On your next vacation to a big city or a foreign land, keep your guard up for these common scams that target tourists. Forewarned is forearmed!
Eds note: Graham Hughes holds the Guinness World Record for visiting every country on Earth without flying: four years, 31 days. He hosts the Travel Channel's "Lonely Planet: Odyssey with Graham Hughes" and is the author of Man of the World.
1. A sick swindle
You enjoy a yummy meal in a family-run restaurant, but just as you're paying the bill you double over in pain. The owners of the place call a doctor, who checks you out and gives you medicine. That’s OK — the cost will be covered by your travel insurance.
The owners feel terrible about you getting ill after eating their food and kindly offer to put you up for free until you get better.
Which takes a surprisingly long time. Because they poisoned you, the "doctor" is in on it, and the "medicine" also is poisoned.
Once they’ve got the untold thousands from your insurance company they’ll let you get better. Maybe.
2. Flushing your money
You’re enjoying a fun little poker game with the locals, the whiskey flows like wine, and, even better, you keep winning! You're on fire! Then you get the most incredible hand: FOUR ACES! Wow!
Thinking that you can't be beaten, you throw everything you have on you into the pot. Not enough? Let’s raid an ATM!
Once your savings are sufficiently depleted, your last remaining opponent calls. You smack your aces down on the table.
Your smile collapses as he too-perfectly reveals a straight flush.
3. The counterfeit cop
It could happen in a shared taxi, on the street or in a cafe — the scam is the same.
A "policeman" explains that there are drug dealers / illegal immigrants / ne’er-do-wells operating in the area, so he needs to see everyone's passports and wallets.
The nearby locals gleefully hand over their ID and their wallets, the "officer" checks them and hands them back. Then he turns to you.
Needless to say, he’s not a real policeman, the locals are in on it, and if you hand over your passport and wallet you’ll never see them again.
4. The deal with drugs
Pretty much every story I hear of people being mugged on their travels starts with the dreaded words "I was buying these drugs and …"
Let me be clear: If you dabble in illegal drugs in other countries, you’re a complete fool.
You can be robbed of all your money, or easily wind up arrested by an undercover policeman.
You can scream "entrapment" all you like, but that won’t help you. You'll either pay a huge fine or go to jail — one trip you do not want to take.
5. The street magician
I love magic, especially street magic. But if there is gambling involved, I make a quick exit. I know a card trick or two myself, and I’m not necessarily averse to using a stacked deck to score a free pint (or two).
But there are lines some less reputable wizards are happy to step over.
The most common scams are "Three-Card Monte" (aka "Find the Lady") and "Cup and Balls" — but more malevolent grifters aren’t too interested in scamming a sucker for few bucks at a time.
They'll have an accomplice pickpocketing wallets from the crowd while everyone is distracted watching the trick.
6. Your new best friend
It’s always nice to make a friend while on holiday, but when the bestie you just met wants to show you a really great restaurant or bar that only the locals know and it turns out to be super expensive, proceed with trepidation.
A red flag is if your new-fangled amigo insists on ordering the most expensive dishes or cocktails.
Chances are that when it comes time to pay, your friend's wallet will have been "forgotten" back home, and you’ll be left paying the massive bill for somebody else's big night out.
7. Here -- hold this!
There are many variants of this scam, but they all end with you a feeling few dollars lighter.
A woman slips a friendship bracelet onto your wrist or thrusts a sprig of “lucky” heather into your palm before making an aggressive demand for money.
Or all of a sudden a splash of bird poo lands on your shoulder. A helpful passer-by helps clean it off — while he relieves you of your wallet.
A more extreme example of this distraction trick has been reported from Italy, though it may be an urban legend. The distraction is that a woman throws a baby at you.
8. Help! Help!
Scammers typically claim they only use people’s greed against them, but that’s often not the case.
There's the one about the old lady crying her eyes out because she tripped and dropped a cake all over the sidewalk. It was for her grandson’s birthday party and now everything is ruined. Could you please spare some money so she can get another one?
Of course she’ll be there doing the exact same thing the next day.
Or, a guy asks you to take his photo, but his camera doesn’t work, he fumbles it when you give it back, it drops to the ground, and smashes into pieces. He’ll then guilt you into coughing up some cash. Cursed be your better angels.
9. Taximeter? What’s that?
Considering the taximeter was invented in 1891 — six years before the invention of the modern taxi — you’d think the fare meters would be fairly ubiquitous by now. But you’d be wrong.
There are few things in life more dispiriting than realizing (too late!) that the taxi you’ve jumped inside has no meter. You’re now at the mercy of the driver, who will invariably charge as much as he thinks he can get away with.
Even if there is a meter, it’s no guarantee it'll be used. In some parts of the world, trying to get a taxi driver to turn his meter on is a mission in itself. (It’s amazing how easily they break!)
Your best bet is to agree on a fare before you get into the cab. Either that or take an Uber.
10. Oh, that place is closed
Whether you're taking a cab or using a ride-hailing app, a common scam all over the world is for your driver to tell you that the hotel, restaurant or attraction you’ve asked him to take you to is closed for some reason.
But (luckily for you!) he knows a better place! What are the chances…?!
Yeah, he’s almost definitely on commission from the "better place."
Demand he take you to your original destination — I’d be utterly flabbergasted to find it genuinely boarded up or burnt down.
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