Something old, something new: Here's the lowdown on the most common travel scam tricks awaiting the unwary traveler: Internet Scambusters #339
You're not the only person looking forward to your upcoming vacation. The travel scam artists share your eager anticipation.
They've dreamed up some new tricks they hope you don't know about, and put a new spin on some of the old favorites.
In this issue, we encourage you to look back at some of our earlier travel scam reports, and then we'll wise you up to the latest tricks.
Now, here we go...
10 New Travel Scam Alerts for the Upcoming Vacation Season
Perhaps you're a seasoned traveler, thinking you know all the travel scam tricks that so many vacationers encounter each year. Or maybe you're striking out for unfamiliar territory for the first time and you want to wise-up to the sort of con tricks to be on the lookout for.
Either way, we've got news for you. There are numerous new national and global travel scams around to catch the unwary during this vacation season, plus a number of tried and tested ones that have been dormant for a while and are now "enjoying" a new lease on life.
Here at Scambusters, we like to compile a list of the most prevalent travel scams and give you the lowdown on the not-so-well-known new tricks. So, before we start, if you're heading out for a holiday this year, we recommend you check out the tips in earlier articles:
OK? Now, here are 10 more travel scams to be on the lookout for in 2009:
1. Fake car park attendants. Previously prevalent in Italy, this travel scam now pops up in many big European cities, where parking can be notoriously difficult.
The trick can take many forms. You may just drive onto a piece of wasteland where other cars are parked or you may enter a big, official parking lot.
Either way, a "parking attendant" approaches you and hands you an official looking ticket, usually demanding a fairly exorbitant fee. You're tired, frustrated and there's a language problem, so you just hand over the cash.
Later, you discover you're either parked illegally or there's another fee to pay -- this time, the real one.
Action: You put yourself at risk if you don't know who owns the place where you're parking or what the real arrangements are for payment. Check them out the best you can. You can ask the attendant to show credentials -- but avoid confrontation.
2. Phony travel guides. You may have seen this trick in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
At a famous venue, a local offers to show you around for a fee. This may be a fairly obvious and transparent ruse, where he's just trying to make a quick buck.
But some scammers pose as agents for official guides, taking your money and telling you to wait at a particular spot. Of course, they never return and there's no official guide.
Action: Guidebooks and online sites will tell you the arrangements for official, paid tours.
3. Bad cola, bad karma. In the Indian subcontinent, be wary of drinking unknown beverages when you opt for a familiar Pepsi or Coca-Cola labeled bottle at a roadside cafe, known as a "dhaba."
What you might get is a carbonated drink that looks (and even tastes) quite like the genuine item. But the only genuine things are the bottle and the cap.
The drinks are made by gangs of street-wise youngsters, who collect thousands of used bottles and caps.
The drinks are usually mixed and bottled in unsanitary conditions in derelict buildings. Drinking them is definitely unsafe.
Action: Even though many dhabas sell genuine colas, you may want to play safe by not purchasing from them and buy drinks at your hotel.
4. Rental car repair rip-off. In this world travel scam, most common in Eastern Europe, you return your rental car, but when the attendant tries to move it, it won't restart.
They make up a story about what's wrong with it (usually, they've just flooded the carburetor) and blame you. The "cost" of putting things right is often the same as any security deposit you might have paid in advance.
If you didn't pay a deposit, they demand money now and may even try to confiscate your luggage until you hand over the money. They're banking on you being in a hurry, and become aggressive if you refuse to pay.
Action: Return your car with plenty of time to spare and ask to see the manager or owner if there's a problem. Ideally, though, rent your car from a reputable-name agency with whom you can dispute the issue when you get back home.
5. Downgrading your hotel. This is an old travel scam that's suddenly reappeared in the past year.
You check in at your hotel and are dismayed to learn that your room is in another nearby establishment that's usually nowhere near as nice. The practice is called "walking."
