10 Common Travel Scams (and How To Avoid Them) Around the World

Last Updated on July 13, 2020 by hungryoungwoman

We read about the best destinations to travel, instagrammable spots around the world, and hear about awesome stories shared by our friends about their travels. But, once you are in the country, you fall prey to a scam that no one warned you about! What most people won’t say, I’ll tell you with the help of some fellow travel bloggers who share their experiences of 10 common travel scams and how to avoid them.

These scams have been put down according to the country where scammers operate and trick you into believing them to give up your money or – you can face extreme measures. Sure no one wants to have this headache when they are traveling. But it is too easy to let your guard down when you are having a good time. Be aware of these few pointers to keep in mind to generally avoid scams around the world.

Common Travel Scams to Avoid

  • Pickpocketing – Pickpockets are in almost every country and it is a crime that often goes unnoticed even by the local police. It happens so fast that it is difficult to catch the thief and crowded places are the thief’s best spot!
    Always make sure to keep your valuables in your front pockets, or wear a crossbody in the front so you always have an eye on the money. I especially love this one as it is light but big enough to fit everything you’d require. Click to buy it here
  • Tour guide scam – In most countries, I have noticed some local men standing right in front of popular tourist attractions and posing a being a guide there. These men are just trying to make an easy buck and will mostly tell you the wrong or exaggerated stories of the attraction. Mostly prevalent in Asia.
    Avoid this by just walking away or pretend to not hear the person asking you
  •  Closed attraction – This is another common travel scam around the world. When you are heading to a popular attraction in a taxi. The driver learns of this and tells you that the attraction is closed but he can take you to another famous spot to help the time pass. The place often has shops nearby which gets the driver a cut for taking you there.
    In this case, always say no. It is better to have the timings of such attractions memorized so you can know that you are being tricked
Tea Ceremony Scam in China
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

10 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

1. Tea Ceremony in China – Living Out Lau

One of the most common scams throughout all of China (especially in Beijing and Shanghai) is the tea ceremony scam. My friend has personally experienced this while he was traveling in Beijing at Tiananmen Square. Usually, the scam starts with a group of Chinese people asking you to take a photo for them.

Then, after they finish taking the photo for them, they will strike a conversation with you and befriend you. They will tell you they are also travelers and that they are going to a tea ceremony right now and ask if you would like to come. If you do decide to come, usually you will be led into a house in some alley. Then you will go through the “tea ceremony” where you will have many different types of teas.

The ceremony will finish, you might or might not be drugged (my friend wasn’t), then an outrageous bill will come. For my friend, that bill was about $150 USD for a few cups for tea. If you say you don’t have cash, conveniently there’s an ATM in the next room. If you refuse to pay, there are several mean-looking thugs that are blocking your way out. Either way, they will get their money

2. Phone Scams in Barcelona – My Kitchen Travels

After a long morning wandering the beautiful streets surrounding the famous La Rambla, I picked up some postcards and parked myself up at a small cafe on the corner of the main street and the huge La Boqueria food market. The cafe was busy, and I was sitting at a table with another group of tourists.

Happily soaking up the atmosphere and engrossed in my writing, I took my phone out of my bag to search for friends’ addresses. I placed my phone on the table in front of me and began writing again. Almost immediately, an A4 size piece of white card was placed in front of my face. It was too close to read, so I pulled back a little, looked at the man holding it, and back to the card – which read something along the lines of “I am hungry, please spare money for food”.

As is typical with this type of scam, everything happened fast. There was no chance to acknowledge or respond to the man before he walked away towards the market. The few seconds it took me to go back to my postcards was all it took for him to disappear into the sprawling market and surrounding narrow streets. My phone was gone, and he was nowhere to be seen! This simple scam happened because the phone was a clear, easy target, and holding the card very close caused the distraction needed to quickly pick it up.

