19 Common Travel Scams & How To Outsmart Them

We all enjoy magicians’ cunning maneuvers, but tricks are less intriguing when they come in the form of scams, especially while traveling in foreign countries. Guided trips all over the world prioritize safety and a good time for travelers, but even guides cannot always protect against enterprising crooks. From money-changing scams, taxi scams, and passport scams to deceptive travel-related offers, the Better Business Bureau calculates travelers lose $10 billion to swindlers each year.

The number one solution? Be aware. Other solutions include:

  • Watch for distractions: alarm bells should sound when something out of the ordinary happens not too far away from you
  • Only ride in licensed, metered taxis: When possible, ask your hotel concierge to call you a cab, and when you are at the airport, wait in the area designated for taxis. Next, agree on a fee before leaving, and don’t pay in advance
  • Blend in with the locals: Tourists wearing loud Hawaiian shirts and expensive cameras are targeted by crooks, so try not to stand out
  • Leave the fancy handbag at home: Expensive accessories simply lure in scammers, so it’s best to opt for less-attractive, but better-in-the-long-run, theft-proof bags that protect from cut-and-run robbers
  • Study the money: Before heading to your vacation destination, learn the currency so that you are not fooled in the change department
  • Don’t be a cheapskate: By getting suckered into discount guided trips, you’re setting yourself up for disappointed. Use reputable tour guides and you’ll get your money’s worth
  • Check identity cards: Don’t assume that people in uniforms are legitimate; ask to see their ID
  • Use the hotel safe: Only take out the money you anticipate needing for each excursion, and leave the rest, as well as your passport, in the hotel safe.

With the help of guides from China to Italy, GuideAdvisor has come up with a list of scams you will benefit from knowing before embarking on your next trip; this is one case where ignorance most definitely is not bliss.


Maria, a biking enthusiast from Barcelona who loves nothing more than showing tourists around her hometown, warns that while her city overflows with beauty, it also has its fair share of opportunists known for their quick-fingered skills. She says the most common scam in Barcelona is pickpocketing and her solution is, “Watch your bag at all times and have your money in different places,” and she says, “If (pickpocketing) happens to you, just go to the police, and describe the person and the place so they are more aware.”

Maria recounts her own experience at the hands of a pickpocket just a few days ago: “A guy tried to take my bag while I was looking for something on my bike that was just a few feet away from the table where my bag was. My friends were there, so I just screamed and pushed the man out of the way.” Maria does not suggest acting this way if you are alone, and she warns that most crooks in Barcelona are disguised as tourists (for example, sometimes they approach you asking for directions in French, and while you are preoccupied helping, a co-conspirator snags your bag).

Other scams to watch for in Barcelona according to local guides include:

  • Punctured tires: Crooks puncture your tires, then follow behind you and “come to your rescue” when you stop to fix the puncture. “Come to your rescue” is in quotations because, in reality, while one person helps, unbeknownst to you, another is stealing your possessions
  • Bag-in-the-mouth: While one of two partners asks for directions, the other sneakily takes your bag and starts walking away, holding the bag in his mouth so that it doesn’t look like he is carrying anything from your perspective
  • Spilled food: A pickpocket spills food on your clothes, and while wiping it off, steals what he or she can from your pockets and/or bag
  • Pinching: In a busy area, you may feel someone pinching the back of your arm, but this is not some sort of unique Spanish custom: it is a means of distracting you from the hand that is fishing in your pockets
  • “Free” flowers: when someone insists on giving you a rose, it may be because of love at first sight, but in Barcelona, it’s most likely because the person wants money, and he or she won’t leave you alone until you cough up.


Veteran tour guides from China who like to take clients bamboo rafting down the Li River, bicycling through Yangshuo’s countryside, and hiking along the terraced rice fields of LongSheng, among many other types of trips, warns travelers against China’s top 6 scams aimed at tourists:

  • Foreign menus: Tourists are often given a menu which is priced much higher than the locals’
  • Black taxis: so called not because of their color, but because of their nature. Always take licensed taxis (ones that have 北B plates) that do not overcharge or change the fare upon arrival
  • The tea house scam: Beware of young ladies who invite you to have tea with them; these young ladies are often employed by the teashops to bring in customers, and once you’ve spent a lot of money on tea (for example, the lady may order a cup of tea that costs $100!), she conveniently disappears, leaving you to foot the bill
  • Scalpers: Don’t fall for scalpers who say they’ll sell you tickets for less money; they’re either false tickets, or they’re actually more expensive than what’s being sold at official booths
  • Counterfeit cash: Since most tourists aren’t familiar enough with Chinese money to notice counterfeits, often store owners and restaurant workers on less populated streets return change that looks real, but is not
  • “Misunderstandings”: The price of services, like a massage for example, should be set at the beginning, or else you may find unwarranted charges tacked on at the end.

