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Travel Scams: Lies You May Encounter When You Travel

Let's face it, however much we adore traveling nobody likes being conned, especially when you're halfway around the world and traveling on a tight budget. There are many lies and scams that locals employ when they spot their bait, it's getting around them/being aware that's the hard part. So, to help people avoid those sneaky con artists the team and I have compiled a list of travel scams that all travelers should be aware of before you jet off on that trip of a lifetime:-

Hotel Directions

Rickshaws and Taxis often like to take you to their friends hostel/hotel to receive commission
hotel scams

You don't want to end up down an alleyway in a hotel you didn't book. Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

This has happened to me twice whilst traveling and I've heard it happen to others on countless occasions. In Hanoi, Vietnam, I got a taxi from the airport and told the taxi to head to Hanoi Backpackers hostel. I ended up at 'Hanoi Back-pack Hostel'. This was clearly an attempt to a) help out his friend and b) receive a little bit of extra money on the side. And no, it's not very nice, but these are the types of scams you get whilst traveling in relatively poor countries. Fortunately I had pre-booked so they couldn't scam me. In Varanasi, India, the situation was even harder because I hadn't pre-booked and the hostel I was going to wasn't as well-known, alas the same trick occurred. The rickshaw driver drove me to a couple of different hostels, each with very similar names to mine, before I eventually convinced him that I wasn't going to fall for his trickery (this was after Hanoi so I was more aware). My advice to avoid this would be to always pre-book, whether that means paying a deposit or the whole lot, and printing off the copy of the receipt. I also recommend remembering the street name along with having a look at the photos of each hostel online to familiarize yourself with the building/surrounding etc.

Rickshaw Scams

Rickshaw drivers like to take you to their friends shop/restaurant/hotel etc.
rickshaw scams

Indian rickshaws are often guilty of deviating off route to deliver his friend/family some tourists. Photo by Ashiful Haque

Similar to the hotel story, there is often a network of people all working together to get the most out of tourists as possible. An example of this is a rickshaw driver in Agra, India. My friends and I just wanted to see the Taj Mahal and then head to the train station, however we ended up being confronted with all these other possibilities that the rickshaw driver was throwing at us. All of us were being very stubborn at that stage, but the annoying factor is that we had to be stubborn, even though it is his job to take us wherever we want to go, without the added inconvenience of being offered extra places that we have little to no interest in visiting. This doesn't only occur with sites, but also with shops, restaurants and many, many more places. The rickshaws will persistently try to get you somewhere you don't want to go. For me this is very irritating because I am paying them to take me somewhere. The trick is to just be firm, state quite clearly and abruptly that you have no interest in going anywhere else and certainly don't show any hesitation or slight interest in his mates 'best shop in the India' (as an example). If the rickshaw driver continues to persist, simply walk away and either get another rickshaw or wait until the original gives up on his dreams of dictating your route and leaving a life-changing mark on your travels with the finest silk in the world (as an example).

Taxi/Money Scams

Money scams can happen anywhere but taxi drivers are often the main culprits
taxi scams

Make sure you check the notes you receive when leaving a taxi. Photo by Eneas De Troya

This happened to me in Buenos Aires but can just about happen anywhere in the world, and often does. Money scams also aren't necessarily always directly related to taxis, they can occur at money exchange booths (particularly 'black market' exchanges), street markets, police bribes and even somewhere as 'official' as a local shop. The most common form or delivery of these forged notes happens to be, however, in taxis in the main cities. For example, my friends and I were traveling to a nightclub in Buenos Aires and only had a large note to pay the fare. This is exactly what a money forger is looking for - ignorant tourists who can only pay with a large note, recently withdrawn, and who would not suspect a taxi driver, or anyone for that matter, of handing back fake notes - resulting in the taxi driver getting a juicy 50 dollars or similar for free. My advice here would be to always keep small change and smaller notes saved for taxi rides and try to always pay with the exact amount. If you do happen to only have a large note I would make sure you check the received note, under light, to see if there is anything suspicious.

