From wandering taxi drivers to bogus cops, here’s what to watch out for.
Taking the scenic route is a bit more stressful when a taxi’s meter is running.
But that’s how dishonest cabbies jack up their fares, so when traveling in a place you’re not familiar with, pay attention.
Roundabout routes are one of the top seven travel scams around the world, according to a list released by SmarterTravel.com, which also provided tips to avoid getting conned.
For taxi passengers being taken on shortcuts that seem anything but, the website advises learning the route you’re going to take or using an app along the way to be able to “correct” the driver when he or she starts going another way. Hire only licensed cabs.
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“For the most part, travel is safe and wonderful. I would characterize it as awareness as empowerment,” said SmarterTravel.com senior editor Christine Sarkis. “Educate yourself; don’t give up on having trust in the world. A lot of the joys and magic of travel comes with giving yourself over to it. It’s always a good idea to trust your gut. If you’re well-informed, you have something to back that gut feeling up with.”
Also on the list are:
Bogus police officers: People in apparently legitimate uniforms will accuse travelers of crimes and ask to see their wallets. The thief then has access to your money and your ID. A variation on this — which doubles as a fake border-agent scam in the form of a nonexistent entry fee — is when bystanders ask travelers to watch their bags for a second, but once they walk away, faux cops come over and insist on searching bags. They find something illegal in them and then demand fines to avoid arrest. To prevent getting had in this way, tell the so-called cops to take you to the nearest police station before you hand over anything.
ID theft: This takes the form of ATMs that steal credit cards, cashiers who take stealth photos of credit cards when travelers are paying for something, or personal information stolen when using the Wi-Fi in a touristy spot (or it can be taken off the radio frequency identification, or RFID, chip off their passport or credit cards). Ways to protect yourself include limiting Wi-Fi use to trustworthy sources, notifying credit-card companies and banks about upcoming trips (including providing information on how they can reach you when away from home) and using an RFID-blocking passport holder and wallet.
Distraction theft: One thief asks for directions or offers help with a tire they punctured earlier, while the other secretly steals valuables from luggage or a wallet from a pocket or purse. The solution is being aware of surroundings, especially when people suddenly start interacting with you, and when in crowds. Also: wearing pickpocket-proof clothing.
Phony petitions: Children pretend to be disabled and then ask their marks to sign petitions — which they then announce promised donations to be given. The one thing to do? Never sign anything.
Counterfeit money: Scammers give counterfeit currency to tourists who might not know exactly how the local bills look and feel. In addition, you might get incorrect change. Knowing what the money should be like can help stop this from happening.
Fake bargains and free trips: Thieves pose as travel agents or rental-company agents, offering free trips or nice timeshares. Bogus sweepstakes are also part of this genre. After the would-be tourists enter their personal info online, the agent vanishes. Before doing that, get the company name and phone number to verify who they are and then try calling the number. Be suspicious of numbers that just ring and ring or go directly to voicemail.
Sarkis explained that this list features only scams common all over, not region-specific ones, such as Thailand’s “temple switch,” in which someone approaches travelers about to enter a temple, says it’s closed and offers to take them to another one, where the diverter gets a cut of the money.
Detroit travel agent Pam Nikitas agreed that travelers need to be on guard.
“A tourist is easily identifiable. We look different. We dress different. Even in the United States, you still have to be aware and careful,” she said. “Use common sense no matter where you are … Don’t say, ‘Well, I can save a couple dollars by doing it this way.’ Would you do that when you’re home?”