How to Avoid Irritating Travel Scams (Just your average, Friendly Travel Con or Worldwide Travel Scam)
October 14, 2017
The Chronic Bane of Every Traveler’s Existence…EVIL, NO GOOD, ROTTEN, DIRTY, and DOWN RIGHT IRRITATING TRAVEL SCAMS (insert creepy mood music here)
Worldwide travel scam, travel con, or irritating travel scams, but whatever you call them, they really suck. Like totally bite the big one. Like, you’re sobbing on the floor, chest heaving, while screaming to the heavens, “WHYYYYY?”. No? Too much? A bit melodramatic? All right then we’ll stick with a word that hasn’t failed me yet, SUCK. They elfin’ suck, that’s what.
Now why do these irritating travel scams stink like a dirty diaper? Well, first of all, you feel like a total moron when you realize that you fell for one of the many common travel scams (Like, am I really dumb enough to believe that the most popular temple in Bangkok is closed? Why yes, yes I am. I feel like this is Mr. Chow’s doing). But on top of the Titanic level hit that your pride and ego take, you also just lost a butt load of money that was supposed to go towards livin’ la vida location on vacation. And damnit, I work hard for my money (oh, oh, hard for it honey… Sorry, I forgot this isn’t karaoke)! I don’t want some creep to steal
my Benjamins, or dollar bills. Yeah, on second thought dollar bills is way more likely. Plus, you kind of lose your faith in humanity once you’ve been victimized by a travel con or worldwide travel scam. I really want to throw my hands up and be like, “Really world? People really are this awful? Why? Why does the perpetual suckage of the human race continue?”
At least that’s what I thought when I get victimized this summer. See, it all started when I was born. LoL. Kidding, I swear. This isn’t David Copperfield or some vain attempt to try and become the next great American author of my generation. Trust me, my aspirations are not that high. On top of that, we don’t need to get all Oprah on my life and look at why I am single and have a general distrust of men. Nope, no childhood, past life regressions here. I mean, I don’t even want to talk about it so you certainly don’t need to hear about all the limbless finger paint bunnies that I made before my life went wrong and I fell for one of these irritating travel scams.
So let’s get to the good stuff and talk about travel scams to avoid, shall we (That wasn’t a question. Sorry. It kind of is but I’m gonna talk about it anyway so buckle up and grab a hanky. My life is Hallmark channel sad. Kidding! It’s totally fine but just keep reading till the good part, if it ever comes)?
Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute
to sit right there and I’ll tell you all about how I became the prince of a town called BROKE Bel Air.
The whole enchilada (because I love melted cheese) started on a regular old Thursday. It was the day before my two week vacation to Norway so I was SUPER stoked to get a break from my day job as a nanny (Chloe is a lovely 15 month old, until she poops in the tub. Seriously, its all fun and games until they poop in the tub).
But I still had to drag my ass through two infinitely long days of work before I could feel the sweet caress of vacation freedom. So I was just sitting there, counting the seconds lethargically tick by, as I embraced my inner Marry Poppins spirit animal (so that I could nanny like a boss), when I got a message. I kind of ignored it because I didn’t recognize the number and have craptastic service at work (seriously, tin cans connected by a string would work WAY better than my phone. Where’s ET to phone home when you need him?). So I promptly forgot about the message and was kind of like, “Ehh. I’ll deal with it when I have better service on our walk (for me and the baby and not any weird imaginary friends that speak in clicks).”
So a little while later, after the chocolate pudding debacle of 2017 (let’s just say that I had no idea chocolate pudding could end up in so many different places), we were on the open road. Just a babbling brook in the background, the birds chirping in the trees, a light gust of wind, and a funky smelling dog waste receptacle by the side of the road. Yup, just a regular old day in the suburbs of New York.
So as I ran away from the rotting smell of dog feces, I decided that this would be a superb time to pull out my phone and check my messages. Well, I got this weird ass message from some court in Washington DC, saying that there is a situation and that I need to call them back ASAP.
