Friday, September 23, 2016

22 Travel Scams I Encountered During My Travels and How to Avoid Them.

I hate to break this to you, but let’s face it, most people only share the wonderful side of traveling but the fact is, everything has a dark side, including the seemingly perfect travels portrayed on social medias. Now let me share some of my experience with you all, about the nasty travel scams I came across with during my travels. 

Travel scam


Yes, my trips were NOT PERFECT, but they are real.  

1. Taxi Trouble.

The Situation:
I’ve had this terrible experience with a taxi driver in Orlando when I arrived at the Megabus station late at night. One of my local friends on Couchsurfing warned me about the inflated rate at night and advised me to use Uber instead. Unfortunately, I haven’t set up an uber account by that time so I thought its okay to pay a little surcharge since it was late. When we were on the way to our hotel, I was informed that the meter was not working but the driver assured me that the ride would not be too expensive. I never thought it would turn out to be $80. 
Avoid by:
Before you let the driver load your luggages into the taxi, ask about the meter. I highly recommend using Uber and Lyft (use code: VIVIAN547069). Click on the links to get $20 off your first ride!   

2. Friendship/ Lucky Charm Bracelets 

The Situation:
I was walking around Montmartre, Paris with a friend when I was approached by a man asking to demonstrate tying a bracelet on me. I was well aware of this scam tactic in Paris so I shook my head, declining his offer. The next thing I knew, he was holding my arm and his grip was so tight it hurts! Lucky for me, I had been learning Chinese Martial Art for years, so I was able to easily escape the situation (by turning my arms 90 degrees and pull it down with full force. It's the easiest way to break free from a tight grip without getting physical. Girls, try it!)  
Avoid by:
Keep walking and don't be afraid to shout for help if necessary. 
Paris Eiffel Tower, Miss Happy Feet, Vivian Lee
I love Paris so much but why are there scammers everywhere? :(

3. A Rose for You, Beautiful Lady!


The Situation:
Coming out from the washroom in Museum Ludwig, Köln, a woman stood in our way and offered a rose to my friend in front of me. She politely declined it saying that we don’t have money to pay for the rose. The woman acted surprised that we were talking about money. “It’s free. ” She said it twice and insisted that we take it. She was blocking the way out and it seemed that she had no intention to leave so we took the rose. As soon as we took it, she put her hands together and start talking about her baby and demand for a payment. I am not a person without sympathy but I HATE scammers, so I put down the rose and walked away. 

Avoid by: 

Never accept anything “FREE” on the street. When things seem to be too good to be true, it normally is. UNLESS, you are in Belgium and there're people standing in front of the store offering free CHOCOLATE samples. Then, go for it! ;)    

4. Spilled Coffee.

The Situation:
During my first winter solo trip to London, I failed to realize that the Victoria Coach Station closes down for 4 hours in the middle of the night. I arrived on a bus from the airport at 3 am and my next bus to Cambridge was at 7am, so I initially planned to wait in the station. Imagine the horrible experience having to stand outside the station with only an Autumn coat, and oh I heard that it's rare in London but it was snowing heavily that night. I guess I was targeted during the waiting period. As soon as the kiosk opened, I bought myself a cup of nice hot coffee. Unfortunately, 2 b*tches decided to “accidentally” bumped into me and I spilled the coffee BIG TIME. They acted apologetically and pulled out some (obviously prepared beforehand) tissues to “help” me clean up my clothes. I was too annoyed because of the spilled coffee and it scalded my left hand so I subconsciously raised my leg to keep them away. I went to the washroom right after and when I came out, an old lady asked me if I was okay and told me about the scam. I am glad I did not lose anything.       
Avoid by:
Say NO to such “helps” when too much physical contact is involved. Tell them you can take care of it yourself. 

