Four common travel scams and how to avoid them

If you're a frequent traveler, chances are you've been the victim of a scam at least once. Learn how to avoid some of the most popular, from hiked up taxi fare to fake admission to free tourists sites. 

Charles Plaitau/Reuters/File
Young tourists enjoy a rest during a sunny summer morning in front of the Pyramid in the Louvre museum in Paris. Scammers are most common around major tourist attractions.

If you're a frequent traveler, chances are you've been the victim of a scam at least once.

I remember on my first backpacking trip to Europe, my friend and I were conned into buying "friendship bracelets" outside of the Louvre. The con artists were smart: they tied the bracelets on our hands as they talked to us, so we couldn't get away. Once they were on, we felt obligated to buy them for a whopping €10. What can I say? I was 18 and naive.

Want to avoid wasting your money like I did? Here are some other travel scams to look out for while globetrotting.

1. Scams Around Major Sites

Look out for scammers at major tourist attractions!

This is a no-brainer: wherever there are tourists, there will be scammers. Tourists are often clueless about their surroundings, and have some money to spend because they're on vacation--the perfect scenario for a con artist.

There are a few tricks, like the aforementioned bracelet con, that are used fairly often by conners: you might be presented with a "found" ring that you are made to pay for, people may offer to "help" you onto trains and then demand payment, or you might see an official-looking person who asks you for payment to enter a free site.

When I was living in Buenos Aires, there was a man that stood outside the Recoleta Cemetery every day collecting admission fees. The only problem was that the cemetery is free to enter! Our local friend told us to just ignore him and walk by--pretty funny when he thinks he's owed something!

2. Currency Scams

Make sure you know what the local currency looks like lest you get short-changed with some fake cash.

This also goes into my experience in Latin America. Many countries around the world have switched currencies due to hyperinflation concerns, and Brazil is one of them. As a result, their new coins look different from the old ones, but for someone who doesn't know the difference, it can be hard to tell them apart. As there are still a ton of them lying around, tourists should be on their guard when buying things with cash--multiple times, I had to double check my change to make sure I wasn't getting back old, worthless coins from the past.

3.  Taxi Scams

The bane of my existence. You should ALWAYS negotiate the price of your taxi when you travel if there's no meter, and if there is a meter, ask what the typical price is. If you can, know how much your ride should cost beforehand.

Also, If you are in a foreign country and someone who speaks perfect English asks you if you'd like a taxi ride: beware, they could be a scammer. I was "Shanghaied" in Shanghai by one of these guys, who charged me over $80 for a ride that should've cost about $10.

4.  Fake Tickets

If you wanna get to your destination, don't buy tickets from a rando on the street.

If you're taking the bus or the train, always buy your tickets from an official counter at train stations or bus stops, or from a trusted person at your hostel or hotel. The people hawking tickets on the street are likely selling fakes, which may cost more than the real ones and will get you tossed out when the conductor comes around to check your tickets.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

You should always keep your head on a swivel, and know your surroundings. Keep bags to a minimum--I like to only travel with a carry-on that can go over my shoulder, and maybe a backpack, but if you're traveling around the city, try to only keep things in your pockets.

And, when I say pockets, make sure you keep wallets and phones in a front or inner pocket. Pickpockets are actually impressively good at what they do, and I've had my wallet snatched before from my front pocket, where I always keep my things. Luckily, I caught the guy shortly after the act and got everything back.

To make sure that you're not getting ripped on exchange rates, I would recommend using a credit card whenever possible. Credit cards usually get the best rates, and you'll also be able to make sure that you're getting charged what you're supposed to (plus, you'll have a receipt just in case things go wrong). One exception to this rule is in Argentina--the "blue market" rate is much better at Western Unions when you exchange cash than the official exchange rate will be if you use your credit card.

Finally, study up on where you're going and know how much things should cost, like taxis, food, and drinks. Learn a few friendly words in the local language--this will get you a long way. And finally, always know where your embassy and police stations are, and where the nearest hospital may be in case emergencies happen.

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals. 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.