June 19, 2024

Awareness is the Key

As a solo adventure traveler and one over 50, we are often seen as easy targets for thieves, pickpockets, and scam artists. Travel fraud is a real threat. Even the savviest traveler can be scammed. The thieves are crafty and desperate.

 

There are no geographic boundaries to scammers. Let me make you aware of a few of the scams out there and give you enough awareness to be less of a target.  It’s important to know the scams they are running today. I’ve outlined some common tourist scams and how to avoid them.

 

Traveler Beware

 

Transportation

International driving permit scams

An international driving permit (IDP) translates your government-issued driver’s license into 10 languages. Scammers create websites to sell fake IDPs, or try to sell them to you in person or some other way. If you buy a fake IDP, you’ll be paying for a worthless document. But, even worse, you also could face legal problems or travel delays if you’re detained for using it to drive in a foreign country. Only the U.S. Department of State, the American Automobile Association (AAA), and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are authorized to issue IDPs.

 

Train Stations

The Bump and Grab: This one usually takes place on trains, buses, and metro stations. We get distracted and distracted by the mere number of people in these transportation hubs. A thief or a group of thieves will “accidentally” bump into a tourist. While you are distracted, the scammer is picking your pocket. And you will never feel it!

 

Traveler Beware

 

TripAdvisor

 

Grab and Dash: When on trains, thieves often stay near the train door timing their next move. Just as the door is set to shut, they swipe purses and other belongings and make a quick getaway while the train leaves the station.

Don’t keep your wallet in your front or back pockets. Using a money belt or a zippered cross-body bag will provide additional security. It is also best practice to not have all your valuables in one place. If you do fall victim to a pickpocket, you will still have the cash to make that journey comfortable.

 

 

Taxi Scams

The most common is the cabby will tell you that their meter is broken and then charge you an inflated price. Or they have corrupt meters that run faster than they should and therefore overcharge. Drivers who hang around airports and hotels are known to overcharge. It can happen anywhere.

 

You can ask the hotel staff what a cab ride should cost. I go on Rome-To-Rio and check. They are not exact, but it gives you a good idea.

 

Traveler Beware

 

 

Before you get in the cab ask the driver the approximate cost for your trip. If it is way off what you have been told, then go to the next one. Many large cities have highly regulated cab services so you shouldn’t have any problems.

 

After you get into the car ask the driver to turn on the meter. Ask if there are any additional charges like putting your luggage in the car, driving through tolls, etc.  Make sure to only ride in authorized cabs and stay vigilant for red flags that indicate it may be an unlicensed cab trying to dupe tourists.

 

 

Don’t ever take the work of a driver that tells you that your hotel is not available. This is their way of rerouting you to a hotel that gives them a fee for bringing them, customers.  This also poses personal safety concerns, as you wind up in a different part of town than you expected. Do not let the driver take you to an alternate location and insist on going to your original destination. We are in an age of electronics where you can track your trip and know if he is off route. Don’t hesitate to call them out if you see they are not going in the direction you expect.

Traveler Beware

 

 

Equipment Rentals

Travelers opting to rent a vehicle should be cautious. It is common for shopkeepers to hold your passport as collateral while you are out on your excursion. When you return the motorcycle or jet ski at the end of the day, the owner claims that you caused damage to the equipment and will need to pay for repair charges. Travelers anxious to get their passports back may pay the fee.

 

Make a thorough inspection of the vehicle before you leave. If possible, let the shop know you’re taking pictures or a video of existing damage, and try to include them in the footage. This will hopefully prevent a your-word-against-their argument later.

 

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Meeting the Locals

We always want to be friendly when we are on vacation but sometimes you could be a target for a scam just when you are being interactive with locals.  Be cautious of anyone who approaches you and overly flatters you and starts being a little too assertive. They are on a mission to either sell you something or pick your pockets.

