Part 1 of our annual review of latest travel scams: Internet Scambusters #706
Every year we encounter a new crop of travel scams that threaten to trick unwary travelers abroad.
We have four new tricks to tell you about in this issue, the first part of our annual review of tourist con tricks.
Plus, we have a warning about the latest Facebook scam.
Let's get started...
New Travel Scams Set To Trick Unwary Tourists
If you're about to embark on an overseas vacation this year, there's one thing you'll need in addition to your passport, foreign currency and a phrasebook -- our latest list of travel scams.
Stepping into unfamiliar territory should be fun, but it can also be risky. For instance, pickpockets are always active in busy tourist areas. So are scammers trying to sell you a sow's ear for the price of a silk purse.
Every year, there are also plenty of new tricks to be on the lookout for. So, here, in the first of our two-part look at travel scams, are some of the main ones:
Bogus Railway Officials
Navigating your way around foreign rail systems can be a real challenge without having to worry about scammers -- but they're there at the station waiting for you, offering to help you buy tickets or otherwise trying to relieve you of your money.
One of the latest tricks involves crooks posing as officials from the railway company.
They patrol trains looking for groups of tourists, telling them they must pay extra for their luggage.
These days, we're so used to being charged for baggage by airlines that this scam is an easy one to fall for.
In fact, police in Rome recently arrested two alleged scammers who were using this trick to charge a group of tourists 20 euros each for bringing baggage on board a train.
As far as we know, there are currently no extra baggage charges for rail services in Europe. But, just to be sure, make sure you ask when buying your ticket (which is also when, under normal circumstances, you would expect to pay any surcharges).
Then if someone asks you to pay once you're on the train, tell them you checked and politely refuse. If they persist, ask to see the conductor. The scammers will probably move on pretty quickly.
Preying on Pilgrims
Are you one of the tens of thousands of people who every year decides to take the pilgrimage trek to Santiago in Spain?
The route, better known as El Camino, crosses the countryside of northern Spain to the town of Santiago where its namesake, Saint James, supposedly landed by boat and where his remains are said to be buried.
(In fact, the route has a history pre-dating Christianity -- but that's another story.)
Travelers can walk the El Camino route or take an organized transportation package but, either way, they can be at risk from encountering crooks.
These include opportunists who might try to rob travelers en route, exploiting the fact that many walkers travel solo across the open countryside. Sadly, there have even been isolated incidents of violence, one of which recently resulted in a death.
So it's always best to walk with a partner. If you're alone, walk with or near a larger group, of whom there are plenty during the summer season.
Also, look out for pickpockets in Santiago itself as well as for tricksters trying to sell bogus or overpriced relics and souvenirs.
And resist the temptation to donate money to beggars who claim to be deaf and dumb. They carry signs explaining that they're supposedly mute and are raising money for a charitable cause. Most likely, they are not who they claim to be.
This is a trick you might also see in other tourist hotspots like Paris. Just politely refuse -- and if your conscience troubles you, find the name of an appropriate charity online and donate direct.
Cuba Con Trick
And talking of beggars, scammers in Cuba have come up with a clever trick that targets the flow of American tourists who will be landing on their Caribbean shores in coming months following the easing of some (but not all) travel restrictions.
These tourists will see that in addition to all the colonial architectural wonders, vibrant music clubs and colorful cars and clothes, there's a lot of poverty in the capital city of Havana.
So when you're approached by a beggar who asks for financial help to buy infant formula for his hungry child, you will surely be tempted to dig into your wallet.
It's all the more convincing because the beggar doesn't ask for money. They walk you into the shop, where you buy the baby food and give it to them.
You'll feel like you've done your good deed for the day but after you leave, the "beggar" will return the food to the store and then split your money with the storeowner who was in on the ruse all along.
Then they'll wait for the next kind-hearted victim to come along.
By the way, if you're permitted travel to Cuba, you'll still need a visa, like all other tourists, but make sure you buy it via a reputable travel company or agent.
Visa scams for other countries are common. In many cases, tourists are charged outrageous fees by companies who submit via applications. The visa may be necessary but you can often get it much cheaper yourself.
In some cases though, travelers are tricked into buying a permit that they don't actually need. They might get some worthless documentation, which no one will ever ask to see.
In yet other instances, travelers are only charged a fee when they arrive in a country and have cleared passport control.
This is perfectly normally and legal, but make sure you know in advance how much the visa costs so you don't get tricked into overpaying.
In fact, wherever you're traveling abroad, you should always check visa requirements well in advance and find out online how to apply and purchase directly from official sources.
That's it for this week. We'll have more travel scams to tell you about next time.
Alert of the Week
As we frequently report, there's a new scam virtually every week on Facebook.
One of the latest purports to be from supermarket chain Publix. It comes as a private direct message -- sometimes from a friend -- on the social network and looks like a coupon that pretends to offer $75 back if you spend $80 or more.
Who wouldn't want that? But it's just a con trick aimed at harvesting personal information from victims and forcing them into spreading the scam to 15 friends.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!