5. Friendly Helper at the Ticket Machine.

The Situation:
I’m glad that I did not experience this myself as I always go to the ticket counter for ticket reservation. However, when I was on a short cruise in Zurich, a Taiwanese woman told me about the scam. According to her, this is how they work: They approach clueless looking tourists offering to help them with ticket reservation or purchase. During the process, your ATM card will be scanned and they will somehow find out about your pin number. The common trick is by canceling the transaction and ask you to reenter the pin code. A version of this scam also happens at the ATM machine. 
Avoid by:
Always cover the number pad with your hand when entering pin codes. If you really need help, look for someone in uniform (and hopefully that person is not a fake officer. See point 6. )

6. The Fake Police
.

The Situation: 

3 Asian tourists was blocked at the roadside in Rome by 2 men in uniforms. The flashed their badges and seemed totally legit. When I walked pass them I was wondering what did they do. Later in the evening, I met them at a pizza cafeteria and curiosity got the better of me as I asked them the above question. They told me those people were scammers because they realized that they lost few hundred Euros cash after the encounter.     
Avoid by: 

I have no idea how to distinguish a fake police and a legit one in Europe, but I think if they ask for your wallet, probably they are just trying to steal some notes. 

Vienna, Miss Happy Feet, Vivian Lee
Don't worry, these policemen who photobombed my photo in style are totally legit. 

7. The Helpful Local
.

The Situation: 

It happened in Mestre Station, Venice. I was sitting inside the train, looking out through the window when I saw two Korean girls ascended up to the platform. I saw a guy handed them a checked-in luggage (it looked really heavy) and he went down for the second time to carry a bigger one up. This is the story I interpreted from their gestures: He asked for payment and one of the Korean girls reached into her purse and asked for the sum while another girl stopped her friend from doing that. I saw their shocked expressions (the typical wide-eyes-dropped-jaw look you often see in Korean dramas, I can totally recognize that! ) when the guy said something back to them (obviously the sum of money they should pay up). The first girl immediately put her purse back into her bag and both of them backed off slowly, bowing a few times. I saw the guy pretending to walk away and then I saw him trailing them! I really hope nothing happened to them. 
Avoid by: 

Travel light. If you can’t carry your luggage yourselves, pull some useless stuff out. Never let other people hold your bags. 

8.   Car Rental Damage.


The Situation: 

When I was in Greece, I rented a car with my travel partner and 2 Taiwanese ladies. However, things seemed to be a bit fishy from the start when the rental company asked for the Driver’s passport as deposit. Fortunately, we all did not bring our passport out, we only had a photocopy of our documents, so we offered our National Driving License instead. It was in Bahasa Melayu so somehow they thought that it was our National Identification Card which we will be needing when crossing borders. We played along with it coz we need the car STAT. It was our first time renting a car so we didn’t give much thought to it until when we were returning the car! The employee claimed that we had damaged the car and demand for a 600 Euro payment. He also showed my travel partner the tiny scratch at the side of the car which we swear to God it was there when we did the pre-rental checking but somehow this information was NOT recorded in the form (and who the hell need 600 Euros to fix a tiny scratch?!). He threatened to keep the driver’s document so that he couldn’t cross the border. What he did not know was the document he had in possession was just a driver’s license… not only that, it was an expired one. We left the country without problems. 
Avoid by:
Make sure they record every tiny scratch during the pre-check. Only rent cars from reputable companies. Never surrender your passport! Make sure you don’t tell them where you will keep the car during the night. Some scammer rental companies will arrange someone to steal the car and demand for reimbursement. 

9. Fake Metro Tickets.

The Situation:
In Milan, I encountered a problem with my metro day pass bought from the ticket machine. The ticket appeared to be longer than usual so I was denied access every time I tried to get into a station. But since it was a valid ticket, I flashed it to the control center and I was let in manually. The problem started when I had to take the metro in the wee hours. The kiosk was closed and I do not want to buy a ticket from the machine just in case the same thing happen again. A man came to me with a ticket and demonstrated to me that it worked just fine. I did not know what I was thinking when I said yes to the offer. I have no problem getting into the station but it beeped when I tried to get out of the station. A man came out of the control station and examined my ticket, he said something in Italian which I didn’t understand, all I knew was I have to pay a fine! I think he was going to write me a fine ticket as he took a second look at my confused-as-hell face. Then he pulled out his electronic card and let me pass. Before I went on my way, he pointed to the kiosk and the ticket machine. I still don’t understand what was wrong with the ticket that day but I think he was trying to tell me to avoid buying tickets from strangers.   
Avoid by:
Always buy tickets from the ticket machine, kiosk or official website.

