Unfortunately, scam culture has existed long before and will continue long after the trend of scammer documentaries. And while the Elizabeth Holmes of the world are operating at an incomprehensibly large scale, most scammers are working on a one-on-one basis. Tourists are a popular target for cons-they are less likely to stick around to follow up on complaints and they are naturally out of their element.
As you might guess, a lot of travelers encounter scammers-so much so that there are entire Reddit threads dedicated to the topic. Analysts over at InsureandGo recently combed through hundreds of Reddit posts to determine which travel scams are the most common, and the top tips to avoid them.
“While travel adventures await around every corner, being informed and prepared means that you can fully immerse yourself in the experience,” said Chris Rolland, CEO at InsureandGo, in a statement to Thrillist. “We recommend staying aware of local customs and practices wherever you visit, so you can navigate new surroundings with confidence. Trust your instincts, and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”
Here are the top five types of traveler scams, according to InsureandGo’s Reddit analysis. A lot of these are what could also be called hustles-it’s not so much theft as it is getting you to part with money you had no desire to spend.
Taxi driver scams
This type of scam is actually multifaceted, and it’s the most common type of travel scam according to the analysis. This can be anything from rides being stretched longer to charge you more than necessary to cabs driving away with your luggage. The most common is a version of the former; it is easier to hike up prices through misdirection to people who are unfamiliar with a new place. Redditors suggest never admitting that you’re new to the city or country you’re visiting.
There are two common versions of this scam, based on InsureandGo’s Reddit research. The “Struggling Musician,” as one form of this hustle is called, is most common in the US. It typically involves meeting a musician performing on a street, then “gifting” you their CD. The catch is that the musician is urging you to “donate” money for the CD. The second form is common in the US and abroad. The Friendship Bracelet tactic is similar, just swap out the gifted CD with a bracelet.
Restaurants in tourist heavy areas-Redditors highlighted Greece and Italy specifically-often have restaurants primed for maximum money-making. These tactics include mandatory tips that are exceedingly high, overpriced appetizers delivered to the table that weren’t ordered by the guests, and overcharging on small items like juice. Another example is menu prices listed by gram, so that patrons aren’t able to determine the final price of the item when ordering.
This one might feel a bit obvious, but if you aren’t from an area where this happens it still might surprise you. In busy city centers-Redditors highlighted New York and Rome-people will dress in character costumes and offer to pose for photos with tourists. It’s common for the characters not to ask for any payment upfront, and then afterwards demand an amount of money. If you do feel inclined to take photos like this, it is best to agree on a price before taking the photo.
The kind stranger
This one is typically targeted towards solo travelers. A person will befriend a solo traveler and encourage them to try a bar or some other drinking establishment off the beaten path. At the end of the drinking or meal, the stranger will excuse themselves and the traveler will be left with a high bill they hadn’t anticipated paying on their own.
Some other popular ones that travelers are undoubtedly familiar with include pickpocketing and offering directions and then demanding payment.
To counter these common hustles, there are a few ways to avoid them and reduce the likelihood of encountering them:
Look for official businesses that are marked with official signage. Try to seek out official taxi companies, tour operators, and other service providers.
Settle on a fee before you accept a service, especially taxi rides.
Do your own research before traveling to be aware of information of what attractions are open, the general prices of menu items, and reading reviews of businesses you intend on patronizing.
Try to politely decline offers of gifts, photo opportunities, and unsolicited directions or tours and walk away.
If you have items or money that are stolen and you plan on filling an insurance claim, make sure to fill out a local police report for documentation.
Mexican restaurant chain Mad Mex has dropped a new protein, and it’s one of the most popular street foods in Mexico.
Enter, Chicken Al Pastor. It’s traditionally made with pork and grilled on a spinning rotisserie with a pineapple sitting a top, but Mad Mex has put its own spin on it, serving chicken bathed in an Al Pastor marinade with a touch of juicy pineapple.
You can order the protein-packed filling in your favourite burrito, bowl, quesadilla, nachos, or in a taco.
As always, these things are here for a good time, not a long time. Pop into your local Mad Mex restaurant, order delivery or through the Mad Mex app today.