Updated: 11/23/2022 | Common Travel Scams
Traveling to new destinations is exciting and fun. But when you get into situations that are dangerous or sketchy, it can leave you feeling defeated. We did a roundup of common travel scams that have happened to real people from around the world and what you can do to avoid these scams.
We’ve organized the scams by continent. Click on the continent to jump to the appropriate section.
Common Travel Scams From Around the World
#1 Morocco – Aggressive Helpful Guy Scam
In Tangier, Morocco, there is always a chaotic transfer between the ferry from Spain and boarding a new bus in Morocco for onward destinations like Fez and Marrakech. Tangier is notorious for its hustlers who try and scam money for providing services or advice you don’t want or need.
I knew which bus I needed to board, but I had one persistent hustler follow me around for 15 minutes giving me “advice.” I politely declined and stated that I knew where I was going. I kept ignoring him even though he kept on dishing out his “helpful” comments.
After I had loaded my own backpack on the bus, he demanded money for his “services.” I was annoyed and said no because I didn’t ask for his help and didn’t need his advice.
He then pointed his finger to the sky and shouted: “Well I hope that my god makes your bus crash and you’re the only one who dies!”
I didn’t know whether to be shocked or to laugh!
How to Avoid This: Be aware that hustlers will be aggressive in terms of separating you from your money. Standing your ground is always the best option. You may need to display the same kind of aggression to get the point across. And never give into their demands when you know you’re right!
Contributed by Anthony Bianco of The Travel Tart.
#1 Cambodia – Stolen Bike Rental Scam
A common scam in Cambodia is to do with hiring motorbikes overnight. You leave your passport with the rental office and need an address of your hotel/hostel you’re staying at.
During the early hours of the morning, the bike is stolen using a spare key and your passport is held at ransom for a large amount of money.
How to Avoid This: A common scam throughout many countries throughout the world, one I’ve been caught by many time, is by taxi drivers and taking the longest route possible.
If you’re in a new city, it’s highly unlikely you know your way around. A quick few turns by a taxi driver can disorientate easily, from there, the driver can do loops around your destination. This increases the fair timer and allows the driver to charge much more.
The best way to prevent this is a predetermined price. If you have locked in a cost for the trip, the driver will want to move to the next fare as soon as possible.
Contributed by Ben McLaughlan of Horizon Unknown.
#2 China – Tea Tasting Scam in Beijing
I was scouted by a woman, who spoke English very, well to drink some tea with her. I was familiar with this scam so I politely declined. She proceeded to curse me out and even call me “n—-r” and that her brother would come to kill me.
It was a frightening experience, but I quickly got out of there and was glad I made it out alive!
How to Avoid This: Research common scams prior to traveling. Be aware that these scams can happen to anyone. When it does, decline politely and get out of the area as soon as possible.
A good rule of thumb is if someone approaches you and speaks English very well, it’s most likely that they are going to scam you. This seems to be a common trend in many Asian countries.
Contributed by Lavesh Bhatia, an Alaska Airlines Flight Attendant.
#3 Malaysia to Thailand – Border Crossing Scam
Border crossings are places that understandably make people a little nervous. Often there are military or police officers equipped with big guns and you’re typically surrounded by high walls with barbed wire gates.
Getting scammed at the border is not a fun experience and can often ruin your mood while traveling.
On a border crossing from Malaysia to Thailand, I met a Western couple who was stopped and taken aside at the border. The border guards told them that in order to come from Malaysia to Thailand, they needed to show sufficient funds.
They were asked to show that they have $10,000 USD each in cash. No sane person travels with this much money on their person and showing bank account statements wasn’t enough. So when they were unable to do so, the guards demanded that because they did not have ‘sufficient funds’ in cash, they had to pay a “fine” of $100 USD each in order to enter the country.
Without any other choice, the couple each paid the bribe and were then allowed into Thailand.
How to Avoid This: Fly in between countries. A flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Phuket, Thailand is only $25 USD one way. Get to your destination quicker and avoid the potential “fees” that may happen when you cross between Southeast Asian countries.
