After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a trip overseas, the last thing you want is to get taken advantage of by a clever scammer. Whatever part of the world you’re visiting, it pays to stay on top of the devious travel scams and tricks thieves use.
Click through to see a rundown of common tourist scams so you can protect your money when traveling.
1. Shell or Card Games
In a popular tourist area abroad, you might come across scammers playing a game on the sidewalk where they use three cups to hide a small ball underneath just one of them. You might recognize it as the shell game.
But in this version of the game, the scammer asks you to make a bet and guess which cup contains the ball. The scammer will let you win a few times — but only to get you to place higher and higher bets. Eventually, he palms the ball and you’re out hundreds of dollars, according to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs.
How to avoid this travel scam: Avoid participating in any games on the street that require you to make a bet.
2. The Newspaper Trick
Before you visit Europe, make sure you know the common scams and mistakes people make when traveling throughout Europe. For example, the newspaper trick is a common tourist scam in Rome, according to Travel + Leisure.
Here’s how it works: You’re walking down the street and a group of children surrounds you. They seem innocent enough until they begin waving newspapers at you. You become distracted, and the children grab your purse or pickpocket your wallet.
How to avoid this travel scam: In this situation, move away quickly and lightly brush the children aside. Don’t be afraid to call for help if the situation is too much to handle on your own.
3. Wallet Drop Scam
This travel scam targets U.S. citizens abroad and involves two scammers, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs. When you’re walking down the street, you might spot a wallet — or money — on the ground. A scammer approaches you, picks up the wallet, asks if it belongs to you and tries to get you to touch it.
Then, another scammer appears and says the wallet is theirs. Both then accuse you of trying to steal it and threaten to get the police — unless you pay them. Or, they ask to see your money or wallet as proof that you didn’t steal theirs. But when show them your wallet, they grab it and run.
How to avoid this travel scam: Don’t engage with the scammers, and don’t touch the wallet. Keep your wallet and money hidden. Seek out help if you’re being harassed. And never keep important documents or other items of value in your wallet.
4. Counterfeit Money
It can be hard to tell if the U.S. bills in your pocket are fake, let alone foreign bills you’ve never seen before. That’s why it can be easy for scammers — such as street money changers and taxi drivers — to fool unsuspecting tourists by handing them counterfeit money.
How to avoid this travel scam: Avoid using street money changes if you can, recommends travel insurance provider American International Group Inc., which uncovered various tourist scams in a 2016 report. Instead, use banks or ATMs. The insurance company also notes that this scam can be common in Hungary, so keep an eye out if you’re traveling here.
5. Sorry for the Stain, Sir
Also known as “the hot dog trick,” this travel scam can occur in airports while you’re stressed out and often distracted. Someone will walk by and accidentally squirt mustard or something else on you, reports Travel + Leisure. She then awkwardly tries to help clean up the stain while an accomplice grabs your luggage and walks off with it, leaving you wondering what to do without your passport and luggage.
How to avoid this travel scam: Keep your luggage safely between your feet while sitting or standing at the airport, suggested Travel + Leisure. And keep your valuables in sight at all times.
6. Restaurant or Tea House Scam
Here’s another tourist scam the Bureau of Consular Affairs wants travelers to be aware of when going abroad: A young student or attractive female approaches you and offers to give you a tour of the city. She even invites you to eat or drink at a nearby restaurant, tea house or bar. Inside the establishment, it’s dark and the menu has small fine print. Also, the drink you order is spiked with drugs that impair your vision and judgment.
When you receive your bill at the end of the meal, you realize it’s outrageously expensive. You refuse to pay it, but large men appear and threaten to assault you until you hand over the money.
How to avoid this travel scam: Be wary of people randomly offering you a tour of a city. To go on a tour, book through a trusted company.
7. The Falling Lady
Pickpocketing can happen to anyone, anywhere — especially if you’re traveling solo. So if you’re taking a trip by yourself, beware the “tumbling woman” or “falling lady” trick.
This tourist scam is known to occur in London, according to Travel + Leisure. In this distraction scam, a woman — typically, an elderly woman — makes a huge commotion by falling down. Accomplices then quickly move throughout the crowd, pickpocketing and grabbing purses.
How to avoid this travel scam: It’s important to remain as attentive and cautious as possible to avoid distraction scams like this one. When you note any suspicious activity, such as a person falling, step aside and keep an eye — or your hands — on your valuables.
8. Jet Ski Damage
The Jet Ski damage travel scam can happen at any tourist destination located near water. But according to travel safety expert Phil Sylvester of travel insurance provider World Nomads, be especially wary of this scam when visiting Phuket, Thailand.
