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The Ultimate Guide to Travel Scams and How To Avoid Them [2023]

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Amar Hussain

Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury

Keri Stooksbury


Countries Visited: 39U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Traveling the world can open your mind and broaden your horizons. If you are not careful, though, it could also see you relieved of your hard-earned cash, personal details, or your belongings before you know it. Stay savvy and know what to expect from scammers the world over.

Top 50 Travel Scams and How To Avoid Them

Below we outline the most popular scams you’ll come across when traveling. In fact, it would be odd if you didn’t come across at least one of these when abroad. Don’t worry, though, as we’ll show you how to avoid these scams, too.

Hot Tip: While you can take every precaution, even experienced travelers can fall for these scams. It’s always best to have travel insurance should the worst happen to you.

Distraction Scams

1. The Over-friendly Local

Where: Europe

Great friendships can be forged on vacation, but sometimes the people you meet can be more of a foe than an actual friend. Over-friendly locals may be wrapping an arm around you to take your wallet or standing close to see your PIN. Be polite and as friendly as you want to be, but do be watchful and aware of their potential motives.

How To Avoid: Be wary and keep people at arm’s length unless you know you can trust them.

2. Catch the Baby 

Where: Italy, especially Rome and Vatican City

Imagine your surprise when what appears to be a baby wrapped in blankets is thrown towards you. While your natural instincts kick in and you scramble to catch the poor child, thieves and their accomplices will rush to pickpocket as many of your belongings as they can. By the time you regain your composure and realize that the “baby” is just a doll, they will be long gone with your cash, cards, and anything else they can get their hands on.

How To Avoid: Always keep your cash and wallet in a zipped-up chest or inside pocket, or in a travel wallet under your clothes, especially in Rome.

3. The Dropped Wallet Scam

Image Credit: Prostock-studio via Adobe Stock

Where: Europe, especially Italy and Rome

If you see someone drop their wallet, it is second nature to be a good citizen and want to return it, right? With this scam, the seemingly unfortunate soul that has dropped their wallet is part of a tag team who will steal your belongings as you run after them to return it.

How To Avoid: If you find a wallet or coin purse on the floor, hand it over to the nearest police station.

4. The Spillage Scam

Where: South America

While being jostled around in a crowded place, you suddenly feel a splash of liquid or something that feels like bird poop hit your shirt or jacket. Gross! But, while a helpful bystander is offering to wipe it down or apologizing profusely for being so clumsy, they are skillfully picking your pockets.

How To Avoid: Refuse help, check your pockets, keep your hands on your valuables, and walk away.

5. The Gold Ring Scam

Where: Paris

While you are minding your own business, a woman will approach you with a ring in her hand and ask if you have dropped it. When you tell her that it is not yours, she will go ahead and try to convince you that it has some value and that she has been very lucky to find it. When she then tries to work on your sympathies by declaring that she needs to sell the ring to buy food, you may give in and buy the ring from her, only to discover that the ring is worth nada!

How To Avoid: Beggars can be pushy, so be firm about not owning the ring and not wanting to buy the ring, then walk away.

6. The Friendship Bracelet Scam

Where: Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Cairo

This one is quick and incredibly simple. An individual walks up to you with a friendship bracelet and quickly fixes it on your wrist, all the while cooing about how beautiful it looks on you. They will then either insist you buy the thing at an extortionate price, or simply pick your pockets while you are admiring it on your wrist.

How To Avoid: Firmly say “no” to anyone who tries to put jewelry on you. If you say it very loudly, they will quickly give up as they don’t like to draw attention to themselves.

7. The Street Performer Scam

Where: Paris and London

Another age-old trick, a lone performer or small group will aim to amaze and entertain passers-by with magic tricks and other performances. While the audience “oohs” and “aahs” the performer’s sidekicks will be busy picking pockets.

How To Avoid: Keep your money and cards in a zipped wallet or bag worn to the front of your body. This will make it much harder for them to reach you without you noticing, no matter how distracted you may be.