“Fudge!” I thought (only I didn’t think fudge). Feverishly I hit the redial button and got some secretary from the IRS on the phone(for non-Americans this is the Internal Revenue Service and they call you when you have not paid your taxes), who said that there was a warrant out for my arrest because I owed back taxes to the horrific tune of $4,875.00.
And what did I do in response? Did I call my lawyer (don’t have one) or my father or my police officer brother to discuss this matter with them? Nope. I freaked out, started hyperventilating, secretly wanted to suck my thumb and eventually settled for the old stand by, bursting into tears.
I desperately explained that I never received any notification of back taxes owed and that if I had gotten a letter, I most assuredly
would have corrected the situation (Mean while in my head it is nothing but one continuous string of profanities).
At this point, I confess my undying intention to rectify the situation IMMEDIATELY so that I can cancel the warrant out for my arrest (She now has me reeled in, hook, line, and sinker. Like a damn large mouth bass. Like one of those ones that sings on your wall). That’s when she transfers me over to an “IRS Agent” who informs me that I cannot disconnect the call because they need a clean recording for FBI purposes. He also asks me to drop everything and proceed to the nearest Target, where I can purchase a government issued, money order, to pay my bill (better known as a Target Gift card).
That’s when I enter into the mystical vortex of complete freak out mode and start running to my car at top speed (for me this is a whopping two miles an hour), with my phone in one hand and the baby carriage in the other. I dash into the house, grab a carseat, strap the baby in, and race to the nearest Target, that I can’t find because I put the address into my phone incorrectly.
Meanwhile, I have the baby’s mother calling me to ask what’s going on and a 911 number dialing me, which my friendly neighborhood “IRS agent” tells me is the police looking to arrest me. Needless to say, it was a doo doo show of epic proportions that lasted 7 hours. And if you have any doubt about my previous sentence, just picture me dashing through the streets of the Bronx, unable to find parking, with a screaming baby on my hip. Yes, it was a pure unadulterated hell. Like the stuff that true nightmares are made of.
I can just see it now, “You’re trapped, in the Bronx, with no food, and a screaming baby. Parking is about as scarce as a Dodo Bird so gut check time, what do you do?” Talk about one scary movie that makes Friday the 13th seem like the sequel to My Little Ponies.
What you should know about IRS Scams
So yeah it kind of blows that this happened to me because not only did I have to cancel a two week trip to Norway for my birthday, but my travel insurance wouldn’t cover the fraud (or my bank for that matter). Plus, I ended up breaking my toe and, added bonus, it was the anniversary of my mother’s death. My dog also got run over by a tractor and my sister was killed in a Sharknado.
Kidding, I just don’t want to break out the violins just yet because the reality is that this isn’t about me. This is about you and showing you how to avoid scams like this and helping others who have been victimized by this type of scam (It is so common that an entire section of the IRS website is devoted to filing IRS scam claims. Not that this helps in any way because they don’t actually do anything, but I’m bitter. Ignore me).
The good news though is that this scam is easy to avoid. If the IRS calls you, ALWAYS IGNORE IT! Why? Because the IRS WILL NEVER CALL YOU! One more time for the cheap seats. THE IRS WILL NEVER CALL YOU. They always send you certified mail that has no chance of getting lost. Plus, let’s say you do owe back taxes, the IRS does not want to put you in jail because if they did that, they wouldn’t get their money and in the end, it would cost them more money to incarcerate you. So there is no danger of being thrown in the slammer and becoming the next ultra alluring cast member of Orange is the New Black (I call Red because she is badass).
Now, lets say you are victimized by this scam, what do you do? Well, you can fill out a complaint form on the IRS website, and call your credit card companies to get your money back and file a fraud claim, but that’s about it. I filed a police report but it didn’t really help with my bank or with my insurance company since the FDIC doesn’t cover fraud when you use your own debit card and travel insurance doesn’t cover scams. That’s why it’s just better if you don’t get scammed in the first place.