There is a similar scam that happens to travelers going from Thailand to Cambodia border. Sometimes a little luxury and flying to your next destination are worth skipping out on all the headache.
Contributed by Erika van ‘t Veld of Erika’s Travel Adventures.
#4 Thailand – Palace is Closed Scam
Outside of the King’s palace in Bangkok, Thailand, a man wearing a tourism Thailand polo approached us and informed us that the palace was closed for approximately two hours as we tried to enter through a side gate.
We understood that some things in Thailand are just for Thai people and others may have different prices or hours of operation for farang (foreigners) so we thought nothing of it.
He then called a Tuk Tuk (open Thai taxi cab) that was waiting nearby and recommended that we see a Buddha instead. The price was low for a Tuk Tuk (50 baht or about $1.60). Once we were moving, that’s when we realized our mistake.
We were taken first to a temple, then to a tailor and then to a gem factory. By then we’d had enough and refused to get back into the Tuk Tuk.
The scammers and drivers earn a commission by delivering tourists to vendors to purchase products. The problem is that once you are in the vehicle you are taken away from familiar surroundings and now have to find a way back to your original destination. You’re often left in remote areas and away from any reliable transportation services. You also end up spending more on your Tuk Tuk rides.
How to Avoid This: To solve the problem, listen for announcements from Thai authorities around the Grand Palace and popular destinations. The loudspeaker will often announce the hours of operation and warn you about scammers in multiple languages.
For taxi rides, opt for Uber or Grab, SE Asia’s version of Uber.
Since then, we have returned to Thailand many times since and have not fallen victim to this scam again.
Contributed by Kyle Stewart of Live and Let’s Fly.
#5 Thailand – Vandalized Scooter Scam
Last year, I rented a scooter in Thailand. Overnight, the bike was vandalized. My motorbike license plate was broken and the seat cushion was slashed with a knife. What I later learned was that the owner or someone he knew had vandalized the bike as a scam to extract money from me. The owner insisted that I compensate him for the damage. I eventually had to buy him the new seat cover.
How to Avoid This:
Check if the bike already has any damage. It is best to take photos or videos of the bike to document any previous damage and the current condition of the bike. Use your own bike lock and never trust the locks provided by the rental person becuase he/she might have the second set of keys.
Secondly, don’t tell the owner of the bike where you are staying. And most importantly, leave the bike in a safe place when not in use.
If still, any damage occurs, take it to a repair shop recommended by someone other than the owner.
Contributed by Ashley Casey from Adventure Gears Lab.
#6 Thailand – Locals Extorting Tourist at Freedom Beach Scam
We traveled to Thailand earlier this year and had a great time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. We were lucky to avoid any scams there. Phuket was a different story.
We booked a Grab taxi (similar to Uber) to take us to Freedom Beach in Phuket where we were confronted by two Thai locals demanding payment of 200 THB to enter. The land is privately owned land which meant the owners had a right to charge visitors, but everything on the internet said entry was free.
We ended up paying the locals as we’d already paid to get there. When we left the property two hours later, they were no longer there and people were coming and going without having to pay. We’re pretty sure they were just two random people forcing the hundreds of visitors 200 THB each to enter.
Over just a few hours we reckon they would have made over 50,000 THB, or $1,500 USD by scamming tourists.
How to Avoid This:
Look online and make sure that entry is free prior to paying any fees. Demand to speak with someone official about any charges. Call the authorities if you feel something is off.
Contributed by Delilah Hart from Our Travel Mix.
#7 Vietnam – Tourist Prices Scam
We were visiting the marble mountain in Da Nang and loved it. When we were exiting, I stopped by a vendor to take a souvenir home with me and noticed a Buddha bust make of fake marble.
I asked the lady (in English) how much the bust was. She told me it was $50 USD. I was shocked because the bust was tiny and definitely not made from real marble so did not warrant the high price tag. She began to tell me it was real marble and that I was getting a good deal.