8. The Big Squeeze 

Where: South America

In hectic, overpopulated cities, some areas can be far busier than others. If you are in an open-air market, at festivals, or anywhere where there are big crowds of people, it is easy for a group of scammers to physically hem you in while they help themselves to the contents of your pockets.

How To Avoid: If you are on your own, steer clear of very cramped spaces like alleyways and always keep your valuables in a zippered inside pocket.

9. The Friendly Photographer Scam

Where: All across Europe

We’ve probably all offered to take a picture of a couple or group of friends together with nothing but the best intentions. Sadly, some local scammers will offer the same service, but either charge you for the image or, worse still, make off with your phone or camera.

How To Avoid: Never hand your phone or camera over to anyone you don’t know well. Selfies are your friend if you need to take a picture together or buy official images from reputable photographers.

10. The Map Man Scam

Where: Europe and Asia

A friendly pair of locals will help you to find where you are going using an old-fashioned fold-out map. While one beguiles you with a winning smile and helpful local knowledge, the other one will be pickpocketing you!

How To Avoid: Keep your cash and cards in a zippered pocket on the inside of your clothes or in a money belt that can be hidden away.

11. The Pickpocket Warning Scam

Where: Europe

Super helpful locals will seek you out to warn you about pickpockets in the area and advise you on how best to avoid them. This is a cruel double bluff, though, because you are usually pickpocketed while they speak to you, or earmarked to be targeted later. They also put pickpocket warnings up in the area for the same reasons as your instinct is to check where your valuables are. As you pat your pockets, you are just showing them where the valuables are.

How To Avoid: Keep your money in zippered internal pockets or wear a money belt under your clothing.

12. The Sympathy Scam

Where: Asia and the Middle East

Often accompanied by a little helper, a blind, deaf, pregnant, or seemingly disabled individual will approach you asking for money. Children and babies are often involved in these scams as it much harder to turn down the sweet face of a child. Encouraging you to hand over loose change is not the scam here, it is the accomplices that are close by, watching where you keep your wallet so they can pickpocket you later.

How To Avoid: Firmly decline to help and keep your wallet securely hidden in a zippered inside pocket or money belt.

13. The Snatch and Grab Double Deal

Where: Barcelona

As you wait with your fellow travelers to catch a cab on the side of the road, a man rides past on a bicycle and slashes the straps of a seemingly random woman’s purse. While you and all the other good samaritans rush to her aid, her accomplice will try to make off with the bags you threw to the ground to help her.

How To Avoid: Keep your valuables securely fastened about your person and never leave your luggage unattended in public.

Too-Good-To-Be-True Scams

14. The Music Enthusiast Scam

Where: New York City

If a guy comes up to you and asks you to share his delight in his latest musical venture, it’s more than likely that he’s more about the money than the music. If he asks you to take a copy of his CD to help spread the word about his most recent offerings, he will no doubt try to charge you for it and become intimidating or aggressive if you refuse.

How To Avoid: It is a question of being firm when people approach you with their wares — free or not! Be polite, but firm, and walk away.

15. The Guilty Rose Scam

Image Credit: WavebreakmediaMicro via Adobe Stock

Where: Worldwide, but especially in cities like Paris, London, and Barcelona

Most of us have probably seen this at one time or another. A flower seller offers a rose to your wife or girlfriend while you are out walking. She loves it, he smiles, then charges you an extortionate amount for the flower, which you have to pay in order to stop you from looking like the worst partner in the world. A simple but effective guilt trip.

How To Avoid: Do not accept the flower. Talk about these kinds of scams as a couple, and maybe advise her that you will buy flowers in your own time and not from a pushy street vendor.

16. The Expensive Date Scam

Where: Worldwide

Sometimes you get lucky on vacation, and then other times, you really don’t! If a good-looking guy or girl offers to take you on a date, this may be one of the oldest scams in the book. After an enjoyable evening eating and drinking at a venue of their choosing, your date will disappear, and you will be left with extortionate bills and bouncers who will be there to ensure that you pay it.

How To Avoid: Just don’t fall for it. If you think you have met someone special, you choose the venue so that you know it is genuine.