***If you use your debit card for this type of scam, you are not FDIC insured and your bank will not give you your money bank. They will claim that you are not covered because you used your own card. However, all banks do carry insurance and can file a claim on your behalf. Banks just don’t want to do this and you’ll have to fight like a beast to get your money back (Kind of like my battle with Girl Scout cookies. I always tell myself I won’t eat the whole box but the force of the cookies is too strong and my will too weak).
How Can You Help Someone Who Has been Victimized by an IRS Scam
Whatever you do, do NOT say, “Well, you know, the IRS will never call you.” Yeah no, I realized that pretty quickly after I hung up the phone and the first 1,000 people told me this. I got the memo and have been continually getting the memo so if you could not say that, that would be great.
Now I am not trying to be rude here, but no one who has been scammed wants to hear this. Or my other personal favorite is,
“But why didn’t you hang up?” Oh I don’t know, I just thought well gee, what better way to spend a Thursday then on the phone with some pretend IRS agent. I just decided that I wanted to give myself a little extra life challenge and hand him over $4,000 of my hard earned money since it was a boring day.
The reality is that you can’t really make it better or fix the situation (which is what I think a lot of people try to do and it just comes out all wrong). The BEST thing you can do, like with any of these global travel scams, is to simply say, “I am so sorry”. That’s all anyone needs. That and maybe a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a box of chocolates so that you can eat your feelings (Don’t forget to put Magic Mike on too. I mean, I just watch it for the fantastic plot line. Channing Tatum, has nothing to do with it).
***Now I know you are WAY nicer than me (and probably don’t step on bugs or only eat fruit that has fallen from the tree), and want to give your destitute friend some financial support, but this is always awkward. Instead, just send them something nice or take them out for coffee to let them know you’re there for them and will totally shank the a-hole who did this (Kidding, I don’t support violence. Only on TV for dramatic purposes. But really, this is a non-violent travel blog. You can write a strongly worded letter to your senator. Omg, I don’t even know who my senator is. Shh, don’t tell).
Top 10 Travel Scams Around the World and How to Avoid Them
But let’s be honest, travel scams are everywhere because these a-holes pray upon travelers who are unfamiliar with a city or country. You don’t know how things work or where to go, so you kind of trust that locals will steer you in the right direction and not into a giant brick wall (And when you’re unconscious, they’ll steal your identity too. All in the spirit of the eternal mantra, “Go big or go home”).
Well, the great majority of people will totally help you out and steer you away from any proverbial landmines. But then there are the rest. This gross minority will look you up and down and see dollar dollar bills y’all, as you stroll by. They take one look at your white sneakers and mega zoom photo lens (that gives back massages too) and immediately see the words, “Pillage and Plunder Me” tattooed on your forehead.
How these people sleep at night, I have no idea but that’s their problem. I’m just here to help figure out which travel scams to watch out for since some of these scams are actually super believable (At least to gullible old me. Wait, slow your roll, you mean the tooth fairy isn’t real? Say what? Mind officially blown). I mean not all of them are totally outlandish with people being like, “Hey, give me $20,000 so I can feed my pet unicorn Steve”. Some of them seem totally legit, but I swear they’re not, hence this post’s debut to the world.
And if you’ve fallen for one or a couple of these, don’t feel bad because you’re not alone. It’s happened to me too (hangs head in eternal shame and damnation, with a curse upon my house). I mean, for some of these scams I didn’t even realize I was being scammed until like right now. I literally just thought, “Oh wait. No, that’s not right. Yeah, I totally got taken advantage of”.
So gird your loins ladies (and gents) and get ready for this impromptu, tour de force of travel scams around the world. We will be circling the globe, criminal style so embrace the darker side of yourself and live on the wild side for the next 2,000 words or so. Hold on, this calls for a hip flask full of my Monster Energy drink. Yup, I’m that dangerous.
Broken Taxi Meter
This one is as old as taxis themselves and happens all the time, all over the globe (one of the many reasons why I use public transportation). But as the old adage goes, humble tourist hails taxi so he or she won’t end up in a different country while trying to find his or her hotel. Taxi pulls over and tells aforementioned, trusting tourist that the taxi meter is broken.
