As savvy travelers, it’s easy to think we’re smart enough to avoid scams. We know airports like the back of our hands, can always find the quickest way to the hotel and know how to solve just about every problem that can arise on a trip. But the truth is that scams can happen to even the most seasoned travelers. Here are some of the top travel scams and what you can do about them.
Card skimmers can be placed on ATMs to read and steal your debit card information. Once your card goes through the skimmer, the data from your magnetic strip can be transferred onto a blank card and used elsewhere. To avoid falling into this trap, inspect the ATM before inserting your card. If you see glue around the slot where you put your card or if you shake it and it feels loose, head to another ATM. Get an idea of what to look for by watching this video of an ATM skimmer found in Vienna.
Mandatory Car Service
Some hotels—particularly resorts with guarded front gates—won’t allow metered taxis to pick up passengers and take them to the airport or other destinations. Instead, the hotel contracts with a car service fleet to provide transportation services. Passengers almost always end up paying more with this type of service than with a metered taxi, and the hotel gets a cut of the fare. Whenever possible, request metered taxis or consider renting a car and driving yourself.
Broken Taxi Meters
Despite the advice above, it’s worth noting that metered taxis aren’t always cheaper. This is because taxi drivers can claim the meter is broken. When getting into a taxi, ensure the meter is working or negotiate the fare directly with the driver before you leave so you don’t get stuck with an unexpected cost.
Many independent businesses resist taking credit cards, even when it’s law. They also may indicate that there is a credit card fee, which can sometimes be substantial. In many places, charging this fee is illegal, but visitors don’t know to challenge it. If you’re traveling and using plastic, make sure you know if added fees are legal.
Steering travelers away from one establishment to another can be big business and can take different forms. Sometimes hotel staff may say the restaurant you’ve selected is closed and they’ll suggest an alternative where they receive a kick back. Or a taxi driver may say that your hotel is closed for renovation, but he happens to know a better, cheaper one. Independently verify the information if you don’t trust what you’re being told.
Double Dipped Cards
We all know credit card machines don’t work properly all the time. But when you’re paying for something, it’s hard to know whether the machine isn’t working or you’re being taken advantage of. When a clerk swipes the card and indicates that the terminal is broken or can’t read the card, they’ll likely try another option. It’s possible that they’re being helpful, or you may have been “double dipped” and just paid twice. If the situation seems suspect, pay in cash if you can. Also, keep all your credit card receipts in case you need to dispute charges later.
Currency Conversion Charges
When you use a credit card abroad, businesses will often ask whether you want to pay in your home currency or the local currency. If you pick your home currency (like U.S. dollars) instead of the local currency (euros, for instance), the business makes money by giving you an unfavorable exchange rate, and there may be hidden fees. Paying in the local currency with your credit card will almost always net a better rate.
Some rental car companies and independent hotels have been known to falsely claim that customers have damaged cars or rooms. The customer may not know it at the time, instead returning home only to find a large, unexpected charge for the “damage.” One way to protect yourself is to take photos or a short video with your phone as you’re leaving.
Hotel Room Calls
A recent and pervasive scam is a form of phishing for information. After getting a name and room number from a dishonest hotel employee, a scam artist calls the hotel room. The scammer, claiming to be from the front desk, says there is a problem with your credit card. They ask you to read your credit card number back to them and then steal your information. Many hotels tell guests never to reveal their credit card details over the phone.
All of these scams can be thwarted with street smarts. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something doesn’t seem right, it’s probably good to be skeptical and protect yourself.