Nicola Allen, consultant with the LBS security group, offers five tips on making your first big trip memorable for all the right reasons
You’ve booked the flights, packed your suitcase and bought the local guidebook; the last thing on your mind is the unwelcome prospect of being scammed on holiday. However, visiting a foreign country can make you vulnerable to scammers. Although such characters are in the minority, thousands of tourists are each year fall victim to scams. The perpetrators prey on visitors that are unaware of local customs, demanding large ‘tips’ or payments for services or merchandise you neither want nor need; in some cases, the visitor may not even realise they have been duped!
Fortunately, by being aware of common scams before you set off, you can avoid them and look forward to your trip without fear.
Scammers take advantage of tourists that look lost or bewildered, offering seemingly helpful advice but really serving their own interests. For instance, a taxi driver might offer to take you to a particular bar, restaurant or hotel that they recommend, where a second scammer will be waiting to charge you an exaggerated fee.
Another example is when a local wrongly advises you that a particular attraction is closed in order to step in and recommend an alternative – again, where you will be overcharged. The local might then demand a tip for their assistance.
A common scam you might experience while out and about – restaurants, shops and even on the beach – is for a vendor to give you a ‘gift’ and then demand payment. For example, they might tie a bracelet around your wrist to ‘show’ you how it looks, before telling you that you have effectively bought the item.
Before you climb into a taxi, make sure you agree on the fare with the driver. You should also clarify that this fee is the total amount, and not ‘per person’! Be wary of taxi drivers that do not use a metre; it is likely that they will charge whatever fee they feel that they can get away with.
It is not just in the taxi where you should keep an eye on your bill; shop around for souvenirs rather than buying an item in the first place you see it. There is usually a better deal to be found elsewhere; especially if the first shop is in a prominent tourist location.
Unlike some of the other scams, theft can completely ruin your holiday, causing you not only the expense of replacing the stolen goods but also a great deal of stress. Only use busy ATMs in trusted banks and cover up your PIN as you type. Make sure you take out rigorous holiday insurance and note down your bank’s helpline number should you need to cancel your card or arrange alternative funds in an emergency.
Busy streets are a pickpocket’s dream, where it is easy to commit a crime undetected and then disappear into the crowd, so be particularly alert in such areas. Never keep your wallet in your back pocket; instead, wear a money belt (under your jacket if possible) and avoid flashing your valuables in public. Carrying travellers’ cheques rather than cash will prevent a thief from spending your money if they do lay their hands on it.
More aggressive than the other methods, the ‘red light bag snatch’ is a growing problem in some parts of the world. In this scam, the criminal waits at a junction, quickly opens your door and snatches your bag while your car is waiting in traffic. Always lock your doors when driving abroad.
Guests in holiday accommodation are a captive audience, and some hotel owners take advantage of this in order to squeeze more money from them. We are all aware of the costs associated with the hotel minibar; but what you might not realise is that some hotels also charge you to use amenities such as fridges, microwaves or water coolers; make sure to clarify any costs beforehand.
A top tip is to take photographs of the condition of your room when you check in, especially noting any damage or uncleanliness. This will provide you with evidence if the hotel tries to charge you for these problems when you check out.
Some accommodation scams take place before you even arrive; only book tickets from reputable websites. If in any doubt, ring the hotel to confirm that they do in fact use the booking company in question.
Even if your hotel seems reputable, there may be one last scam that they’d like to try – and it involves your credit card. The clerk down in the hotel reception will call up to your room via telephone, explaining that there has been a mix-up with your credit card and the room reservation. They’ll read the final four digits of your card number to you to verify that it is correct, but it won’t be. When you explain the error, they’ll then ask you for the entire card number, writing it down for their benefit before telling you that they have now found the correct form. The scam is complete!
If the phone does ring in your room and the enquiry is the same as the one outlined above, never give any information relating to your card to the clerk over the phone. Instead, make your way down to reception to discuss any matters that have arisen regarding your reservation and payment details.
Despite the number of holiday scams you might encounter, it is also worth mentioning that scammers are in the minority and most of the locals you will meet will be genuinely helpful and hospitable. Overall, be cautious of offers that seem ‘too good to be true’ and be prepared to give a polite ‘no’ and walk away if in any doubt. By taking these simple precautions, you can protect yourself from holiday scams and get on with enjoying your trip.
Do you have any security advice for first time travellers? Tell us in the comments below.
Nicola Allen is a freelance travel writer. As a keen traveller herself, she takes a particular interest in personal safety and security abroad. She writes for LBS Group, specialists in physical security equipment