10. 5 or 50?  


The Situation:
I was in at the Eminonu waterfront in Istanbul when I saw an Australian lady paying a street vendor with 50 Lira for a cup of pickled cucumbers. The vendor returned her change as if she’d paid with only 5 Lira. The lady looked confused but the vendor insisted that she only gave him 5 Lira. Eventually, she gave in and walked away. I thought I saw it wrongly too until I got to know about this scam back in my hostel. 
Avoid by: 
try to pay with a smaller note on the street, and if you need to pay with a bigger note, speak out the value of the money as you hand it over to the vendor. Example: Here is 50 Lira!   

11. Fake Charity Petition.

The Situation: 
I was at Pont des Art, Paris, taking photos of my travel partner when a gypsy women came to my with a form. She gestured to me that she is mute and thrusted me a petition form and a pen. I noticed that she held the paper in an odd way so that it covered the last column of the paper. I asked her to remove her hand but she pretended to not understand. I removed her fingers by force and saw it is a cash donation column. Minimum 40 Euros! I gave the form back to her as she stood up and said to me, directly in my face “Fuck you”. “Shhhhhh…. I thought you are supposed to be mute!” She walked away. I was lucky I did not have any possession with me when she approached me, or else I am guessing some of my things would be stolen. Also, I was quite surprised that I wasted a good few minutes trying to actually sign that petition, I wasn’t aware of the scam. 
My friend Izzy from The Quirky Queer had a similar experience. Here is her story:
"I was in Paris and a load of women came up to me and my friend claiming to be from a deaf charity. They had sign up sheets and were (I’m pretty sure) pretending to be deaf. We had basically 20 women surrounding us pestering us for money for this charity so I offered them 5 euros, more to make them go away than anything, and they pointed to the bit on the sheet that said “minimum donation ten euros”. I mean what charity has a minimum donation? Me and my friend gave 5 euros each to make them leave us alone; it was out first time travelling alone and we we both anxious.  Then later that day some guys came up to us outside the Louvre claiming to be from an animal charity with the exact same sign up sheets just with a different name and picture on them, then I was sure it was a scam.
It wasn’t the worse scam in the world and all together we only lost ten euros but it still wasn’t the nicest experience." 
Avoid by: 
Say no to people on the street trying to get your signature on anything. If necessary, treat them as if they were transparent (just ignore them.)

Pont des Art, Miss Happy Feet, Vivian Lee
We were at Pont des Art when the petition gang came to us. 

12. Children Thieve. 

The Situation: 
When my friends were in Paris, they found themselves surrounded by a whole bunch of kids in the metro. Later, they found their wallets stolen. Another version of this happened right in front of my very eyes: A group of kids waving newspapers in their hands surrounded an elderly couple in Rome just outside of the Vatican City. A fellow tourist stepped in to help them get out of the situation but the old lady had already lost her purse. 
Avoid by: 
Break free from the children immediately! Stand near the wall and turn your bags away from them. 