Wisely, local guide Carol reminds travelers, “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” and she advises to call the police (the number in China is 110) if you fall prey to pickpocketing. Her final words of wisdom are, “Keep optimistic: you will have a good experience!”


Gary Scott, a self-professed professional traveller and go-getter guide who has clocked more than 200 adventure travel trips (including 50 one-week trips to the Dolomites, and 40 treks to Nepal!) reassures that he has never encountered any tourist scams in the places where he currently guides (northern Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia) “except for maybe overcharging for food and drinks in San Marco square in Venice.”

Overpriced food and seating charges aside, here are three of the more common scams you might encounter in Italy:

  • The you’re-in-the-wrong-car scam: Beware of official-looking people who offer to help load your bags onto the train, and then, at the last minute, frenziedly say that you’re actually in the wrong car. These cunning porters will take advantage of your panic, swiping the likes of your wallet from your pocket while you hurriedly change cars
  • The friendship bracelet scam: a person approaches you with colourful strings, ties the strings to your finger, and proceeds to make you a friendship bracelet. Warning: this is not a demonstration; once the bracelet has been completed, the maker will ask you to pay for it, whether you want it or not
  • The newspaper attack: a group of gypsy children encircle you, waving newspapers in your face. Unfortunately, they are not merely trying to sell you the daily paper; they are simply distracting you while one of their gaggle slips his little fingers into your pocket to swipe your money.


One scam I was personally involved in while visiting Paris is that of the “found” ring. Fortunately, I didn’t buy into the gypsy’s act, which unfolds as follows:

An innocent-looking person finds a ring (most often brass) on the ground near you, and asks if you dropped it. When you say no, the person proceeds to ask if you would like to purchase the ring for a good price considering it’s “real gold,” a price that is much higher than what he, the sneaky person who placed the ring on the floor next to you in the first place, originally bought it for.


With its bountiful beauty and top-notch attractions, America is irrefutably a country worth visiting, but before racing off into the land of plenty to spots like New York City or San Francisco, recognize that it too comes paired with cheeky scams, four of which include:

  • The fake front desk call: In the middle of the night, “the front desk” calls claiming there has been an error with your credit card, and they need the details again. In truth, what is happening is a con artist is pretending to work for the hotel, and he or she is hoping that you, in your half-asleep daze, will relay your credit card information without hesitation
  • The CD scam: Scammer stands on the sidewalk handing out copies of his CD. Once the CD is in you hands, however, the aspiring rapper (who, by the way, is suddenly surrounded by accomplices) refuses to take it back, and won’t stop menacing you until you pay around $10 for the music. Under this circumstance, the solution is to place the CD on the ground and walk away. (This actually happened to one of the GuideAdvisor crew  in Hollywood but luckily she declined the CD from the outset.)
  • The rental property scam: Holiday-makers wire money to somebody on the likes of Craigslist who’s claiming to rent their property to vacationers. Next thing you know, the person has disappeared…money in hand. The solution: rent through reputable sites such as Airbnb or Homeaway.
  • The pizza delivery scam: Crooks slip pizza delivery menus under the doors of hotel and motel rooms. Guests come along, phone the delivery company, place orders using their credit cards, and instead of receiving pizza half an hour later, they lose masses of money to cunning scammers. The solution: ask the reception who to order pizza from.

So that wraps our top 19. Don’t despair though – not everyone is out to take your stuff or your money, and if you keep this advice in mind and your wits about you, you’ll be just fine.

Have you ever been scammed while traveling? Be a good samaritan and help a fellow traveler out by sharing your comments here.

If you liked this article, check out Travel Packing Tips from the Pros and Ten Awesome Smartphone Apps That Make Travel Easy

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  • WanderingJen

    Rental car agencies are the biggest scammers around for travelers to deal with! Tip #1: Always take photos from all angles of ANY DAMAGE inside or out to a vehicle you will be renting and note all damage on the forms. Tip #2: Do not return without a full tank of gas, unless you have prepaid for that option – as they will gouge you! In both instances I’ve been burned badly!

    • Pamela Denis

      Thank you WanderingJen. I can’t believe we didn’t touch on these agencies. They’re not all bad but I have certainly heard of being charged for prior damage with little recourse many times. Awesome advice!

  • ShellyB

    The only time I’ve ever had trouble is where I haven’t secured the price of a service IN FULL – in advance. Since I’ve started that practice – no problems at all, but I do stay alert and keep my eyes on my things at all times. Good tips!

    • Pamela Denis

      Thanks Shelly. Staying alert is definitely key, as is keeping track of your belongings at all times. Many times I’ve woken up on an overnight bus scrambling to check my stuff after an unexpected nap! I’m surprised I’ve not had my “load” lightened considerably at least once.

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