Well, if it is then his or her lazy ass should get it fixed because no way am I trusting him or her to give me a fair price. And chances are, the meter works as well as that fit bit that I never use because I am so damn lazy. In fact, the meter probably works so well that the driver doesn’t want to use it because he wants to charge you an insane amount of money instead. No thanks buddy. I work hard for my money and i’ll take a pass on paying a month’s worth of rent for a single taxi ride.
Thank God this one has an easy fix. Just say no if they won’t use the meter or negotiate a rate ahead of time. Instead, get out and find another driver who isn’t a total creep, I mean scammer. Not everyone is a crook and there will be another driver who will happily take you to your destination, and for a less outrageous fee.
Honestly, I do this in New York too because people have tried to charge me $200 for a cab ride and I flat out told them no. So don’t be afraid to say no because contrary to popular belief, it’s a full sentence. You could also commadeer a rogue donkey (#justsayin) or pigeon if you’re in New York.
***This scam is super common in south and Central America, especially Costa Rica. I’ve had several different taxi drivers try to pull this scam on me around the world so this one is one of those common travel scams to watch out for.
***Also make sure that taxi drivers are reputable because I know that in Lima, Peru, there was a problem with unauthorized taxi drivers kidnapping people (sounds way scarier than it was, I swear). So if you’re ever unsure about safety, just have someone at a tourist attraction, restaurant, or hotel call you a cab.
Overbooked Or Closed Hotel
This one happened to me in Peru (I swear it’s a super nice country and not everyone is a creepy scammer lurking in a shadowy corner). I was walking off the train in Puno and this tourist agency representative accosted me, like they usually do when they’re hawking whatever tour they want you to buy. Well, she seemed nice enough and casually asked me where I was staying. When I informed her, she immediately told me that this hotel had no electricity and was a total dump. Okay she said, “No good,” but you get the point. And I was like a millisecond away from falling for it. The only thing that stopped me was that gut feeling that something was wrong.
So I went with my gut and told her that I would like to visit my hotel anyway. Shocker, the hotel was really nice and there were no oil burning lanterns anywhere. All I saw were some regular old lightbulbs that actually worked. Who knew? LoL. Had I gone with this lady, she would have taken me to some ridiculously expensive hotel where she receives a big fat old commission for getting ignorant tourists like me to stay there.
So just do yourself a favor and call your hotel in advance and make sure its open. Also see if they offer a pickup service so you can avoid any hassles from rando scammers on the prowl. If this isn’t an option though and your taxi driver tries to pull this insanely unoriginal stunt then just tell him to take you there anyway because you have a reservation.
Free Bracelets Or Rosemary
My mom always told me that you never get something for nothing, and she was right (unless it’s the toy inside a happy meal. I used to love those). In this classic scammer situation, a friendly man or woman will approach you and chat you up about the meaning of life and the purpose of our planet’s existence. Okay maybe the convo won’t be that existential but they’ll seem super awesome. And then aww, they offer you a free friendship bracelet or sprig of Rosemary for good luck (besties/thunder buddies for life). Sweet right? Yeah, till they get irate and demand a wad of cash.
Guess where this happened to me? Yup, Peru. A super Bohemian, Hippie man was super chatty and took me around Cuzco, showing me all the area’s hidden treasures and local spots to eat ( I thought he just wanted to get in my pants but thankfully no). Right before I left, he offered to create this weird ass, Harry Potter like, magic astrological chart so that he could my read my future (insert eye roll here). I said okay because well, why not right? Yeah well, that’s when he wanted me to pay him. I literally laughed in his face because there was no way that I was paying him for something that, in my opinion, was glorified hocus pocus. I told him to keep it and save it for the next unsuspecting victim, I mean tourist.
It was fine because I walked away and immediately onto a waiting tour bus but in the future, I would ignore anyone trying to give me something for free. Generally speaking, everyday people don’t spend their days giving things away because no matter where you live, you have bills and need to eat. And last time I checked, giving away bracelets and rosemary all day don’t put food on the table. So keep it movin’ sistah.