How to Avoid – Of course, it’s natural to switch off when you’re in holiday mode, but sadly, that’s what these criminals are relying on. The simplest thing you can do to reduce the risk of being targeted by one of these distraction scams is to keep your valuables out of sight. It seems obvious but it’s an easy mistake to make – don’t leave your phone, camera or wallet on the table, even if you’ve got your eye on it! If you reduce the risk of temptation, it’s much less likely that you’ll fall victim to this scam as I did

Medina Tunisia

3. Tourist Scams in Tunisia – SKJ Travel

It was our first morning in Tunis, Tunisia, and we were out exploring the medina. We had checked in late and weary at our hotel the night before, so it seemed plausible when a man looked at us and said, “Hey, I know you! You checked into the XX (I’ve forgotten the name by now) Hotel, I was working in the lobby.” We thought, “How neat that he recognizes us!”

“Let me show you around the medina!” The medina was rather confusing so it was nice to have someone who spoke English with us, therefore we agreed. It seemed like a good start to our day. After a while, it was lunchtime and our friend said, “Oh, I know the guy who runs this restaurant here. He’ll give us a good deal, are you hungry?” Well, yes we were, so we came in. We weren’t given a menu or prices, our guide just said we should all have the fish. Admittedly, it was a delicious lunch.

When the bill was presented to my husband, our companion made no effort to pay or even look at his portion of the bill. Feeling a little obligated, my husband offered to pay, even though we were looking at each other sideways, feeling a little worked over. But it wasn’t a big deal, the bill wasn’t massive. So we followed him out and down the street again. Soon he led us into a perfume shop, where we were taken to a bench near the back and plied with perfumes that we had absolutely no interest in buying.

But the shopkeeper was not willing to let us go. Meanwhile, our “friend,” with his tummy full, was hanging out at the counter just watching the scene, not helping us leave, almost seeming to guard the door. We had to be very forceful about leaving without a purchase. By this time, we were tired of our “friend,” and bid him a less-than-jovial farewell.

We knew by then that he was taking us for suckers, but we didn’t suspect it was a widely-used scam until we came back to the medina another day and saw a different man approach another couple in the exact same way. I imagine they go up to the obvious tourists, saying the same hotel name to each, and eventually, they’ll find one who is staying there and falls for the seemingly serendipitous meeting. Then they get a kickback from the shopkeepers.

How to avoid being scammed – If someone says they recognize you but you don’t recognize them, I’d counsel caution if they want to show you around. Also, don’t give out your hotel name and address to strangers. Follow Shara on Facebook here

Streets in Havana before scam

4. Asking for Milk in Havana – Bacon is Magic

One of the most common scams is often fallen for because most tourists don’t completely understand how the socialist system works in Cuba. So when foreigners coming back to the city from an expensive Cuba tour hear that perhaps a child doesn’t have the necessities it needs, they obviously want to help.

The main tourist street of Obispo in Old Havana is notorious for this. Women will come up to you and ask where you are from. I have dark hair and often respond to them in my best intermediate Spanish. But with dark hair and a basic understanding of Spanish, they assume I’m from Brazil. However, that doesn’t stop them from continuing with the scam.

They often have a baby on their hip and are so polite and friendly. They will start a conversation and then inevitably ask if you can buy milk for their baby as they have none.

They’ll show you the store that happily sells you the milk. There won’t be a price listed but it will seem reasonable enough even though it’s much more expensive than what milk costs. The tourist walks away thinking they’ve done something good while visiting – they aren’t handing out money but helping a mother after all.

But the truth is that often the baby doesn’t belong to the woman. She takes the milk and as the tourist walks away she walks back to the store and returns it to take the money – giving a cut to the store owner and a cut to the baby’s family if it’s not hers.

What people don’t know is that the Cuban government has a special ration program for children and gives milk free to families with children under 7.

How to avoid scams like this – The best thing to do when anyone stops you and speaks in English to ask where you are from is to either keep walking, or enjoy the art of the hustle and when it comes to the point of asking for milk share a smile letting them know that you are aware the government prioritizes milk for Cuban children

Travel Scams in Europe, Italy

5. Friendly Scam in Italy , Europe – My Adventures Across the World

Tourist scams are common in cities that are crowded with tourists, and Rome is no different. Knowing what the scams are and getting an idea of how to react will definitely help in preventing you from becoming a victim.

