Scams can be found anywhere: I visited Petra, where a local man tried to sell me pottery that he swore was over a thousand years old… too bad it looked exactly like someone had smashed up a brand new terra cotta pot. I’ve found scammers closer to home, too, including a guy wanting to sell me a magical gas-saving device before I even left on my journey.
There’s really only one way to avoid getting scammed, and that’s recognizing a scam before you hand over any money. There are a few scams that target travelers in particular — try comparing these to any you hear along your journeys.
As gas prices have risen, anyone who drives has started looking for ways to cut their gas bill. Scammers of all sorts have seen an opportunity: they offer up all sorts of gas-saving gadgets for sale. There’s a wide variety of gadgets available for sale — some by manufacturers who don’t fit the traditional definition of a scammer.
They all have one thing in common, though: they don’t work. There are products like the Magnetizer, which supposedly rearrange the ions in your fuel line and the Turbonator, which swirls air going into engines to improve fuel combustion. But the Federal Trade Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have tested these products and they just don’t work. That includes those shilled by your gas station attendant and those found on television.
While kiosks and banks are the recommended locations to exchange your money, there are other options. For instance, if you’re willing to make an exchange with someone on the street, you can often get a better rate.
Of course, you can also wind up with bills and coins that are no longer in circulation or have your money entirely stolen.
Travel Deal Bait-And-Switch
Travel packages tend to sell well — whether a hotel is offering free meals at its restaurant or groups are going together. But it’s incredibly easy for a hotel to change the terms of your package deal after you’ve arrived — what are you going to do, after all? Go home? What if home is hours away and you don’t know the area? Some hotels will wait until you’re checking out to present you with a bill, saying that the original package was invalid or something similar.
If you’re traveling on some sort of package deal, double check the terms when you arrive and when you leave. And, always, get your deal in print!
Travel to Closed Locations
Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to travel to certain places. U.S. citizens, for instance, are forbidden from traveling to Cuba for tourism. But there are plenty of travel agents and fixers more than willing to arrange that trip, if you’re willing to pay.
But with a trip of questionable legality, it becomes easier for something to go wrong. It’s not an uncommon scam for a travel agent to sell trips to Cuba or other off-limits countries. They’ll require a large deposit and, when the departure date draws near, announce that some government authority has blocked the trip. Who is to say otherwise?
Car Rental Insurance
If you’re planning to rent a car while you travel, don’t automatically sign up for the rental company’s insurance policy. Check with your car insurance company and your credit card company — both usually offer some level of coverage for your car. Some rental agencies push hard to get you to take an insurance policy.
For drivers who do get in an accident while driving a rental car, it’s absolutely crucial to keep an eye on the paperwork the rental agency issues: most impose a staggering number of fees. These can include towing, storage, impound fees, loss of use, diminished value and administrative services, and up to thousands of dollars. Unscrupulous rental agencies simply pile on the fees, expecting the customer will just pay.
There are some travel destinations that provide great shopping opportunities. Products are available for a tenth of their price elsewhere in some countries. Of course, these versions are almost always counterfeit.
Counterfeit merchandise may not be a big deal, but if you’re thinking about buying cheap pharmaceuticals, it’s probably worth exploring other options. Counterfeits are so cheap because their manufacturers cut corners somewhere. In the case of pharmaceuticals, it’s often by cutting drugs with anything they can get their hands on, including toxins and poisons.
If you buy tickets online — for a special event, an airplane ride or anything else — there’s at least a small risk that you’ll wind up with nothing but the paper you printed your ‘ticket’ on. The Beijing Olympics ran into this exact fraud. A scammer set up a very professional looking website (BeijingTickets.com) and sold over $50 million worth of tickets that they promised to then deliver to customers. Of course, no customers received tickets. Several other websites offered similar scams, as well.
It’s worth noting that many of the tickets were purchased after the International Olympic Committee announced that tickets were officially sold out.
Take Care of Yourself
Not every hotel, car rental agency or salesman is dishonest. There really are some good travel deals out there. But when you’re offered an opportunity that really does seem to be too good to be true, it’s worth asking yourself why it seems so unbelievable. Maybe it really is too good to be true.