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Travel Scams to Watch Out For

Travel long enough and you’re bound to end up with at least one story about getting ripped off, scammed, or cheated. After all, your day is filled with multiple transactions in an unfamiliar place where you don’t know anybody, so even if you’re very savvy there are pros out there working people like you every day. Some of them get really good at their job.

I make fun of Travel & Leisure as much as the next guy (OK, maybe more), but they have an excellent article in their current issue on How to Avoid Travel Scams. It’s a rundown of ten common scams that trap unwary travelers and where they are most likely to occur. As I’ve said before, you’re far more likely to get robbed in Italy than you are in some place your mom thinks is dangerous because she watches Fox News all day, and sure enough, many of the ways to get ripped off have their genesis in Rome. That’s where kids will wave newspapers in your face while someone picks your pocket or where you’ll get robbed on the “Bus 64 sting.” It’s also where the “mustard trick” is common—someone squirts you with mustard coming off a fake hot dog then while they help clean your shirt someone is swiping your belongings.

Then there’s “the Gypsy baby toss,” the “fake palace guides,” and “the lube job.”

There was one new one in there I hadn’t heard of before. Apparently you should avoid touching anything in the Bangkok airport. Someone arrests you for handling the merchandise in a duty-free shop, then a go-between offers to get the charges dropped for a fee. All the involved parties split the proceeds.

My favorite scam is the “student art show scam” because it has somehow managed to make its way to dozens of countries while following the same exact template.

The Scam: Young and convincing “art students” befriend you on the street and persuade you to visit their school’s gallery, where you find yourself getting a high-pressure sales pitch to buy overpriced, third-rate work being passed off as art.

The kicker is always that the show is leaving town tomorrow, or maybe even that afternoon, so you must buy now because it’ll all be gone. I’ve run into this one in too many places to count.

My one complaint about the article is it seems the author has never been to India, else he would have surely put in the common scam about the taxi driver driving up to your hotel and a person standing out front telling the both of you it’s closed or full, so the driver then has to take you to a much more expensive place that his brother owns. (Kaching for the driver, split with the accomplice.) But then again, you could do a whole article just on Indian travel scams.

Unfortunately the article makes you go through a whole long slideshow so that Travel & Leisure can pump up its pageviews for advertisers, but this is one that’s worth clicking through to be prepared. So check it out. Each niblet lays out the scam and then provides some corresponding advice. Much of it can be boiled down to this: beware of strangers offering help you didn’t need before they came along.

And unfortunately, this is usually sound advice anywhere: “Beware complete strangers who offer to take you to a bar or nightclub.”