8 Common Travel Scams You Should Know About

If you’re going to a busy tourist area, you don’t want to fall victim to these common travel scams and ruin your trip. While these scams can happen anywhere, you may be more vulnerable when you’re in an international destination where you’re unfamiliar with the local culture and customs. Here are eight common travel scams you should be aware of.

Public WiFi networks

Be careful with free Wi-Fi networks that do not require a password to enter. You may be participating in a hacker’s hotspot which makes it easy for him to hack into your computer or phone.

What to do instead

Instead of going to the first network you see in a cafe, shop or public place, verify your login details with an employee. A formal piece of literature, such as a menu, may also have this information.

Fake USB charging ports

You’ve probably seen free public phone charging stations in airport terminals after security. These airport kiosks are probably safe to use because they are in a restricted location. However, you should be careful when connecting your phone to a public charging cable in malls or other high-traffic places open to the general public.

The “juice jacking” scam can show that your phone is charging when you plug in the appropriate USB charging cable. However, the cable can actually install malware on your device that can steal your personal information.

What to do instead

Bring your own charging cable and wall adapter and plug it directly into a power port if possible. Another option is to include a portable battery bank in your carry-on packing list.

ATM Skimmers

ATM fraud is occurring less frequently as more travelers pay with a chip-embedded credit or debit card. However, they may still be possible and you should inspect the card reader of ATMs and self-service gas pumps before inserting your card.

More sophisticated scams may involve two people gathering around an ATM kiosk. Usually, someone is a bystander who appears to tell the person trying to make a withdrawal that the machine isn’t working properly. The unsuspecting tourist then comes along and gets help from the bystander, but ends up inserting his debit card into a skimmer.

What to do instead

One option is to inspect the card reader and give it a good swipe before inserting your card. To be safer, you can look for ATM kiosks located in a bank lobby or other trusted area, as the machines may be less likely to be tampered with.


Wallet scams come in many shapes and sizes. These three are the most famous varieties:

  • Hit and grab: A stranger bumps into you in a large crowd and pulls an item out of a pocket. This scam is most likely on busy sidewalks or train stations.
  • Spilled drinks or stains: Someone might claim that there is a drink stain or a bird falling on your clothes. Then they come over to inspect or clean it and possibly steal something from you.
  • Friendly locals: A group of locals can be very chatty with you. As there are many people, it can be difficult to keep track of them all. Someone may have a brief opportunity to steal something from a zippered luggage compartment, such as a laptop.

These schemes have been practiced for a long time and have been adapted to the present generation. A prime example is “The Artful Dodger” in Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel, Oliver Twist, who would steal handkerchiefs, watches and other valuables from the innocent.

What to do instead

Consider keeping your valuables at home or consider putting small items and documents in a lap belt. Also, try to keep your essentials within sight of your person.

Trinkets and Fortunes

Tourist areas in popular international destinations may have scammers who appear kind-hearted, often giving you a small precious ring, rose or a balloon to children. All good until the end requiring payment.

What to do instead

If possible, move away from the person or say “no” instead of starting a conversation as you see them approaching you. If it’s too late for that, try to return the item and tell them “no”.

Broken taxi meters

The most common taxi scams take you from point A to point B, but you’re overcharged. Taxis outside airports and hotels may appear legitimate, but the driver may claim their meter is damaged or inaccurate. It is also possible that they have a working meter, but the cab is not licensed.

What to do instead

Only use an authorized taxi service and try to negotiate prices before jumping into the cab when possible. At international transport hubs, you should see an official taxi stand at the terminal to get a ticket that you can hand over to a driver.

You can also call Uber, Lyft, or the local rental equivalent. Ride-sharing apps have predictable pricing and additional safety features to protect riders.

Fake Tuk-Tuk tours

Tuk-Tuk scams are common in Asian destinations where this transport is most popular, although around the world in dense metro areas.

Tourists like to take tuk-tuk tours to visit shops and see memorable sites. However, bogus tours involve lengthy visits to stores where the driver likely receives an under-the-table commission from the store owner. These tours may take a long time and you may not see the desired tourist spots.

What to do instead

Search for trusted operators on Airbnb Experiences or other trusted travel platforms. You should also avoid free or cheap tours as they are more likely to offer this unpleasant experience.

Damaged mopeds or jet skis

If you rent a moped, jet ski or similar power equipment on holiday, the owner may charge the renter for damage or vandalism. In international countries, the owner may hold your passport or other personal documents as ransom until you pay for the repairs.

What to do instead

Do a thorough inspection of any existing damage before accepting the rental and notify the landlord of any problems. You will also need to take photos or videos during check-in.

For overnight rentals, do your best to secure the equipment in a secured area that is less likely to be tampered with or vandalized. Fraudulent rental services may hire people to remove fixtures while you sleep, but screw them back on after you pay for damages.

Checking customer reviews of rental services can also help you avoid travel scams.


Even well-prepared travelers can fall victim to travel scams. Being aware of the possibilities makes it easier to spot red flags. You can also be more confident in trusting your gut and avoiding bad situations.

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