Travel Scams – On Guard!

November 30, 2010 21 Comments »

begging for money rome

It's hard to ignore...

People always ask me if I’m scared to travel alone; my answer is “Not normally.” Sure there have been some crazy taxi rides and I always get a bit nervous when I arrive in a country late at night for the first time; however, overall I’ve never felt like I was in life threatening danger. Some of that might be luck, but I also believe some of it is skill. As a solo traveler, I’ve adapted my personality to avoid dangerous situations and scams.

Basically this means that I trust no one.

This lack of trust in human kind also means that I have to harden my personality in order to pull it off. Kids tugging at my shirt in India – I ignore. Aggressive shop keepers – I don’t even make eye contact. Someone comes to me to ask for something, and I generally don’t help. A nice man offers to buy me a drink – I kindly refuse. It takes a lot to get through the barrier I put up; and for good reason – my safety and sometimes for my sanity.

Yes – this sounds a bit harsh, but I think at times it’s necessary to have to dig deep and find your inner bitch when you travel. Some days that’s easier for me than others. As a traveler (solo or not) you are a target for all kinds of begging, petty theft, and scams. I’ve been exposed to my share of all of these. People simply want your money; some will just take it, and some will try to outsmart you.

In fact, while I was in Europe this summer I was reminded of how many scams a person can easily fall into. While in Paris I had someone try to pull the “Did you drop this gold ring?” scam. I answered the woman no, and started to engage in conversation with her – and then my inner scam alert went off and I simply walked away. She followed me for a short while and then gave up when I finally crossed the street.

There are hundreds of these types of scams – but how do you avoid them?

Educate yourself.  Read the guidebooks/websites before you go.

When I was in Italy a few years ago with a friend we were exposed to an elaborate scam. As we were walking to the Baths of Caracala, we had our map out and were trying to figure out how to get to the entrance – when all of a sudden a guy pulls up in a car all frantic telling us he’s from France here on business and he’s frantic because he needs gas and his credit card isn’t working here for some reason. Before we know it he’s asking us what size clothes we wear and asking us for gas money – he wants to barter with us. He obviously didn’t know he was dealing with long term travelers; we trust no one. My friend took one look at his gold bracelet he was wearing and said – “I think you can buy your own gas”. Later that night I was reading my guide book and came across this scam warning:

Your walking down the street and a man in a car with a map on the front seat pulls up next to you and says he is lost. He will say he works for Armani or Gucci. He will ask if you can help him with gas money and will trade you one of the sample leather jackets he has in his car for the small priced of 20 or 50 Euro. The Leather jacket turns out to be an extremely cheap, smelly PVC jacket not worth 2Euro

I probably should have read this before I toured around. But luckily we had our guard up anyway.

tourists angkor wat

Tourists abound at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Location, Location, Location

Scams grow like weeds around big tourist sites. It’s as if a fisherman is going to a stocked pond to fish – places like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, or the Roman Coliseum are easy pickings. If strangers are coming up to ask you for help around these areas – put your guard up.

On the other hand, if I’m walking down a side-street in Paris and someone comes to ask for help – I’m probably more apt to trust them than if I were standing taking pictures of the Louvre. However even if you are not near tourist sites – keep in mind that it’s important to try NOT to look like a tourist – try to fit in if possible.

Don’t act like you do at home.

You don’t have to be nice to everyone asking for help. Repeat after me, “I am not a bad person if I ignore someone.”

I know, I know – ignoring people is hard and not in our natural make-up. But that’s what scam artists are counting on…the kindness of people. Most elaborate scams happen when someone thrusts themselves on you and asks for help. It doesn’t matter how well they are dressed or what kind of car they drive, you don’t have to help.

You don’t have to make eye contact, or even say thank you or hello. I give you permission to forget about all of your manners when you travel. Maybe this is the extreme, but I see more people get sucked into scams or begging by simply trying to be kind and acknowledge the scammer because it’s our natural instinct.

Some people may think this is too extreme. They feel being cordial and interacting with people is all part of the travel experience; if you aren’t cordial with people, then why get out and travel in the first place. However for me, I enjoy travel a lot more when my passport is in my possession, and I’m not spending time talking to the police.

fake money

Too good to be true

When something seems to good to be true…it normally is.

Finally – remind yourself of this…money doesn’t grow from trees and strangers don’t just give you gold rings or Armani jackets.

If you are looking for more information on this subject – here’s a pretty good article from Travel & Leisure about some of the top scams people encounter while traveling

In the meantime – stay on guard while traveling! And please share some of the travel scams you’ve been exposed to below!

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