Watch Out for Camera Theft and Other Common Travel Scams

Wise up to these crooks in our latest tour of travel scams: Internet Scambusters #857

Is it real or is it a travel scam? Sometimes vacationers can’t tell when a local spins them a story that seems to have a ring of truth.

We’ve been reporting on travel scams for more than a decade and still they keep rolling in.

In this week’s issue, we’ll give you the lowdown on some of the latest tricks as well as the popular perennials that crop up year after year.

Let’s get started…


Watch Out for Camera Theft and Other Common Travel Scams


Have you ever been struggling to arrange a photo while on vacation? Maybe there’s just you and your partner and you’re not that good at selfies or you’re using a real camera. Or there’s a group and you realize one of you will have to take the photo and therefore not be in the shot.

Then a friendly person who’s been standing by watching offers to take the shot. Perhaps he looks just like another vacationer. Or a friendly local. And he has a camera around his neck. In other words, he’s just ready to help.

So, you gratefully hand over the camera or smartphone. And before you know it, he’s disappeared, along with your camera. It’s another travel scam.

We live in a visually-driven age and more of us than ever are taking these types of photos, so it’s no surprise that camera theft comes at the top of our list of travel scams for 2019.

And even if the scammer doesn’t run off with the camera, he may demand payment for taking the photo and create a scene when you refuse.

Or perhaps you just put your camera or phone on the table at a street cafe while you have a refreshing drink. If so, be aware that thieves patrol popular tourist spots and vacation resorts looking for just such an opportunity.

So, when you travel this year, keep your camera/phone safely out of reach and be wary of handing over your device to a seemingly friendly passer-by. And if you really do want someone to capture the moment for you, ask instead of being asked.

More Travel Scams

Meanwhile, if you are heading off on vacation this year, here are some more current travel scams to be on the lookout for:

  • Taxi drivers who say their meter is broken and then charge an outrageous fare. Research fares in advance and then negotiate the rate with the driver before leaving. And take a photo of any license or identification information in the cab.
  • Phony wi-fi services. Crooks have started setting up wi-fi hubs in parks, tourist attractions and other places where travelers hang out. So, when you search for a signal, you’re delighted to find a strong, free local connection. But if you connect, you’re effectively handing over your data to the crooks. Don’t connect to any old signal just because it’s there. Go into a restaurant or other establishment and ask if they have wi-fi. Then use that.
  • A letter to a friend. While overseas, a local starts a conversation with you and claims to have a friend or relative living in the US. He asks if you would mind helping him write a letter to them and so takes you back to his shop. It’s just one of many lures traders in foreign countries use to get you into their shop where they pressure you, their “new friend,” into buying something. Politely refuse the request to help.
  • The phony phone call. TV travel guru Rick Steves reports this one. You’re buying something in a store and hand over your credit card to the owner, who appears to be on the phone, holding the device in front of him as he talks. What’s he’s really doing is taking a photo of both sides of the card, including the security code, so he can use the info to buy items online. Pay in cash instead, says Steves.
  • The fake drug deal. You’re accosted by a couple of guys who offer to sell you drugs. Before you know it, a scammer dressed in police uniform arrives and seemingly arrests you. Then he offers to let you go if you hand over your passport or maybe pay a bribe. This is a tough one to avoid but know that if you get “caught” in this way, it’s highly unlikely to be a genuine police officer. So, walk away or insist on going to the police department with him to provide your papers.
  • The hotel inspection scam. You’re in your hotel room when there’s a knock on the door. You open it to find two men who say they’re hotel inspectors doing a random check. One talks to you about the inspection program while the other heads off in search of valuables. It’s just a variation on a distraction scam. Don’t let people into your room unsolicited. If they turn up, insist on checking with the front desk first.

Finally, a warning to be on the alert just about everywhere for the five most common tricks targeting tourists that we’ve previously warned about:

  1. Pickpockets
  2. Rip-off and counterfeit money changers
  3. Friendship bracelets you have to pay for
  4. Smooth-talking timeshare salesmen, and
  5. Fake vacation rentals.

Alert of the Week

Staying on a travel theme, if you’re at gas pump and notice a key-slot in the area around the credit card slot, take your card inside and pay there.

Crooks are using keys, available online, to unlock the panel and insert cables to steal your car information. It’s an undetectable skimming trick.

Many gas stations have increased security on these locks — but play it safe and pay inside.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!