It doesn’t matter how cautious or clever you are while travelling, sooner or later someone will try to scam you. Over the years, I’ve experienced my fair share of scam activity, but even now I can still get caught out every now and again. In this post, I’m going to share with you the most common travel scams that I, and our community of travellers have come across.

Hopefully by knowing what to look out for, you can travel smarter and mitigate any risk to you or your money.

1. Broken or Missing Meter in Taxis

man driving tuk-tuk cab with missing meter

This is one of the most common travel scams, and I would be amazed if you don’t come across it. 

This is when the meter that calculates the cost of the fare is ‘broken’. The taxi driver is hoping that you don’t notice that it’s broken, and/or don’t negotiate a price before the journey. When you arrive, the driver will charge you a huge amount more than the fare should’ve cost. 

My Experience and Advice

Before you get in any form of taxi (car, tuktuk, rickshaw etc.), always check firstly that there is a meter. Secondly, confirm that it will be used to calculate your fare. 

Now, from my experience I can tell you that in some countries the drivers won’t always be too keen to use their meter for a tourist. If they refuse to use the meter, or claim that it’s broken, you then have 2 options…

You can either say bye bye and find a different taxi, or, you can negotiate a price for the ride. 

If you choose to negotiate, you need to know how much a fair price for your journey is, and you need the driver to know that you know, you know!?

I’ve written about this in my saving money while traveling article. One of my top tips is to use Uber or the local equivalent taxi app. You don’t need to actually book anything with the app, just put in the trip that you want to make and it will give you a price estimate that you can then use for negotiating. This tip in India worked like a charm for me, using their taxi app, ‘Ola’.

Of course, you can also ask someone in your hotel/hostel what the going rate is.

NOTE – I’d say that over half the travel scams that I experience involve taxi drivers in one form or another. Make sure you’re clued up on the taxi situation wherever you are in the world. They WILL try to rip you off. 

2. The Too Good to Be True Taxi

tuk-tuk driver with people in the back

This is only really seen in poorer countries, or at least that’s my experience with it. 

I’m referring to a situation where a taxi driver pulls up next to you, when you aren’t even looking for a ride, and asks where you’re going and if you want a taxi. 

NOTE – Up to this point, this is nothing out of the ordinary in many poorer countries. 99/100 this will genuinely be a taxi driver trying to get some business. 

When negotiating prices, the driver will start offering the journey for a price much less than the going rate. What then happens is, you get in the taxi (because it’s cheap as chips) and end up being unwillingly taken on a tour of rip-off shops, furniture stores, and more! 

What the driver failed to mention, is that he doesn’t care about the taxi fare. He’s getting paid commission to take tourists out of town to these shops. 

Once you figure out you’re at a shop and not your destination, and demand an explanation from the driver, it’s too late! You’re in the middle of nowhere and the only way out is the taxi you came in. If you tell the driver to take you where you want, he’ll refuse unless you pay a pretty sum. 

My Experience and Advice

This has happened to me only once, as now I know what to look out for. A 20-min rickshaw ride ended up taking closer to 2 hours after visiting a number of shops on the way.

The advice is, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Always get clued up on the going rate for a journey, and judge for yourself if something isn’t right.

NOTE – While this has never happened to me, some travellers I’ve spoken to told me about similar experiences with taxi prices that were unusually cheap that have ended up in much more serious situations (robbed, etc.).

3. The Wrong Change/Currency Issues

woman holding different currency in her hands

When you travel to different places all the time, the exchange rates can sometimes get on top of you. This is especially true when you’ve only just arrived. Scammers know this, and sometimes they’ll try their luck by confidently quoting you a price for something that is just plain outrageous, and claim that in your home currency, it’s only a dollar or so. If you don’t pick up that it’s way more than you should be paying, you can end up being seriously ripped off! 

My Experience and Advice

This happened to my girlfriend when we were in Vietnam. She somehow ended up handing over about $15 for a coconut, thinking she was paying about $1.50!

My advice is to know your exchanges. I’d recommend getting an exchange rate app that can help you, as I mention in my post about useful budgeting apps for travel.

4. The ‘You Broke It or Lost It’ Scam

men driving moped on mountain road

This is something to be aware of if you rent something like a moped, jet ski, or car.

You rent out a bike or jet ski or something. While you have it, someone breaks it, or even worse, steals it. You go back to the owner and they demand huge payment as a result. What you don’t realise is that the person who broke or stoke the bike is likely someone working for the owner!

My Experience and Advice

Fortunately, I’ve never experienced anything to this extent, but I have had a similar experience in Iceland with a car rental. This wasn’t a case of an owner stealing or damaging anything, just a straight up rip off where they claimed we’d damaged the car, which we hadn’t.

This is one of the very common travel scams that catches hundreds, if not thousands of tourists out every year.

I have also witnessed it happen in Thailand, where I met someone who’d just been forced into handing over $200 to repair a jet ski that he rented out for 10 minutes! 

My advice is, whenever you rent out something expensive, go over it WITH the owner before you take it out. Note and photograph any current dents etc. Also, if it doesn’t seem like a legit firm, don’t give them your real hotel details and get a different lock.

Many of the travellers I’ve spoken to have had issues with car and bike rentals, so it’s definitely one to prepare for.

If you do decide to hire a car abroad, make sure you follow this car hire checklist before you drive away with the keys.

