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Top 10 travel scams and how to avoid them

Wondering how to stay safe when abroad? Start by brushing up on the most common travel scams, and more importantly, how to avoid them.

1. Fake tickets for transport

Booking a guided tour or long coach journey? Proceed with caution, or you might just discover you’ve purchased a one-way ticket to rip-off central. "A classic scam is the sale of tickets for a venue, or train or bus, which are not authentic," says Charlie McGrath at Objective Travel Safety, a company which teaches individuals about how to stay safe when abroad. "An example is bogus travel agents in India selling train tickets or touts in Thailand selling tickets to get you into the Royal Palace in Bangkok. They’ll often say these are ‘after hours tickets’ for when the palace is closed to the general public." The solution? Always book (online and in advance if possible) from an official retailer, and don’t be afraid to ask to see credentials if you’re purchasing tickets at the last minute.

beware of scams when booking scenic railway journeys

2. Taxis taking ridiculously long routes

The popularity of car-sharing services such as Uber has meant huge savings for today’s travellers, but in strange cities, it’s all too easy to find yourself at the mercy of a driver who opts for what we’ll politely call "the scenic route." If you suspect you’re being scammed, track your location on your phone using Google Maps (you don’t need data to do this – you only need it when you enter the destination details at the start of the journey), and if you don’t feel comfortable complaining to the driver there and then, use the car-sharing app in question to log a complaint as soon as you get out the car. If you’re using a regular taxi, always insist that the metre is turned on, or agree on a fare beforehand.

taxi

3. Extortionate foreign currency fees

Wondering how to get the best exchange rates on your holiday money? Plan in advance and shop around to find which online currency provider provides the best rate – then pick it up at the airport or get it delivered to your home. A recent survey conducted by the Post Office revealed that one-in-six travellers has been stung by poor exchange rates at airport bureaux. The same research found that around 3.65m people were charged an average of £48.57 each in non-sterling transaction charges when paying with debit or credit cards. Our advice? Put away the plastic!

Shop around to get the best exchange rates on foreign currency

4. Damaged to hire cars caused by someone else

It’s one of the most common car hire scams: you drop off the hire car you used to pootle around the French Riviera only to be charged for a huge dent which you know you didn’t cause. “One of the most common complaints we hear relates to customers being charged for damage to a hire car that they didn’t do," agrees Ernesto Suarez, founder of iCarhireinsurance.com. "Customers often only find out about this when they open their credit card statement and see hundreds of pounds taken for a small scratch. Protect yourself by checking the car thoroughly at pick-up, no matter how big a rush you’re in. Check areas you might not think of, like the wheels and undercarriage, and take photos as evidence. When you drop the car off make sure a company representative signs it back to stop any nasty surprises."

always check for existing damage to car hire vehicles

5. Fake money

Fake money is common in various places (currently it’s a big problem in certain South and Central American countries, often as a result of drug cartels’ involvement in money laundering). Shopkeepers will often refuse notes of larger denominations because of this, but at the same time, unscrupulous shop staff and waiters will often see tourists as an opportunity to offload fake currency they’ve been landed with. Always check your change before leaving the premises, in front of the member of staff who presented you with the currency in question. This is especially important with notes. Wondering how to identify fake money? A fantastic piece of kit for jet-setters is a pocket-sized UV light designed for travellers. Safescan is one of the most popular manufacturers of this type of product.

currency

6. The distraction robbery

In busy cities and popular tourist spots, it’s common to be approached by fellow tourists asking if you’ll take their photo, or guide them to a nearby attraction. But use caution in these situations, as these requests for help are often a cover for so-called distraction crimes. In other words, while you’re doing your best Annie Liebovitz impression for that friendly backpacker who asked you to take her picture next to the Trevi fountain, her friend might just be relieving you of your wallet, passport or iPhone. This type of thief is most at home in crowded train stations, bars and airports – particularly arrivals areas, where they’ll often hone in on fresh-off-the-plane backpackers too preoccupied with finding their bearings to notice a stranger’s wandering hands.

pickpocket

7. The photographer who steals your camera

So you and your bezzies are pulling your best poses on that gorgeous Spanish beach when someone approaches you and offers to take a group shot of you all. Hand over your camera at your peril – get unlucky and that friendly local will vanish into the sunset (with your camera in hand) in a matter of seconds. This kind of scam is especially popular at open-air attractions, where CCTV cameras are less common. We hate to say it, but this is one of the (very few) reasons selfie sticks can actually come in handy.

selfie

9. Fake holiday listings

After paying upfront, you’ve turned up to that "five-star villa on the Algarve’s prettiest beach" to discover it’s actually a building site next to Portugal’s biggest waste water plant. You’re not alone. "A popular holiday scam is the listing of fake holiday accommodation listing on reputable holiday property websites," reveals Fiona Macrae from Travel Insurance Explained. "We’re seeing more and more reports of people arriving at their holiday destination only to discover the property listing was put up by fraudsters and the dream holiday villa doesn’t actually exist. Unfortunately this type of incident isn’t usually covered by travel insurance policies." Fiona’s advice? Never send a bank transfer directly to the property ‘owner’ and avoid booking with companies you’ve never heard of.

villa

10. Food poisoning scams

Finally, a bit of role reversal. One of the biggest travel-related scams is currently one carried out by the consumer, but it’s also the consumer who’s suffering as a result. This year, insurance companies have reported that claims for food poisoning-related illnesses experienced abroad have reached an all time high. Some food for thought: if you spent the evening downing tequila shots before waking to the mother of all headaches and a funny tummy, it’s unlikely the buffet’s to blame. "This type of claim is having a huge impact on the consumer directly, as travel agents and tour operators have to increase their package prices to cover potential increases in operating costs to try and quell the issues they’re having," warns Fiona Macrae from Travel Insurance Explained. "Consumer disclaimers, regular independent property inspections and the recruitment of more tour reps in resorts all carry costs which will have to be passed down to the price consumers’ pay for their holiday."

doctor

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