WATCH: Tips on how to avoid common travel scams

People can easily overlook scams when they’re desperate to secure holiday travel and accommodation, so it is wise to follow these tips. File Picture

People can easily overlook scams when they’re desperate to secure holiday travel and accommodation, so it is wise to follow these tips. File Picture

Published Apr 12, 2024


As the travel industry continues to recover, and the popularity of online booking continues to grow, travel scammers are also looking for new ways to defraud travellers.

Travel scams can be an unfortunate part of travelling, affecting both occasional tourists and seasoned adventurers.

The ease of online booking and the variety of deals and offers available has given scammers a whole new way to defraud vacationers. It’s important to stay vigilant by keeping up to date on the latest scams and, if using a travel agent, always going through reputable agents and services.

The damage of travel scams may go further than finances, though. Victims could be deceived into purchasing fake documents or handing over passports, leaving them short on funds and stranded in an unfamiliar country.

Before travelling, it’s a good idea for tourists to thoroughly research their destination, including local police or council websites that could alert them to current or common scams.

Here are a few common travel scams

Mobile device scams

Tourists are advised to be vigilant about their mobile device security as it is a common problem when travelling.

It is as important to protect your cellphones with the same veracity as your passports, as the loss of either may lead to identity theft.

Thieves target tourists and snatch their unlocked phones from their hands. With access to unlocked phones, criminals can change key passwords effectively locking the owner out of their device. Thus empowered, they can leverage multi-factor authentication to gain access to social media accounts, bank accounts, and more.

By the time tourists get to a computer or alternative device, they may have already been locked out of their accounts.

It is worth travelling with a backup cellphone in case of cellphone theft so that swift action can be taken.

As well as paying close attention to physical devices, tourists are advised to be mindful of mobile data security when travelling. It is recommended to refrain from using free or unsecured WiFi, especially for sensitive activities like shopping or banking, or logging into email or social accounts. A more secure option is to use a personal hotspot with WPA2 enabled and a string password selected.

ATM skimming

This is a common form of card fraud. Scammers insert a small device into the ATM that “skims” the victim’s information once they insert their card. Skimmers are meant to be discreet, so they are not always visible.

To spot a compromised ATM, inspect the reader before inserting a card. If anything looks damaged, out of alignment, or strangely bulging, do not use the machine and instead find a safer option. ATMs inside bank branches will be more closely monitored and generally safer.

Fake ticket sales

Ticket scams are where a scammer deceives someone into buying illegitimate tickets to events or attractions. They are often cheaper than buying tickets directly from the venue and are appealing to travellers on a budget.

Fraudulent websites are set up, or tourists may be approached by someone offering a cheaper ticket outside popular attractions. To ensure ticket authenticity, travellers could contact their resort or hotel directly and ask them for the best way to buy or contact the venue directly.

Fake police scams

In a fake police scam, the victim may be approached by someone posing as a police officer and instructed to complete a seemingly reasonable task, such as handing over their bag for a search or their wallet to look for counterfeit bills, or even following the scammer to a taxi.

In all these examples, the victim might submit to the authority of this police impersonation because they look legitimate. To avoid this, never follow strangers to a second location and never hand over personal belongings. Read up on the police uniform in the area and the process of reporting scams.

Street pickpocketing

While not technically a scam, pickpocketing is a common risk in high-traffic areas. In close proximity to strangers, like in crowded areas and on public transport, it is important to stay vigilant.

To avoid street theft, make it harder for a thief to gain access to possessions by ensuring all bags are fastened and ideally in full view. It is also recommended that travellers only carry the cash they need to avoid rifling through large amounts of cash in public places and attracting potential thieves.

Tips for avoiding travel scams

No matter where in the world a vacation takes place, travelling securely is crucial.

Here are some top to avoid travel scams:

Research and planning

Make sure travel planning involves thorough research before making any solid commitments. Get recommendations from trusted sources for where to stay and how to book. Look out for any strange-looking websites offering deals far below market price. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Make sure to add local scams to travel research, too. A quick Google search will show up the most frequently reported scams at a destination. Hotel staff will also know who to trust and who to avoid.

Secure your personal belongings

Secure any belongings that could be of interest to a thief or are necessary to return home, like passports, travel documents, tickets, and wallets. Lock away unnecessary items in a hotel room safe, close bags and pockets, and never leave purses or wallets in plain sight.

Anti-theft measures may also prove useful, such as an anti-theft purse, luggage with lockable zippers, and travel accessories like Bluetooth trackers for bags.

Mark Mwongela Ngungi, PayPal Sales Development Director for Africa advises travellers to “Utilise a digital wallet as it could potentially protect payment cards and financial information. If a thief were to steal a person’s phone, they may be less likely to obtain any information if the phone is protected by a passcode or passkey”.

Stay informed

One way to prevent being a victim of a travel scam is to stay informed. Look for up-to-date information about scams by making sure website entries are recent.

Report travel scams

Fraud reporting provides essential statistics that help other travellers. Report scams to the local authorities whenever possible.

[email protected]

IOL Travel