All that glitters isn't gold: travel scams are specifically designed to part you from your hard-earned cash, not to provide you with any value.
Don't be fooled. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
New hoaxes crop up each day and the list of potential cons below is in no way exhaustive - but it's a start.
Have you ever been a victim or witness of a scam or deception during your travels? If you have, please share your story with the rest of us - keep us all on our toes.
Being a woman traveler can be like wearing a stamp on your forehead that screams "easy mark". Not that we're less wise, on the contrary; if anything we're more prepared because we've carefully done our research, knowing that people might mistake us for soft targets.
It's more about how others see a woman on her own, young or old, as vulnerable, or possibly without family. Very tempting when it comes to taking advantage...
I traveled on my own for years and was scammed a few times - but far fewer than I might have been. And most instances were insignificant.
I had my passport stolen in Beijing. My fault. I put it in my backpack instead of my travel money belt, utterly stupid and self-inflicted. Another time my reading glasses were stolen from my blouse pocket by children in Dar-es-Salaam. Good thing I was able to buy them back at the market an hour later.
Over the years I've had good merchandise substituted for bad, been shortchanged in countries with unfamiliar currencies, or been overcharged for goods or services. Each event grafted itself into my knowledge bank, making me more aware of potential dishonesty and firmer in my efforts to avoid it.
This is the bread and butter of those who prey on travelers.
In Marrakech many years ago I bought a perfectly white sheepskin. The kind vendor took it into the back of the shop to wrap it for packing. When I eventually got home it had turned a muddy shade of brown along with the white - it wasn't the one that I'd bought but a cheap and ugly substitute. I'd fallen for the oldest travel scam in the book: I'd let something out of my site, providing an opportunity for substitution.
There are more nefarious forms of product substitution, for example with counterfeit drugs, which can not only harm your health but even lead to death if the drug is needed to save a life.
Things like tap water substituted for water in a bottle (thieves can find ingenious ways to break the seal and reseal bottles) used to be common but bottle manufacturers are making bottles increasingly tamper-proof.
So if you need something for your health, buy it from a credible source. It's not a guarantee, but your chances are better.
A Rolex Oster (misspelling included) or a Frolex for $20? A $5 ICE watch? A Vuitton bag for $35? A Lacoste or Ralph Lauren polo shirt for $2?
Despite missing letters and poorly drawn logos, these counterfeit goods always find buyers - as do cheap computer operating systems, fake DVDs (shot with a wobbly camera from the darkness of a movie theater) or pirated software. Just remember you will get what (little) you paid for.
A number of countries are becoming seriously intolerant of copies, and have specially trained customs officers whose only role is to distinguish authentic from counterfeit.
In France where I live, customs officers are trained to spot counterfeit goods and large posters adorn border crossings warning you about fake crocodile logos or synthetic Hermes scarves.
Take them home at your own peril.
Make sure you know the law before you buy.
In Russia, it is illegal to buy anything older than 50 years. Yet these items - especially religious items and communist military artifacts, such as medals - are openly on sale in flea markets. It's hard to imagine you might end up in jail as a smuggler for buying what is openly for sale.
Another hot item is the precious stone, especially in Asia. You might be offered gems to take home and sell, along with promises of high profits. Beware. Genuine gem dealers have sales and distribution networks and don't need a lone woman traveler to sell their stones. They can do it without your help.
These are among the most common scams.
The first thing to watch for is someone trying to part you from your money, whether another backpacker or someone you've just met.
- I need money for an emergency flight home.
- I have a sick parent who needs care.
- My school fees due but my parents are unemployed.
These are just a few of the heartrending stories you might hear. They're borderline, and falling for them won't set you back too much - and who knows, once in a long while the request might be legitimate.
But some 'no-way' situations and should be avoided at all costs:
Watch out for pickpockets, particularly at crowded transport hubs like bus stations, train stations, boat docks and airports.
It can happen in a blink: you're standing on a crowded subway which brakes a bit or jerks and throws you off balance. Someone holds out an arm to steady you and next thing you know your wallet is gone. I witnessed this one myself in Barcelona but it happened so quickly I only noticed it once it was over.
It's called a diversion: something happens around you, you are briefly distracted, and by the time you realize what's happened it's too late.
There are hundreds of major internet scams around and just because you're on the road doesn't mean you're protected - in fact, it may be the opposite.
Apart from the well-known Nigerian email scams and its imitators, a computer is a tempting place to do evil. Technology has advanced to such a point that it can track your keystrokes when you type in account numbers and passwords, so keep your Internet banking off public computers.
If you think you'll need to use a computer often, bring your own laptop. Or your tablet. But don't use an internet cafe for anything more than sending basic email or Skyping.
Confidence scams are often a combination of other types of scam - theft and money for example, but they involve some sort of breach of trust. Here are a few to beware of:
Another common deceit is known as a uniform scam: someone wearing an official uniform asks you to do something or go somewhere that inevitably costs you money.
The good thing about these travel scams is that they quickly become common knowledge and countries who prize tourists will usually take quick action.
Taxis that try to overcharge are unfortunately all too common.
Scams can range from a malfunctioning meter ('it's broken, it's not necessary, we don't use them in this country') to asking for 'extras' to carry a bag or taking a circuitous route to your destination.
In a new city, it's easy to be misled when all buildings look the same. Try to become familiar with a place before you arrive, by looking at a map or on Google Earth or better yet, figure out the shortest way from A to B on your smartphone before even stepping into a cab.
Here are some common taxi travel scams:
TIPS: If at all possible, try to team up with someone for a cab ride. Ask around the taxi line at the airport. Don't get into an unofficial taxi unless that's the country's norm, like in Cuba, where most taxis are unofficial. And always make sure you can open the doors from the inside.
These travel scams may seem a little frightening but they are relatively rare. They'll be even rarer if you're aware of them because most of them succeed if they catch you by surprise.
Travel is a wonderful adventure and I've rarely faced anything other than kindness. I can count the number of times I've been scammed on the fingers of one hand.
A few final words: if something does happen, please DON'T be ladylike! Don't hesitate to raise your voice if you feel someone is being dishonest.
My main rule: if a situation gets a bit uncomfortable, just walk away. This will work in 99% of situations in which people approach you.
If you travel a lot, you may have run into the occasional dishonest operator who is only after your money.
The best defense is to spread the word.
Have you ever been ripped off on the road? If so, please tell us about it - your story can help someone else someday. It's all about paying it forward!
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