17. Fake Monks at Midnight Scam

Where: China, Hong Kong, and Thailand

As much as we may want to believe that even the bad guys wouldn’t mess with monks, sadly this is a common scam in Asia. You will be approached by a single “monk” asking for a donation. While this is not particularly odd in itself, these guys will often strike late at night, and most temples will not send monks out on their own ever. Sadly, this is most likely a begging scam aimed at tourists.

How To Avoid: You don’t have to donate to people asking for money on the streets. Politely say “no” and carry on about your business.

18. The Fake Money Fraud Scam

Where: Mexico, Bogotá, and Bangkok

While you are out and about a policeman will approach you to warn you about large amounts of counterfeit money that is circulating in the area. He will no doubt ask to check your currency, and usually, help himself to a couple of notes unnoticed. These same scammers often ask to see passports or visa documents, and in some cases, create fake problems and demand payment to have them resolved for you.

How To Avoid: Do not hand over your wallet to anyone and only carry low denomination notes out with you.

19. The Free Massage Scam

Where: Barbados, Jamaica, and the Bahamas

While relaxing on the beach, don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel a pair of hands on your shoulders. Beach vendors often stop to massage away the aches and pains of weary tourists but trap you into it by demanding cash for their services, even if you didn’t agree.

How To Avoid: Assert your boundaries. If anyone approaches you, firmly say, “no, thank you.”

20. Fake Guides Scam

Where: Asia

Legitimate-looking guides will approach you in the streets surrounding major tourist attractions and offer to take you on a private tour of the attraction. They will often ask you to pay a small fee upfront, but the scam comes later when they have shown you around the busy attraction and demand more money for large tips, or they may even have their hands in your bags when you are not looking.

How To Avoid: Only ever arrange tours through a certified guide, which can usually be recommended by your hotel.

21. Free Peanuts Scam

Where: Rio De Janeiro

While you have stopped for a cold drink in a public place, a vendor walks past and puts peanuts on your table. You may think that these are gratis, but they are anything but. You will usually find an angry-sounding vendor shortly demanding payment for them after giving you the goods.

How To Avoid: Try to eat and drink in established cafes and restaurants. Even with alfresco dining options, most of these will have waiting staff at the entrance who will prevent scammers from coming in.

22. The Fake Petition Scam

Where: Europe

You are approached by locals holding a clipboard or similar. They plead their case to you and ask you to support their cause, but not in plain English. To get them to move on, you may feel the need to sign their petition, but the scam starts when they demand money from you, or even worse, pickpocket you while you try to engage with them.

How To Avoid: Ignore groups of people approaching you — just keep walking.

Transport and Traveling Scams

23. The Runaway Cab Driver

Where: U.S., particularly New York City and Las Vegas

Helpful cab drivers will unload your luggage upon your arrival. Most of them do this to receive a bigger tip. Some of them, though, have a more sinister motive. The runaway cabbie will take some, but not all, of your baggage out of the trunk, then before you know it, drive off with what is remaining. They will rush you out of the cab and hurriedly take your fare before whizzing off into the distance.

How To Avoid: Either keep your bags next to you in the car or insist on placing everything on the sidewalk before paying your fare. Genuine cab drivers will have no problem with this.

24. Train Drama Scam

Where: Europe

On a busy train, it is super easy to be relieved of your bag or the contents of your pockets. Look out for a child running up and down the carriage making noise or over-excited adults causing a commotion. While you are busy watching them, they could be stealing from you.

How To Avoid: Take in your surroundings by all means, but keep all of your belongings firmly on your lap or under your feet and keep your pockets free from anything valuable.

25. The Overpriced Cab Driver

Image Credit: BullRun via Adobe Stock

Where: Worldwide, but especially in major tourist destinations.

Most people know to be wary of taxi drivers, which is a bit unfair to all of the genuine ones out there. Convoluted routes to increase the fare, meters that have been tampered with, and deliberately choosing routes where the traffic is heavy are all standard practices of dodgy drivers.

How To Avoid: Only ever used licensed taxi cabs. Drivers who have identification are regulated by local authorities and are less likely to be on the take. Also, agree on the taxi fare before you set off and avoid anyone that says, “the meter is broken.”

