Travel scams are a part of traveling and knowing how to spot them is the best way to avoid them.
Usually if something is free or a stranger is a little too helpful (offers help without being asked) it is a scam. For example, if a stranger/local comes up to you and offers to take a photo of you, there is a good chance they are trying to steal your camera. Best bet is to ask a fellow tourist (don’t forget to return the favor!) or your tour guide to take the photo. If you feel something drop on your body that caused your clothing to get dirty and someone rushes up to “help” clean it, there is a good chance they are trying to steal from you. If this happens to you, clean it up yourself. Men, be wary of attractive women that are being overly aggressive with their attentions to you. No, you did not suddenly become a chick magnet; they are trying to distract you in order to steal from you.
Be aware of those that look like they are giving you something and then turn around and ask for money. Such as the “friendship bracelet” scam, this is when they literally make the bracelet on your wrist and then ask for money, this is very popular in Europe (I had someone try it on me at the Spanish Steps in Rome). If someone pushes a rose into your hand and you are not interested in giving them some cash, push it right back to them. At train stations watch out for someone that offers to guide you to your station or carry your luggage, they will want cash when you get there. I knew what was happening but was late for my train in Rome so I went ahead with this guy offering help, I only had a few Euros on me so that is all he got, but since I knew what the play was I was okay paying the guy to haul my giant suitcase up and downstairs (FYI: I still missed my train).
When it comes to transportation it is best to always go with the official locations. Do not buy tickets for transportation or attractions from anyone other than the official office; if you do, often you will find you purchased a fake ticket. Taxis: make sure the meter is working, if it is not working or on, get out, they are trying to charge you extra. I have found some taxis do not have meters, in that case agree on a price from location A to location B before getting in. Research the taxi practices in the area you are visiting, some cities have official taxis that have to charge the government rate (which is lower than the private taxis). When you can always order a taxi from your hotel or restaurant (they usually have no problem calling one for you), or go to a taxi que/stand.
Beware of fake cops. This might be hard to spot. But if anyone asks you to give them your wallet/purse/bag or passport, do not give it to them! Call the police to verify that they are real cops, and if in more doubt go to the station.
Understand the dangers of public Wi-Fi; some thieves will use these spots to steal your passwords and/or credit card information. Either avoid it by using the hotel’s password protected logins or have your own private network. If you must use public Wi-Fi make sure you encrypt your online activity.
Pan handlers. They are in every city and tourist area, especially outside train/bus stations or airports. A lot of people use their children to beg thinking tourist will be more sympathetic to a kid. I had a conversation with a taxi driver in Mexico asking us not to give to children because it encourages the parents to keep the kids out of school and “working” them on the streets. So, do not give money to kids. I know it is hard to say no to their sad eyes, but it feeds into a cycle if you give in.
Now, here are some tips on how to protect yourself against pickpockets. First and foremost is to be aware of your surroundings and your person/stuff. Take the headphones off and look around. Know if someone is sneaking up on you, or generally acting shady. Split your cash and/or cards up. If you are traveling with your significant other, split it between the two of you. Also split it up on your person/bag; basically do not keep everything in the same place. If you are traveling where there is plenty of access to ATMs, I would limit the cash I carry on hand. If your card gets stolen (carry the phone number to report it somewhere other than on your card) the bank will replace your money but if cash gets stolen you are out of luck. There are special clothing made to be pickpocket proof with secret pockets and hidden zippers that are worth the money, especially if you are visiting “pick pocket happy” areas such as Europe. This is the company my husband bought his through: https://www.clothingarts.com/?gclid=CLyZr5-ut84CFQ1sfgodRIIGlQ .
Just a note about credit cards abroad, it will be wise to let your bank know when and where you are traveling so they do not think it is fraud and cut it off and leave you stranded. Also ask them what their exchange fee is for international charges, some banks are better than others and it is worth looking into.
To protect you from scams and pickpockets while traveling knowledge and being aware is power.
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