New spins on old travel scams

2012-10-24 14:27
Most of us are ready to get into end-of-year holiday mode.  In fact, some of us are already there. But understand this, scam artists are looking forward to this time of year as much as you are. It is common knowledge petty crimes and scams associated with tourists or holidaymakers tend to escalate round about now.  

We’ve done some digging and have uncovered a few new spins on scams in play for ages. Yesteryear’s Oliver Twist is very much today’s tsotsi – they have simply become more ingenious in their approach. Familiarise yourself with the following, don’t be fooled and enjoy that well-deserved break…

1. Pickpocket distraction

The oldest of travel scams undeniably involve pick-pocketing. While you shouldn’t rule out untimely bumps from beggars, these days they’ve taken to dressing up to look like business professionals or they simply blend in by pretending to be a tourist, replete with camera and money belt.

Distracting scenarios, reportedly infamous across the cities of Europe include an attractive woman arguing with a street vendor. As the crowd gathers, it becomes clear that she is being accused of shoplifting. She then begins to strip down to her underwear in order to prove her innocence. While the vendor apologizes you may be one of the unfortunate onlookers who has fallen victim to a team of pickpockets working this ‘free strip show’.

How to avoid this scam: Your best defense is to stick your hands in your pockets and take stock of your visible possessions when you join crowds gathering in the street. Remain alert and move on if you encounter a similar situation that seems out of kilter.

2. Swiped card credentials

Scam artists have used a myriad of ways to part a foolish traveller from his or her cash. Anybody with a modicum of credit card swag knows never to let that little piece of plastic out of your site. Online research reveals the latest evolution in plastic pilfering involves a random call to your hotel room, most likely when you’re asleep and you’ve completely let your guard down. The caller pretends to be from the front desk with the need to clear up some check-in confusion. You’re asked to verify your three-digit security code at the back of the card. After the caller rattles off an incorrect number to which you reply “no”, you are then asked to provide your proper credit card number and security code. Wake up, don’t do it.

Other credit card scams, seemingly good-natured in its approach, involve businesses or restaurants that offer to bill your card in dollars, as they claim to be saving you foreign exchange charges. These predetermined rates are often inflated and there is no way a trader is going to absorb your costs. Refuse and rather risk paying the bank charge instead of an unknown exchange rate – the bank charge is regulated by a formal banking institution and can in some instances be claimed back.

How to avoid this scam
: If you receive the random call, you’d be wise to ask if you’re able to come down in the morning and sort the situation out in person. As an extra precaution you might want to opt for a travel money card, guarding against situations like theft or loss. 

3. Taxi driver trickery

Another of the most rampant yet obviously subtle scams would be the taxi driver who overcharges by taking the scenic route.  Recent warnings however show that dodgy cabbies are exploiting
foreigners who are unfamiliar with the currency. As you hand them the money to pay, they pretend to accidentally drop the note and deftly exchange it for a smaller one. At this point they then inform you that you’ve given too little money.

Or consider the driver who tries to persuade you to jump the long queue outside the airport you’ve just arrived at. You run the risk of getting into a car of somebody who isn’t a taxi-driver at all. This can end in a number of unsatisfactory ways, from your luggage being held hostage or at the negative end of the scale where your very life is in danger. When it comes to your safety pessimism is a safeguard rather than a hindrance.

How to avoid this scam: Pay attention to what you’re handing the taxi drivers. Stay on the safe side and verbally confirm what you’re giving them. It’s also more sensible to only use reputable taxi drivers with accredited licenses and information, making it easy to complain or report an incident if something does happen.

4. The Fake official

Don’t take parking attendants at face value. An online search of prevalent scams has revealed that it’s an easy way for you to be duped. Consider how difficult it is to find convenient parking when attending a major event like the upcoming Lady Gaga or Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts. The scam unfolds once you’ve parked on a nearby field or open lot. A ‘parking attendant’ appears and gives you a supposed parking ticket, requesting payment.  You pay him, only to find out later when the real attendant asks for payment that you’ve been duped.

It’s also important to consider the fake tour guide a la Slum dog Millionaire. While it is possible to pick up a tour guide at the attraction of your choice, chances are you could hand over your holiday spending money only to have them disappear into the crowd.

How to avoid this scam: Try to check out parking arrangements beforehand if possible.  If you suspect something’s up ask for the person’s credentials. If you’re alone it might be a good idea to avoid confrontation that could lead to a more serious situation. To avoid any nasty tour guide situations, check out attractions online and only book through accredited and reputable tour operators.

5. Hoax Hotel swaps

This travel scam revolves around your chosen accommodation. If you’re booking online and a particular hotel looks absolutely amazing but the room rate is unbelievably cheap, chances are you might be in for a nasty surprise when you arrive. The room might have a view but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a pretty view or the luxury apartment you thought you’d be kicking back in could turn out to be a shocking dive without a tourism grading.

Another ruse that turned up in our search for scams to avoid involves being redirected to ‘additional accommodation facilities down the street’ upon arrival – only to discover that it’s not quite as plush as what you’d paid for. Be warned that the hotel has most-likely overbooked and entered into an agreement, probably at a fee, with another accommodation provider.

How to avoid this scam: Make use of sites such as Wimdu or Tripadvisor. Reader reviews usually give a good indication regarding false advertising or over-priced accommodation facilities. If you feel like you’re being penalized because the hotel has overbooked, simply refuse the swap and ask to speak to the manager. You can use your proof of booking deposit or advance payment to negotiate a reduced price if there really is no other option but to stay in the alternative accommodation.

Check out the American Express® GlobalTravel Card which provides an enhanced level of security since it is not linked to your actual bank account. Cash is preloaded ahead of your trip and you’re able to fix the exchange rate in the moment of purchase, improving your spending power and alleviating the risk associated with volatile exchange rates. Another key benefit is the free Backup Card (with a different PIN) that gets issued along with the Primary Card at purchase. 

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Read more on:    travel international

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