In this scam, you rent a Jet Ski from the beach. But when you return it, you’re accused of damaging it — and you’re left with a hefty repair bill. And “if you refuse to pay, some of the rental bloke’s large friends come to ‘convince’ you to pay and might even frog-march you off to the nearest ATM,” said Sylvester.
How to avoid this travel scam: Thoroughly research your Jet Ski rental company ahead of time.
Also, “some people have tried to beat this scam by photographing the Jet Ski before they head out onto the water,” said Sylvester. “But the crooks have started hiding damage with water-based paint, which washes off.”
9. The ‘Free’ Bracelet
The free bracelet scam can be found in various tourist destinations, including European cities like Rome, according to TravelScams.org, a site that exposes various tourist scams around the world. The scam starts with a friendly local approaching you. They then wrap a bracelet around your wrist and demand payment. Such maneuvers also serve as a distraction for theft, reported Rick Steves in his travel blog.
How to avoid this travel scam: Smile and walk with your hands in your pockets. Or, if the scammer is persistent, be prepared to be assertive and pull your hands away. In case of an aggressive scammer, seek out help.
10. Fake Art Shows
During your vacation, young art students might approach you and invite you to an art gallery. But when you get to the supposed gallery, you find yourself on the receiving end of a high-pressure sales pitch for overpriced art, according to the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs. A variation of this scheme: The students might push you to pay fees to view the art. Or, they might pressure you to buy expensive drinks, according to travel blog China-Mike.
How to avoid this travel scam: Politely decline anyone who invites you to an art show unless you’re sure it’s at a legitimate gallery.
11. The Milk Scam
The milk scam, popular in Cambodia, is one of the cleverer scams Ferdinand Götzen — creator of the travel website Wireless Vagabond — has experienced.
“Underprivileged children come up to you and ask you if you could buy them some milk in the supermarket because they are poor and hungry,” he said. “The fact that they ask for milk instead of money convinced a lot of travelers to agree. Once you buy the milk and leave, the child will run into the store and exchange the milk back for the money you paid for it. The store owners are in on the scam and usually get a cut.”
How to avoid this travel scam: Politely refuse to buy anything for a child or beggar when prompted, recommended the travel website Travelfish.
12. Overly Helpful Locals
Be careful if overly helpful locals approach, especially if you’re making ATM withdrawals. You could fall victim to a “friendly” local offering help if you look confused. In reality, he or she could be memorizing your PIN. Or, if you’ve completed a transaction, they could grab your cash and run off with it.
How to avoid this travel scam: Politely turn down any help offered while making ATM withdrawals. Cancel your transaction, and walk away if you feel uneasy.
13. Car Trouble Scams
Car renters should be suspicious of anyone who points out car trouble while driving.
“This scam is widespread, with parts of Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Sicily notorious for it,” said Sylvester. “Someone drives alongside you, indicating there’s a problem with your car. Naturally, you pull over. The other driver walks with you to the back of your car to inspect the problem, [while] his accomplice makes off with your valuables. Or worse, they rob you at knifepoint.”
How to avoid this travel scam: “Don’t stop,” said Sylvester. “If it’s a genuine problem, it will soon become apparent to you. Try to make it to a town or service station before stopping.”
14. Slowly Counting Change
Is the cashier counting your change at an extremely slow pace? Do they keep pausing while counting? Beware, this could be a clever ploy.
In this scam, the cashier is hoping you’ll lose patience and quickly accept the change they give you — an amount that’s likely much lower than what you’re owed, according to Rick Steves.
How to avoid this travel scam: Be sure you always receive the correct change. And don’t leave until you do.
15. The Bag Slash
The bag slash is popular in Barcelona, according to Travel + Leisure, but can happen to travelers carrying bags or suitcases anywhere. Here’s how it works: You’re standing around with bags or a purse while waiting for a cab or examining a map. Then, a man on a bicycle rides by, slashing your bag’s handles and riding off with your valuables. When you chase after the thief, their accomplice will quickly grab and make off with any remaining bags.
How to avoid this travel scam: Always hide your valuables in your inner pockets or in a secure money belt that’s hidden under your clothing.
16. Taxi Scams
Taxi scams are popular in many tourist destinations, but notably in India. Götzen fell for this one himself, with a thief stealing $15 — about 1,000 rupees — in the process.
“If you take intercity buses in India, they often drop you off in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Here, clever con artists will come to your help and find you a taxi. They will bring you to a taxi, put you in the back seat and sit in the front seat. After a few minutes, the person who found the taxi for you will ask you to pay for the taxi. They take the money and run away. Sometimes the drivers are in on it, but oftentimes they are not.”
How to avoid this travel scam: This taxi scam relies on tourists being scared or stressed in an unknown area. The best way to protect yourself is to stay calm and find a taxi by yourself.
