The world is beautiful, 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 prevalent scams worldwide. Keep your wits about you and travel safely while keeping common tourist scams at the forefront of your mind.
1. Holding Luggage Hostage
When traveling abroad, if you don’t have to check your bags, don’t. In several Asian countries, random people sometimes grab bags from business class passengers to extort $20. Don't pay up? Then kiss your bag goodbye.
2. Thumb Wrestling Match in Thailand
A friend shared this story with me, which occurred when they were vacationing in Thailand. They were approached by a young girl who was about seven years old. The girl offered necklaces for sale, which my friend 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 my friend purchasing three necklaces, whereas their win would grant them one for free.
To my friend's surprise, the young girl swiftly defeated them in a matter of seconds and left with some extra cash in her pockets.
3. Shoeshine in Morocco
Beware of those offering to shine your shoes in Morocco, where shoeshine providers will stop everyone they see and offer to shine their shoes (spoiler alert: it's not free). This scam is common worldwide, with travelers noting that they've experienced it in places such as New Orleans and Italy.
4. Taxi and Tuk-tuk Drivers with Extra Stops
This scam involves offering tourists a reduced fare with a catch — they'll stop at a store 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 upfront. In some countries, such as Malaysia, ensuring the cab offers metered fares is recommended.
5. Not What You Ordered
This is a common 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.
6. The Corrupt Police Checkpoint
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 India, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique, you're likely to experience officials finding problems that can only be fixed with a cash exchange.
7. That Place Is Closed
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.
8. Independent Tour Guide
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
Some corrupt individuals will clone your bank account details from your hotel account and attempt to make transactions from a different country. If you think, “I'll only use five-star, reputable hotels,” think again. Try using a prepaid card instead.
10. The Souvenir Photo
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 you to take a photo with them without telling you they'll charge you an excessive amount until after it's over. This is reported in places like Las Vegas, Rome, Japan, and even in Hollywood in front of the Chinese Theatre.
11. The Lucky Bracelet
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.
12. The CD Scam
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 are 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 prerecorded music.
In Morocco, some animal handlers will train monkeys to jump on people. Once you've been assaulted by said money, the 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
Several travelers have shared a scam that happens in the square of Marrakesh, Morocco: a group of men will throw a snake at you and then ask for money to remove it.
15. The Dropped Item
This scam is part of the shoeshine scams. People rely on the kindness of strangers to pick up their dropped item and bring it back to them. Someone will “accidentally” drop their brush, a 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
This scam involves someone — whether a waiter, a taxi driver, or even hotel staff — checking some of the money you've taken out from the bank. They'll then insist your money is probably fake and ask you to check all the cash you have on you. Then, they'll then swap it for counterfeit currency.
17. The Charity Subscription
Heads up to Paris tourists: this is a common one. People will come up and ask you to subscribe 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
I've encountered this scam 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
This scam follows up on the previous one. Some men with cameras outside the Taj Mahal will 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 100 USD.
20. The Roses for a Beautiful Girl
This one does nothing for your self-esteem! A stranger will approach you at a popular site like St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy. 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
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
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 way overpriced drinks. In other cases, the situation worsens, and you will be expected to pay your way out.
23. Shot Girls
While this scam might seem like something that preys 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.
24. We Have No Change
This is very common in many countries that only accept cash. You will pay for something small and cheap with a hefty bill — for example, a $2 item with a $20 note. The business will claim they have no change, so you either have to buy more, leave the item, or leave them a large tip.
25. The Timeshare Hard Sell
In this scam, someone might approach you by offering you a chance to win a competition. On Australia's Gold Coast, scammers would allow people 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 were 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.