I switched to speaking Vietnamese and she laughed nervously and said she thought I was Thai or Cambodian. She then said, “Between you and I, this is not made of real marble and you can have it for $5.” I laughed and bought it at the much more reasonable price of $5.
How to Avoid This: While traveling through South East Asia, be aware that many vendors will start their price points very high for tourists. Vendors also like to haggle, it’s part of our culture. They will often initially offer an item at 10 times the price they’ll actually sell it for. Always negotiate down to what you are willing to pay. I like to use the “walk away” strategy because if I am not satisfied with a price point, I walk away and wait for the seller to agree to my price or offer me a better deal.
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#1 Hungary – Taxi Meter Scam
In Budapest, Hungary my boyfriend and I got in a taxi to go from the thermal baths back to our hotel.
The driver refused to turn on the meter and charged us what equated to over 30 euros for what turned out to be a five-minute drive.
Instead of giving us back correct change, he grabbed a handful of loose coins, shoved them in my hand, and drove away. He probably ended up charging us 20 times what the ride should have actually cost.
How to Avoid This:
When you travel, make sure a taxi driver uses a meter and when possible, agree to a flat charge to get to your destination. Be especially careful in Budapest where the taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off tourists.
You can also use Bolt, which a similar service as Uber and Lyft that operates in Budapest.
Contributed by Rebecca Safier of Remote Bliss.
#2 Spain – Take My Photo Scam
This one involved the “take my photo” trick in Barcelona. A “seemingly innocent tourist” asked me to take a photo of him/her. While I’m occupied with taking photos, a colleague of theirs would quietly snatch something from my pocket or bag without me realizing it.
In my case, they managed to steal around $50 from my pocket while I was busy taking photos of this fake tourist. While that was unfortunate, I was glad I did not actually have my proper wallet on me at that time. Otherwise, I would have had to waste a lot of time calling various credit card companies to cancel my cards.
How to Avoid This: Keep your belongings secured and hidden on your person at all times. Be aware of your surroundings and ensure your friends watch out for one another.
Contributed by Bino Chua of I Wandered.
#3 Spain – Increased Taxi Fees Scam
The biggest holiday scam I experienced was when my husband and I went to Barcelona for our 2nd honeymoon. We used a taxi on the way home that had been recommended by the hotel.
On arrival at the airport, the taxi driver doubled the fee and kept our luggage hostage until we paid it. It took our transport costs from 20€ to 40€. We believe that there have been many incidents with travelers in many cities in Europe and that it is a common problem.
How to Avoid This: We recommend booking a ride online through a reputable transport company or using Uber. In my case, I prefer to use services where you pay a set fee for a ride arranged by the airport. You will typically have to pay this fee in advance and no more than what is required.
Another option is to use airport shuttles or public transportation to get close to your destination and walk the rest of the way there.
Contributed by Samantha Milner of Recipe This.
#4 Spain – Tire Distraction Scam
My wife traveled to Spain, got off the plane, and hopped into a car rental to start her trip.
At the first stop sign, a man knocked on her passenger window and pointed, saying, “Tire, tire!” She put the car in park and walked over to the passenger side. The tire was fine but she then noticed that the man was gone.
When she got back in the car, her purse had disappeared from the front seat. Her driver’s license, passport, cash, and credit cards were all stolen.
How to Avoid This: Do not leave your important belongings in the car. When you exit your vehicle, make sure you lock your personal belongings in the trunk and out of sight or bring it with you on your body. If you need to leave things in the car, make sure it’s locked up in your trunk and not visible. Valuables can tempt thieves to break into your car.
Contributed by Robert Siciliano of Safr.Me.
#5 Italy – ATM Withdrawal Scam
I was befriended by four guys at a Discoteca in Milan who wanted to go “grab a drink” somewhere after the club. I had become separated from my girlfriend after we exited the club.
The robbers took my phone and drove me around to 5 different ATMs forcing me to withdraw around $450 when they finally let me go. I was so disoriented and angry after the incident. It took me three hours to finally get back to my hotel. The experience was traumatic and I felt violated.
