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8 Scams Leaving Tourists High and Dry

Posted May 16th, 2012
by Staff Writers

If you’re traveling in another country, usually the locals can tell you’re a tourist. If it isn’t the way you’re dressed, they may be able to identify you by the language you speak which differs from their own, the confused way you handle money, or the camera you wear dangling around your neck. A seasoned tourist will learn to mask these features, but inexperienced travelers still populate the tourist hot spots. For a scammer, the tourist is the perfect target to conduct a scam. They are easy to take advantage of, as they are already in an unfamiliar country and unaware of a lot of the local customs. With a little preparation, you can learn to recognize these scams before they happen, better preparing yourself for your traveling adventures.

  1. Throwing the Baby

    In Italy, a common scam involves beggar women thrusting their “baby” at you. As a decent human being, your natural instinct is to snatch the baby before it hits the ground. However, as soon as you hold out your arms, you are vulnerable to the pickpocketers feeling you up for your wallet or even snatching the purse clear off of your arm. The baby, of course, is a doll or simply a bundle of rags, but it serves as a wonderful distraction for these con artists to rob you of your belongings.

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  3. Unmarked Taxis

    Unmarked taxis can be a serious problem when traveling. In London, travelers are told to only use black minicabs, which are the true, licensed taxis for the city. If you step into an unmarked or unfamiliar taxi, you may wind up paying extremely high fees or even being assaulted. Sometimes, these taxis may drive off with your luggage after you get out of the car. They also might take methodically long routes to get to your destination, which will bump up the meter. Lastly, they may try to convince you that he knows of a better hotel to stay at than the one you booked. If he drops you off at that alternate hotel, the cabbie may get a commission for it.

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  5. Exorbitantly Priced Restaurants

    Tourists often don’t realize that the closer a restaurant is to a major tourist hot spot, the more expensive it will be. Even if it’s a simple pizza shop with mediocre food, you’re essentially paying extra for the convenience of being close to your next sightseeing spot. Always check the prices on the menu beforehand to make sure you don’t wind up paying double what you should be paying for your meal. To find cheaper dining spots, venture outside of tourist-riddled areas and eat at places that the locals eat. Not only will you probably get a more authentic meal in the country’s given cuisine, but you’ll pay significantly less for it.

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  7. Fake Front Desk

    If you receive a phone call at your hotel room in the middle of the night, don’t answer it. In this scam, a con artist posing as the “front desk” will call your room and apologize for bothering you at such an inconvenient hour, but profess that there’s some issue with your payment info and they need to confirm your credit card number. The scammer may offer four digits, which will be incorrect, of course, and you’ll wind up reading off your true credit card digits and the expiration date before realizing that the caller could have easily been anyone. The scammer is banking on the idea that you’ll be groggy and caught off guard in the middle of the night, given that they’ve just awoken you from your slumber.

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  9. Broken Goods

    There are several variations on it, but in this scam, a tourist usually is shoved into someone or bumps against someone, causing the other person to drop and break something. It could be a cellphone with an already shattered screen or any other supposed “valuable.” The scammer who dropped the item will then yell at you, angrily accusing you of breaking their possession until you pay for it. In truth, the item has no value to them, and they simply want your money. Often, they will have a second scammer planted to shove you into them, yet this person will quickly disappear before you can pin the blame on him. In most cases, the tourist will pay the amount requested simply out of confusion. You may not speak the language, which can further complicate the situation.

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  11. False Cops

    If you’re new to a foreign country, you likely won’t be able to identify the correct police uniform. Scammers will actually dress up in fake police uniforms to pose as cops in your destination. They will then approach you and ask to examine your wallet, claiming that there have been some issues with counterfeit money going around. They will quickly shuffle through your money before returning the wallet to you, commenting that your money is fine. In retrospect, you’ll realize that these fraudsters have removed several large bills from your wallet while “examining” them for legitimacy. If you are gullible enough to believe that they’re cops, they may even pressure you into giving them confidential information such as your pin number.

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  13. Wallet Signals

    Scammers are clever. They know that if they ask you, “Excuse me, Sir, is this your wallet?” that you will instinctively feel where your wallet is before assuring them that it isn’t yours. You have then signaled to them exactly where your wallet is such that they can pickpocket you effectively or tell one of their pickpocketing friends how to access your personal effects. Scammers also use this method in high-traffic tourist areas that have signs cautioning them to be wary of pickpocketers. As the tourist reads the sign, he often grips his personal belongings closer to assure himself that they are still there, when in effect he is making the pickpocketer’s job significantly easier.

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  15. Bird Poop Hustle

    In a crowded tourist spot, a scammer will point out that you have bird poop on your shirt and then begin to vigorously wipe it off. In the distraction, he or someone else will nab your wallet, iPhone, or camera. In some busy tourist areas, pigeons occasionally do poop on people, so these con men jump at the opportunity to profit from your misfortune. However, they will even fake the scam by squeezing a lunch condiment on your shirt, such as mustard. With multiple hands touching you anyway, you may not realize the hands that are feeling for your wallet.

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