Navigating Abroad: Watch Out for These Common Tourist Scams

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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.

1. Holding Luggage Hostage

Luggage held closed by a chain
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuk Tuk Drivers
Image Credit: Wael.kenawey – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

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

Angry couple at a restaurant
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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

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 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

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. 

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 think, “I'll only use five-star, reputable hotels,” think again. Try using a prepaid card instead. 

10. The Souvenir Photo

Souveneir photo
Image Credit: Arpingstone – Own work, Public Domain/Wiki Commons.

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

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.

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 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. 

13. Monkeys

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

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

Snake
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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

Dropped phone
Image Credit: Yuri Nunes/Shutterstock.

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

Argentine peso
Image Credit: Casa de Moneda – CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

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

pickpocket
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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

cash featured
Image Credit: CEPTAP/Shutterstock

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

Person putting dollar bills in a wallet
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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

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, 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

Tickets
Image Credit: Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock.

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

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 way overpriced drinks. In other cases, the situation worsens, and you will be expected to pay your way out.

23. Shot Girls

Shot glass
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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

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 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

Car Salesman
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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. 

Author: Ree Winter

Title: Journalist

Expertise: travel, food, history

Bio:

  • Expertise: Travel, History, Food
  • Education: Monash University, Australia
  • Over 400 articles published in newspapers, magazines, and across the web

Ree Winter is a versatile journalist hailing from Australia and now making New Orleans her home. Ree's passion for solo travel shines through as she expertly tracks down fantastic flight deals and accommodations, sharing her extensive travel experiences with readers. With a Master's degree in Journalism and a Bachelor's degree featuring double majors in history and literature, she brings a unique blend of skills to her work. Ree's historical expertise extends to the world of architectural history, where she has worked as a tour guide in historic house museums. But her journey doesn't stop there; she's even delved into the art of coffee as a barista, running a coffee van at events and markets, making her a genuine connoisseur of coffee preparation. Today, Ree channels her insights and expertise into sharing these topics with readers at Wealth of Geeks.