WhereDaily - Top 10 2010 Travel Scams

Top 10 Travel Scams for 2010
January 29, 2010


The top ten travel scams for 2010 are the same top ten travel scams of 2009. There is nothing new under the sun in the travel fraud department - only new players, new places and new ways of playing. Whether the advice comes from the wisdom of trained perps, jaded police or overly concerned parents it has teeth. And it is simply this:

* Do your research, know your prices.
* Keep your valuables on you and safe inside a sealed pocket or inside pouch
* Know the currency and carry a lot of small bills in US denominations.
* Do not step into un-metered or unofficial taxis; do not accept involved unsolicited help; do not act too open, bored or friendly.
* If a gypsy tosses a baby at you, put your hands in your pockets and scat.

Unless, of course, you have nothing to lose. Wandering unfettered through foreign cities has its virtues. The Escape Diva here evaded many scams in her youth as she simply did not have any thing to steal. Even the charming snake handler at Jama-al-Fna Square in Marrakech had been out-scammed when the boa constrictor he placed around her neck -- and would not remove unless paid his ransom --had to chase after this unlikely victim - who refused to pay him anything and started to run off with the snake around her head.

According to such experts as Kevin Coffey,  a former police detective and scam expert as well as others with expert input into the game, the following acts of conartistry contend for the Oscars of travel fraud.

1)    The $500 Travel Agent. This scam has been around since the mid 1990s and offers would-be travelers travel agent credentials for the price of about $500. The credentials are supposed to bring incredible hotel and cruise discounts and a host freebies just for being a part of this bogus "agency." But the days of the agent comps are as gone as brick-sized cell phones and the only benefits here might be the jazzy sales motivation talks and the monthly newsletter.

2)    The Free Trip. Whether you have won a trip to some island in the Bahamas or a gate pass to Disneyland just for picking up your mail or clicking a pop-up box, chances are you will be asked to fork over $100 for an "admin" fee for a trip that does not exist.

3)    The Up Front Cashout. This really did happen - to the Los Angeles Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm. The editor had wedding plans set for a spot on the island of Oahu. However, a few weeks before the wedding she had to change venues and found the perfect place nearby through research on the Internet. She contacted the leasing agency and the agent asked her to quickly wire the funds - nearly $5,000 - to the "owner's" bank account in Texas, as time was short. After wiring the money, Hamm requested the accompanying papers - which never came.

4)    The Discount Travel Club. Unless this is a club of like-minded pals who want to ski or beach together, the discounted travel promised for the price of admission is likely too good to be true or something you could gain for yourself. Use a travel agent and pay with a credit card. Even if an agent can't cinch that extra $25 off the trip you want, as seen on some fleeting site in the middle of the night, he or she can offer assurances that the room you get is the room you want - on the ocean, not ten blocks away. And should anything go wrong, you're covered. Peace of mind? $25 please.

5)    The Lady with the Baby. This happens in Europe a lot: a gypsy woman carrying a baby in a blanket walks toward you and suddenly tosses the child into your arms. Nearby partners in crime grab your purse, wallet, camera, whatever can be snatched in the confusion and run away, leaving you to care for the doll or log you just caught.

6)    The Newspaper in Your Face. Kids, usually Gypsy children, pass you in a chaos of laughter, conversations and newspapers. While waving the newspapers in your face to block your vision and disorient you, the cagey youths run through your pockets and grab your bag-and everything else they can grab.
7)    Five for Fifty. This bait and switch is common in Turkey where the denominations in questions look similar, but it is certainly duplicated to perfection in other destinations as well - including the cash register at your local 7-11. You get into a cab, get a estimate for a fare, pay the fare when you get there with a 50 note, which the driver drops and exchanges for a 5 and exclaims that you gave him a 5 not a 50.

8)   The English Student. One of the most rewarding experiences of travel is spontaneous interaction and adventures with local residents. Indeed, Escape Diva has discovered hidden dumpling houses in Shanghai, friendly hookah dens in Sanaa, even bohemian coffee houses in Addis Abeba with the help of friendly locals - often students - who want to practice their English. But chances are you will be paying for dinner for your host and several of his friends in the transaction, and even buying his family a few bags of groceries while you are at it.

9)   Waiting for the Bus. Whether your adversaries are on bicycle, running through a crowd or offering a friendly dose of help in a bustling bus station, it's your bags they want - not your smiling face. A common scene has travelers waiting for their ride on a street in Barcelona as thieves on bicycles grab a purse from a woman nearby. She screams. The travelers drop their bags and run after the purse-snatchers while cohorts in the shadows run for the bags. Similarly, you are struggling with your luggage at a train or bus terminal. A nice guy insistently offers a hand to help and helps himself to your belongings.

10)   The Cut and Roll. This classic comes from Detective Kevin Coffey who had made a post-department career in lecturing about travel scams and fraud to travel groups and meeting planners. You are on line at the security gate at an airport. Suddenly, one or two people cut in line and get through the scanner ahead of you. They go through your things while you are stuck in place and disappear into the terminal - and out - with your cell phone and your wallet.

Extra Credit - In Paris look out for the "lost ring" scam.  A woman will approach you, bend over and pick up a ring and ask you if you just lost it.  She expects you to say yes, take the ring, and then give her a reward.  This happened to me in Paris by the Eiffel Tower last year.  It was almost comical how text book the scam was.  And no I didn't fall for it!

Safe Travels!


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