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TRAVEL SCAMS

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NEVER LET YOUR GUARD DOWN

Tourists in foreign nations are often very easy prey for scammers. But forewarned is forearmed, so read the following descriptions of scams and suggestions as to how to avoid being ripped off.

BROKEN TAXI METER

When you get into a taxi and start to drive, the driver will inform you that the meter is broken and charge you a ridiculous price. This is a very common scam. You should always negotiate the fare before you get into the cab, or ensure the meter is actually working. If the cab driver refuses to turn on the meter or tells you it’s cheaper without the meter, get out and hail another cab.

OVERBOOKED OR CLOSED HOTEL

This common travel scam happens largely with cab drivers. While en-route to your hotel, the driver will tell you your hotel is either closed or overbooked and then take you to a more expensive hotel where the driver receives a nice fat commission. So just call your hotel in advance and make sure that it is open and even ask if they offer shuttle service and if so, schedule a pickup. If the cab driver still tells you that the hotel is not available, insist that he take you there anyway or get out of the cab.

FREE GIFTS

A friendly person will approach to chat, then place a "free" friendship bracelet on your wrist or hand you a sprig of rosemary for good luck. Once you have it, they will demand money. When you refuse, they will begin to cause a scene. Gypsy women in Europe are known for this scam. So don’t allow anyone to put anything on your body and be extremely wary of accepting anything for free. Ignore these scammers and keep walking.

SPILLS ON CLOTHING

A traveller will be walking down the street and feel something plop on their shoulder, often bird poop or a fast-food condiment. Then a friendly stranger approaches and begins to wipe off the offending mess while plucking your wallet from your pocket or purse. Just tell the stranger to go away and go to a restroom and clean the mess off yourself. Make sure that your wallet and passport are somewhere inaccessible to strangers.

FAKE POLICE OFFICERS

This scam is popular in many large cities. Most often, a person will approach a tourist and offer illicit items, such as drugs. While conversing one or two other people will approach, appearing to be police officers and flashing "badges". They will then insist that the unknowing traveller hand over his passport and wallet. However, they are not police officers. Never hand over your wallet or passport. Demand that they show you their identification and then inform them you will call the police to confirm they are who they say they are. Or tell them your passport is locked up in the hotel safe and they’ll need to accompany you to your hotel. If they don’t allow this, simply walk away.

ATTRACTION IS CLOSED

A friendly local who just happens to speak English will approach and inform you that the attraction you want to visit is closed for any number of reasons, such as a religious ceremony, holiday, etc. Then they’ll guide you to a different attraction or shop where you’re pressured to purchase something or pay a lot for entry. Don't believe them. Go to the ticket counter or shop and see for yourself. Or ask someone else nearby for confirmation.

FRIENDLY ATM HELPER

Someone will approach you at an ATM cash machine and claim to help you avoid local bank fees. What they really want to do is scan your ATM card with the card skimmer in their pocket and watch you enter your PIN so they can drain your account later. So never let anyone near you while you’re making an ATM transaction and ALWAYS cover the number pad with your other hand while entering your pin code. If someone approaches, take your card and find another ATM. Make sure that they don't get a chance to snatch your card from you. Even better, do not use an actual card, but pair your credit card to an Apple Watch and use the "Tap And Go" function. That way, there is no physical card for scammers to snatch or skim.

CHILD BEGGARS

Usually deaf, blind or pregnant, sometimes accompanied by a "helper", beggars will ask you for money. Women with babies are common. Children are also frequently used by begging gangs to collect money, as it’s difficult for most people to say no to the old, injured, or young. Sometimes an accomplice nearby is just watching to see where you keep your wallet so they can pickpocket you later. The best policy is to never give cash to street beggars because the vast majority of them are scammers.

GROUP PHOTO OFFER

A local will offer to take a group photo of you and your friends. As you’re getting ready to pose, you realise that the local has completely disappeared with your expensive camera or smartphone. So never hand your expensive items to strangers, no matter what. It's better to forgo that "selfie" than to lose that equipment.

FAKE WI-FI

You can find WiFi almost anywhere, but some of those free unlocked connections can be dangerous. Hackers will set up tempting unsecured wifi hotspots in public locations to which unsuspecting victims eagerly connect, giving the thief access to their computers, passwords, online accounts and more. But it's an easy scam to beat. When travelling, always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), so even if you connect to a scammer's hotspot, he can't get your personal information or hack into your equipment.

RENTAL DAMAGE

After you rent a car, moped or scooter, it gets damaged or even stolen. The owner will demand additional payment or expensive repairs as compensation, but in fact it was probably the owner or his friends who caused the damage or stole the vehicle. So take clear photos of it from all angles. If it is a bike or moped, use your own lock and chain, not the one provided from the renter, who would have spare keys. Take photos of the car or bike first to document previous damage. Make sure that there is a secure place to leave the rental bike overnight. If damage does occur, take it to a repair shop recommended by someone other than the bike’s owner.

