Tourists Beware: The Most Common Scams To Watch for When Traveling Abroad

The world is a wonderful place with amazing people, landscapes, and vistas. If you're lucky enough, you'll get to visit at least some of it, but there's always an amount of risk with anything you do, and the same goes for travel. While some people are out to be your friend, others will take advantage of the fact that you're in an unfamiliar landscape to make a quick buck.

It's always good to be aware of some very common scams worldwide. A popular traveler forum recently discussed some that they came across often while traveling. 

1. Holding Luggage Hostage

Luggage held closed by a chain
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When traveling abroad, if you don’t have to check your bags, don’t. A user takes us back 20 years ago when they flew into Delhi and witnessed random people grabbing bags from business class passengers and anyone with non-Indian names to extort $20 out of them.

2. Thumb Wrestling Match in Thailand

Little girl laughing
Image Credit: Basile Morin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

In Thailand, an individual was approached by a young girl who was about seven years old. The girl offered necklaces for sale, which the person politely declined, explaining that they already owned a similar one. In an unexpected turn of events, the girl proposed a thumb wrestling match. She suggested a wager: her victory would result in the person purchasing three necklaces, whereas their win would grant them one for free.

To their surprise, the young girl swiftly defeated them in a matter of seconds and left with some extra cash in her pockets. 

3. Shoe Shine in Morocco

Shoe Shine
Image Credit: Alaskan Dude Edited by DsMurattalk – shoe shine, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

During one forum member's time in Morocco, they encountered a persistent individual who insisted on being paid to shine their shoes. The amusing twist? The person was actually wearing sneakers at that time. This scam is common worldwide — other travelers noted that they've experienced it in places such as New Orleans and Italy. Very few travelers wear shoes that need shining, however, so they resort to other measures. 

4. Taxi and Tuk Tuk Drivers With Extra Stops

Tuk Tuk Drivers
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This scam involves offering tourists a reduced fare with a catch — they'll stop at a store along the way where you're encouraged to buy something. Tuk Tuk or taxi drivers may even threaten to strand you in unfamiliar neighborhoods if you don't comply. It's best to make sure of the terms of your ride up front. In some countries, such as Malaysia, ensuring the cab offers metered fares is recommended. 

5. Not What You Ordered

Angry couple at a restaurant
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Forum members say they've experienced this scam in Belgium, Morocco, Greece, and Italy. A server will “accidentally” bring out several dishes you didn't order, claiming a mistake was made but attempting to charge you for it anyway. One explorer says an eatery tried to charge them €300 (or approximately $327) until they threatened to call the police. 

6. The Corrupt Police Checkpoint

Police Checkpoint
Image Credit: Chris Hunkeler Carlsbad, California – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

Unfortunately, in some countries, corrupt police are common and just part of the system. It's not even a secret. Various bribes are expected in routine proceedings. In a few instances in India, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, forum members experienced officials finding problems that could only be fixed with a cash exchange. 

7. That Place Is Closed

Closed sign
Image Credit: Ken Hawkins-SC, USA – Closed sign, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

You will be randomly approached by a seemingly friendly local who will claim that the attraction you plan on visiting is closed and that you should see something they recommend while you wait for it to open. It might be a shop they want you to buy goods from or something more sinister. In one case, a traveler was told their train wasn't running, and in another, that the Egyptian Museum closed at lunchtime. Check for yourself.

8. Independent Tour Guide

Tired teen tourist complaining walking in the street
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A friendly local or taxi driver offers to be your independent tour guide. They take you to some friend or cousin's shop so you can buy expensive items you don't want, and the “tour guide” gets a kickback. In some cases, these people have been known to threaten stranding travelers in remote locations. 

9. Bank Account Clone

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Some corrupt individuals will clone your bank account details from your hotel account and attempt to make transactions from a different country. If you're thinking, “I'll only use 5-star, reputable hotels,” think again. One forum member says it happened to them in Kuala Lumpur despite taking this precaution. Try using a prepaid card instead. 

10. The Souvenir Photo

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It doesn't matter what part of the world you're in, this scam exists anywhere there are tourists. People dressed in various local or fun costumes sometimes aggressively push for you to take a photo with them without telling you they'll charge you an excessive amount until it's over. There are reports of this in places like Las Vegas, Rome, and Japan. 

11. The Lucky Bracelet

Lucky Bracelet
Image Credit: Antonio Kless – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

This is another one that happens everywhere in the world: someone, sometimes dressed as a monk, will tie a cheap bracelet to your wrist without your permission and ask for “donations.” I've personally experienced this in Melbourne, Australia, and San Francisco. One traveler says it happened in Sacre Coeur, Paris, and yet another forum member says it happened to them at the Acropolis in Athens. 

