We all just want to rest and relax during our holidays. But by lowering our guard like that we become easy prey; scammers make their living by tricking unsuspecting tourists and they can be found all across Europe. Here are the most common travel-related scams you’re likely to encounter, and, hopefully, avoid.
1. Broken taxi meter
It’s a popular scam among cab drivers working next to airports and train stations. After a traveler gets into a taxi, the driver will inform them that the taxi meter is broken and eventually charge them an outrageous amount for the ride.
Avoid this scam by checking whether the taxi meter is really broken. You can even take a smarter route: agree on the final price ahead of the ride. If the taxi driver tells you that it’s cheaper without the meter, or refuses to turn the meter on, get out of the car and find another cab.
2. Free bracelets or flowers
This scam can be encountered at virtually every tourist attraction in Europe. A friendly man or woman approaches a traveler and offers them free bracelets, flower or some other small, lovely item. Once the item is accepted, they will demand money for it. If the tourist refuses to pay, the scammer will surely cause a scene.
Avoid this scam by not accepting any “free” gifts, or allowing anyone to put anything on your body or in your hands. Unless there’s a really good reason to do so, don’t accept anything that’s given away for free. Politely decline and keep walking.
3. Overbooked flights
Most airlines overbook their flights to increase their profits. Intentionally or unintentionally, many people miss their flights, so companies sell approx. 10% more tickets than a flight can actually carry to keep the planes full. That’s why it’s not uncommon for a flight to get overbooked event those travelers who bought their tickets way ahead of the flight and arrived for boarding on-time can be turned away from the gate – or forced out of the plane.
“The big scam here is obviously the non-existing tickets. However, another comes just after the travelers are forced to leave the plane. Usually, the airline will offer them a voucher for free food, a ticket for the next flight to their destination and maybe a coupon or a discount for their next flight. However, EU law obliges air carriers to pay travelers flight compensations of up to €600 and provide an alternative to their destination. Avoid this by stating your rights and demanding what’s rightfully yours,” says Marius Stonkus, the CEO of flight compensation company Skycop.
4. Friendly ATM Helpers
These scammers strike when you’re using an ATM. Someone approaches a tourist while he or she is using the cash machine and offers to help. They might offer to translate the text on the screen or try to convince you that they know how to get around the bank fees.
What they are actually trying to do is scan your card with an RFID card skimmer and/or watch you enter your PIN number, all so they could drain your account later. Avoid this scam by making sure that you’re not being watched while at the ATM, and always cover the number pad while entering your PIN.
5. Group photo offer
Even in the age of ubiquitous selfie sticks, taking a group photo might be a hassle. That’s when friendly local approaches a group of tourists and offers to help. While the group tries to arrange themselves for their next cool Instagram pic, the local disappears together with the tourist’s shiny new camera.
This scam is a little harder to avoid and demands the ability to read the situation well. Bear in mind that it is you who is usually asking for help when you want to have your picture taken. That’s why anyone offering to do it for you should be seen as suspicious. Instead of accepting such a shady offer, seek out a fellow tourist.
6. Fake Wi-Fi hubs
Everyone wants to access free public Wi-Fi while businesses generally want to avoid people stealing their bandwidth. That’s why many a tourist gets excited when they encounter an open Wi-Fi spot. However, those people are in danger of falling into one of the highest tech tourist scams. Hackers set up networks in tourist hot spots so that they could steal the data of clueless travelers.
Diligence is needed to avoid this scam. Always ask the hotel, restaurant and even airport staff which Wi-Fi network is the official one. An unlocked connection might be tempting – especially if the alternative involves jumping through the hoops to register or enter a complicated password – but it’s better to be safe than sorry.