As a tourist in a foreign country, you become an easy target for scammers. You can be naive of the different cultures and customs and let your guard down when it should, in fact, be at its highest. It is common for people to not realize they are being scammed, or have been scammed until they check their pockets or look at their bank balance, so it is, therefore, important to stop the scam when it is in motion.
I will describe below some of the scams to watch out for and how to best avoid them. It is fair to say that many scams have the same core principles and are just variations of each other. Once you are accustomed to the signs of a scammer you will easily be able to spot future ones.
From each of the situations outlined below, there are valuable lessons to be learned regarding how to stop situations getting worse, and how to handle yourself. Some of these were attempted or actually performed on myself during my travels, so, unfortunately, I am talking from experience. Hopefully, you will be a little more vigilant after reading this and will be able to recognize suspicious behavior and act accordingly.
All scammers or hustlers begin their routine by getting your attention in some manner. They may appear to be a tourist like yourself or just be someone asking for directions. Cleverly they will try and get you to interact with them by playing on your common courteously or curiosity. For example, while in Paris I was walking along the River Seine, and passed by a man who dropped a gold ring.
Naturally, I slowed down and turned to look. He asked if it was mine, pretending he had not seen it before. This is where the interaction started because I was curious and not rude enough to ignore him. After I confirmed I had not dropped the ring and it was not mine, he then proceeded to say how nice it was and was quick to claim it as his own. He then began to offer the ring to the girl I was with for what he said was a good price.
We refused to buy the ring several times and as the man became more persistent we turned to walk away. He then planted it between her arm and coat stating that it was in our possession so we should pay so we brushed the ring to the floor and continued on. This same scam was pulled on us twice on the same walk along the Seine but we were a little wiser the second time and continued walking. So even though you’ve found very affordable flights to explore Europe, the experience might even turn expensive!
Sometimes people do plant items such as birdseed on you, or give you a service you did not want, and demand payment. If this does happen then politely put the item on the ground and walk off, or firmly state that you do not want the service before they have a chance to begin. This can sometimes be hard as you are not always aware it has begun.
In Egypt, I was being taken to the airport by taxi. As the taxi pulled up and we were paying, the taxi driver’s accomplice was unloading our bags onto his airport trolley and walked off to the check-in with us running behind. Once we got to check in the man demanded payment for his service but we did not hand over any money on this occasion despite him being very angry. Sometimes it is easier to pay them rather than argue but after a similar instance on the way from the airport to the hotel, we had had enough. See also these backpacking Europe tips.
Some scammers will approach you in a friendly manner offering to point you to the best locations and attractions. This happened in Bangkok when a man approached me and a friend were walking to The Grand Palace. The man spoke to us about what to do, drew us a map and finally offered us a tour on his friend’s TukTuk which conveniently (for him) stopping at a gem shop. He was clearly involved in a three-way con whereby he would get a commission for the number of people he directs to the TukTuk and gem shop.
Originally and understandably we assumed the man was being friendly and hospitable but it quickly became uncomfortable as he became more desperate and tried to prevent us from leaving. He said that the gems here were worth double what they are in Malaysia and that we should buy now to sell later. I was skeptical as I would never hand over money to anyone in the street. Never hand over money or agree to anything offered by people that approach you randomly.
As it happens, this same scam was pulled on two other members of our tour group and they went for the tour. As soon as they approached the gem shop they realized what was happening and walked away. If someone does begin to talk to you it is not necessarily a scam, but if it seems unusual, you can politely excuse yourself. If they follow you still trying to make a conversation then stop turn to them, look them in the eye and excuse yourself again firmly; they should get the message.
The only time I have been scammed was in Rome when minding my own business sitting on the Spanish Steps, one of the great things to visit in Europe. I was wearing an England top and a jacket which created an opportunity for the scammer to interact with me. He came over and shook my hand seemingly genuinely happy to see an England fan.
At first, I did not realize that he was simultaneously speaking to me and tying a cloth friendship bracelet around my wrist. I insisted several times I did not want the bracelet knowing fully well that he would want payment regardless of the fact I did not want one. Unknown to me, another guy had started to tie a similar bracelet around the wrist of my friend who was also trying to reject it. He demanded a price for the bracelet which I refused several times because it was far too high and so this went on for a while.
He eventually said his original price for both bracelets which was still extortionate but to get them off our backs I finally paid. However, the other man talking to my friend had said the exact same thing to her in that she could pay for both bracelets too. Fortunately, I overheard this and grabbed her and we walked off. The lesson to learn here is not to separate when approached by potential scammers. Stay together where you are stronger, will not feel so intimidated and not be as susceptible to something similar.
Scams are pulled at all destinations so you should not avoid the places I have mentioned above. The bracelet scam was tried on us again in Paris by two men but I just kept my hands in my pockets and walked straight passed Unfortunately it is likely that someone will try and scam you when traveling as tourists can stick out and are considered easy targets. Be vigilant for unusual behavior, but above all trust your own judgment.
If something does not feel right then walk away or go into a shop. Although it is good to interact with locals, remember scammers are looking to get your attention so do not make their job any easier for them. You need to remember that scammers are professionals and will always have an answer for the questions you ask so do not give them the time to convince you they are making you a good deal. Although things can be cheap abroad, always remember nothing is free.
Your best defense is always your own judgment and common sense. If you do get scammed do go straight to the police or tour guide and tell them of what has happened. For more advice on travel scams please follow the link to my website below and look for travel scams.