A while back we took a look at some of the most common travel myths circulating today, but this month we want to focus on something a bit more serious – travel scams. Even the most seasoned traveler may at some point find himself the victim of an unethical hotelier, restaurant, or airline.
It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Often times these scams are well planned and take even the best of us by surprise. The trick is to recognize what might be a scam so that you can approach new situations with caution. Here are a few to keep in mind.
IDENTITY THEFT SCAMS
Identity theft is growing relatively prevalent these days and it’s important to protect yourself at all times – especially if you’re in a foreign country. Never let your personal information (your passport, credit card, or drivers license) out of sight.
Leave your personal belongings and extra money locked up in your hotel safe when it is not needed. If you use the computer, either in your room or at a public location, make sure you sign out of everything completely before you leave.
Scammers depend on the fact that most tourists are unfamiliar with local currency. Sadly, too many travelers have taken their cash to local money exchanges to find out that they’ve received a) less than they should have, b) old currency no longer in use, or c) nothing at all.
The safest place to exchange your money is at a local bank or an ATM machine. Airports and hotels charge huge commissions that don’t make the exchange worth your while.
Cab drivers aren’t stupid. They know you aren’t familiar with their home town but also know you have a slim chance of finding them again if you don’t enjoy your ride. Ask your driver if he’s familiar with your route before you even let him put your luggage in the cab.
Once you’re sure of where you’re going, make sure the cab driver remembers to turn the meter on (otherwise he may try to charge you a ridiculous flat rate at the end of your ride) and then watch to make sure he’s taking a reasonable route. It makes sense to alter the route to avoid traffic; it does not make sense to take the long route only to rack up the mileage on the meter.
It’s happened to everyone at least once. We once visited a NYC hotel and were shocked at what we found. The hotel on the website was large, spacious, and had beautiful hotel rooms. The hotel we pulled up to was incredibly small, had narrow hallways, and had even smaller bedrooms.
Say you purchase an “all-inclusive” package that promises, for example, meals. Make sure that your meals are included no matter what you choose to eat. Clarify that everything on the menu is included and, if not, make sure you understand exactly what is.
AVOID COUNTERFEIT PRODUCTS
Buying what appears to be a Coach handbag even if it is not may not seem like a big deal, but it sure will feel like one if you realize you paid a Coach price for a fake bag. A counterfeit handbag won’t kill you, but fake pharmaceutical drugs, electronics, shampoos, and other cosmetics may make you seriously ill. Make sure that whatever you purchase is authentic. If you’re not sure, or if the deal seems too good to be true, don’t buy it.
What ever happened to the days when room fees were room fees and the fees you were quoted ended up being exactly what you were charged? Imagine receiving your bill at the end of your resort stay only to find out you were charged parking lot fees, gym fees, and for the local newspaper?
Practices like this were once limited to Hawaiian resorts but seem to have spread to most major cities. Make sure you ask about extra fees the moment you make your reservation. Don’t book your reservation if you don’t get a straightforward answer.
I hate airport security. Not because of the long lines, but because of the moments in time where I lose sight of my personal belongings as they slide through metal detectors and scanners while I linger on the other side. How can I be sure someone else won’t pick them up before I get there?
Be careful if, for some reason, you are the lucky individual pulled aside for an extra check. Make sure you pick up all of your personal belongings from both the scanners and metal detectors before you head to the next security check. It’s your right to keep track of your property.
Keep your chin up, your eyes open, and your mind clear as you travel. The world is certainly worth exploring, but our travels will be much more fun if we can avoid financial catastrophe along the way. Have a safe trip!