A common scam in Rome takes place in the train station, and preferred victims are travelers who carry a lot of luggage or those who are in line to get tickets and are fiddling with change.

An overly friendly stranger approaches a tourist that looks like she is struggling with her suitcase and offer to take it on the train. Once on the train, he will demand money or won’t let go of the suitcase. The key here is to ignore any offer of help – never let go of your bags, and in fact, traveling light and only carrying a backpack (that can’t be taken off your shoulders so easily) is the way to go.

In other cases, friendly strangers approach tourists standing in front of the vending machine. They offer help to buy tickets and then demand a ridiculous sum to actually hand them the ticket.

Avoid scams in Europe – By all means, refuse this kind of help and if for some reason this happens to you, threaten to call the police (the number is 112 or 113) or scream for help (Aiuto! Polizia!) but do not surrender money and never surrender your wallet or your credit card. To make matters easy, get an Italian Phrasebook to familiarise yourself with basic Italian words. Get the book here

Visiting Europe soon? Here are the top European destinations for winter! 

6. Temple Scam in India – Eager 2 Travel

In many temples of India, while praying it is common to give money as an offering. But in some temples, the priest forcefully asks you for extra money and will try to make you afraid in the name of religion and will give you the ultimate fear of God to empty out your pockets.

I recently visited the famous Kalighat Temple in Kolkata, India. The plan was to just go, pray, and come back. But, on the way to the temple, there was tremendous hassling from the vendors to take flowers and all prasad (sweet offering). He said it will cost us Rs 200, and it seemed genuine so we took it.

Later when we went to the temple, the shop keeper hooked us with a priest who will do special prayer for us. First, we went to the small temples to pay respects, then the elaborate scam started. At first, the priest gave us a silver coin for good health, we didn’t think much of it and accepted it. Later inside we were given sindoor, bangles, and an idol of a goddess. At the end of the temple tour, we went back to the shop with the priest and he asked us to pay Rs 2000. It was completely absurd.

We also got into an argument and refused to pay and we started returning all we had taken. Then they started scaring us with God’s name. We had no option but to pay as they were making a huge scene. This happens in almost all temples at tourist places.

Avoid temple scam in India – The best way to avoid it never to go for a temple tour with the priest and not to accept any idols or coins they give you

10 Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them

7. Massage Scam in China – A Rai of Light

There are many scams in Hong Kong and China, with one of the most common being the massage scam. How this goes is that a single woman or a group of women approach random tourists with an invitation for a massage. At a really cheap price. They usually approach foreign men and not women as I guess women are not gullible or interested enough to fall for this scam.

If agreed, the foreigner is taken through some dark alley into a building and led into a room. During the massage, a group of men will enter citing solicitation and demanding money for using the room. If the victim resists payment, he runs the risk of being threatened with death. They will make it very clear that going to the police is not an option and that the only way out is to just pay up. They will even threaten with warning the police themselves to tell them you’ve just broken the law. It is important to be cautious.

How to avoid travel scams for massage in China – If you want a massage, rather visit an official massage parlor and don’t accept any offers from ladies approaching you on the street

Photobomber in Egypt common travel scam

8. Photobombing Scam in Egypt – Coleman Concierge

Visiting Egypt is high on many people’s bucket lists. It’s the land of the Pharaohs, the birthplace of civilization, and has been attracting tourists for thousands of years. After the 2011 Revolution, people have been worried about safety and scams. We found it acceptable if you follow reasonable safety tips for Egypt. However, there are some scams you should be aware of.

One of the most prolific scams in Egypt is photobombing. People in traditional garb loiter in highly photographed areas, and then demand tips for appearing in your picture. Everybody in Egypt works for tips, and you should bring plenty of small bills to give people who help you. Photobombing is different because you would have been happy to have taken that shot with or without that person in it.