17. Unsafe WiFi Hot Spots
Using an unsafe Wi-Fi hot spot while traveling abroad can be a huge threat to your finances, especially if you log in to your bank accounts. In fact, it’s one of the most common ways people put their identity at risk.
“Free wireless networks, found everywhere, are not able to offer security in most cases, since public Wi-Fi can be hacked into very easily,” said Marty P. Kamden, chief marketing officer of NordVPN, a virtual private network provider.
How to avoid this travel scam: The best and most effective way for any traveler to protect their data from a hacker is to use a VPN. This can help protect your network and data.
18. Fake Police Officers
Be suspicious of any police officer who demands to see your passport or visa, tells you there is some type of issue and then insists you need to pay a fine.
Also, be wary of anyone who tries to search you. For example, the BBC recently reported that in Edinburgh, Scotland, two police impersonators successfully stole money from tourists by demanding to search the victims.
How to avoid this travel scam: Be assertive and ask to accompany the officers to the police station. Usually, this will deter scam artists and you’ll be able to go on your way. In the particular case in Edinburgh, the police said tourists should “request [the officer’s] collar number and ask to see a warrant card.”
19. The Found Ring Scam
The “found a ring” scam is an old trick that’s especially common in Paris, according to TravelScams.org. As you are walking along, you’ll be approached by someone who seems friendly enough. The person will point to a ring on the ground and ask if it’s yours. Then, they try to give it to you and convince you to pay them for it.
How to avoid this travel scam: Continue walking when approached and be vigilant with whom you choose to interact.
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20. The Shoe Shiner
With the shoe shiner scam, a man will walk by and drop his shoe brush somewhere near you. You’ll do the nice thing and pick it up, and he’ll thank you by shining your shoes. It might seem like a nice enough gesture, but the shoe shiner will likely demand payment — for a service you never asked for in the first place. You might find yourself surrounded by an angry crowd of shoe shiners if you refuse, according to TravelScams.org.
How to avoid this travel scam: Simply don’t pick up the brush. Or in case you already have, be assertive and say “no, thank you” immediately if the scam artist attempts to shine your shoes.
21. Fake Entry Fees
When traveling, there are definitely many travel expenses and fees you should avoid to save money. But also be aware of fake fees.
When passing from Spain into Gibraltar, be on the lookout for scam artists asking you to pay for fake entry fees. These scammers have been known to approach cars and demand cash while carrying fake identification, according to American International Group Inc.
How to avoid this travel scam: If someone demands you hand them money for a fee or ticket, don’t do it. Keep your doors locked and valuables out of sight, American International Group Inc. recommended.
22. The Tailor Tuk Tuk Scam
Taking a tuk tuk in Bangkok is an authentic way to explore the city. However, according to Götzen, there are some drivers who will perform an elaborate scam. First, a driver will offer to give you a ride for a low sum. Then, the driver will take you to a tailor, instead of the destination you requested. You’ll awkwardly sit there while the store owner tries to convince you to have something made.
“The tailor scam is a strange one, because they do eventually take you to where you want to go,” said Götzen. “And they do only charge what they promised, even if you don’t buy anything. Having to sit at [the] tailors, though, is awkward and time-consuming.”
How to avoid this travel scam: Götzen said to look at the price for the tuk tuk. If it’s too cheap, it might be a tailor scam.
23. The False Survey Scam
Watch out for young people who approach tourists and ask them to fill out surveys, said Seb Atkinson, a travel blogger whose work has appeared on The Traveloid. This scam “seemed relatively widespread in Berlin, when I traveled there…” he said. “I’ve experienced this before elsewhere in Europe with some variations.”
According to Atkinson, a young person will approach you with a clipboard and tell you she’s doing a survey. However, the survey is actually a form to sign up to donate money each month. She’ll ask for your name, address and whether you support the charity’s cause.
“The scammer will, generally, only then push you to donate to the charity they claim to represent,” he said. “If they can’t get your card details, they’ll ask for cash on the spot.”
How to avoid this travel scam: Avoiding this one is simple: Be alert and say no to surveys while traveling. And, above all, never hand over your credit card information.
24. Character Photo Scam
When visiting tourist hot spots like Times Square in New York City or the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, you might encounter this scam. You’ll spot — or more likely, your children will spot — people dressed as knock-offs of iconic cartoon characters like Spiderman, Captain America or Batman who are just dying to take a photo with your little one.
Shortly after Junior says cheese, they’ll put the pressure on for you to shell out some serious green — usually to the tune of $20 and up.
Rather than letting a stranger dressed as Spongebob Faux-Pants get close to you and your children, save your hard earned cash and steer clear.
How to avoid this travel scam: Save the photos for a theme park or a parade and steer clear of the strangers in character suits.
