4 Ways to Spot a Travel Scam That Could Rip You Off

Fraude spray painted on cement

Travelers should be aware of cons | Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Your money is always at risk — but never more so than when you’re in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar rules. For travelers, getting conned starts well before you even head to the airport. You may fall victim to any number of travel scams out there, the perpetrators of which lay their snares well in advance. The point is, travel scams are out there, and in large numbers. If you plan on traveling, you need to know what to look for.

We’re not talking about street performers who are after your change or charlatans passing off fake merchandise in giant crowded marketplaces. While those people, too, would like nothing more than to separate you from the cash in your wallet, the big scams — the cons that pay off big — often take place on the Internet. And you can easily be tricked into believing that you’re paying for a perfectly legitimate service.

Travel scams have been increasing in frequency as well. In fact, as technology proliferates into more and more developing nations — where populations are often poor and desperate — phishing scams, fake rentals, and all kinds of other plots are being hatched that will leave you high and dry, separated from your vacation fund.

In a similar fashion to how you keep track of your finances at home, you need to take an aggressive attitude with you on your travels. Spotting a travel scam isn’t always easy.

So, we’ve compiled a short list of the easiest ways to do your due diligence, and avoid vacation heartbreak. The preparation starts in the planning stage, and you’ll be following along the same guidelines you’d use when buying any other good or service — namely, doing some research before-hand. Scams can come in many shapes and forms. Use these tips to sniff them out before you get caught up in one.

1. Read reviews

Businessman using laptop on bed

A man reading reviews online | Source: iStock

The easiest and quickest way to get a feeling for something is to get online, and read reviews. If you’re unsure of a hotel or restaurant, for example, odds are, other people have been there, and can give you a heads up to any weirdness. One giant red flag? There aren’t any reviews. That should tip you off right away that something is amiss, and that you should probably look for another option. Read through what people have to say on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp, and you should get an idea of what you’re dealing with.

2. Use social media

social media

Social media | Thinkstock

Similar to reading review sites, you may want to see if social media profiles exist for the businesses or individuals you’re planning on contacting. If you want to rent a room outside of Airbnb or another service, for example, you may not have much of an idea of who you’re dealing with. Look for verified social media accounts for property management companies or people renting — they’re likely out there in an attempt to reach potential clients. If you see anything fishy, you can steer clear.

3. Be wary of common scams

ear candling

Ear candling | Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

Though swindlers are growing more and more cunning each and every year, plenty of scam artists stick to the classics. There are many common scams put on by street performers, small businesses, and even local law enforcement in places around the world, and knowing what can happen, and how to avoid it, will give you an advantage. Case in point? Ear candling, as seen above. It doesn’t do anything — so do yourself a favor and spend your money on a souvenir instead.

4. Look for these red flags

a red flag

A red flag | Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Keep an eye out for red flags — the same way you would back home. If you’re connecting with someone who keeps changing their email address, uses strange phrasing, or wants you to wire a large deposit somewhere, just stop in your tracks. That’s odd behavior, especially for a business trying to help tourists. You wouldn’t keep dealing with someone running you through the ringer for a Craigslist transaction — so don’t fall for it abroad.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger