Summer Travelers: Avoid These Common Travel Scams

Five travel scams you’ve likely never heard about: Internet ScamBusters #230

As vacation season nears, many of us look forward to hitting the open road or “flying the friendly skies” to see America or visit the ancient capitals of Europe or Asia. Sadly, this is also “hunting season” for scammers, who’ve awakened from their winter hibernation to prey on unsuspecting tourists. Today you’ll find out how to keep scammers from ruining your vacation.

Let’s get started…

Summer Travelers: Avoid These Common Travel Scams

Today we’re going to look at travel scams and how not to become a victim.

Although most travel scams occur in big cities, never let your guard down — anywhere.

You’re more likely to be scammed in places like New York, Chicago or L.A., and (internationally) in Rome, Barcelona, Paris or Seoul.

But you’re not safe just because you’ve decided to visit a rural destination. We know a native New Yorker who escaped crime for more than 30 years in New York City — only to be scammed in a small town in Nebraska!

Here are 5 of the most popular travel scams, and ways to avoid them.

1. “I ran outta gas” scam

“Excuse me Sir/Ma’am, my daughter and I were touring [insert name of the place your visiting], and on the way home our car ran out of gas, and we need to get back to [extremely wholesome small town] for my father’s funeral. All I need is $40 for gas, and if you give me your address, I promise I’ll send it back to you. Oh, and I’m a Christian.”

Obviously, if you give this “clean-cut” person your money, you’ll never see it again, and we sincerely doubt the cash will be spent on gasoline. 😉

This is a popular scam in major American cities, especially New York, but one that’s easy to avoid. You can simply refuse to give the person money.

But, because many scammers are very convincing actors, you may feel guilty. In that case, do what several colleagues have done: offer to walk to the nearest service station with the person to pay for his “much-needed gasoline.” Chances are, he will hem, haw, and then run for the hills.

2. The “Coin Scam”

A “derelict” approaches you at a phone booth, or while you’re on your cell phone, showing you a mounted collection of “rare coins.” A name and phone number are on the mounted display, as well as an offer of a reward if the coins are ever lost and recovered.

You call the “owner’s” number, and the grateful person offers you $500+ to return them to his house. While you’re speaking to the “owner,” however, the “derelict” starts muttering about spending the coins at a local liquor store or actually tries to put them into a vending machine.

It’s hoped you’ll pay good money to the “derelict” to give you the coins so you can collect the reward money. Only later (oops) do you discover that the “owner” isn’t real and his address is a fake. Oh, and the coins are worthless, too.

This is an easy scam to avoid, because it appeals to greed. Just walk away.

3. Fake Airport Limo Service

There are a number of variations on this scam, which starts when you’re approached by a “limo driver” who says he’s just gotten off duty and could use some extra money.

In most cases, you’ll reach your destination, but the driver will take the “scenic route” — meaning he’ll travel miles out of his way to boost the fare.

A less common, but more frightening situation, is when the limo driver takes you to your hotel (after settling on a flat fee), but then holds your luggage hostage in the trunk. In other words, if you want to see your luggage again, you have to pay extortion money.

This is another travel scam that can be easily avoided: NEVER accept a ride with anyone but a licensed, metered taxi driver. Real taxi drivers have licenses that can be read and reported if any “hanky panky” takes place.

Speaking of taxis …

4. “Short Changing”

We’ve based this tip on information from a website sponsored by the popular European travel writer, radio and TV host Rick Steves:

Again, though this travel scam usually occurs in Europe, it could take place anywhere. So be cautious.

You pay your taxi driver what he’s owed, based on the meter reading, but he deftly pockets your money and throws a smaller bill on the floor, or on the seat next to him. “Hey, you only game me 5 euros, not 20!” he says. Then you’re expected to make up the “difference.”

This scam also occurs in (usually smaller) tourist shops, where cashiers claim you gave them smaller denominations than you really did.

Solution: As you hand your dollars, euros, pounds, etc. to the cashiers, announce OUT LOUD what you are giving them, and make sure they confirm that they’ve just been handed the proper sum of money.

5. The “Gold” Ring

This is a popular scam among “gypsies” who frequent tourist destinations in major European cities such as Rome.

As you’re admiring the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome, you pass a woman with a sleeping child in her arms (sometimes drugged to stay asleep), who suddenly approaches you, announcing that she just found a “gold” ring. Would you buy it, so she can feed her poor starving child? The item could also be a wristwatch, necklace, whatever.

The point is: you want to help this poor woman and get a great deal at the same time. So you buy the trinket for a fraction of its retail value, and — oops — learn later that it’s a fake.

A more popular — and less guilt-ridden — variation on this scam involves the many street vendors enticing you to purchase DEEPLY DISCOUNTED “designer” purses, scarves, watches, etc. in cities from New York to San Francisco.

They are (almost) all FAKES!

When an item is being sold for a tiny fraction of its retail value, it’s almost always a fake. If it was stolen (and shame on you for knowingly trying to purchase stolen merchandise), it would be sold for closer to its retail value — less, but still more than the ridiculously low sums that street vendors charge.

Be sure to read this article on travel scams for more information.

We hope you enjoy your summer vacation — whether you’re sampling the newest vintages in a Vienna wine garden or rafting in the Grand Canyon. Whatever your destination, please know that travel scams can occur everywhere, not just in big East Coast or European cities.

Arm yourself with knowledge about these travel scams, and then… HAVE FUN!

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!