On business or vacation, look out for these new travel scams: Internet Scambusters #650
There's no end to the ingenuity of con artists when it comes to travel scams.
They pose as police, fellow tourists, and entry fee collectors or they use other underhanded techniques to rip you off.
In this week's issue, we have the first part of the latest in our long-running catalog of travel scams, with five new tricks and a warning about two more longstanding crimes.
Let's get started...
Just in Time for Vacations: 7 Latest Travel Scam Alerts
Just when you should be enjoying yourself on vacation, will you be tested with a travel scam this season?
You may think you know them all -- and if you're a regular Scambusters reader you'll already be aware of dozens of them.
But every year we encounter new con tricks ready to spring a trap on the unsuspecting vacationer and business traveler.
In fact, this year we've uncovered so many new travel scams we'll be splitting this special vacation issue across two weeks to give us enough space to explain how they work and how to avoid them.
So, if you're traveling this vacation season -- especially abroad -- here are some of the scammers you might encounter.
The Undercover Cop
This one is common in South American countries, notably Colombia and in Spain.
Well-dressed crooks approach tourists on city streets or in their cars claiming to be plain-clothes detectives, working undercover to track down forged currencies or stolen items.
They may show phony identity cards before demanding to inspect money and jewelry items.
As soon as they get their hands on your stuff they make a quick exit.
In the UK, victims have also been accused by bogus cops of some minor infringement like dropping litter or not carrying personal IDs.
The crooks demand payment of an on-the-spot fine.
Action: It's tough to resist these characters or to prove their ID is worthless but the truth is that police usually don't operate this way so you're almost certainly on the receiving end of a scam.
What you do -- for instance refusing to hand over or pay, or taking a photo of the scammer -- may be a judgment call depending on the circumstances. You may feel sufficiently threatened to have to do nothing and hand over your stuff.
These crooks are much more likely to strike if you're alone or in a quiet area so try to avoid walking around unaccompanied and stick to busier areas where you're less likely to feel threatened if you resist.
The Drug Mule
In this scam, a tourist in an airport or railway concourse is asked by a friendly "fellow traveler" to keep an eye on his suitcase while he goes to buy a ticket.
He disappears and a few moments later a couple of "heavies" appear, usually claiming to be from the narcotics section of the local police force.
Despite the victim's protests that it's not his/hers, the men open the suitcase and "discover" it's full of drugs.
They may perform some sort of arrest routine or become threatening, while making it clear they're open to a bribe payment to forget the whole thing and just take the suitcase away.
Action: Here's another good reason why, as airport security are always telling us, we shouldn't involve ourselves with someone else's luggage.
If you're asked to do this, make your refusal loud and clear, shaking your head and walking away.
The Entry Fee Collector
There are numerous variations of a scam in which tricksters try to charge an entry fee for visitors to tourist attractions.
Usually, entries to these locations is either free or must be paid at official pay desks or kiosks on entry.
But that doesn't stop the scammers from trying to hijack tourists before they get there and realize the true setup.
Perhaps the most blatant is a long standing scam that died off some years ago and has now returned this season for visitors to Gibraltar.
This small British outpost adjoining Southern Spain is a popular tourist spot.
It's a political hotspot though because of Spain's claim to this disputed territory, which can sometimes result in long delays to cross the border.
This slow trek allows scammers to parade up and down the line of waiting traffic to collect a supposed entry fee of 10 Euros (about $10).
There is no fee. Entry to Gibraltar may be slow but it's free.
Action: Keep your car window shut and ignore window tappers until you reach the official border crossing when you will have to show documents -- but no money.
The Credit Card Swindler
This is as simple as it is financially devastating.
You're in a foreign country where you don't know the exchange rates and are pressured into buying something at a tourist shop with your credit card.
The merchant produces a receipt for you to sign and you can't quite make out what those zeroes represent.
The confusion is deepened by the fact that many countries use different punctuation -- commas instead of periods to represent a decimal point.
And if the credit card payment slip is one of those older handwritten types, numbers can be indistinct -- for example, figures '1' and '7' can look similar.
If any of these tricks play out for you, you could find yourself out by thousands of dollars when your statement comes in.
Action: Know the exchange rate and verify the conversion before signing.
If in doubt, don't sign. Return the item and tear up the slip.
We've previous reported on how travelers to Thailand are tricked into buying expensive jewelry that turns out to be worthless.
But there's more to the Thai tricksters' repertoire than that.
Widespread scams reported recently include damaged rental jet ski craft. When renters return their craft, the owner points out some damage and demands compensation.
In fact, the jet ski was almost certainly damaged before the renter got it but, unless he inspected the craft and pointed out the damage before setting off, he won't be able to prove it.
Another scam involves advertising flyers and street hustlers promoting free ping pong shows.
This is really a come-on to get tourists inside dubious restaurants that massively overcharge.
Victims don't realize this because they're initially given a menu with relatively normal prices -- but a huge service charge, often 10 times the food bill, is added for the supposedly free show.
Action: Check rental items and take photos of any damage while you're at the depot. And remember, next time someone accosts you with a "free" offer on the street, there's always a price to pay.
Alert of the week
Finally, for this week, we'll take this opportunity to highlight two of the most common travel scams and where you're most likely to encounter them.
- Pickpockets -- Big cities in European countries, especially Spain (Barcelona) and France (Paris). Crooks usually work in teams and use all manner of distractions including spilling stuff on your clothes or giving you a hug. Stay alert!
- ATM and card skimming devices -- Pretty much everywhere. But in Italy and Mexico there's particular concern about growth of "doctoring" of ATMs either to trap cash or steal card details. Get your cash inside a reputable bank if you can.
As we said earlier, we've got another batch of travel scams to tell you about next week.
Look out for our next issue with news of travel scams that include overcharging London rickshaw cyclists, Portuguese rolling bar tricksters, New York street artists who can't draw, and Filipino taxi drivers who ask passengers to get out and push -- and then drive off.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!