Unfortunately, scams and petty thieves are as common as airline deals. In order to have a more enjoyable vacation, here are some common scams you should be aware of and the tips to keep your trip on track and your money in your wallet.

Inflated Receipts

In countries like Italy and Portugal, you will often see a charge for coperto (a small charge for bread–the norm is between €1 and €2 per diner), or servizio (literally a service charge). These small fees happen to be normal in many cases. However, it is a good idea to simply ask where it’s advertised on the menu if you didn’t see it when you were ordering. These charges must be listed on the menu by law (often they are in tiny print), if they are not you can ask for the charge to be taken off your bill. Also, be on the lookout for:

  • Small purchases like coffee and croissant coming to €30 or more.
  • Strange and somewhat pricey add-ons.
  • Items that aren’t labeled properly.

The average con is banking on you being relaxed and not checking, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about your bill.

Fake Petition

These are common in France. A very normal person with a clipboard who seems to be petitioning for a noble charity. If the petition is English this is your first red flag. If you are at a famous landmark, this is your second. Now would be the time to say no and walk away. What these scammers are doing is engaging you as an excuse to stand close to you as they explain the document on the clipboard and have you sign the petition. At this point, they will alleviate you of any valuables you have in your pocket or bags.

The Scene

This is more common in Eastern Europe where a “shopkeeper” is causing a scene accusing someone of shoplifting from their store or some similar kind of dramatic scene. The accused will often shout their denial, remove their jacket or dump out a bag to prove their innocence. At this point, they have an audience and you’re likely part of it. If something seems like a grandiose performance or unusually puzzling but you feel compelled to watch out of human curiosity … just be sure to hold on to your wallet or purse extra tight or vacate the area.

The Spill

This one happened to a friend of mine in Italy. As he was walking down a crowded street a man pointed out that a bird had .. ahem .. pooped on his jacket. Of course, my friend took off the jacket and the kind stranger offered to help him clean it off, which he did and helped himself to my buddy’s watch as well. While the offending substance may change (mustard, ketchup, or even fake bird scat squeezed from a bottle) the group or person seemingly concerned and willing to dab the stain off of your clothing is actually more concerned with cleaning you out of money. If you’ve been made aware of an unfortunate spill on your clothes, thank the “kind soul” and walk away saying “no thank you”. Don’t let them touch your clothing and leave the area. A dry cleaner may cost you a few dollars but these scammers will cost you more!

Taxi Deals

I ran into this quite a bit in Asia, however, it also common in New York and London. In some countries, taxi drivers will try to make some extra cash off you if they think you are a tourist. One of the best ways they have found that works are to attempt to negotiate a price before you start your journey. Of course, the cost will be double or triple what it actually is. My not-so-honest cabbie in China wasn’t aware I had taken a taxi to a particular restaurant downtown a couple of times that week for 12 RMB. When I jumped in his cab he said “Good deal, only 50 RMB to downtown.” Best way to avoid an inflated cab bill? If they tell you the price before you leave say “no”, and find another cab or insist that they use the meter.

Fake Tickets 

Many of the world’s most famous tourist attractions also attract scammers. Always be wary of ticket booths outside the attraction that sell tickets cheaper than the tickets you buy at the actual attraction. 99% of the time you will find yourself turned away because your ticket is fake and you end up buying a full price ticket anyway. The best way to avoid this is brave the line up (and the price) and buy the ticket at the attraction. If you are looking for a deal the best way to avoid being scammed is to ask your hotel concierge to recommend the best place to get tickets or check with a reputable online service like Groupon etc.

Distressed Designer

This scammer will either be in distress or will be asking for directions or something similar. They will introduce themselves as a designer or someone who works for a famous clothing company who are traveling to or part of a trade show. In any case, you will have helped them find a location or have helped them out of their predicament. As payment, they offer you a card (or something similar) for a discounted price on expensive clothing which they had left over from the latest fashion show/trade show. They just don’t want to bring the clothes back home as it is too much of a hassle. First, be aware that no fashion designer would ever be selling clothing nor would any clothing company allow the sale of new designs at a discounted price. The clothes are of poor quality and often stolen merchandise. A polite “no” will suffice in this situation.

Some Good Advice

  • Avoid using cash, always use credit cards. They can be locked and canceled if stolen.
  • Use money belts or protective clothing if you have to carry cash and carry small amounts.
  • Travel in groups if you can and avoid groups in crowded areas. These are good places for pickpocketing.
  • If it sounds too good to be true … it is.
  • Never be afraid to raise your voice and say “no” or “leave me alone” in public if a scammer is pressuring you to buy something. This attracts the attention of other people and the police. They will often back down if you remain calm and assertive in your response.
  • Never allow your bags to be out of sight for any reason or to be stored with someone you don’t know. Even hotels cannot guarantee the 100% safety of your valuables.
  • Research the area of the world you are visiting and be aware of your surroundings while you are there.
  • Be very wary of public wifi as this is a hackers paradise.
  • Don’t draw attention to yourself. “When in Rome act as the Romans do” is the saying but it will bode well for you if you appear to be local anywhere. Be discreet when looking at maps or asking for directions, or better yet, research this info before you go.

Safe travels!

If you’re ready to go so are we; find a Travel Masters experience specialist near you. 


Sean Mitchell

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