25. Inflated Driver Rate Scam
When you need transportation, be on the lookout for a scam that involves drivers trying to pull you away from a more verified method of transportation, often jacking up the prices and taking you for a ride — both literally and figuratively. The scam will often take place in an area like a tourist hot spot or at the airport — the driver might artificially inflate his rate, taking his time and going on a roundabout route to get you to your destination.
How to avoid this travel scam: Stick to using a verified ride-sharing app like Uber or Lyft, where the drivers are vetted, the routes are tracked and monitored and the payment is pre-determined before you ever set foot in the vehicle.
26. Starving Musician CD Scam
The starving musician CD scam will be popular in any bustling downtown, especially in Manhattan’s East Village as well as Chicago, Atlanta, Portland and Venice Beach in LA. A struggling musician — often times a busker — will ingratiate themselves to you, pushing copies of their latest CD into your hands before you even realize what’s happening. Regardless of genre, the song and dance always plays out the same — they’re “just trying to make it,” and you absolutely “need to hear this new track” because it’s “the next big thing.”
The only “next big thing” they’re hoping to land is a payday from your wallet because as soon as that CD touches your fingers, they’ll be demanding cash — and fast. Once they’ve cornered you and worked you away from the crowd, it’s increasingly difficult to get away.
How to avoid this travel scam: When approached, give a firm “no thanks” and keep walking. If at all possible, don’t even make eye contact.
27. Fake Takeout Menu Scam
Even the savviest of business travelers can fall victim to this alarming scam, which preys on two of the most basic human states: fatigue and hunger. When you first get to your hotel room in a strange city, odds are you’ll want a bite to eat; this scam involves a false takeout menu under your hotel room’s door. The faux menus often look believable, but when you call and place the order for delivery, they’ll usually demand a card payment over the phone — which is just a ploy to get your credit card information.
Once the scammers have your credit card information, you’re out of a meal and at the scammer’s mercy for unauthorized charges. To avoid this scam, always do a quick Google search to verify any restaurants in the vicinity — most legitimate restaurants have a website and a social media presence, as well as some reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor.
How to avoid this travel scam: Ask the front desk or concierge for takeout restaurant recommendations or for their own take-out menus. Another option is Uber Eats or Grubhub, which is all online and vetted through the third-party.
28. Staten Island Ferry Ticket Scam
Tourists who want to take a bite out of the Big Apple usually have a trip on the Staten Island ferry on the top of their travel to-do lists. Tons of groups will be pushing tickets to get aboard the ferry for upward of $10 to $20 — but a ride on the iconic ferry is absolutely free.
How to avoid this travel scam: Don’t fall for the scam and remember — the ferry is always free.
29. VIP Pass Scam
In nightlife hot spots like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., you’ll find VIP passes being heavily advertised in nearly every casino you can find, promising the moon in the form of free drinks or a pass to the front of the line. Before you drop your dough, understand that you’re taking a gamble because what you’re buying is likely worthless. Most VIP passes do offer free drinks — but typically only at specific times, none of which are within the “normal” time for clubgoers. As far as the expedited entry goes, according to Travel Scams it “also doesn’t work if the club is full, which defeats the purpose of the pass in the first place.”
How to avoid this travel scam: Don’t buy into the VIP hype and steer clear of the passes.
30. Escort Card Scam
Another scam popular in places like Vegas or Reno is the escort card scam. Handed out liberally in places like the Las Vegas strip, these cards are like a dirtier blend of a Pokemon card and business card — they’re wallet-sized and feature a beautiful woman, along with — presumably — her contact info and rate.
The price listed on the card is just to get the woman to appear, and due to the less-than-scrupulous nature of sex work, the odds are slim-to-none that the woman pictured on the card will actually be the one to arrive. But chances are that these cards are just bait for law enforcement to get your contact info since if you call, you’re soliciting prostitution.
How to avoid this travel scam: Steer very clear of any and all prostitution-related activities, period.
31. Double Tip Scam
The double tip scam is especially worrisome for visitors coming from abroad, where tipping culture isn’t as commonplace as it is in America. It’s been reported that some restaurants in tourist hubs are taking advantage of unsuspecting travelers by tacking an additional gratuity onto their bill without alerting the diner — often leading them to tip twice. Best case scenario: You get a waiter who alerts you to the initial gratuity charge, so you don’t have to worry.
How to avoid this travel scam: To avoid getting dinged twice, make it a practice to check every receipt carefully before leaving a tip. Be sure to carefully inspect every receipt and make sure gratuity isn’t already included. If there are two copies of the receipt — one for the customer and one for the merchant — always destroy the second copy or take it with you.
Rachel Farrow contributed to the reporting for this article.