26. The Overnight Bus 

Where: Bangkok

Traveling can be an expensive business, and it’s nice to save money where you can, but be wary of super cheap, overnight bus services that look too good to be true. You may think you are saving money by paying less for your fare, but the truth is, while you and your fellow passengers fall asleep, crews will rummage through your luggage and steal your valuables.

How To Avoid: Stick to using regulated transport providers and only buy tickets through approved vendors or online.

27. The Punctured Tire Scam

Where: South America

Rental cars often stand out from the crowd, making you an easy target for those with criminal intentions. A flat tire will see you grounded, so you will be eager to get it sorted straight away. Watch out for helpful locals who seem to be very quick to help you. Chances are they caused the flat in the first place, and will happily rummage through your luggage while pretending to replace it for you.

How To Avoid: Check your tires before you set out, and familiarize yourself with where the spare is should you need to change it. Be wary of accepting offers of help, and if you must, do not leave your belongings unattended at any time.

28. Light-fingered Fellow Commuters

Where: Worldwide

Subway trains, busy buses, and other popular modes of public transport are an absolute delight for light-fingered individuals. Being in close contact with other people while you bounce and bump along the way makes it easy for them to move among you, helping themselves to your cash, cards, and wallet undetected.

How To Avoid: Keep your pockets free from valuables. Keep your cash, cards, and other important stuff in a zipped pocket on the inside of your clothing.

29. The Rental Bike or Scooter Scam

Where: Southeast Asia

When you hire a bike or scooter, you are usually asked to hand over your passport as collateral. After collecting the scooter, you will be followed, and when parked, the bike will be damaged or even stolen, meaning that there will be an excess to pay when you return it. They have your passport, so you will have a job on your hands, not paying up.

How To Avoid: Rent from larger, well-known agencies and take your own lock and cable.

30. The Closed-down Attraction Scam

Where: Worldwide

Visitors are collected by taxi only to be told that the attraction they are going to see has closed down, moved, or is being refurbished. They are then taken to an alternative venue, which will no doubt be incredibly expensive and in the middle of nowhere.

How To Avoid: Only used licensed taxi companies and call ahead to confirm that your booking still stands and that the attraction is open.

Shopping and Services Scams

31. Always on the Phone Scam

Where: Spain

Having to deal with a shopkeeper who is constantly on the phone is at best rude and at worst a scam. While some shopkeepers are unconcerned about offending you and will happily chat the day away on their cell phone, some are actually taking photos of your card details, to be replicated and scammed later in the day.

How To Avoid: If you are concerned, pay with cash where you can.

32. The Slow Count Scam

Image Credit: pintoreduardo via Adobe Stock

Where: Europe

Counting out the change may seem like a nice old-fashioned, personal touch, but some shopkeepers use it to defraud you. By slowly counting out your change, or getting lost and starting again, they may be hoping you get bored and just accept what is in your hand, even though they have deliberately short-changed you.

How To Avoid: Watch as your change is counted and patiently wait until the shopkeeper has finished.

33. The Wrong Change Scam

Where: Worldwide

In countries where the bills look similar to each other, it is not uncommon for the shopkeeper to put a pile of bills together, hoping that the color and not the denomination lead you. Once you have left the premises, they are not obliged to rectify the problem even though they deliberately short-changed you.

How To Avoid: Carefully count and check your change before you leave the shop.

34. The Switcheroo Scam

Where: Worldwide

Fake designer goods can be found the world over, with some fakes being a lot less obvious than others. If you are presented with an item that looks just like the real thing, but the price tag suggests otherwise, chances are it is a fake. You ask the shopkeeper to show you the item, he produces a genuine designer gem, and you can’t believe your luck. Before you pay, however, when you are distracted, he switches the genuine designer item for a knockoff.

How To Avoid: Just remember that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

35. The Bill Scam

Where: Worldwide

A well-known scam in some bars and restaurants is additional items being added to your bill. You may also encounter extortionate service charges, table charges, made-up tourist taxes, and also more expensive items than the ones you had. When challenged, your waiter will either all of a sudden not understand what your saying or simply try to confuse you until you give up.