Most likely, the hotel has overbooked but it's also possible someone at the hotel is on the take.
Action: Try refusing the switch -- hotels nearly always have empty rooms in reserve. Ask to see the manager or contact whoever made your travel arrangements. If you are prepared to accept the alternative, ask for compensation.
6. Free holiday awards. Although a well known travel scam, we can't miss out mentioning the "you've-won-a-free-vacation" scratch card trick because it's probably the number one scam on many European and Caribbean beaches this year.
There are numerous angles but the scam boils down to two things -- you'll either have to pay a "processing fee" to get your otherwise free vacation, which is really non-existent, or you'll be asked to attend a tedious presentation where they try to sell you timeshares or expensive vacation add-ons with high pressure sales tactics.
Action: Every one of these cards is a winner -- that ought to be enough to tell you what to do, but we'll say it anyway: Treat these the same way you would an email that says you've won a lottery -- trash them.
7. Credit card problems. This is our catch-all for numerous tricks you need to be on the lookout for this year. These are the key ones:
- Try not to let your credit card out of your sight when you're using it in an unfamiliar place. Out of sight, the number and the crucial security code printed on the reverse could be written down.
- Don't be taken in by a trader in a foreign country who offers to bill your card in dollars, thereby saving you a foreign exchange fee from your card issuer. The trader will almost certainly use an extortionate exchange rate and you'll end up out of pocket.
- Check how much your credit card issuer charges for foreign transactions. Some charge nothing, others as much as 3% of the value of the transaction.
8. Don't hit that CashSend button. This is a new one that's cropped up in South Africa and may appear in other parts of the African continent.
ATMs are equipped with a button labeled "CashSend" which enables users to transfer money to other people, even those who don't have a bank account. They can withdraw it from another ATM.
This is a legitimate banking convenience but tricksters apparently can set up a transfer on an ATM before you use it. They then stand behind you and urge you to hit the CashSend button to speed up your withdrawal.
Action: Just don't hit that button!
9. Paying for paper tickets. When you book a flight online, you usually have the option of just using an "e-ticket" (basically a printout of your booking confirmation that you take to the check-in desk) or having an old-fashioned paper ticket mailed to you for an additional fee.
Usually, this is $10, which is what the International Air Transport Association says it costs.
But some unscrupulous travel agents and organizers are charging up to $40 or $50 for this questionable privilege.
Action: Don't take paper. But if you do, make sure you know what the fee is before committing yourself to buy. If the fee is too high, consider taking your business elsewhere.
10. And for fun, we decided to end with a popular urban travel scam legend. Of course, not all travel scam stories are true -- though the people who post them online swear they are.
A very popular one doing the rounds in a big way this year is the kidney theft tale, in which a young traveler has one drink too many at a party to which he's been invited by a stranger.
He passes out and wakes up later in a bath full of water, alongside of which is a cell phone and a note warning him not to move and to call a particular number.
When he does, the person on the other end asks if he has a cut on his back. He checks, and he does. He's told one of his kidneys had been stolen and that an emergency medical team will have to be sent out to save him.
Action: Not true, of course.
But, there is a serious point here about the danger of drinking with people you don't know while on vacation. They may not be after your kidney, but your wallet could be a pretty nice substitute!
For more on urban legends, visit our Urban Legends and Hoaxes Resource Center.
And for 10 more tips on avoiding travel scams, check out this article, Travel Scams: 10 Tips to Avoid Getting Taken.
In most of the travel scams we've outlined here, and many of the others in our earlier articles, unfamiliarity with language and local customs can put you at a big disadvantage.
Sometimes, quite frankly, it can be better to pay up if the charge is relatively small. The one thing you should never do, unless you're built like Mike Tyson, is lose your temper or become aggressive.
Nor should you threaten to go to the police. Instead, gather as much visual information as you can, and report the incident to law enforcement after the event.
That way, even if your money's not safe, you will be!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week -- and travel safely!