Common Travel Scams Abroad and What to Look Out For

When you’re about to go on holiday, often, the only thing on your mind is how soon you’ll be on a sun lounger, sitting back and forgetting about the ins and outs of your day-to-day life. But with the cost of living increasing around the world, being vigilant and aware of scams is more important than ever as people go to all lengths to make ends meet.

Scammers targeting tourists on holiday isn’t a new thing, but with Covid-19 impacting most of the globe’s finances, it’s likely that con artists will be more prevalent as tourists enjoy a break. So, what are the most common scams abroad and what can holidaymakers do to prevent being caught up in them?

1. The taxi scam

What better way to target an innocent individual than when they’re visiting a different country and unfamiliar with the local surroundings?

The scam: Some taxi drivers’ prey on innocent tourists by either not using a taxi meter (or claiming it has broken) and charging an increased fee after they dropped them off at their destination. With no proof to argue the price, tourists are often left in a vulnerable situation and feel forced to pay the inflated fee, even if they know they are being ripped off.

How to avoid it: Where possible, avoid using curb-side taxis and instead book your taxi through a reputable and licensed company in advance. We’d also recommend agreeing the price upfront with both the taxi operator and confirming this with the driver before you set off. It doesn’t hurt to make a note of the taxi companies name and the cars number plate either. You can also opt to use public transport to travel around, such as buses or trains, to avoid taxi scams altogether.

2. The attraction scam

You’re on your holidays and up for trying new things. Whether that’s spending the day at a boat party, visiting a local wildlife sanctuary, or even spending half an hour on a banana boat.

The scam: Con artists may approach you at the beach or in the street and encourage you to book popular attractions through them. In most cases, you’ll be asked to pay upfront to guarantee your slot or ticket and you may feel pressured into paying on the spot to secure a last minute ‘deal’. Then, when the day comes, your ticket flags up to be invalid or you find that the attraction you booked doesn’t exist.

How to avoid it: If you fancy booking an attraction during your trip, try to book through a known tour operator, or do your research to make sure the provider you plan to book with is a legitimate company and has real customer reviews. You can also ask for a receipt once you’ve exchanged monies.

3. The vehicle hire scam

It’s not uncommon for tourists to hire vehicles while they’re overseas – whether that’s a car hire to get around, a motorcycle to go exploring for the day, or a jet ski to enjoy some time out on the waves.

The scam: Dodgy transport providers have been known to accuse tourists of returning vehicles in a damaged condition in bid to make a few extra (hundred) pounds – even if the vehicle was already faulty or dented before being hired. They may threaten to call the police or refuse to let tourists leave until they have paid. In some extreme cases, providers have been known to refuse to return passports until sums have been transferred. 

How to avoid it: Research the hire company before you use their services. Read online reviews and you can even check on social media to see what experience other travellers have had. Once you’ve found a company that looks trustworthy and have agreed to use their services, check the vehicle over, make the provider aware of any damages you’ve observed, and take pictures of any existing damage before you drive away. It’s also important to make sure your travel insurance covers you to participate in any activities that involve hired equipment, such as motorcycling or jet skiing, as you may need additional cover or licenses to be fully protected.

4. The pick pocketing scam

Pick pocketing happens all over the world, but it is especially prominent in busy locations where tourists are distracted by new experiences and sights.

The scam: Tourists can often be the targets of pick-pocketers without even realising it. Scammers may use distractions, such as asking for directions or asking tourists to take a photo of them, as a way of deterring their attention and thieving their belongings. They may also be opportunistic and simply take belongings if they are insight.

How to avoid it: Keep all personal belongings on you and insight at all times, preferably in a bag that is zipped (or locked) and would require a lot of effort to open. It’s sad to think, but it’s sensible to treat all events that you encounter during your travels as a potential opportunity for pickpocketing, so that you remain vigilant at all times. The likelihood is that someone may well ask you to take a picture of them in a tourist destination, but just make sure you keep an eye on your belongings when doing so.

5. ‘Accidentally’ overcharging scams

Accidents happen but it’s not uncommon for scammers to knowingly overcharge tourists who are obliviously enjoying their holiday.

The scam: Taxi drivers, merchants and other service providers have been known to purposely overcharge tourists in a bid to pocket some extra money. Whether that’s inflating the price when it comes to paying, short changing tourists after they’ve paid in cash, or adding on extra items to the bill. It’s also not uncommon for merchants in the street to offer roses or postcards, but as soon as tourists hold or accept it, they demand cash.

How to avoid it: If you’re out and about it’s always good to agree on the price of an item or service before you commit – it’s the same as agreeing the taxi fare before you get in the cab. Never assume that anything is free (for example, in restaurants when you’re offered bread as you sit down for dinner), and avoid holding items if strangers try to sell or show you an object. Lastly, do your research before visiting attractions, bars and restaurants and where possible, try and pay with the exact change.

Now, we appreciate that all this can sound a little scary and is enough to put anyone off travelling abroad. However, it’s important to remember that most trips abroad are trouble-free and as long as you remain aware of your surroundings during your travels (as you would when you’re out and about at home) then your holiday should be as stress-free and relaxing as you planned.

What’s more, with suitable travel insurance, you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind that should the unexpected happen, you’ll be covered.

*Please note, Holidaysafe's online prices automatically include a 15% discount against our Customer Service Centre prices. This code entitles you to an additional 5% off your policy, and is a discount from the base price, not including the additional cost of optional extensions or any additional medical premium.