How To Avoid: Always check your bill before you pay and don’t be afraid to challenge it if it doesn’t make sense.

36. The Art Scam

Where: Thailand

You are approached by a group of friendly young students claiming to be drumming up business for an exhibition or showcase of their own art at a nearby gallery. Being the nice person that you are, you buy into it. The scam kicks in when you turn up and are pressured into buying unimpressive knock-off artwork.

How To Avoid: Just know that this scam exists, and if you are approached, be polite but firm in your rejection.

37. The Fake Ticket Scam

Where: Worldwide, but particularly London, Paris, and New York

In big cities with a thriving theater district, you may well be offered tickets for any number of upcoming performances. Again, this is not a new scam and one that has been around for many years, yet still, people believe that touts who have tickets available for the latest hit shows or seats that are too cheap to be true are for real. Of course, you hand over your cash to discover when you reach the venue that the seats aren’t real.

How To Avoid: Only purchase tickets for shows, concerts, and large attractions through official vendors or online.

38. The Fake Doctor Scam

Where: India

An individual claiming to be a doctor will befriend you in a restaurant or bar and try to sell you fake medical documents that you can send to your insurance company in order to win back some compensation. This is definitely a scam and most insurers are aware of it.

How To Avoid: Just don’t bother — this is a stupid idea from the outset.

Hotel Scams

39. The Closed or Overbooked Hotel Scam

Where: Europe

This is another popular scam in busy tourist destinations, where corrupt cabbies will tell you that your hotel is closed for refurbishment or overbooked when they pick you up. Before you can argue they have whisked you away to a different establishment that will charge you double. In some cases, they have even gone to the extreme of making some hotels look similar to others to confuse tourists into not asking questions.

How To Avoid: Contact the hotel that you have booked upon arrival to ensure the reservation is confirmed and request a hotel shuttle pickup.

40. The Front Desk Scam

Image Credit: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS via Adobe Stock

Where: Worldwide

A call will be made to your room, claiming to be from the front desk. They will ask you to confirm your credit card details as well as personal details, including your home address. They will often claim there is a problem with your card details and will leave the call until late at night, meaning you are less likely to go down and sort it out in person.

How To Avoid: Actual hotel staff will never ask for card details over the phone. If you receive this kind of call, hang up and go to the front desk in person to report it.

41. Fake Room Inspector Scam

Where: Spain

Individuals with a smart appearance may show up at your hotel room unannounced. They will claim to be there to undertake regular inspections, and while one distracts you, the other will be helping themselves to your valuables.

How To Avoid: If anyone knocks on your door claiming to be there in an official capacity, always call down to the front desk to verify this fact first. Also, always ask to see ID.

42. The Unsafe Drinking Water Scam

Where: Worldwide

Many hotels leave signs in the rooms advising visitors that the water is not safe to drink. While this is true in some parts of the world, it is a bit of a myth in others. Hotels make a small fortune by selling bottled water in the minibar or from the front desk for an extortionately ramped-up price.

How To Avoid: Check to see if the drinking water is indeed dangerous before you travel.

43. Fake Hotel Cleaners Scam

Where: Europe, especially in Spain

Similar to the good ol’ room inspectors scam, you can expect a knock at the door from a couple of individuals dressed as cleaners who will claim they need to inspect the bedroom. While one cleans and distracts you, the other will be rifling through your valuables.

How To Avoid: If anyone knocks at your door that you are not expecting, call down to the front desk to confirm.

44. Withholding Your Passport Scam

Where: Worldwide

Hotels often add additional charges for goods and services during your stay. Aboveboard establishments will usually make this obvious from the outset, but those that are less than honest will only make you aware at the end of your stay. If they are holding your passport, you will be hard-pushed not to pay, as they may refuse to return it.

How To Avoid: Don’t let them hold on to your passport. You can show it to them for their records and they can make a copy, but demand it back before you check-in.