How to Avoid This: Do not follow strangers under any circumstances. You never know what people are up to, especially in bigger cities where crime is more prevalent. Also, do not get yourself into situations where you become outnumbered and put in a vulnerable situation. Thieves target foreigners and tourists, so try to travel with friends you trust when you go out and keep an eye on each other. Try to avoid establishments like clubs or crowded areas when in bigger cities. When possible, try to physically lock arms or hold hands so that you do not get separated from your travel companions. And if people are trying to approach you and are becoming aggressive, walk towards bigger crowds and ask for help.
Contributed by an Anonymous Reader
#6 Czech Republic – ATM Withdrawal Scam
I was blacked out drunk and hailed a taxi cab back to my hotel in Prague. The driver took advantage of my situation and took me to two different ATMs to withdraw $700. When I woke up the next morning, I noticed money was missing and saw that I had made two withdrawals from ATMs.
How to Avoid This: Call a ride through a rideshare App such as Uber or stay at the establishment until you are sober enough to walk or take another mode of transportation back to your hotel. Try not to hail a random taxi because they could be posing as a taxi driver and will take advantage of you in your current state.
Contributed by an Anonymous Reader
#7 Turkey – Fake Turkish Carpet Scam
We were walking around Istanbul when a man dressed in a white button-up with black slacks and dress shoes approached us. They offered to take us to a local carpet store to check out their goods. We declined and the man asked us multiple times to come to the store. We ended up ignoring him. We walked a little further when a second man dressed in the same outfit offered us the same deal. We ignored him and continued walking.
A common scam in Istanbul is the fake Turkish carpet scam. This is where you are shown a high-quality carpet and are given the opportunity to buy it and take it home. The seller ends up selling you a fake or lower-quality carpet than the one you agreed to buy. You’re out of luck because it’s nearly impossible to physically return the item.
How to Avoid This: Do your research and only buy from reputable sellers. When you do buy from a seller, take a video or image of what you are buying along with an agreed-upon price and receipt from the vendor. We recommend using a credit card that has international payment protection for lost, broken, or inaccurately described goods. NEVER pay with a check or cash. Cash is a sure way to get scammed and possibly never even receive your purchase.
#8 Italy – Pickpocket Scam
We were riding the subway in Milan to get to the Central train station. A young girl was pretending to jam the door open on the crowded train with her arm. She then jumped on the train and continued to move. I felt a hand in my bag and looked across me to find an older lady trying to steal my phone from under a shawl she had wrapped around her arm.
I said loudly, “What the fuck are you doing?” She removed her hand and started talking to the young girl who was creating a distraction by jamming the door. I should’ve taken a photo of their faces and forwarded it to the authorities. I am not surprised they work in duos. When I mentioned the duo to a police officer, he asked if they looked like gypsies and I was not sure what that meant but they did have black hair and a dark olive skin tone.
How to Avoid This: Always fully close your bags and wear them in front of you when on the train in and crowded spaces. Keep your eyes alert for people who may be creating a distraction to rob unsuspecting people. Be aware of people when they are near you and don’t keep your expensive belongings in the open to entice criminals.
Contributed by Alex Tran, founder of Schimiggy.
#1 Cuba – Let Me Take Your Photo Scam
The most brazen experience with scams I had in Cuba. My wife and I booked a classic car through Havana and were standing at the Plaza de Revolucion observing the monument.
A local saw us taking photos and asked us if we would like to have a photo together. I didn’t suspect anything bad and gave him my camera.
After he did a couple of photos, he demanded 10 CUC (which is 10 USD) from each of us. As he still had my camera and I didn’t want him to run away with it, I negotiated the price down to 6 CUC for both of us.
How to Avoid This: Be aware of common scams and research them prior to traveling. During your travels, anticipate that everything has a price, and do not freely trust anyone on the street. The experience I’ve had as a tourist is that we’re considered walking wallets full of cash to spend and not as people.
Contributed by Max from Snoopy Alien.