 

Friendly Local

Don’t ever go with the friendly local who says they will show you around. Don’t let drinks or dinner with a new friend allow you to let your guard down.  Many times they will join you during the meal and then when it’s time to pay they disappear. And don’t EVER leave your drink out of your site.

 

There are men who hang out at the bars and pools in vacation spots and befriend older women in hopes of building a relationship for even a more long term scam. The “I need help getting into your country” or “I need money to come and visit you”. You won’t know for a while what is going on but use your common sense and look at the situation.

 

 

Spilled Drink

The drink that a stranger may accidentally spill on you is more than likely a way to distract you and take your belongings. It could be your phone sitting on the table or your purse hanging off your chair. They will apologize and insist on helping you with the spill. While they are doing that, they are also swiping your wallet (grabbing the numbers) or snatching your stuff.  Let the person know that you can take care of it yourself and then go to the restroom (with your belongings and drink) and take care of matters.

 

Police Officer Impersonators

Tourists often don’t know the customs and are willing to comply with thieves in uniform. The phony officers may explain that there has been a problem with counterfeit bills circulating in the area, or try to ticket you for a made-up infraction. The officers will then insist that you hand over your passport and wallet. Don’t!

 

 

Ask them for proper Identification and tell them you will go to the local station to handle the matter. Do not get in the car with them to escort you. Remember, nothing is going to happen to you if you don’t comply – they are not real.

 

Orbitz

 

Juice Jacking

Technology makes travel easier, but travelers should be careful not to put their information and devices at risk. Make certain you use a power plug directly and not a charging station (airports excluded) that is managed by a non-regulated group – aka thieves.

 

Juice jacking occurs when a criminal tampers with a USB charging port, or the cable attached to it, so that it installs malware on a device that is plugged into it. This malware may lock the device or send data, passwords, or even a full backup of the phone directly to the scammer.

 

 

Be on the safe side and plug directly into an AC power outlet instead of a charging station and take your cables with you. External batteries are also great alternatives and allow the user to roam free rather than be tethered to the power station while their phone charges.

 

ATM Skimmers

You will need to have cash on hand and that means you will visit a cash machine at some point.  However, there is sometimes risk involved in using these convenient machines, as thieves have ways of stealing ATM card details.

 

ATM skimmers are small devices that criminals place inside the ATM machine slot. This device records the card information when the physical card is inserted into the machine. The PIN of the card is also needed, so there is often a camera hidden to record the PIN, or a PIN pad overlay, which is placed on top of the normal pad, recording the entered code.

 

Business Class Deals

 

Upon arriving at the ATM, it is advised to examine the card reader, the keypad, and the privacy shield. Skimmers are often snapped into place or attached with an adhesive, so the device should be noticeable. Also, the card should go into the slot smoothly – if the card is entered into the slot and doesn’t go in easily, an external device may be installed. Lastly, when a PIN is entered, travelers should take care to cover the code with their free hand as they punch in the numbers. This will block the PIN from any camera installed, trying to record the number.

 

Public Wi-Fi

Having access to public Wi-Fi is usually a relief to travelers looking to get online. However, this free service can sometimes provide golden opportunities for criminals. Public places make a great cover for hackers who can easily set up malicious hotspots and steal personal data.

 

 

Poor router configuration and lack of a strong password can make public Wi-Fi hotspots vulnerable. Hackers can work unnoticed using basic, user-friendly software which is available legally, such are Wireshark and Aircrack-ng. It is a quick process to see confidential information sent from a device connected to an unsecure Wi-Fi, including passwords and credit card details. Worst of all, the victim of the crime often will not notice that their gadget has been hijacked.

 

According to Daniel Markuson, a Digital Privacy Expert at NordVPN, there are a few common types of attacks that can be launched on insecure public Wi-Fi networks. These include:

 

Fly and Stay Cheap

 

Man-in-the-middle attacks: Hacker intercepts and modifies the transmission between a device and a website/service. Then, the information on the device is no longer private.