5. Putting Something On You and Demanding Money

bracelet placed on tourist's wrist and demanded money, common travel scam

Someone sneakily ties a bracelet or something to you and then before you’ve even realised what’s happening, you’ve got them demanding money for it. They’ve tied it on in such a way that you can’t get it off without literally cutting it, which of course isn’t an option. 

My Experience and Advice

This is an extremely cheeky travel scam and very common. It’s happened to me so many times all over the world. From Greece to China. I hate this scam, it really gets to me because they always start causing a very dramatic scene, usually encouraging the other scammers around to surround you and press you into handing over money.

My advice is, keep your arms close to your chest when you’re in an area prone to this.

6. Beggars With Kids

This is sadly one of the most common travel scams. Mainly a thing in poorer countries is beggars with children, usually asleep in their arms. While some will be genuine beggars, a lot of them work for gangs who take their money from them. The kids might be drugged up, and might not even be their own kids. Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire??

My Experience and Advice

As morally wrong as it may feel, don’t just give out money to these beggars. It will likely just end up with evil people, and contribute to the problem. 

I’ve seen this happen first hand in India. You can actually watch them collect money and then run off to give it to a gang of men hanging out around the corner. Eye-opening stuff.

If you want to help them, maybe buy them some food to eat. Something where you know this will benefit them, and them only. 

7. Money For Photos

two men dressed in orange robes posing for a photo before demanding money, common travel scam
Smile guys! You’re 30 seconds away from demanding my money…

Friendly people in really interesting clothing, asking if you want to take a photo of or with them. Once you do it, they start demanding money for having the photo taken of them. 

My Experience and Advice

This happened to me outside the Chandigarh rock garden. These two guys who were wearing what I thought was cool clothing. If I’m honest, I half thought they’d ask for money for the picture but I thought I’d try it as they looked really cool. Anyway, the picture above is what I ended up paying them for.

8. Sorry, Your Hotel is Closed

Another taxi scam here. This can happen when you arrive somewhere new and ask the taxi driver to take you to your hotel/hostel. They then they tell you that it’s closed for renovation or whatever, and recommend a different option and drive you there. They then get a nice commission from the new hotel/hostel for bringing you there.

My Experience and Advice

This has fortunately not happened to me, but I’ve heard of it happening and several travellers that I spoke to have experienced this. 

To avoid this, just use your common sense. Your hotel is not closed for renovation. You should ideally just find a different driver at this point.

As a general taxi rule – Anytime the driver tries to get you to do anything other than go where you want to go, it’s a bad sign. 

9. The New Friend

young girl with rucksack walking through busy city trying to sell expensive tours to tourists, common travel scam

Someone starts chatting to you out of nowhere. They seem really nice and excited to meet you, and they want to hang out with you and show you around. Next thing you know, you’re being led into an overpriced travel agency, where you’re pressured into buying some dodgy trips. 

My Experience and Advice

This happened to me within a week of my first ever solo travel experience, in Mumbai, about 5 years ago. A nice ‘student’ was chatting to us, he seemed cool and wanted to go for a beer. Long story short, we ended up booking some overpriced tour of Mumbai that turned out to be just be a random taxi driver driving us around the city for a couple of hours. No harm done but a waste of time and definitely a waste of money. 

10. The Flirt

A local girl starts chatting to you in bar. She’s really into you and she wants to take you to some of her favourite bars and clubs. Fast forward a few hours and at best you’re being forced to pay a large bill. Worst case, you get extremely drunk and then she, or one of her accomplices, takes all your belongings.

My Experience and Advice

This hasn’t happened to me, but again it’s something I’ve heard happen to a lot of people.

To avoid this common travel scam, just be aware that this goes on and be smart. If you’re aware that this happens then I’d imagine it’s pretty easy to spot.

11. The Photographer

You’re in a beautiful place, and out of nowhere someone offers to take a photo of you. You hand them your camera and before you can say cheese, they’ve run off with it. 

My Experience and Advice

This has never actually happened to me because I never take anyone up on the offer to take a photo of me. On the flip of that though, I do regularly ask people to take a photo of me. But, I’d never accept someone offering out of the blue. 

So, that would be my advice to you. Don’t accept anyone offering to take a picture of you on your camera.

Summary

That concludes the most common travel scams that I’ve heard of and experienced around the world. That said, I’m sure I’ve not got them all so please email or comment with any scams you’ve faced so that I can add them to the article!

Scammers are, unfortunately, just something you have to deal with when travelling. Don’t let it put you off enjoying yourself though, just make sure you’re aware of potential scams in your location so that you’re prepared for them. 

The government website is also a great place to check before you travel abroad, just type in the country you’re visiting and a full list of foreign travel advice will appear for that particular location.

One of the founders of People of the Planet. Sharing years of experience in web design, photography and earning on the road! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to connect, learn, publish and of course, travel!

Author

One of the founders of People of the Planet. Sharing years of experience in web design, photography and earning on the road! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to connect, learn, publish and of course, travel!

2 Comments

  1. This was a great and resourceful article! It was helpful and the flow was great.
    These scams happen all the time and your tips are very helpful; it’s good to be aware and smart about travel. Vacations are much more fun if you don’t get taken in by a scam.

    • POTP Admin

      I’m glad you found it useful Rhonda! – Christian