#2 Las Vegas, Nevada USA – Taxi Route Scam
I went to Las Vegas for a bachelorette party. We hailed a taxi outside our hotel and indicated where we needed to go. I knew there was a Hard Rock Cafe nearby so made sure they knew to take us to the Hard Rock Hotel and not the cafe.
The driver ended up going the long route and passing the Hard Rock Cafe, which resulted in us going down the busy strip of Las Vegas when we could have taken the back route away from the busy street. I ended up paying $3 more dollars and we were late to our massage appointment. We lost out on 15 minutes of treatment time.
How to Avoid This: I recommend using an Uber or Lyft instead of a metered taxi. With Uber or Lyft, you can pre-determine you ride fees based on your starting point and destination.
Contributed by Alex Tran of Love Eat Travel.
#3 Mexico – Gas Station Payment Scam
A few years ago my wife and I were driving a rental car in Mexico, in between Cancun and Tulum. We stopped to get gas and asked the service attendant fill up the car. We were the only car at the station and there were about three attendants standing there, making small talk and being generally chatty and friendly.
When it came time to pay, we handed over the money to one attendant and then another attendant gave our change back…only it was extremely short.
When we told him that we didn’t get the right amount back, he flashed a smaller note insisting it was the one we gave him. Fortunately, I had heard of the scam before and made a mental note of exactly what I had given him.
After standing firm about the issue, the first attendant and the second attendant talked and decided they had made a mistake, giving me the right amount back.
How to Avoid This: Whenever making a cash payment, you should always be cognizant of what you are handing over. In fact, I now count out what I hand over in cash just to make sure there are no more mistakes.
Contribution by Tanner Callais of Cruzely.
#4 Mexico – Fake Cops Scam
I was in Mexico years ago when I was having some fun in Tijuana with friends. The explorer in me that had one too many margaritas decided to take a walk in the local neighborhood.
Two “cops” followed me and grabbed my arm and told me I was under arrest. When I took a hard look at them, their uniforms weren’t really matching and their badges looked like they were from the dollar store.
As I was speaking to them (or as they were interrogating me) I broke free and ran to the border. I never looked back and haven’t gone back since.
How to Avoid This: Get to know what the official police uniforms and vehicles look like in the destinations you visit. While you must show a degree of respect for authority, don’t automatically trust anyone claiming they are a badged official. If necessary, make a scene if you believe you are being harassed by fake cops.
Contributed by Robert Siciliano of Safr.Me.
#5 Puerto Rico – Sob Story Scam
A few years ago I was getting ready to go on a cruise that included a stop at San Juan, Puerto Rico. While doing research on the port, I read about a man who was running a scam on the pier.
We went on our cruise and stop at San Juan. At the end of the day, we were walking back towards the ship when we were approached by a man telling a story about being in a car accident, his father was rushed to the hospital, and he needed cab fare to go get his dad. I just said ‘Sorry’ and kept walking.
My wife was surprised that I was so callous towards the man. Then I explained that I had read reports of this same guy. He had been using the same story for over 20 years.
How to Avoid This: My advice is to use logic. His story was so full of holes. Wouldn’t the police help him get to the hospital after the crash? He said he was a passenger on the ship. Wouldn’t the ship’s Agent help him out?
Always beware of anyone who has a sob story and wants cash.
Contributed by Randy Motley of RWM Travel.
#1 Argentina – Money Change Scam
We arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina as part of a tour group. This was our first time experiencing a guided tour. Our agent reminded us to never exchange money with a money changer on the streets of Buenos Aires. She also told us to look for a particular stamp, which would indicate that the currency is valid and real.
While walking around the streets of Buenos Aires, we were beckoned by men asking us if we needed “cambio,” or change. Never exchange with these men because you’ll most likely get fake currency or a really bad exchange rate.
How to Avoid This: We were thankful we booked with a travel company that knew the ins and outs of traveling around Argentina.
They recommended that we use an actual bank or ATM to exchange money and to only deal with their designated money changer who stamped all his bills. His stamp was a sign that the money was authentic.