FAKE TICKETS

Someone offers to sell you train, bus or theatre tickets at a discount or for you to avoid the queue and pay a slightly higher price. Maybe a taxi driver will offer to bring you to his friend who’s a local travel agent. However the tickets they are selling aren’t real and by the time you try to use those fake tickets unsuccessfully, the scammers are gone with your money. The solution is easy. Always buy tickets from the official ticket office or website.

JEWELLERY OR CARPET DEALS

A local man will inform you of his business of buying and selling jewellery, gemstones, watches or carpets for a fat profit. He offers to show you where to find the best deals. The problem is that these products are fake. Don’t buy expensive items overseas unless you purchase them from internationally recognised stores.

FAKE HOTEL CALL

While staying at a hotel, you get a call from the front desk in the middle of the night to confirm your credit card details. Only it isn’t the front desk calling, it’s a scammer who will drain your accounts when he makes a copy of your card using the details you give him over the phone. The easy solution is to never give out credit card details over the phone. Go down to the hotel reception in person the next morning if there is a problem.

FLIRTATIOUS WOMEN

You arrive to a new country only to discover that beautiful local women seem to pay much more attention to you than back home. One of them invites you out to a nightclub or bar. However after a wild night, the woman disappears and you are forced to pay an overpriced bill or worse, you are drugged and robbed. This is very simple to avoid. Don't let your sexual urges cloud your brain. Just don't fall for it.

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

It is exceedingly hard to avoid being scammed when travelling, especially in foreign nations with other languages. But the best thing is to always be exceedingly suspicious of any offers of help, goods, tricks and tips from strangers, especially locals. Sure, many locals are genuine, but it's far better to be cautious and keep your money and goods, than be cleaned out by unscrupulous scammers. These days with the Internet available on smartphones, a traveller can instantly check things out.

The best thing is to get an inexpensive local voice and data SIM to use in your smartphone for the duration of your stay in a foreign country. That way, you can phone or use any of the secure communications apps such as Facetime, WhatsApp or Telegram to contact your travelling friends. Only use WiFi hotspots if you are sure that they are legitimate and even so, use a VPN to encrypt your operations.

CUSTOMS SCAMS

In some nations, officials can be very corrupt, especially in Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and many others. A corrupt Customs officer may palm a bullet or a sachet of drugs into your luggage and threaten to arrest you unless you pay him a "fine". One corrupt bastard tried to extort money from me in Phuket in Thailand by claiming that I had to pay a "fee" for some boxes I was exporting to Australia. I raised such a stink and threatened to call the Australian Ambassador, let alone hold up a Qantas 747 airliner because my luggage had already been loaded on it and it could not depart without either me on board or my luggage being found and removed.

Suffice it to say that with pressure from Qantas, my ranting and screaming about this fake "fee" and my threat to bring on a diplomatic mess, that corrupt Customs officer had to let me get onto the aircraft with my goods - and I did not pay the bastard one cent. But this is how many of these officials operate in these third-world nations, claiming that visas had expired, allegedly wrong details on tickets and other accusations, anything to try and extort money from travellers. Having gone to many of these nations for over four decades, I will be most pleased to never go to those places again, when there are so many great spots to see in Australia, New Zealand and other civilised nations.

GOING THROUGH CUSTOMS

This is not a scam, but travellers have to understand that the Customs services in all countries have very formidable powers. They can demand that you unlock your smartphone or computer and trawl through its contents. If they find anything untoward, like pornography, dog fighting or anything that may be illegal in their country, even if it is completely legal in your country, they can confiscate and destroy your smartphone or computer and hit you with a large fine - or even arrest you.

There is one very simple remedy that will keep you and your equipment safe. Before you embark on your trip and you are taking a notebook computer, check the contents and make sure that anything that could remotely be construed by any nation's Customs as being offensive, illegal or even obnoxious, is removed. Not just deleted, but wiped from the computer's recycle bin, so that it cannot be recovered. The same goes for your smartphone. Don't have any content that could cause you a problem.

However, that doesn't mean that you cannot access such sensitive files. All you need to do is to set up a Cloud storage account, put your sensitive files on it and when ready, download them to your computer and smartphone, once you have passed through Customs and are in that foreign nation. Of course you never put a reference or the web address and log-on details for that Cloud storage on any of your equipment and no Customs officials will be any the wiser, even if they thoroughly examine your computer or smartphone.

It goes without saying that you should never bring anything that could land you in trouble with Customs. Don't try to smuggle anything, don't bring in any food and don't bring any weapons that may be prohibited. Small pocket knives are fine, but if you are bringing in something like a samurai sword as a souvenir, make sure that you declare it and state its purpose as a decoration. The best thing to do before travelling to any foreign nation is to determine what that nation allows visitors to bring with them. Most importantly, if you are taking prescription medicines, get your doctor to give you a document listing those medicines and stating that they are officially prescribed for your health. Even so, certain medicines are not permitted into some nations, such as codeine, so always check to see what is or is not allowed.