Spills On Your Clothing
I’ve heard of this one and it happened to me in… Bet you thought I was gonna say Peru! Kidding, this has never happened to me but its like travel scams Europe 101. A tourist will be walking down the street and feel something plop on their shoulder. Usually its bird poop, yum, or a condiment of some sort. But whatever it is, some seemingly friendly stranger will kindly assist you in cleaning yourself up. So sweet right?
Yeah, no. Last time I checked you were a grown ass person and could clean yourself up. So why is this person all up in your business? Why, to steal your wallet or purse of course. So be the strong and independent woman (or man) that you are, and pretend chivalry is dead since it probably is anyway, and go to the restroom to clean yourself off. I mean, it’s a stain, not a flesh eating virus. How much help do you really need? Exactly my point. You got this.
Fake Police Officers
This has never happened to me but this totally freaks me out and is pretty common in a number of large cities across the globe. Basically the way this one works is that someone will casually walk up to you and offer you some illicit drugs. I dunno, that seems weird to me. No one randomly walks down the street offering me crack. Oh no wait, never mind. That actually has happened. Okay maybe this is plausible.
Anyway, while this is happening, even if you’re saying no, two or more supposed “police officers” will appear and flash their keystone cop badges (now I’m really showing my age). At this point, amidst your indignant protests that yes, crack is indeed whack, the pretend officers will demand that you hand over your passport and wallet for inspection (and by inspection I mean they’re gonna peruse all your valuables and put what they want in their pocket.
So the moral of this Brokedown Palace like tale? Never ever hand over your wallet or passport. If a “cop” asks for your personal affects then request identification and call the police to confirm their identity. Or, I like this one better, say that your passport is at your hotel and request that they walk you there. If they refuse then just walk away. I promise you won’t end up on the latest episode of Locked Up Abroad.
Attraction Is Closed (Psych!)
Oh I fell for this one and I fell for it hard when I went to Thailand (one of the most common Thailand travel scams). I wanted to visit one of the bajillion local temples in Bangkok and was approached by a super nice man who informed me that the temple was closed due to a local holiday. How helpful! I thought I was so lucky that this guy saved me from going all the way to this closed attraction. Plus, he even recommended another temple I could visit instead.
Yeah nope, I totally got scammed. In reality, I walked past that temple a few hours later and it couldn’t have been more open (no joke there were lines out the door). There were swarms of people everywhere. So of course I felt like a total idiot but it happens. You live and learn. Now, if this ever happens, I always head to the site or store to see if it is open, just in case.
***Another huge problem I had was that people in Thailand seemed to never want to give me my change back. It was so frustrating because what are you gonna do, call the police over a few dollars? Yeah, there was no way I was causing that kind of ruckus. Instead, I learned to carry exact change so I didn’t run into this problem.
Friendly ATM Helper (This is like having a bathroom helper. Nobody needs help here. If you did, it’s called a bank employee, or diaper, whichever situation you were thinking of)
I’m sorry, this one is redic. No one ever needs to be near me while I am at the ATM. Like ever. So step it on back and don’t violate the force field that is my personal space bubble. But in this scam, someone approaches you at the ATM and offers to help you avoid local bank fees associated with your transaction. In reality, they are helping themselves to your ATM or Credit Card info with a card skimmer that they have in their pocket. They then watch you enter your pin so that they can drain your account later. Yeah, no thanks. Dealing with this does not sound like my idea of an awesome time and thank God this has never happened to me. But a good life motto is to never let anyone near you while you’re at the ATM. And while you’re at it, try and cover up the number pad so no one sees your pin since nothing ruins a vacation faster than identity theft.
***Also, and these kind of goes without saying, never give beggars money because you never know whether they are legit or working for a gang. Instead though, you can always give them food or clothes so that you know you’re not supporting criminal activities.
Group Photo Offer
Believe it or not, I have never had this one happen to me. Probably because I travel alone and absolutely hate having my picture taken. Either that or my camera just isn’t worth stealing. I just have my crappy old i-phone that I probably couldn’t pay someone to take off my hands.
