Avoid These Scams While Traveling

May 17, 2022

In his book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck writes: "A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."

I can't think of a better quote that so perfectly summarizes the thrill, spontaneity, and hint of danger that comes with travel. And even though Steinbeck warns us that our plans and safeguards while traveling may be "fruitless," it is still important to remember not to throw all caution to the wind.

One thing we can do to safeguard ourselves when traveling is to look for scams and scammers that frequently prey on those who roam the globe seeking adventure.

The Bracelet Scam – Las Vegas

To start, we find ourselves on the beautiful (and busy) Vegas strip. As we hop from casino to casino, we often have to pass over well-placed walking bridges that help us cross Las Vegas Blvd without battling traffic from the crowded tour busses and flashy rented convertibles that clutter the street below. And it is on these bridges we are most likely to encounter a group of very polite-looking, well-mannered, and robe-clad "monks."

The Scam

The quiet old man approaches you as we walk toward the monks, who are conveniently spread out across the walking bridge (to make it impossible to avoid them). He leans in and shares an inspirational quote with you about "peace" or "enlightenment."

You may not have noticed that the monk has started to place a simply made bracelet on your wrist. He may even call this cheap bracelet "a gift."

As the hectic crowd of the Vegas strip passes you by, you thank the monk for the "gift" and begin to carry on about your business. At this point, the once-friendly monk is now asking you for $10 or more in exchange for his gift. If you refuse or try to hand the bracelet back, the monk will likely begin to raise his voice, get in your face, or even follow you as you try to walk away. He will not let up until you fork over your hard-earned money for a bracelet that likely cost no more than fifty cents to make.

How to Avoid It

Whenever I walk down the Vegas strip, I keep one thing in mind: Everyone on this strip who approaches me wants to separate me from my money. From phony monks to club promoters and time-share salesmen, they aren't interested in a casual conversation and being my friend. So the best policy on the Vegas strip is to keep walking and politely say to anyone approaching you, "No, thank you." Quickly, they'll get the idea and move on to another mark.

Sign this Petition – Paris, France

Paris is a travel-lovers dream. The City of Light never fails to impress its visitors, from fantastic food to cultural sites. But it is at one of these many popular cultural sites where scammers are lined up along the sidewalk, trying to take your money.

The Scam

How can we visit Paris and not take a trip to the Eiffel Tower? This 19th-century wonder was the pinnacle of modern engineering. The tower sits along the banks of the Seine River and is placed in a picturesque scenic park. The closer you get to the monument, the more you will notice local merchants trying to sell things to you: pendants, selfie sticks, coffee mugs, and more.

But there is one group of young people who stick out. They often wear matching shirts that sometimes sport phrases like "Justice!" or "Equality!" And, like with almost every other scam we talk about, they are about to approach you.

In their hands will be a clipboard, and on it will be a couple of paragraphs with some standard language about how justice and equality are good and bad things are bad. Under this stirring prose will be a long list of signatures. Seemingly many people before you have endorsed the above statement. And it is at this point our young "activist" looks up and you and hands you a pen. "Would you like to sign our petition?" Their soft voice is accented by a kind face that almost says, "You don't hate sunshine and rainbows, do you?"

The moment you put pen to paper is the moment you've potentially signed away some cash. After signing, the scammer will thank you and then inform you that you've also committed to a monetary pledge by signing your name. After that, they'll demand anything from $5-$20 from you, and if you don't comply, they turn up the heat by accusing you of theft or worse.

How to Avoid It

Don't sign pieces of paper from strangers. This may seem obvious, but remember that these scammers are professionals, and they know exactly what to do or say to manipulate you.

Also, many popular tourist areas in Paris are patrolled by (sometimes heavily armed) police officers. So if you ever feel uncomfortable or just don't want to be hassled, stay in an area close to the police, and the scammers won't come near you.

I Know a Great Bar! – Mexican Riviera

Mexico is one of my favorite countries to visit. The food is amazing, and the people are some of the nicest I have ever encountered. The Mexican Riviera (Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta) sports an embarrassment of riches in the form of beautiful beaches, luxury resorts, and natural wonders. But if you are not careful, you can soon find yourself missing a lot of Pesos.

The Scam

As noted earlier, the Mexican people are some of the nicest you could ever meet. Their hospitality and generosity are unmatched. But unfortunately, because of this, some scammers have taken the opportunity to take advantage of tourists.

Imagine you and a buddy are enjoying a night on the town in Acapulco. As you hop from bar to bar along the busy street, bright lights, music, and the smell of food fill the air. As you consult your friend on which establishment to visit next, suddenly, a pretty girl (or two) starts to walk alongside you. They ask you where you are from and what you have planned for the night. After tipping your hand that you don't know where to go next, they say, "You don't want to go to these tourist bars. We know of a much better spot!"

Who doesn't love it when locals give you the inside scoop on the best bars? The nice ladies will flag down a taxi and hope you and your friend are eager to join. Soon, you realize this bar is very much off the beaten path; but just as your spidey senses start to tingle, the taxi drops you and your new friends off at a seemingly harmless watering hole.

The friendly girls help you order drinks, some food, and maybe even a couple of bottles of champagne. Unfortunately, by the time you've had your fill, those really helpful and friendly ladies have vanished. You and your buddy look around, only to see the bar staff heading to your table with the bill.

As you open the billfold, that's when it hits you. Those bottles of beer may have cost you as much as $30 each! That plate of nachos was $70! And that bottle of champagne the girls encouraged you to order… Good luck!

