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10 top tourist scams to avoid while traveling

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Travelers in unfamiliar territory can become easy prey for thieves and scammers.

Don’t be fooled by frauds or caught by crooks on your next trip. Their tricks are plentiful, as clever criminals devise new ways to separate unsuspecting travelers from their belongings. The U.S. State Department warns of crimes against tourists, as such instances are common.

Planning a vacation or business trip to a foreign country or even in your home nation? Watch out for these devious scams. These personal anecdotes, related firsthand by friends and colleagues, are real. The names have been changed to protect the unwittingly scammed individuals.

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1. Camera phone credit card scam

Tracy and Katy were thrilled to find fabulous deals on beaded jewelry in a Moroccan street bazaar. The vendor flipped out an antique credit card swiping device. Katy didn’t think twice when the man punched a few keys on his cell phone, assuming he was making another call, until she found strange charges on her credit card bill.

Be cautious with credit cards, particularly with unknown sellers. It’s too easy to photograph and steal confidential information.

2. Chatty strangers

Tonya felt flattered when a handsome dude chatted her up by a Roman fountain. Within minutes, he was acting like an old friend, showing her photos of his expensive sailboat.

“By the way,” the charmer began, “My wallet was stolen. Could you spot me some cash for taxi fare?”

Even the classiest looking strangers can still be scammers.

3. Cheating change swaps

Pleased with herself for bargaining with an Oslo street artist, Margo pulled out a large-denomination bill. The vendor shortchanged her, claiming the bill had been smaller.

Smart travelers try to buy with small bills. If you don’t have change, announce the amount you are presenting, and hold onto the money until the seller presents your change. Also, be cautious about possible counterfeit cash.

4. Creepy camera requests

This scam works two ways.

My college friend Staci asked a lady with a baby stroller to snap a photo of her in front of a historical statue in Paris. Staci’s smile turned south when her enlisted photographer made off with her camera.

Polly, our old babysitter, was willing to help when an older woman asked if she’d take a picture of her with her granddaughters on a Puerto Rican beach. The camera was jammed with sand, and the lady blamed Polly. Polly was smart enough to walk away.

5. Daunting demonstrations

Lori was startled on a Montego Bay street when an artisan began a beaded hair wrap on her long locks. As she pulled back, he held onto her tresses tightly, demanding she pay for his craft.

Crafty indeed.

6. Out-of-pocket trinket sales

No one I know has actually fallen for this, but scammers have fooled many with stolen goods or cheap knock-offs. Reputable sellers don’t store their wares in their own pockets. Instead, they set up shop somewhere, usually after applying for a vendor’s license.

Remember the stereotypical Rolex knock-off salesman, offering watches sewn into the inside of his coat? Sometimes a deal is a steal, but no bargain.

7. Sudden spills and unsolicited assistance

Dorrie was annoyed when a man outside a London theatre spilled soda on her camel blazer. She recoiled, as he blotted her with his handkerchief. This invasion of personal space became worse when the man’s accomplice snipped Dorrie’s purse strap and dashed.

Sometimes a mishap is simply precursor to a scam.

8. Police impersonators

This trick is tired, but it still works. Fake police officers earn tourists’ trust to dupe them. A uniformed stranger stops an unsuspecting visitor, demands personal identification and steals IDs or cash.

Before traveling, find out what the real police look like in your destination city. If you are stopped, be careful with your possessions, and only present these items in a safe spot with plenty of witnesses.

9. Seemingly stranded sojourners

Allie and Jake spotted a well-dressed couple on a roadside by Madrid, struggling to change a tire in the rain. My kind neighbors stopped to help. Allie held an umbrella, while Jake bent to loosen the lug nuts. Hearing a car horn, they looked up to see their rental car leaving, along with their passports, funds and luggage.

Good Samaritans must be smart. Watch out for scams.

10. Tricky try-ons

Janna jumped, when a Delhi vendor tied a purple scarf around her neck. She tried to give it back, but the woman refused to take it, insisting on a huge sum for the silky scarf. Janna dropped the scarf and left.

Be extra cautious in strange surroundings.

Pickpockets abound on crowded streets of virtually every city, so it pays to keep tabs on one’s own valuables, particularly during sudden diversions. Apparent accidents, spontaneous strippers, fistfights, and cooked-up crises have grabbed far too many unsuspecting tourists’ attention long enough for thieves to grab their goods and run.

Tourists have been bumped, jostled, cajoled, and accosted on unfamiliar streets (from Athens, Greece, to Athens, Georgia), as scammers have tried their tricks. It pays to be savvy and safe.

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