Never change money at the little kiosks and especially with individuals on the street. They will typically charge more and offer you a worse exchange rate. In some cases, they may even exchange your bills and give you counterfeit money.
Contributed by Angela Lee.
#2 Argentina – Distraction Theft in Buenos Aires
We arrived in Buenos Aires on a rainy Sunday morning after a long overnight bus. After setting off walking towards our hostel, we were passing through a park near the station when something splattered on our backpacks. It looked like bird poo.
A few seconds later, a woman approached us. She seemed to be very kind, and offered to help us clean the mess. Tired from our bus journey our guard was down, and we walked over to a bus shelter nearby.
Then, everything happened in a few seconds. In order to get to our big backpacks to clean the mess, first we had to remove our smaller daypacks which were on our fronts. As we did this, the woman spun us round, distracting and confusing us. In those few seconds, somebody snatched our bags and they were gone. We didn’t even see it happen.
Our daypacks had contained everything important. Our laptops, cameras, cash, bank cards, souvenirs – not to mention our passports. And plenty more besides. Those few moments of carelessness cost us a fortune and nearly ended our round-the-world travel journey.
How to Avoid This: Always be vigilant, and never lose sight of your bags. If any substance is spilled on you and somebody offers to help, just thank them and keep walking. In case the worst happens, keep a scan of your passport saved online, and stash a spare credit card somewhere separate so you have access to money.
Contributed by Alex Trembath, Career Gappers.
#3 Brazil – Money Exchange Scam
When we travel, we often carry cash. Like most travelers, I prefer to change money in a reputable place. So how did I manage to almost get scammed when changing money at an exchange house in Brazil?
The woman behind the desk shorted changed me. It was only because I checked the money before walking away from that I got back what was owed to me. One of the many facts about Brazil is that culture is very unique when comparing to other Latin cultures. However, when it comes to scamming tourists, the Brazilians aren’t to blame. Sometimes it can be a traveler’s own carelessness.
I later realized that most people don’t even count their cash when they receive it from the cash teller. This is how the currency scam is born. The scam could have happened to anyone, anywhere, not just in Brazil.
How to Avoid This: To prevent this from happening to you, when changing money, be sure to count your cash before you walk away from the cash desk. Also, when you’re changing large amounts of cash money, confirm the exchanged amount prior to exchanging. Verbally declare the amount of cash that you are handing over to the cashier before doing so. This way, you can prevent money exchange scams from happening.
Contribution by Daniel James of Layer Culture.
#4 Peru – Increased Taxi Price Scam
In Peru at the Poroy Train Station, we hailed a taxi driver from the slew of taxi drivers waiting just outside the station. We went with a driver who walked us outside to his unmarked car. We were concerned but he did display a tax permit badge.
When asked how much the fare was, he said “quince” which is $15 USD. We were told the fare would be $20-$25 so my husband repeated back to him “quince” several times. The driver nodded in agreement.
Upon arriving at our AirBnB, my husband handed the driver $15. The driver became agitated and said, “no it is cincuenta!” which is $50! My husband argued back but the driver insisted. I felt quite uncomfortable in the middle of the street of a strange neighborhood as the driver was trying to make it appear we were ripping him off. I just took the money out and paid him the $50.
How to Avoid This: Avoid this by never getting into an unmarked cab. Write down the dollar amount on paper, or video record it, and show it to the driver and get his agreement. Hold up your fingers to indicate the correct amount that you will be paying. Use Uber to get to your destination.
Contributed by Jack and Elaine Schafer from Seniors with Latitude.
Travel scams can be avoided if you do your research and use your gut instinct while traveling. If something feels off, it probably is.
It’s important to note that scammers will put you into uncomfortable situations. Never let their anger and aggression get the best of you. You always have the power to say no and stand your ground.
And if you need help, contact authorities ASAP. Do the research beforehand to determine the appropriate authorities to call when things go awry.
We hope this article was helpful! If you have any other scams you’d love to contribute, please email us or leave them in the comments section!
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