 

Evil twin attack: Cybercriminal creates a fake Wi-Fi hotspot. When a device connects to this fake access point, all communication falls into the hands of the hacker.

 

Malware injections: When a device is connected to an unsecured network, malicious code can slip into the device, infect it, break down the system, and give criminals access to confidential files.

 

Snooping and Sniffing: Cybercriminals use special software to see all data passing through the network and access the victim’s online activity. This includes browsing history, login details, and sensitive information from online accounts.

 

 

Awareness of these common types of attacks is the first step in keeping your information safe. Other ways to stay safe include confirming the name of a Wi-Fi network with staff members to ensure it is legit, avoiding visits to websites requiring personal information, setting up two-factor authentication for private account logins, enabling a firewall, using a VPN, and remembering to turn off the Wi-Fi function when you’re not using it. The best way to keep information secure is to completely avoid public Wi-Fi and use mobile data instead.

 

Bogus Bargains

Sometimes, a great deal really is too good to be true.

 

Free Friendship Bracelet

Particularly common in major marketplaces and touristy areas across Europe, vendors target tourists (particularly women) to strike up a conversation or even aggressively ask for help with a demonstration. The vendor then proceeds to quickly braid a friendship bracelet on you, hand you a sprig of rosemary, or adorn you with necklaces. They will be very assertive and put in on your body.  Before you have a chance to remove and give back the item, they will demand a premium price for the item. Most tourists often want to avoid a scene and feel obliged to pay. Unless you want to buy an overpriced bracelet, I would just keep walking and be firm to show them you are not interested. They can get very assertive.

 

 

Found Jewelry

This scheme starts with someone stopping you with a bracelet, asking if you have just dropped the item. After further examination, the crook will act like he just notices that the bracelet is valuable and offer to sell it to you for a low price. He will tell you that you can resell the item for way more than you got it for, a seemingly win-win deal. When you finally appraise the jewelry, it is proven to be a fake!

 

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Wrong Change

Paying with cash may seem like a safe option. But even cash payments will have their challenges. Be careful breaking large bills on small tabs, especially in countries where all the currency looks similar. It is common for scam artists to sneak in some lesser value bills.

 

If you need to use a large bill, make sure you say out loud how much you have paid, so it is clear you are expecting change back. Even if your cashier says the correct amount of change, they may be trying to pull a fast one on you. Travelers should familiarize themselves with the currency used at their destination and always count their change.

 

 

Vouchers

Scammers may approach you and say their plans have been cancelled and you could get a great bargain if you bought their vouchers. They won’t look like a crook, but they are. Anything that seems unusual, unprofessional, or too good to be true probably is, and when in doubt always contact your travel supplier directly.

 

Scammers have been reported to create fake online sites or listings for a travel supplier, guiding customers to contact this fake phone number or email address directly. If a victim provides their private voucher and contact information, the criminal can steal the information they have collected verbally and drain the voucher of its value.

 

If purchasing a new voucher, travelers are advised to remain vigilant – pay attention to the details of the wording, and research the reputation of the company selling it. Read the fine print. Grammatical errors are a red flag. If purchasing online, the presence of a logo does not mean that the business is an authorized reseller of travel products and should always be verified before purchasing.

 

Beware of deals that seem too good to be true. Criminals purchase vouchers using stolen credit cards and quickly resell them. Once the travel supplier catches on and cancels the transaction, the victim who purchased the voucher is left with worthless paper. Using a credit card, as opposed to a debit card, is a great way to protect yourself from this as credit cards often offer enhanced security and fraud protection.

 

 

Travel Insurance

Most travel insurance scams occur when booking flights and cruises or when reserving hotel rooms. Shoppers are pressured into checking a box to buy a low-cost insurance plan to protect their trip. Travelers assume that they paid for trip protection benefits but often get little to no coverage for common travel issues.

 

Don’t check the box and buy your own insurance through a company that is highly recommended.

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