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10 Worst Tourist Scams

A recent posting on Just the Flight warned travelers of 40 tourist scams prevalent around the world. Wow—that’s a long checklist. Fortunately, many of the 40 are “variations on a theme,” and a comparable posting of 10 scams from is more realistic. Yes, none of the 10 or even the 40 is really new or innovative, but they bear repeating, anyhow.

Fake Police: A street merchant may put something in your hand or around your wrist, then, when you try to give it back, complain that you’re trying to steal it. A uniformed policeman—fake—happens to be passing by and threatens to arrest you if you don’t pay for what you supposedly stole. Variations include trumped-up arguments with taxi drivers and merchants. 

Fake Valuables: A vendor on a Bogota street offers to sell you “emeralds” at a fraction of the going price. A related scam: You’re standing in line to buy a ticket for something and someone offers to sell you a “better” ticket and avoid the line.

Distraction Theft: The list of 40 scams includes many variations on this basic theme. Someone distracts you while an accomplice picks your pocket or goes through your baggage. The scenarios are endless: kids swarm around you asking for money, someone “accidentally” spills something on you, someone punctures the tire on your rental car and pilfers your stuff while supposedly “helping” you change the tire, someone throws a doll dressed up like a real baby at you. The list goes on and on, and it can happen almost anywhere.

Taxi Tricks: When you hop in a cab and ask to go to a specific restaurant, hotel, or shop, the driver tells you it’s “closed” but offers to take you to a “better” one. At best, the new place is a long trip; at worst, it’s a rip-off joint in partnership with the driver.

The Fake “Gift”: A street musician hands you what appears to be a “free” CD, asking you to check out his/her music, then, after you have it, demands payment, even when you try to return it. Variations apply to just about any item.

Photo Finagling: Someone offers to take a picture of you and your companion with your camera—and runs off with the camera. Or you pose with a picturesque but apparently willing local, who then turns mean and demands a fee.

Fake Friends: You go to a bar and a friendly group of locals asks you to join them. Then, after a few rounds, they suddenly depart, leaving you with a padded bill.

PIN Theft: A casher surreptitiously takes a picture of your credit card, or someone who “helps” you at a foreign ATM notes and remembers your PIN for later theft use.

Old-Fashioned Pickpocketing: Pickpockets don’t need elaborate scams or set-up scenarios. They can get as close to you as they need to on crowded public transit, intercity trains, and in busy shops.

Currency Capers: A merchant counts out your change correctly, accidentally drops it, retrieves it, and hands you a substitute wad that’s a bit lighter. Or you get a mix of counterfeit and real bills.

You can easily avoid some of these scams. If you can’t tell the difference between an emerald and a fragment of green glass, don’t buy “emeralds” on the street. Assume anything someone tries to sell you on the street is either a fake or carries a grossly inflated price. Know enough about the local geography that you can tell when you’re being “taken for a ride.” Dress modestly and try to fit in with the locals. Avoid constant glances at guidebooks or maps. But those strategies work only in obvious situations.

Yes, most locals you encounter are honest and genuinely want to help. But you need to remain alert at all times. Sad to say, but “paranoia is its own reward.” As an obvious tourist, you have to be aware that you might be targeted in just about any situation.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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