Popular Travel Scams in America to Watch Out For

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A woman on the phone holding up her credit card while on vacation.

Seedy people are lurking in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to scam tourists no matter where you travel. They use a variety of tactics, but all of them end with the tourist getting the short end of the stick. Whether overcharging or blatantly lying, these con artists only have their own pockets in mind and have little regard for others.

We want to help you avoid falling victim to a travel scam during your adventures. Today, we’re giving you a few tips and things to watch out for while traveling to help protect you and your hard-earned money.

What Are Common Travel Scams?

Scam artists are often masters of distraction and take advantage of inattentive tourists. They’ll use loud noises from buses and trains or bump into unsuspecting tourists to steal belongings from them. They’ll grab a wallet or purse just before the train doors close, allowing them to get a head start escaping from the victim.

A woman pickpockets from two others while they overlook a scenic view.

While these maneuvers are rather old-school scams, they’ve also advanced them using technology to their advantage. Some tricky con artists can manipulate USB charging ports to steal personal data from unsuspecting users that plug into them.

There are also the infinite possibilities of deals that sound too good to be true. Surprise, surprise — these deals typically aren’t true and are nothing more than a scam. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, yet travelers continue to fall for these types of scams.

Traveler’s Tip: Travel insurance can either be a great investments or a surefire waste of money. So when is travel insurance worth it?

How Do You Deal With a Tourist Scammer?

While many of us were likely told not to talk to strangers while growing up, we, as adults, somehow ignore that advice. We get a little too comfortable and trusting of strangers, and sometimes that naivety gets the best of us. To avoid being a victim, it’s best to have a healthy bit of skepticism and be as self-sufficient as possible while traveling.

Before going to an unfamiliar area, you should always do some research. Plan your itinerary, purchase tickets, and know the specific details for any attractions you plan to attend.

Walking around with your eyes glued to your phone can make you an easy target. You’re not focusing on your surroundings, and it’s only a matter of time before someone with ill intentions will make you their victim.

A woman argues with a street patron at a market.

While you may think travel scams only happen to unsuspecting international travelers, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Several travel scams are prevalent in America.

Let’s look at what scams you should be aware of so you can protect yourself while traveling.

Credit Card Skimming

Anytime you’re inserting your credit card into a device, it’s a good idea to be a bit suspicious. Con artists are smart and can attach devices to the ATM or other credit card machines, allowing them to steal your credit card information. Scammers will often work in pairs to convince you that everything is legit.

If you want to avoid being a victim of credit card skimming while traveling, we recommend using inside ATMs at banks. Scammers won’t risk getting caught at these ATMs and will likely stay away from the bright lights and cameras inside the bank.

Street Scams

Three Card Monte is a card game that has been around for centuries. Whether the street scammer asks you to play with a few cards or cups, it’s all the same.

They’ll entice you into playing a fun game and even let you win a time or two. However, once you gain confidence and start wagering more significant amounts of money, the house always wins.

The game may be different, but street scams like this are the same. Once you interact and start engaging with the con artist, you may as well hand over a handful of cash. They’ll trick you out of it for as long as you continue to stand in front of them.

Wi-Fi Scams

Cybercriminals will often create Wi-Fi connections that appear legitimate but are anything but safe. Once users connect their devices to these connections, the criminals will hack their way into the device and steal passwords and other valuable information. They can then take that information and access other accounts that use the same password.

Three friends take a seat on the street and try to connect to wifi on their phones.

You must be careful whenever you’re connecting to public Wi-Fi connections. Many users will even go as far as to use a virtual private network (VPN) whenever they connect to public Wi-Fi. VPNs can encrypt your data and help you go undetected from others who have connected to the network.

Taxi Scams

Despite the popularity of Uber and other popular ride-sharing services, taxi scams still exist. Dishonest taxi drivers can take advantage of travelers by charging astronomical rates or tampering with their meters, so they charge higher rates.

It’s a good idea to speak with the hotel staff to see how much you should expect to pay for a taxi when going to a certain spot. The staff can help you know whether you’re paying what you should or getting ripped off. Knowing the quickest route is also good, as drivers may take the scenic route to get as much money out of you.

Hotel Phone Scam

Some scammers will call hotels and ask for a random room number. Once the front desk transfers the call to the random room number the scammers requested, the scammers pretend to be the front desk. They’ll communicate to the guest that they’re having issues processing their credit card, that there was an error with their system, and that they need their credit card number.

This scam is easy for anyone without a healthy dose of suspicion to become a victim. Being too trusting is very dangerous, and you should never give sensitive information over the phone. If you receive one of these calls, you should tell them you’ll come down to help resolve the issue.

A happy, distracted tourist walks down the street talking on the phone.

Rental Car Scams

Scammers will often create bogus websites and companies for services that travelers typically use. Travelers who want a car to get around will need to rent one. As a result, scammers often target these travelers with bogus websites that look and act like standard car rental websites.

The scammers will offer steep discounts and attractive incentives to help entice potential customers. They’ll require travelers to pay all their rental fees in advance and assure them they’ll have a car waiting when they arrive for their trip.

However, when the travelers arrive, they discover the company doesn’t exist, and no rental car is waiting for them.

People Asking for Money in Public Places

While we think all these scams are awful, this one is one of the lowest scams a con artist can pull. Pretending to be in a tough financial situation to swindle money away from travelers is deplorable.

These scammers will tell a sob story and approach travelers begging for money to help them escape a challenging situation. However, far too many of these individuals are not as much victims as they are criminals.

These con artists take away public trust for those in dire situations. Those who need the help won’t receive it as easily because people are not as willing to give money to people begging on the streets. You have to use your discretion and look for ways to help individuals other than giving them money.

What Are the Most Used Scams?

Some of the most popular scams are bait-and-switch scams. It’s when the con artist promises you one thing but delivers another.

These are rather common in tourist destinations; tourists pay premium prices for excursions that fall short of the promises in the marketing materials. Travelers often expect one thing but receive another.

As technology has advanced, scammers have changed their tactics. They now can hide behind screens and technology to pull off some rather complex scams. Hacking into devices through Wi-Fi connections is becoming more and more common as many travelers desire to stay connected during their adventures. 

How Can I Avoid Being Scammed When Traveling?

To avoid being scammed while traveling, you need to be suspicious of others and be as self-reliant as possible. Scammers look for easy targets who seem confused or need information. These “good samaritans” are not nearly as good as travelers think. So make sure you enter your travels armed with the information you need to navigate and move around the unfamiliar area.

Have you ever been scammed while traveling?

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