13. The Metro Pickpockets. 


The Situation:

It happened during my first backpacking trip with a group of 4. We read up a lot about the terrible scams in Barcelona and were 99.9% alert all the time. However, we still came face to face with pickpockets. The guy was standing too close to my friend when the metro wasn’t even crowded in the first place. When we reached our station, he followed us out of the metro just to quickly step back in again when the door is closing. My friend sensed something wrong so he held the guy, and at the same time, he discovered that his wallet was not in his pocket anymore. The thief first denied stealing his wallet but a few seconds later, he stepped out of the metro, pulled out my friend’s wallet from his blazer (Yes he was wearing a freakin’ blazer trying to look smart!) and shoved it to my friend. As soon as he did that, he was pushed down by 2 police officers with 2 German Shepherds. Everything happened way too fast, we were stunned as well. The police officers asked us if we've lost anything else while holding him on the ground. We left without knowing what happened to that guy after that, but I was totally impressed by the efficiency of Spanish police officers.  
Avoid by: 
When in crowded places, carry your bags in front as if you were carrying a toddler.  

14. The Beggars. 

The Situation: 
Sometimes when I saw beggars in the city especially old women or injured kids, I still feel that I am a stone-hearted b*tch who doesn’t give a damn to the needy. But anyhow, I refrain myself from giving them money. Why? Because I saw this before: A man gave some coins to a beggar and an accomplice sitting nearby pickpocketed him under broad daylight. Lucky for him he felt it and managed to get his wallet back. 
Avoid by:
Never give cash to people on the street! Not beggars, not street performers (but sometimes I do give if I have some coins in my pockets, not from my purse!) If you are feeling generous, buy some food for them OR pay for a suspended coffee or meal! 

15. The Lost Soul.

The Situation: 

I needed to use the Bathroom in Gare du Nord, Paris so I left my bag packs with my travel partner. When I came out of the bathroom, I saw her frightened face, almost down to tears. She told me what happened to her just now: A man (supposedly lost) came to her with a map asking her for direction. When she was trying to explain the route to the man, another man sneaked up behind her, grabbed both of my bags and run! My friend shouted and so he immediately dropped my bags, probably because they were too heavy for him to run fast and he was caught red handed. Hah! One bag was 13kg and another one was 9kg, I bet he have been targeting us from the start. He thought just because I am a small Asian girl carrying 2 bags at once they must be light and easy to get away with? C'mon man, girls go to gyms now (and I'm not talking about Pokemon Go )! That same night, France lost the EuroCup to Portugal... 

Avoid by: 
Always hold your bags, stay alerted and if you need to talk to strangers, hold on to your bags extra tight! 


16. The Heavy Fine on the Train.


The Situation: 

I am not sure if this can be considered a scam or it was just a case of miscommunication but I’ll share it anyway. When I was on a long train ride (5 hours), I was being accused of riding without a valid reservation. I was asked to pay the fine. However, I refused to pay, firmly stating that "this train ride doesn’t need a reservation", as stated on the Eurail/ Interail website. He insisted that I pay it up until a group of 5 locals came into the same box (I was alone). I tried asking for help from one of the locals who knew a little English to explain my stand to the ticket inspector. All 5 of them talked to the inspector while I stood there totally clueless. The conductor then walked away as the locals reassured me that "everything is okay now". 

Avoid by: 

Download the Eurail/ Interail apps. I’ll show you which train needs reservations and which train doesn’t. When doubt, ask the ticket counter directly. When you are sure there is no reservation needed, don’t easily give in to heavy fine on the train.      


17. I’ll take your photo.

The Situation:
A shady looking guy offered to take a photo of me out of the blue when I was taking photos of the St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. I just smiled and said I’m good. I am sorry to judge a book by its cover, but I am also unwilling to risk someone running away with my camera. Although it is just a compact camera, it is still hard-earned money.  
Avoid by:
I always take my own photos using a camera stand, and I’ll never leave my camera and stand more than 1 meter away when in busy areas. Just in case someone decided to grab my things and run. If I have to ask someone for a favor, I’ll pick a fellow tourist, and then return the favor. However, I very seldom ask for help because all my photos would turn out like these. (Go ahead, click in and have a good laugh!) 

18. The Official-looking Money Changers


The Situation:
When we were in London, my travel partner needed to change for some Pound. Unfortunately, the money changer failed to disclose the unacceptably high service fee beforehand. She ended up losing half the value of her foreign currency. I didn’t take this as a lesson as I fell into the same trap in Florence. I only realized the high service charge when she printed out the conversion. I asked to stop the change but she told me it was too late for me to do so. 