45. The FakeAway Scam

Where: Worldwide

If a takeout menu appears under the door of your hotel room, this could well be a scam. Unscrupulous scammers set up a phone number you can call to order your food and will take your payment over the phone. Lo and behold, your food will never arrive, but your card account will be cleared out while you wait.

How To Avoid: Never order from flyers that are found in your hotel room. Speak to the front desk about room service, or ask for recommendations for local food outlets that deliver instead.

46. The Gem Scam

Where: Thailand and India

Even though this scam is fairly well known, there are still enough innocent victims that fall for it. A friendly local at a tourist attraction will offer to take you to a government-approved gemstone store where you can stock up on genuine Thai “blue sapphires” or other gems to sell for a huge profit back at home. Those supposed gems will be worthless when you leave, but you will have paid over the odds for them.

How To Avoid: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

47. The Duty-free Scam

Where: Asia

This cheeky little scam will catch you at your weakest. While you are browsing through the duty-free stores looking for a bargain, a security guard or police officer will step in to arrest you if you are caught handling the items in front of you. A friendly and seemingly helpful local will reassure you that they can get the charges dropped for a small fee, allowing you to continue your journey.

How To Avoid: Don’t touch anything at all unless you plan to purchase it immediately.

Online Scams

48. Fake Wi-Fi Scam

Image Credit: Prostock-studio via Adobe Stock

Where: Worldwide

You settle down to enjoy a coffee and check your emails, and you are confronted with the option to join a nearby Wi-Fi connection. While it may be tempting to make the most of the seemingly free internet access, be aware that unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots in public locations are used by hackers to access your computer, passwords, online accounts, and more.

How To Avoid: Ask at the hotel, coffee shop, or restaurant for their official Wi-Fi, if you can join it, and never connect to anything that is unlocked and public. You can also encrypt your online activity using a VPN.

Hot Tip: Consider investing in a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for secure and reliable internet access, almost anywhere in the world.

49. Fake Booking Sites Scam

Where: Worldwide

A classic online con, many have fallen for the fake accommodation maneuver. While searching for your perfect vacation, you find a house, apartment, or hotel that fits the bill. The site will usually ask you to pay all or most of the cost online, but when you arrive, there will be no reservation for you, and in some cases, no actual physical place for you to stay or it belongs to a private owner.

How To Avoid: Only book through reputable websites, and those that offer secure payment options. You should also use a credit card to pay where possible, as these may be able to offer a further layer of protection against online card fraud.

50. The Stranded Traveler Scam

Where: Worldwide

Finally, this phishing scam is responsible for millions of fraudulent emails sent out to contacts back home from all over the world. Often using a story that suggests that the traveler has fallen ill, been arrested, or is in some sort of financial difficulty, the hacker will eventually ask for money to be transferred to a fake account.

How To Avoid: Change your email passwords often to make it hard for hackers to access your account while you are away, and keep in touch with those back home to let them know that you are a-okay!

Final Thoughts

You may be thinking that you are far too clever to fall for any of the above, but the speed at which scammers, pickpockets, and petty criminals work can have you blindsided in seconds.

Keep your money and valuables zipped up somewhere safe, don’t flash your cash, take reasonable precautions, keep away from drama, and you should have nothing to worry about while you are away. Love your time away and live every moment, without worrying about being caught out.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several ways to reduce the risk of scams while traveling. These include:

  • Research common travel scams before you go so you know what to look out for
  • Be firm and assertive with locals that seem pushy or overly friendly
  • Keep belongs zipped away, carried on your front or side, and consider a money belt
  • Be vigilant of distractions, people brushing up against you, or strangers being hands-on

If you find yourself mid-scam, the best thing you can do is make a commotion or speak loudly. The last thing the scammer wants is to draw attention to themselves. If you’ve been the victim of a scam, report it to the police, notify your travel insurance company, and cancel any credit cards.

European countries have the most pickpockets with a particular problem being in major tourist cities such as Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, and Prague.

Travel scams run the gamut, from distraction scams and too-good-to-be-true scams to scams involving transport, shopping, or hotels. Check out our guide for the 50 most common travel scams.

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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