12. The CD Scam

CD Scam
Image Credit: By Santeri Viinamäki, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

This one also happens in many places, but the most common place I've seen this is in the U.S. A random person will hand you a CD and say that they're an up-and-coming musician and arest giving away their first CD. They'll then give you a sob story about how hard it is to make a living as a musician and ask for a donation. In most cases, the only thing on the disc is some bootleg copy of pre-recorded music. 

13. Monkeys

Image Credit: Mark Hodson Photos – Bijilo Forest Park, Senegambia, The Gambia, CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

In Morocco, some travelers report trained monkeys who jump on people, and their owners demand money to make it stop. Sometimes, they will use the monkeys to distract or capture your attention, sell you something else, or beg for money in exchange for them leaving

14. Snake Removal

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One person reports that a group of men in the main square of Marrakech, Morocco, will throw a snake at you and then ask for money to remove it. Many forum members suggested they'd keep the snake. 

15. The Dropped Item

Dropped phone
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This scam is part of the shoe shine scams. People rely on the kindness of strangers to pick up their dropped item and bring it back to them. Someone says this happened to them in Istanbul — someone will “accidentally” drop their brush, the friendly tourist picks it up to give it back, they offer to shine the tourist's shoes as thanks, and then ask for cash.

16. Needs To Check Your Cash

Argentine peso
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One forum member says that while paying for a taxi with cash they'd just withdrawn from the bank in Buenos Aires, the driver insisted that it was probably fake and wanted to check all the cash they had on them. The scam is that they'll then swap it for counterfeit currency.

17. The Charity Subscription

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Several people reported coming across this scam in Paris. People will come up and ask for a subscription to a worthy cause. While you're distracted listening to them or filling out the form, pickpockets will relieve you of your valuables. 

18. Money for Prayers

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Someone mentioned this happened to them in India. Still, I've also encountered it in Cambodia and can imagine it's common across Asia. Someone who looks like a priest will approach you at a holy site such as Angkor Wat and offer prayers, then ask for a donation. This would be fine if they didn't deceive the tourist by saying “100” and then trying to say they meant American dollars and not the country's currency.

19. The Currency Misquote

Person putting dollar bills in a wallet
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This scam follows on from the previous one. One person says that some men with cameras outside the Taj Mahal tell tourists it costs “100” for them to take a photo. The victim assumes they mean 100 rupees, but after the picture is taken, they will claim they meant USD 100.

 20. The Roses for a Beautiful Girl

Rose, love, date, flower
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This one does nothing for your self-esteem! A stranger will approach you at a popular site like St. Mark's Square in Venice. He will hand you a rose and say he's giving it to you because “you're a beautiful lady.” You feel flattered and say thank you, and he'll then ask you for money.

21. Fake Show Tickets

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This is another that happens in the most popular tourist attractions worldwide. Street hawkers will offer unbelievable deals on some of the top shows and events in the locale. The tickets may look official, but you'll visit the box office to find you've been scammed. Only buy from reputable sites and locations.

22. Stranger Invites You to a Bar

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Part of the travel experience is making new friends, but if someone you just met on the street suggests they know a great bar, be cautious. Many people say they've been invited by a friendly local to a bar, only to find they were the only person in there. In some cases, they will be joined by attractive girls who will encourage them to buy drinks that turn out to be way overpriced. In other cases, the situation is even worse, and you will be expected to pay your way out.

23. Shot Girls

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While this scam might seem like something that prays on men, it can happen to anyone. Bar girls will take advantage of you being intoxicated and offer to take an alcohol shot from their cleavage. They will then attempt to charge you a fee for it. One female forum member says that one girl grabbed her arm while on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and tried to force her to do this. 

24. We Have No Change

Man putting cash in a wallet
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This is very common in many countries that only accept cash. You will pay for something small and cheap with a large bill – for example, a $2 item with a $20 note. The business will claim that they have no change, so you either have to buy more, leave the item, or leave them a very large tip. One person says that they started paying for everything in one-dollar notes. 

25. The Timeshare Hard Sell

Car Salesman
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In this scam, you might be approached by someone offering you a chance to win a competition. On Australia's Gold Coast, people would offer people the chance to win a luxury breakfast with a limousine ride, where you would also learn some history about the area. People were required to tick how much they earned; if it was over a certain amount, you'd “win” the competition, but the breakfast was just a front for a hard sell on a timeshare. This exists in one form or another in different places around the world. 

Source: Reddit.