"Follow Me" Direction Scams

There's always that one guy who does a good deed by giving you directions, and then asks for money.
direction scams

Directions should never be dished out for money, come on, just do it for a good cause. Photo by Andy Rogers

You've just got off the bus and you're walking around trying to find your hostel until a nice guy walks up to you asking if everything's ok, you nod and say you're looking for your hostel. Kindly he says he knows where it is and will show you the way. Truth is this man may or may not know where he is going, all he wants is your money. Same goes for restaurants or even city sites. This is by far the most common kind of tourist scam. It's usually very petty and not even that inconvenient, however all you want is to say thank-you and for genuine kindness and leave it at that. So, to avoid these people, it's simple, you can't. But you can just not pay them. I would advise never paying someone that has given you directions, or simply just being resolute and trying to find it yourself.

Girls Scams

The allure of attractive, exotic women has emptied many tourist wallets over the years
bar girl scams

Guys, don't fall into the trap of pretty women. Photo by Milosz1

We've heard it all before but why, why do we keep going back for more? For many, exotic women are the main purpose of going abroad, perhaps searching for cheap sex or even to form a relationship with someone who is evidently searching for a way out of her home country. Well, good for you if you are, however for those of us who aren't it's hard to a) comprehend and b) say no to the sneaky surprise that succeeds our expectation, waiting there in a bar ready for a tourist. IT'S A TRAP, don't do it. Not only do they take drinks from you but they also deceivingly increase the prices so the bar they're working for receive more and therefore the more commission they get in return. My advice would be to stay well away from any forced situations, i.e. situations that look like women are being used to sell their bodies to make money from you. If in doubt then don't go there either and just remember, you don't have to buy women drinks (our secret).

Cute Scams

Don't be fooled by that cute face, behind it all could be either a gang or orders from elsewhere
street kids

Don't be deceived by cute street kids. Photo by Peretz Partensky

Kids are cute, that's confirmed, but what do you do when a cute street kid approaches you with his sad eyes asking for money? The answer is harsh but it's for the best: ignore them. More often than not, behind that cute little smile is an already indoctrinated dark-side, instilled in them by corrupt, insidious gangs and criminals and therefore it would be contributing to a wider criminal network. On the less nefarious side of street-kids, I personally don't believe in giving money to beggars. Don't get me wrong it tortures me to not be able to help but my dollar bill won't change anything and then starts the issue of selective choosing and that also plays on my conscience. My advice would be to get in the mindset that you're actually helping out in the long-run by saying no and to instead help out in other ways. For example there are many volunteer programs set up in 3rd world countries to help build schools, hospitals etc. These projects are much more rewarding than merely handing over a couple of coins in pity.

Drug Scams

Whether it's having drugs planted on you, doing a drug run for money or simply purchasing drugs abroad, drugs should be well avoided on your travels.
drug scams

Drug scams are common in poor countries. Photo by Fotos GOVBA

Before I traveled to South America I heard countless stories of drugs being planted in your bag and then being detected by someone tipped off further down the line, resulting in them bribing you for lots of money or you ending up in prison. This didn't happen to me, fortunately, but it still occurs and worried parents regularly get the call back home to send over the bribe money. Although relatively hard to avoid these clandestine actions of drug planters, there are certain precautions you can take to reduce the likelihood of such an experience. I would suggest keeping your baggage tight on you at all times, locking up your zips/any entrances to your bags and generally just being alert on your travels from A to B. It was in-fact India in where I ran into drug-related problems and encountered a situation I had a) never heard of and b) never intend on being in ever again in my life. My friend and I were in Mumbai when we met two guys who invited us into a bar. We accepted and bought the first round of whiskys. The next thing I knew I woke up with my head heavily planted on the table and met with lots of shouting. My friend fortunately hadn't been spiked and was trying to articulate his way out of a drug deal that we hadn't even got ourselves into in the first place. Essentially their plan was to spike us, plant cocaine on us and then demand the high price that we allegedly said we would pay for it. The argument continued and for a couple of days there were sour encounters with these guys. Moral of the story (read the whole story here), don't accept invitations from strangers, keep an eye on your drinks when in an unfamiliar bar, try not to get too drunk in a country that is renowned for problems such as these. My advice, stay far, far away from drugs when you are abroad (even the topic of drugs) and try to always be in control of what you're doing.   NB - I have used India in a few of my examples but don't let that alter your views or dreams of India. It is, in my eyes, one of the most fascinating and beautiful countries in the world and never have I enjoyed the overall experience of traveling so much as I did in India. These kinds of scams happen all over the world including Europe and the USA so make sure you apply what you have learnt here to every country you travel to.


Can you add to our list of travel scams? Let us know what sneaky scams you have come across on your travels in the comments below...