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The summer vacation time is upon us and with travel comes a certain amount of exposure to risk. While you can’t avoid pitfalls totally, your amount of liability can be lowered by becoming aware of the most common scams and taking a few safety precautions.  In the first of a two-part series on travel scams and safety, we focus on scams.

Everyone thinks they are too smart to become a victim of a scam, but that isn’t true. We are all at risk. However, knowledge and taking a few safeguards will decrease the likelihood of a scam ruining a vacation.

Taxi Scams

There are four common taxi scams which can end up costing you more money.  One is a broken meter. The driver will announce the meter isn’t working and offer a deal.  The so-called good deal is rarely good. Before getting into a taxi, ask the hotel staff or another reliable local source how much a cab ride usually costs to go to your destination. This will help if a driver tries to negotiate as you can offer the rate suggested by the hotel staff.  

Another way taxi drivers try to overcharge is with a meter that goes up too quickly. If this happens ask the driver to pull over. Pay the rate, get out and find another car.  Take note of the driver’s ID number so he can be reported to the local tourism board.

Tourists may find themselves looking at a local landmark that appears to be unexpectedly closed. The driver will suggest other nearby sites while you wait for your original destination to open. When the driver returns to the first spot, it will be discovered that the site was open all along. He conveniently happened to drop you off on the wrong side of the building. The driver benefitted from driving around the city to visit other places as the amount of the original fare increased.

Drivers at the airport may claim the hotel you are booked at is terrible, overbooked, sold or closed. You should still go to the planned accommodation. Their suggested hotel will very likely be more expensive and in most cases, they will receive a kick back.

To help avoid these shenanigans, ask hotel or restaurant staff for the name of a reliable car service. Ride services, such as Uber or Lyft, also help reduce these risks as they place accountability on their drivers.

Experts also suggest that before going on a trip, you use Google Maps or similar apps to pre-plan routes to places you intend to visit. Most of these apps allow you to download maps in case you’re somewhere the cell service is spotty or unavailable. Also, take a look at Google Earth. With the use of satellites, you will be able to see exactly where and how everything looks. Familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods of the places you plan to visit and find out the location of emergency services, such as urgent care, hospitals and the police. Determine what is the best mode of transportation for your destination.

Customer Support and Travel Agent Impersonators

If you have had a recent flight change or cancellation you may be the target of a scammer posing as a representative of the airline. This is done most often through email and social media.

Fraudsters will also cast a wide net via text messages. In both cases travelers are sent to a website that looks similar to the airline’s site.  The following steps can be taken to avoid falling for their trap:

  • Always check the URLs. Make sure everything is spelled correctly and the address starts with https. The "s" stands for secure. False sites are often missing the "s." Make sure the domain name extension is a common one such as ".com."
  • Remember, internet criminals want your personal information so badly, they will pay not only to advertise their websites, but also to have their sites boosted.
  • If a travel package seems too good to be true, it often is a scam. Travelers have purchased vacation packages from people claiming to be travel agents and have been left with no place to sleep or stuck at an airport with no flight. 

Be on the lookout for these red flags that the travel agent is a fake:

  • Offering unlimited amounts of something.
  • Payment through Venmo or another app or unusual forms of payment such as wire transfers, cryptocurrency or only accepting cash.
  • Refusal to take checks or credit cards.
  • Lack of a landline phone.
  • High-pressure sales tactics. Legitimate travel agents allow their clients to take their time when planning a vacation.

If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of a travel agent, the American Society of Travel Advisors offers a directory of agents.

Helping Others

These scams play upon our natural inclination to help someone who appears to be in trouble.  For example, if you see an older adult fall on an escalator, before rushing to help them or anyone in a public place, make sure you know where all your belongings are.   Unfortunately, falling, along with jostling or spilling hot coffee on you are often commotions created to distract you while you are being pickpocketed.

You also need to be cautious of locals who offer to help you.  Their “good deed” may come with a price tag much higher than you are willing to pay. If you accept their assistance, many are very persistent and even intimidating about getting paid.

Traveling still can be fun. Just remember to pay attention, and if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.

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Translations of any materials into languages other than English are intended solely as a convenience to the non-English-reading public. We have attempted to provide an accurate translation of the original material in English, but due to the nuances in translating to a foreign language, slight differences may exist.

Las traducciones de cualquier material a idiomas que no sean el inglés son para la conveniencia de aquellos que no leen inglés. Hemos intentado proporcionar una traducción precisa del material original en inglés, pero debido a las diferencias de la traducción a un idioma extranjero, pueden existir ligeras diferencias.

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