, you can consider using a secure wallet. And, because this one isn’t entirely avoidable, it’s a good idea to always monitor your statements for any suspicious activity.
Scammers can set up unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots in public places, then wait for people to access the network with their phones, laptops or tablets. If you unknowingly access one of these hotspots, it could leave your account, passwords, and computer vulnerable to thieves, who can then get hold of your personal information, potentially subjecting you to identity theft.
To help you avoid falling victim to this scam, it’s a good idea to avoid using unverified and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. If you’re in a hotel or restaurant, ask which network is the official one. When in doubt, keep using your data plan — it will be less costly than a hacked device. If you do end up a victim of identity theft, you will have to go through the process of disputing fraudulent accounts and getting them removed from your credit reports.
- The Friendship Bracelet & the Gold Ring
The friendship bracelet is a common scam in Europe, particularly in Paris at the steps of the Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. The scammer will approach tourists warmly, offering a friendship bracelet as a gift. They’ll then tie the bracelet onto the tourists’ wrist. But, according to Laurence Noah, travel writer at Finding the Universe, there’s a catch.
“Usually they will say this is a gift, but once they’ve got the bracelet tied, they will start to harass you for money,” Noah said. “Basically, don’t let anyone tie anything to you, and if they do, just refuse to pay or walk away.”
The “found golden ring” is a similar scam. Scammers will “discover” a gold ring and ask if it belongs to you. “Obviously, you’ll say no, at which point they’ll say they think it’s worth quite a lot, and if you take it to a jeweler, they’ll give you a handsome sum for it,” Noah said.
He said the person who found the ring (aka, the scammer) won’t be able to do this themselves for some convenient reason, and so they’ll suggest you just pay them a small sum for the [finders] fee. Of course, that fee will turn out to be far more than the ring is worth.
Travelling can be a great source of adventure and inspiration. But you might want to avoid the kind of wisdom gained by becoming a victim. By staying vigilant and protecting yourself from potential scams, you can increase the chances of an incident-free, pleasurable trip.
Brian Acton is a freelance writer and contributor at Credit.com. Several years ago, as he worked to pay down debt and purchase a home, Brian became interested in personal finance and credit. He has been covering these topics ever since. Brian has a BA in History from Salisbury University and an MBA from UMUC. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two dogs.