Avoid by: 
Always ask about the service fees before handing in your foreign currency. Once the money gets through the window, for some of the money changers, there is no turning back.  

19. Is this yours? 


The Situation:
My day trip in Ljubljana was perfect until someone asked me if I’ve dropped my purse. I told him no and then he started flashing all the cash in the purse insisting that he saw me holding it just now. Too bad Sir, I knew exactly what game you were playing. What would happen to me if I accepted the purse : a police will come and catch me red-handed for “stealing someone else’s purse”, count the money and “discover that a few hundred euros were missing” and threaten me that if I don’t return the stolen money he’ll send me to jail. Sorry sir, I am neither that stupid nor greedy. 
Avoid by: 
Never accept anything that is not yours.   

20. The Street Games. 


The Situation: 

We saw a lot of people gathered around the corner near the famous "Fraternal Kiss" of East Side Gallery, Berlin, playing a shell game. We were not interested at all as we proceeded to take photos around the place. A german lady who came with her family warned us to hold tight to our bags and don’t participate in the street game. According to her, someone will pickpocket the on-lookers while they are paying attention to the game. 

Avoid by: 
Just don’t go play the game, don’t look and stay alerted! 



Fraternal Kiss
Fraternal Kiss

21. Phone off the table! 


The Situation: 

A gypsy woman and her 2 teen daughters stepped into the KFC fast-food chain restaurant near Charlie-Checkpoint, Berlin. An employee quickly went to them and ask them to leave. I thought the employee was rude at first but she clearly knew what she was doing. In order to stay in the restaurant, the mother bought 2 corns and sit at the table next to us with her daughters. The employee came tp warn us about them, asking us to keep all our electronics in our bags (we had them laying around on the table as we enjoyed our meal). We noticed that the trio kept looking at us in a very obvious way and when we looked back at them, one of them ask us to give them each a piece of chicken. Why should us? We continued ignoring them and before they finally left the place, they walked wayyyy too close to us it was uncomfortable. Minutes later, they came back into the restaurant, walked straight to some tourists and handed them a petition form. I watched wide-eyed as those tourists signed the papers without taking the time to read anything at all! I was about to say something until the same savior-employee came to the rescue! She instructed the tourist to cross their names from the paper and chased the scammers out.

Avoid by: 
Rule number 1, never put valuables on the table. Rule number 2, Ignore, ignore and ignore!       

22. The Unethical Cashier. 


The Situation: 

It took forever for the cashier to give me back my change. I was wondering if she failed her Math in high school but then I thought maybe it’s a new kind of scam. So after she finally gave me back the change, I took my sweet time to check everything on the bill too. Turned out that not only she gave me the wrong change, I was double charged for the box of cereal. 

Avoid by: 

Take your time to check the change and your bill! No-one likes to be overcharged!

I know it sucks so much to encounter scammers on a supposedly perfect trip. However, the fact is, no matter how well prepared we are, some of these well-known-same-old travel scams will still catch us off guard! Don’t let it ruin your trip! Remember nothing in this world is meant to be flawless, sometimes a little bad experiences will make a trip even more memorable, just like the black and white keys on the piano make beautiful music! (Do I make sense? I hope I do. )  


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Thank You for Reading! 
Do you know anymore travel scams? 
Join in the discussion! Let's help each other avoid getting scammed on our vacation by commenting below!

15 comments:

Blanca said...

Lol...the fake petition is everywhere. I'm from NYC, so I have no qualms about telling people to f off ;)

Amy said...

We've had many of these experiences as well. The "helpful local" in the Naples train station, the kids trying to get in my purse on the metro in Rome, and the "rose" guys are so abrasive and obnoxious!! Thanks for bringing attention to these for other travelers!

Rebecca Decker WhereToThisTime said...

