5 Terrible Tourist Scams

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —While you undoubtedly scour the Web for some last-minute Spring Break travel deals, there are some other preparations you may want to incorporate into your plans: how to protect your finances while on the road.

The Better Business Bureau recently posted a scam alert warning on its website, informing tourists of what scams they should look out for in their travels. Here are a few that stand out.

Diversion scams. Thieves often work in pairs to pick pocket tourists. Typically one crook will divert your attention by, for instance, spilling ice cream on your shoes or squirting mustard, ketchup or water on you. As they “help” clean up the mess they made, another thief will snatch your handbag, wallet or suitcase. A similar version of this scam occurs when a thief simply bumps into you and then picks your pocket. To protect your pockets, the BBB suggests keeping your wallet close to you and hanging onto your purse. You may want to purchase a bag that has a long strap you can cross over the body and hold close to you at all times.

The fake police con. With this scam, crooks in fake police uniforms approach you and show you an equally phony badge. Once you’ve been hooked, they will either request to see your wallet for identification or say that they need to check it for counterfeit money. Once you hand over the wallet though, it will be gone forever. So seek out a safe place before agreeing to be “searched” by the officer. And check photo sites like Flickr (link) for images of police in the country you are visiting – the more familiar you are with the uniform, the less likely it is that you’ll fall for a scam.

The Good Samaritan gone bad. Thieves sometimes target tourists in rental cars by pulling alongside them in their own vehicle under the false pretense they are notifying the driver of a flat tire. The BBB says you should resist the temptation to pull over until you are in a safe place. If you do otherwise, the criminals could jump out with weapons and take your valuables.

The “in distress” family member scam. Crooks will sometimes call hotel rooms and tell a guest that they need to call a specific number to get details about a family member in distress. The traveler, temporaily off his or her guard and concerned for the “relative,” will call the number and unknowingly be connected to the Caribbean or Africa. Depending on the hotel’s phone policy, that call could bring a charge of hundreds of dollars. As such, travelers should call family members directly to find out if there is a problem at home, instead of reaching out through the number provided by a con artist.

The stranded traveler con. If you are approached by a person who says they were robbed while on vacation, you may want to refrain when giving them some money to eat, travel and get another passport. According to the BBB, this “victim” is likely just a con artist who is looking to rob you instead.

You find a few more variations on travel-abroad scams on the BBB’s website. You can also find some more tips for how to travel scam-free in this BBB blog post.

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