How to avoid photobombers – Make it clear that you don’t want them in your photo. If they don’t leave, wander away and come back in a little bit. They probably would have moved on to find the next paying customer. If you want them in your shot and frame it around them, for instance, that iconic shot of the pyramids with a couple of camels, expect to tip your models. That price, like everything else in Egypt, is negotiable

9. Money Scams in Dubai

The U.A.E. has a very low crime rate compared to other countries. It is mainly because the country is small and the police are very efficient in catching criminals here. However, there have been a few scams mostly from people driving down from neighboring countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia who carry this racket here.

This almost every time happens at a gas station when the scammer notices someone in an expensive car. The scammer brings their car to the victim and says that they have been driving but don’t have enough money for petrol or food. The victim sympathizes and fills their car with petrol or worse, offers money.

Westerners are mostly targeted in this scam, especially those who look like tourists and have rented a car.

How to avoid these common scams in Dubai: Walk away when someone approaches you with this story at the gas station. They will most likely leave if you are stern about not paying them

Scams in Santiago City Centre
Image by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay

10. Scams in Santiago, Chile – On My Canvas

Though Chile is one of the safest countries in South America, Santiago, the capital of Chile, isn’t safe from delinquents and other thieves. These robbers and thugs roam the streets of the capital searching them for tourists.

Scams in Santiago range from a mobile phone being snatched even in broad daylight in the Santiago streets and buses to even armed robbery when thugs rob people of their possessions by threatening them with a knife. But some tricks are more popular in the city than the rest. As part of one of the most tragic scams, a stranger would approach you by pointing out some sudden stains on your clothes. While you wonder about the occurrence and cause of these stains on your fresh attire, partners in crime of this mischievous well-wisher would disappear with your luggage.

How can you avoid this scam? Always keep your belongings close to you. Carry your rucksack on your back, and place your crossbody in the front.

Stay in groups of two if you can. Keep your important items such as passport and cash in a fanny pack. Don’t let go of your things if a stranger banters with you. Even if you are waiting for a taxi or a friend, don’t put your bags on the streets.

If the people of Santiago tell you to be careful in certain neighborhoods, listen to their advice, and take care of yourself and your belongings

These are just some of the top scams in the world highlighted to you. In reality, there exist a number of scams like online scams and the internet scams that take place in every country in the world.

This doesn’t mean you get discouraged to travel. Just by being a little more vigilant, you would be able to spend some peaceful and memorable time in your chosen destination. Research well before traveling and stay safe.

Until then, happy traveling! xx

P.S. If you want to save and read later, here are some pinnable versions 🙂

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which will give me 
a small commission if you purchase a product/service. This will not 
result in any extra cost to you.
7 thoughts on “10 Common Travel Scams (and How To Avoid Them) Around the World

  1. These are good to be aware of, so we can avoid them. I have come across some of these and others too. Unfortunately you can’t trust strangers.

  2. There are so many scams out there, it’s unbelievable. Unfortunately, as much as you try to be cautious sometimes when you are in a different setting, your mind thinks differently so you get easily scammed. But for sure, it’s always best to avoid strangers.

  3. I loved reading through this post! I have seen in first person the scam you talk about in Barcelona, but we locals dont ever leave anything unattended. I guess we grow up pickpocket savy hahaha. In any case, it is amazing how colorfull are these scams, and remind me of the cult scam in Seoul! Thanks for such nice reading.

  4. The only scam Ive been exposed to is by streetvenders, they put their jewlery on you and then start yelling that you are trying to steal it. It happend to me on the Canary Islands

  5. I’ve experienced the Timeshare scam in Bali and Thailand, and a friend was pickpocketed in Paris. If you travel often enough you bound to come across one of these at some stage.

  6. The comments about children in Cuba having free milk from the government is misleading. While the government does ration milk to children, the milk ration might not be enough or it might be watered down by the milkman or it might be soymilk depending on the child’s age. When I was a child in Cuba, my family had to buy cowsmilk because the soymilk yogurt the gov gave us wasn’t enough and also tasted disgusting.

I'd love to know your thoughts!