It's such a shame but that is all part of traveling. I always put passports, credit cards, and most of the money in a pouch under my shirt, even on our recent family trip to Niagara Falls. My friend and I used to do it all the time when we traveled. If thieves got a purse or bag, it didn't have much in it. The scariest scam would be those posing as police officers. I think it would be very hard to tell who is fake in that case. Really great list to remind everyone to be careful.

Samantha said...

Wow you've seen your fair share of travel scams! Luckily nothing has ever happened to me and I hope it never does. I just have to use my street smarts and intuition and make sure I never put myself into a weird situation (although sometimes they are hard to avoid). Thanks for posting this informative article!

Bethanny Sudibyo said...

WOW! I never thought that it was that serious in some countries. I never traveled to Europe before so I haven't encountered any of these issues. I will definitely be on the look out next time. I traveled alone in a few places in South America, but never really had these issue. I have really tan skin though, so maybe people thought I was local. But anyways, thank you for this share!

Lara Dunning said...

Great post and very informative. It's a good reminder to keep your wits about you while traveling as there are some unsavory folks out there.

WanderWithJo said...

Oh no this is awful. These scams make me so vary while I am traveling and it is difficult to trust people - even when they are genuinely nice and just trying to help. It's sad, but true. Thanks for sharing these.

yenor said...

Very nice to know. I too have encountered many of these scams, however for the amount of care I take in very new city I visit I should have been scammed a whole lot more than I have. As long as it's not life threatening, I'm generally not overly concerned.

Colby said...

When I clicked on the title of your post I said (to myself) taxi scam HAS to be number 1...and sure enough it was hahaa. I've definitely encountered the taxi scam a few times, mostly in Southeast Asia. Now I don't take any crap. Oh, you're meter is broken? Ok. No thanks. Buh-bye. They quickly change their tune. Some of the scams I'd never even considered. People are sneaky sneaky.

Nathan Aguilera said...

Great list! I've fallen prey to several of these before. Taxis are the worst! I've seen many of these take place in Bangkok!

Unknown said...

I don't know if this scam happens in other big cities, but there are people in London who will come to your door and ask you to show your boobs. Don't do it. They only want to see your boobs. ;)

zuzu said...

When we travelled to europe,we had encountered similar scams too. Sign the petition in Paris (not fall for it), flowers scam in salzburg (it costs us 2euros), a sort of clown i London offer us to take a picture with him n then ask for money (we quickly run away haha), friendship string (a friend fell for it), and shoes shiner in Istanbul, he drop his brush and when we told him, he offer/insisted to clean our shoes to show his thanks. But then he asked for money and we ran away too. Hahhah. Be careful everybody!

zuzu said...

When we travelled to europe,we had encountered similar scams too. Sign the petition in Paris (not fall for it), flowers scam in salzburg (it costs us 2euros), a sort of clown i London offer us to take a picture with him n then ask for money (we quickly run away haha), friendship string (a friend fell for it), and shoes shiner in Istanbul, he drop his brush and when we told him, he offer/insisted to clean our shoes to show his thanks. But then he asked for money and we ran away too. Hahhah. Be careful everybody!

saz said...

Milan: friendship bracelet, bird seeds scam (front of Doumo)
Rome: Aids petition signature, Rose for beautiful
Paris: pick pocket,bird poop on your jacket.

Roam Lab said...

Another angle with the cab scam is the "broken credit card scanner." At this point, you will have already taken the ride and the cab driver will demand cash and, sometimes, the price magically changes because of a new fee that wasn't on the meter (In places like NYC, accepting credit cards is required by law and there are special caps on fees for certain routes).

If you are traveling alone, be sure never let your luggage be stored in the trunk. Keep it on the seat next to you. It will turn into collateral as the cabby refuses to let you get your luggage until you pay. If you are traveling with someone else, one of you stay in the car with the luggage while the other gets out to flag down a police officer. (Odds are, as soon as you start making a show of looking for an officer, any problems will just evaporate).