Depending on where you are, you are legally responsible for everything on that bill. Of course, no one wants to spend a night in a Mexican jail, so you had better get your wallet out.

How to Avoid It

It's fine to make new friends when traveling abroad, especially with the locals. But always stick to your resort or familiar area of town.

If you find yourself in an unfamiliar establishment, ask questions about the menu prices and make sure the prices are in writing. If scammers run the bar, a couple of questions about menu prices will be enough to get you escorted out to make room for other unfortunate tourists.

The Currency Inspector - Germany

Ah, Deutschland. A wonderful country filled with rich history, great beer, and some customs you may have never encountered. Vacationing in Germany is very different from a trip to London or Paris. If you don't speak German, hearing the language for the first time can be jarring. It can be even more difficult if you find yourself in a busy airport or train station, having just arrived and needing to grab some quick cash out of the ATM to pay for your taxi ride into town.

The Scam

You have your bank card in hand, and you have successfully navigated the ATM interface to switch the text to English. While the merits of getting cash out of an airport ATM need to be discussed with you (the ridiculous fees), we can have that talk later.

As the machine beeps and whirls, it soon spits out your cash. Colorful-looking pieces of paper with large numbers printed across the back. "Looks like cash to me," you say to yourself. And as soon as you get a few feet away from the machine, you are approached by a man. He might be wearing a suit, or he may have on a bright yellow vest. He may even flash a badge in your face. Congratulations. You've just met the "Currency Inspector."

He'll ask if you've ever been to Germany or Europe before. If you answer in the negative, get ready to be scammed. Our friendly currency inspector will ask to see the cash you just pulled from the ATM. You see, there have been recent complaints that this ATM has been producing counterfeit Euros! Business owners are mad, and Mr. Inspector was sent to investigate.

After carefully inspecting your new cash, guess what? You are holding fake money, and he needs to confiscate it. At this point, he may pull out some cash (that's actually fake) and exchange it for your "counterfeit" Euros. Or, he may give you directions to the nearest police station so you can file a report and get your money back. Either way, he'll be long gone when you realize what's happened.

How to Avoid It

The Currency Inspector may seem a bit laughable and ridiculous at first glance, but keep in mind that you are in a new country, holding foreign currency, and the scammer is counting on you being a bit disoriented and not used to local customs and laws.

If anyone ever approaches you at an ATM asking to inspect your cash, thank them for their concern and tell them you will head to the nearest police station to get it sorted out there. Do not pull out the cash in front of the scammer. They may take the opportunity to snatch it and run, by this point all but abandoning their Currency Inspector gimmick.

The Shoeshine Kid – New Orleans

One of the most culturally rich and welcoming cities in America is New Orleans. Each year millions of tourists swarm the Crescent City to partake in its live jazz, haunted lore, and delicious beignets. But, unfortunately, like any other tourist hot spot, New Orleans is not immune to a handful of scammers trying to dispossess visitors of their money. New Orleans has a few tricks up its sleeves from the easy to spot, "I know where you got those shoes." scam to the "Shoeshine kid" scam.

The Scam

Bourbon Street can be hectic. Oftentimes, it is downright chaos! But that's part of the fun of a trip to the Big Easy. Bar hopping and bumping into inebriated strangers is a must-do initiation for first-time visitors.

Making your way down Bourbon Street, you turn a corner and find yourself on a path that isn't as crowded. Halfway down the block sits a lowly shoeshine kid. You don't want your shoes cleaned, but maybe you'll throw a dollar in his bucket as a kind gesture. As you draw near his makeshift stand, you see he has fumbled his shoeshine brush, and it has fallen out of his reach, right past your feet, and into the gutter.

Being the nice person you are, you reach down, grab the brush, and hand it back to an ever-grateful kid, who is now joyously cleaning your shoes with the rescued brush. An awkward exchange takes place where you try to say, "thanks but no thanks," to the well-meaning kid, but in his immense gratitude, he insists on cleaning your shoes. After a few final swipes with the brush, the kid looks up and informs you that your good deed has now cost you $40. That's one expensive shoe shine.

How to Avoid It

Like on the Vegas strip, Bourbon Street is another one of these spots where scammers don't miss an opportunity to take advantage of someone. Stay vigilant, and if a kid just happens to drop his shoeshine brush in front of you, kindly walk past him and continue your journey. Or, if your kind heart won’t let you walk past without helping, negotiate the price of a shoeshine beforehand.

Even with everything outlined above, you should not be afraid to travel to new and exciting places. Remember to be vigilant and advocate for yourself. While scammers do exist, most people you meet while traveling are just like you, John Steinbeck and his little dog, Charley. They aren't taking a trip; the trip is taking them.

About Us | Get the Bedel Blog | More Articles

Schedule a Consultation

We have helped our clients answer these questions and more. If you want a clear understanding of your financial future, and need help making changes to reach your goals, schedule a consultation and we can get started.

Schedule a Consultation

Recommended Articles

Image for Renting a Car?  Learn to “Drive Happy” With a Little Research

Oct 2, 2023

Renting a Car? Learn to “Drive Happy” With a Little Research

Before going to the rental car counter, you should know...

Image for Family Vacation Home – What’s the Plan?

Feb 27, 2023

Family Vacation Home – What’s the Plan?

When it comes to passing down family vacation homes,...

Image for Clever Car Rental Cost Saving Tips

Jun 20, 2022

Clever Car Rental Cost Saving Tips

The minute you think you might need a rental car, book...

Image for Travel Insurance - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

Jun 28, 2021

Travel Insurance - Don’t Leave Home Without It!

It’s bad enough if you have to postpone or cancel a...