But the premise of this one is that you’re hanging out at a popular and rather crowded local tourist attraction when someone offers to act as your stand in instal-husband so that you can get that perfect shot. Then the minute you hand over your camera, that probably costs as much as a small car, they disappear, with your expensive camera as a fun new present.
To prevent this one, I usually just ask other tourists to help me out rather than accept a random invitation from a local to do an impromptu photo shoot. I mean really, why is this random dude offering to take my pic? I mean, sure I look nice but this is not America’s Next Top Model. Besides, most men I know take horrible pictures that accentuate the double chin I don’t have, so why would I want this dude to take my photo anyway. Yeah, just look for the tourist with the huge camera, guide book, and city map hanging out of their back pocket; all dead giveaways that you’re talking to a genuine tourist (If they have a fanny pack and sunblock across their nose, even better. Reminds me of that Sex and the City episode where Carrie basically says that no native New Yorkers wear scrunchies. And yes, that’s true).
Fake WiFi Hubs
I haven’t fallen for this one, at least not that I know of. I mean, some guy in Mongolia could be living as the king of the yurts but I assume it hasn’t happened and I’m gonna roll with that. But this one is fairly simple and worth mentioning because we all love staying connected abroad and love jumping from one wifi spot to another. Actually it might just be me because I’m a social media whore and always want to see who is digging my presence on the social media outlet of my choice. Lately I’ve been having a secret love affair with Pinterest but that’s another story.
However, while I’m feverishly trying to connect to any WIFI source with a pulse or signal, I am actually putting myself in harms way since a lot of these public wifi networks are actually established by hackers (when I hear the word hacker, I always think of the young blonde girl from Jurassic Park. Weird) who use these connections to gain access to any information on your electronic device of choice.
To avoid this try, as hard as it is (Right now I am tearing up a little. Okay, not really. I’m not THAT bad, yet), to only connect to official Wifi networks of hotels, coffee shops, and airports. If you don’t know which connection is the right one, ask staff members to assist you. I mean I hate interacting with strangers but its better than getting all your personal information stolen. Now that you’re super tech savvy, you can also encrypt all of your online activity (I sound so fancy) with a virtual private network like Zenmate.
Fake Hotel Wakeup Call
This is another one that totally creeps me out (I think I’ve been watching too much Unsolved Mysteries lately. But I can’t help it. I love Robert Stack. But in a totally platonic way). As the old travel scam story goes, an unsuspecting, innocent tourist gets a call form the front desk in the middle of the night, to confirm their credit card details (I would so fall for this one by the way. Especially if I had just woken up. I am totally incoherent when I wake up).
Now as you probably have already guessed, this guy ain’t your receptionist at the front desk. Surprise, it’s a scammer who is all too willing to help you suck your bank account dry. So, valuable life lesson #11357 is never give out your credit card information over the phone, I mean unless you’re calling you bank or something. But seriously, its kind of like going to a bar after midnight. Just don’t do it because nothing good will come of it. Instead, tell the “front desk” that you will speak with them at a more reasonable hour in the morning. Seriously, what kind of customer service professional calls you in the middle of the night? I mean I know i’ll be up because I’m like a vampire but most people will be heated if you call them and wake them up (#releasethecracken).
This is the Post that Never Ends…
So now that I’ve introduced you to the 1001 different ways that you can get robbed while traveling abroad, aren’t you super stoked to book your next trip? I mean, you probably have so much faith in humanity right now that you’ll readily hand over your first born child to a complete and total stranger, along with the keys to your house. LoL. Okay, well even if you sometimes want to do that, please don’t. Children are a precious gift from the heavens above, or at least until they poop in the tub and refuse to take a nap.
But I swear the world is seriously not that creeptatsic. Plus, I have survived a ton of these scams so that means that you can too. Seriously, I’m no Bear Grylls who casually eats bugs in the wilderness, so anyone can endure these kind of annoyances. Sure, you might be a little cash poor as a result of these scams, but you know what they say, “More money, more problems”. Actually, forget that. You know some insanely rich person said that because they have no idea what its like not to have money. So strive to be that rich person by avoiding all these travel scams.
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