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Traveling the World? The 5 most common scams and how to avoid them

By Mason White 12:40 PM May 13, 2014

By: Devansh Dutt
There were nearly 40 travel alerts and travel warnings listed on the U.S. Passports and International Travel website in March, 2014.

Such alerts are designed to warn travelers of an unstable government, civil war, violence, terrorist alerts and disease outbreaks.

While it’s easy to determine certain areas are unsafe because of potential political strife, what about everyday scams that drain tourists of their time and money? While there aren’t available static on specific scams, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs offers updates on what to look for when traveling to specific countries. Here are some of the common scams seasoned travelers fall victim to:

Egyptian Camel Fees

With pyramids in the background, tourists eagerly await a photo-op with a camel. Getting impatient and hopping on just anyone’s camel could result in sitting there until you pay up again to get back down. Some scammers wait to tell you the price you paid is only to get on the camel, and you still need to pay again to get down. Once you’re sitting precariously on top of a camel, it’s hard to argue.

Wait for a reputable company to arrange a camel ride or photo shoot, and ask for the price in advance. Ask at least twice at different points in the conversation to ensure the price doesn’t fluctuate on the fly, and inquire if the price includes being helped up and back down. It may sound like overkill to keep asking and confirming every bit of information and price, but it could save you a bundle in the long-run.

Thailand Tourist Police

Official-looking police officers or tourist representatives in uniform may tell you a popular attraction like the Grand Palace is closed for a Bhuddist holiday. Such holidays don’t exist, and the attraction in question is rarely ever closed. Instead, they want to upsell you to a tour or send you to a trusted tuk-tuk driver, who is ready to take you to an open attraction.

Relieved you’re on your way to see something spectacular, the tuk-tuk driver takes you all over town to various souvenir shops and expensive stops where he gets a cut of what you buy. Be prepared to have the pressure laid on thick to buy, buy, and buy some more.

In Bangkok, you can get to almost anywhere with the SkyTrain or Boat Services without the help of a tuk-tuk. Ask the manager at your accommodations in advance for the best way to get around town and see various attractions. This also ensures that if you get scammed by someone they recommend, you can complain so they won’t use them again.

Free Tour Guides in India

You’re walking along and enjoying the Taj Mahal, and wondering where to go next while touring India. Suddenly, a friendly tour guide on break, helpful student or just someone sipping on coffee offers to take you around town. While it may seem like a kind gesture you can thank with a generous tip, it’s never enough.

The “free tour” winds you through your new friend’s souvenir shops, area businesses and expensive boutiques where he encourages you to buy some items that he later gets a commission for. You also might be pressured to buy packages and attraction admissions you don’t want or need. But the real scam is when the free guide starts demanding money, even if you’ve already offered a tip. They may start screaming and shouting that you’ve ripped them off and are obligated to pay or the police will be called. These free guides are banking on you either getting embarrassed or scared enough to pony up more cash than you would have spent using an actual tour guide.

Buenos Aires Bird Poop Scam

Buenos Aires is home to endless pigeons and it’s not unheard of to get unceremoniously pooped on once in awhile. But if someone rushes up to you with a towel and worriedly tells you there’s poop on your shirt, chances are you’re being had. This person will start wiping you down while distracting you long enough to rummage through your pockets and bag. Suddenly, you’ve been relieved of your cash and jewelry before you can blink.

Firmly tell anyone who approaches you that you’re fine and on your way to clean-up. Put your hands on your wallet, purse or any possessions, and always keep you frontside to the person speaking to you. Keep repeating that you’re fine and on your way to freshen up, and do not want help. They may be miffed, and maybe you do have some bird poop on your shirt, but the chances of someone just passing by with a towel for no reason are slim to none.

Rome’s Lost Tourist Scam

Tourists take some pride in figuring out their way around town and are willing to help their fellow travelers in need. However, looks can be deceiving. In Rome, bumbling businessmen in suits and fanny packs may look at maps or ask where the Colosseum is, even though it’s clearly just up the hill. After giving them the directions, they thank you for your kindness and shove leather jackets and keepsakes at you. They explain that they work in the fashion industry and are eager to share their samples with you in exchange for $20 to $50 to help with gas or admissions.

Even if you start to feel uneasy, you may get caught up in the whirlwind of action and think you might as well come home with a leather souvenir. Once the scam artist drives off, it’s easy to see what you’ve really got in your hands. You’ll walk away with cheaply made jackets and watches that cost only a few dollars.

Although these scams are more popular in certain cities around the world, they can easily happen anywhere. Always pay close attention to your surroundings when anyone approaches you or wants information, no matter how innocent the situation may seem. It’s also smart to make copies of your passport to carry with you, as well as leave a copy with someone back home.

Remember to bring a combination of cash, travelers checks and pre-paid debit or credit cards to avoid theft. Use services like LifeLock to continuously monitor your online identity, credit reports and other financial accounts for signs of fraud. For example, in Antigua de Guatemala, ripping ATM numbers is common in tourist areas and may show up months after your visit.