How to avoid travel scams

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Tying a whistle around my wrist to ward off the con man

I have heard numerous stories over the years about how people have returned from a vacation with sour stories of stolen passport, money or expensive items. And then there are others that fall victims to con artists and willingly fall into the trap of giving it away free willing. In fact, some people have a business of scamming tourists and are pretty good at what they do. If you have watched the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, you know what I am talking about.

If you want to avoid a travel scam, the first rule is to be smart and alert at all times. You are relaxed, on vacation, want to make friends, talk to strangers, so it’s easy to let your guard down. But this is when you can get into trouble! Never leave your luggage unattended, even in a taxi or a bus. If I have to go to the facilities, I look for a family or a large group that I have observed for a while, then politely ask them to watch my bag. Don’t ever hand over your passport or important documents to anyone. If they need to make a photocopy (for whatever reason) demand that you go with them.

When I went to Morocco, I was forewarned by numerous people about the famous con artists I would encounter there. I would say I managed to stay away from all but one. While on the train from Rabat to Fes, one of my girlfriends was approached by a young man who pretended to be affiliated with a tour guide company. He offered us a train station pick up, a tour of the city and return transportation, all arranged before we reached our destination. After much discussion and contemplation, we decided to not take a chance of being stranded in the Sahara! Follow your instincts at all times.

Other signs of a scam in progress are when someone approached you from nowhere, is making an extra effort to convince you, or is offering a really good deal that is hard to refuse. Scam artists will never give you (even if they promise they would) receipts, addresses or brochures that have a price on them. It would always be a verbal contract, tailor-made especially for you. When in doubt, don’t do it.

Another time, while walking down the shopping area in Hong Kong, a shopkeeper saw me admiring the high-end watched in the showcase. He asked me to come inside so he could show me his sale items. Next thing I realized, I was walking through alleys and stairs, walking into a tiny office in one of the buildings. As soon as we reached this place, I walked out without taking a look at the items. If your gut tells you something, listen to it.

Scams during shopping are the most common. You may enter a store and pay the full asking price for an item, only to realize that the person before you paid a fraction of that. Do your research by asking locals, checking in different shops and parts of town and bargaining when the culture demands. Having some knowledge of the local language and not coming across as a complete tourist also helps.

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Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 50+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and chief editor of Go Eat Give.