Travel Scams to Avoid on Your Summer GetawaySummer is the ideal time to break out of your routine and see the world. However, while going to a place you aren’t familiar with can be wondrous, it also carries the risk that someone will try to take advantage of you. Getting scammed can derail an otherwise amazing trip, so learning the signs of common travel scams is an important part of becoming a gifted globetrotter. To help you out, here are five common scams you might encounter on your journeys, how you can avoid them, and some general tips for staying safe while seeing the world.

Common travel scams

Fake hotel websites: Booking a hotel room online is often easier and more convenient than calling the hotel’s reservation desk but be very careful about which website you use. The American Hotel & Lodging Association reports that, in 2016, consumers made 55 million hotel bookings through fake websites, costing them a total of $4 billion. The fake websites can imitate both hotel booking sites like Expedia, and the websites of the hotels themselves, so if you’re booking online, always make sure you double-check the booking page’s URL to make sure it’s correct. Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true, and if you feel uncertain as to whether you’re on a real website or not, call the hotel directly instead. You may lose out on some convenience, but it’s better than having your lodging plans ruined by Internet crooks.

Taxi scams: Taxis are a huge hub for travel scams, and there are a staggering number of different ways taxi drivers can scam you if they’re committed to grifting. A driver could claim their meter is broken and offer to take you for a flat fee that winds up being way more expensive than the meter would have shown, or they could take some valuables out of your luggage while loading it into the trunk, or they could even take you to some remote location and then demand more money to not strand you there. With taxis, there are a few general rules you can follow to avoid getting swindled. First, be prepared by knowing the general route for where you’re going and ask your hotel about how much a taxi should cost to get there. Second, only get in the cab after your luggage has been loaded, and only exit the cab before your luggage has been taken out so you can keep an eye on it. Lastly, if your driver suggests stopping somewhere other than your destination, don’t agree and ask the driver to pull over and drop you off (assuming you’re in a safe location). Some sketchy taxi drivers work with dishonest businesses to direct victims their way and earn a commission for every person they deliver.

Fake Wi-Fi hubs: In the age of smartphones and laptops, a lot of travelers rely on devices and Internet connections to find their way around. A free, unsecured Wi-Fi network in the middle of an unfamiliar city or airport can seem like a blessing, but there’s a chance that a hacker is using the network to steal people’s identities, and possibly infect their devices with malware. If you have any alternatives to using an unsecured public Wi-Fi network, such as creating a mobile hot spot with your phone, try them first. If you’re dealing with an emergency and have no other choice but to use one, at least connect to a VPN before you join the network. A solid VPN service may not offer complete protection against malware, but it can hide the data you send and receive so hackers can’t read it.

Closed attractions: When heading to a popular tourist attraction, a friendly local may inform you that the attraction is closed for some reason, like a religious ceremony or renovation, but there’s a similar place nearby that’s just as good. Really, the original attraction is open, and the “friendly local” is just trying to direct you to a tourist trap that they work for. These travel scams can get really elaborate, with drivers, tour guides and fake officials who are in on it directing you to overpriced and underwhelming cultural sites for a commission. Alternatively, the scammers may encourage you to visit a dodgy luxury goods store, filled with fake designer clothing and jewelry that the sales staff will try to pressure you into buying. If you’re in a country where English isn’t widely spoken, one tell for this trick is that suddenly everyone you meet will speak very good English. However, the easiest way to avoid it in the first place is to go to the attraction’s entrance yourself to see if it’s really closed.

Clip joints: These scams date back to Prohibition-era America, when organized crime would set up sham speakeasies to con patrons out of their money with overpriced drinks. Today, you can still find them in large cities in Europe and Asia, albeit with slight tweaks. In a clip joint scam, also known as a bar scam or tea house scam, an attractive person who speaks excellent English will approach you and try to strike up a conversation. After some chatting, they’ll suggest a good nearby bar or tea house to visit. When you get there, your new friend orders some incredibly expensive drinks, then excuses themselves and ducks out, leaving you with the tab. In reality, that attractive, chatty person gets paid to bring people to the clip joint, and the clip joint makes its money by forcing people to pay for high-priced drinks. If you know what to look for, clip joints are easy to spot, as they’re generally deserted even though they’re supposedly solid local establishments, and they either don’t display their prices or make their prices unclear. The easiest way to avoid this scam is to say no to strangers who claim they want to take you to a good nearby bar or spot.

How to stay safe while traveling

While it’s impossible to prepare for every eventuality, here are some general tips you can follow to keep yourself safe from travel scams.

Pay with a credit card: Credit cards are the most secure way to pay, as many monitor your accounts for fraud and offer $0 liability for unauthorized charges. Just be sure to save your receipts so you can have extra evidence for any fraud claims you make. Also, be aware that many credit cards charge foreign transaction fees when you use them internationally, though some cards let you avoid them.

Do your research: Before you go somewhere, especially if it’s another country, look at a travel guide and the U.S. State Department’s travel advisories. They’ll let you know about any particular scams or types of crime you should watch out for.

Secure your valuables and documents: Keep your money and travel documents out of sight, and don’t wear expensive clothing or jewelry regularly. If you’re going to a place where pickpocketing is common, consider getting a money belt, and don’t keep all of your cards and cash on you at once. As noted in our guide to protecting your identity while traveling, take copies or write down the details of your necessary ID, such as your license or passport, before you leave just in case your originals get lost or stolen.

Scams are all over the world, but if you prepare and stay alert, they won’t stop you from enjoying your travels. To help keep yourself safe from thieves and con artists, follow our scams blog.