Whether traveling for business, pleasure, or visiting family over the holidays (I will let you decide which category that fits!), the goal of any getaway is to hopefully be productive, refresh, or to have fun.
Did you know that when you're relaxed and off-guard you can become vulnerable to scam artists? Weary travelers are easy targets: They are in an unfamiliar place and often tired or distracted.
According to the Better Business Bureau, travel scams cost travelers over $10 billion in 2011! Something as simple as a stolen credit card costs the owner an average $2,000 in charges and over 25 hours invested in creating reports and clearing up bank and credit issues.
Watch for these common scams cons use to get hard-earned cash and assets from tourists.
A “hotel clerk” calls your room, explaining there has been a mix-up on your paperwork and credit card information. They ask you to read the credit card number to verify it is correct. Or they read you the last four digits of your number and ask you to verify, and after you explain the number is incorrect, they ask you to read back the entire number.
What to do: Never give your credit card information over the phone. Instead, go downstairs to the hotel registration desk in person if any questions arise regarding your payment information.
Someone bumps into you while you are walking through a crowed tourist area, spilling a beverage all over the front of your clothing. Suddenly, an eager stranger offers to help clean up the mess. While helping you, the stranger removes your wallet or other personal belongings.
What to do: Stay alert in a crowd! Any attempt to divert your attention or jostle you should be treated as a pick-pocketing attempt. Also, divide up any money that you are carrying between your pockets, socks, shirt, wallet and other areas. If you do become a target, it is unlikely a thief will be able to reach all the different areas where your money is stored.
Taxi Cab Cons
While waiting in a long cab line, a well-dressed person motions toward a nearby cab and encourages you to leave the line to get in the waiting taxi.
What to do: Scam artists have been known to pose as taxi drivers. The risk is greater than the loss of money: You could become the victim of a violent crime. Once you are in the car, these con artists have you at their mercy. Always look for a car number and company name. Official taxis should have this information plainly visible on the outside of the car. If you don't see it, don't accept a ride. Once inside, visibly examine the rate "sheet" and the meter. This may discourage the driver from hiking up the per-mile rate. If you're unsure about where and how to catch a proper taxi, ask your hotel concierge for a recommendation.
While walking in a crowded tourist location, you look down and see a wallet on the ground. You stop and pick it up, quickly checking it for identification. It contains no identification or credit cards–just cash. Suddenly, someone approaches and claims they lost their wallet, accusing you of taking the contents. After all, you are now holding it in your hand. They demand it back and want you to empty your pockets and begin to make a scene. The criminal may grab your wallet and run, or try to extort money from you with a threat to call the police.
What to do: Leave it alone. You may feel like you are doing the right thing, but never pick up dropped wallets or money, or respond to someone who does. Simply walk away. These scams are popular in public places such as airports, where there are usually lots of security cameras.
You buy a snack at a busy corner food cart, handing the vendor a $20 bill. But he gives change for a $10 bill. After trying unsuccessfully to correct the vendor you decide to move on (you figure you are a stranger in an unfamiliar place). And this is exactly what the vendor expects you to do.
What to do: Tourists are often obvious and can be easy targets. When paying cash in an unfamiliar place, ask the vendor to leave your bill out on the counter until he makes change. It is hard to prove you were shortchanged without your original form of payment. This is a good trick to use when paying cabbies or for any other goods or services while traveling.
Not everyone is a con. But sadly, when traveling you need to take more precautions. While you might want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, your trusting kindness could be costly. No one wants to spend the duration of their trip canceling credit cards, filing police reports, or being flat broke! Be informed and prepared. You never know when you’ll need these tools!