A big trip abroad is usually a once in a lifetime trip. Despite our desires to see a faraway place for what it really is – not the touristy stuff – there’s a reason millions flock to these historical treasures and breathtaking structures every year. Could you go to Egypt and avoid The Great Pyramids? Would you visit Rome but not the Colosseum? Or, pass on walking along The Great Wall of China?
And that’s exactly why scams are so prevalent in areas with a high density of tourism. It’s the perfect hunting ground from a thieve’s point-of-view: thousands of people distracted by their material surroundings and way out of their element, many of whom are holding cash in the process.
So, if you’re going to see some of the wonders of the world, you need to be prepared to deflect the dodgy indigenous. Here is a crash course on tourist trap scams:
Pickpocketing is one of the most common scams at tourist traps. Everyone piling around to see a piece of art or structure lowers awareness. You somewhat expect people to bump into you because they, too, are trying to sneak a peak or camera shot.
This is the moment a pickpocket lifts your wallet and wares. They’re gone before you know it and now you’re in a foreign country without ID and money.
What can you do? Not much.
You should certainly report the incident to local authorities but don’t hold your breath. You can’t go long without funds—in which case, see if a family member or friend could transfer money overseas for the time being. Factor international transfer feeds and speed before deciding who to use.
There are several extortion scams—and they’re quite scary!
These include events like:
• Getting locked in a cab while the driver demands extra money
• Fake police (or real police) doing a shakedown
• “Accidents” with fingers quickly pointing your way
There’s not much you can do about the extortion when language is your barrier. However, there are ways to protect yourself with avoiding troublesome (touristy) areas as one. Or, try travelling with a buddy or group so there are others that’ll have your back when talking with locals/police.
It’s infuriating watching what you thought was a genuine friendship unfold into deception. This type of scam happens when a fellow “traveler” buddies up. They get on your good side, maybe buy you food and show you around, but eventually land a “think I could get some money?” on you.
Tourist traps are notorious for these types. Sometimes they’re locals able to pull off a story. Or, could sometimes be an expat looking for easy ways to skim money. Sometimes they’ll want you to stay at specific locations (because they’re getting a kickback from the hotel/hostel owner).
Always keep your guard up when people are too friendly especially when you’re blindsided by hype and excitement of the trip. Stay at legitimate locations and/or chains like Wyndham or Hilton where staff have your best interest in mind.
Scalping and Fakes
Circling tourist hot spots are scalpers and merchants selling fakes. You’d think these individuals wouldn’t be allowed in such a big area by the police… except if they’re giving the police a cut!
Scalped tickets and fake items are hard to distinguish from their originals—that’s how good these scammers are getting. But, they’re not perfect. Fakes have giveaways like spelling mistakes and the “too good a deal to be true” sales price. You’ll see this a lot during the hustle and bustle of new developments or events.
Generally, if you’re at a location and someone’s selling you something… avoid it at all costs. Take your business to reputable locations outside the touristy areas. Or, hire a professional to vet items. Otherwise, avoid trinkets and tickets all-together in place of drifting away from the normal, tourist routine.
Go Home with Memories, Not Troubles
Hopefully, your travel experience doesn’t involve scams. And, that you’re able to spend a bit of it getting a glimpse of what you went to see (even if this means the touristy areas). If they do happen and you’re safe, that’s unfortunate but try not to let it ruin your experience.
If there’s one takeaway from all this, then it’s this: keep your guard up and don’t put yourself in compromising positions. This is true whether home or abroad. And by the way – never forget that for every dirtbag trying to steal your wallet overseas, there are a thousand ordinary law-abiding locals.