6 Common Travel Fraud Tactics and How to Avoid Them

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It’s tempting to forget your worries when you’re on vacation, but no matter where in the world you are, you’ll find people trying to separate you from your money. Many tourists are unfamiliar with the language, geography, and culture of the places they’re exploring—which makes them appealing targets for con artists. Even if you know how to spot a scam in person, traveling can expose your loved ones at home to fraud. Before taking a trip, read up on these common schemes used against travelers, brought to you by Mental Floss and Discover.

1. The overpriced taxi ride

One of the most common travel scams preys on travelers as soon as they leave the airport. When picking up travelers, some taxi drivers may employ fraud tactics they would never use on locals, like taking a convoluted route to their destination, leaving the meter off and making up an inflated price, or claiming to have no change and accepting a disproportionate tip. When landing in a new city, you can avoid these tricks by steering clear of the first cab you find outside the airport. Instead, pick a taxi or ride share company you’ve researched thoroughly beforehand or look into taking a shuttle to your hotel.

2. ATM skimmers

You can’t trust every ATM you find when traveling. Some may have been compromised by card skimmers—devices criminals place in otherwise legitimate ATMs that read and record debit card information. After using an ATM with a card skimmer, your card could be hacked, leaving you without money far from home. Sticking to ATMs located in banks, where there are often guards and security cameras, is much safer than using an unprotected machine in a store or on the street. Avoiding ATMs all together and using cash you withdrew before your trip, or having a credit card with fraud protection on hand, are the best ways to protect your bank account.

3. The fake attraction ticket

Even the most expensive cities in the world offer some great free attractions. But many tourists don’t know this, and they can fall victim to con artists offering them “deals” on tickets to attractions that are really free and open to the public. In New York City, one common version of this scam involves the Staten Island Ferry, which doesn’t require a ticket to ride. But even if you are buying tickets to an attraction with an admission price, it’s always better to go to the source than to buy them from people on the street.

4. The character photo scam

Look out for people dressed in off-brand character costumes outside popular tourist attractions. These scammers come up to people offering to pose for photographs, and once the victim snaps the picture they demand money from them. If the tourist doesn’t pay them, or if they don’t pay them enough, the characters may get aggressive. The lesson here is not to engage with strangers asking you to take a picture with them, even if they’re dressed up as a character from your favorite movie.

5. Identity theft via social media

You aren’t just vulnerable to in-person scams when traveling abroad. If you broadcast your vacation to friends on social media, you could be sharing those details to scammers without realizing it. When a criminal sees that you’re out of the country, they may call up your family pretending to be you. They’ll say there’s been in an emergency and ask for money, using details pulled from your online activity to convince your family that it’s really you. To avoid schemes like this one, make sure your social accounts are set to private, or better yet, enjoy being in the moment and wait until returning home to post pictures of your trip.

6. The takeout menu trick

People staying in a hotel aren’t always familiar with the restaurants in the area, and criminals can profit from this. Scammers print fake take-out menu and slide them under the doors of hotel rooms. Guests will call and give their name and credit card number, thinking they’re ordering from a legitimate restaurant, when in reality the person on the other end of the line is stealing their identity. Instead, ask your hotel’s concierge for local restaurants you can check out.

Even with this knowledge in hand it can be hard to monitor every place your information is stored, so let Discover help you to protect yourself. They’ll monitor thousands of Dark Web sites and alert you if they find your Social Security Number or if new accounts appear on your Experian® credit report. The service is free for cardmembers who sign up and is a good first step to putting you in the know. Terms apply. Learn more at Discover.com.