Rip-offs, Scams, & How to Foil Them
From dishonest taxi drivers to thieving restaurant waiters—you won't run into too many scams while traveling, but here are a few common rip-offs to watch out for
Travel Advisory! How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams While Traveling by Bob Arno and Bambi Vincent (2003). The pedestrian scams on this page barely scratch the surface of the rip-offs you may encounter abroad. While, as I said, even these "common" ones are not terribly commonplace, if you want to find out about dozens of other cons—and read plenty of thrilling tales of thievery, pickpocketry, and rip-off artistry)—grab this book by two of the world's leading experts on the subject (this husband/wife team does 20/20 specials and the like on this stuff).
I actually find that there aren't that many people out there who will try to play you.
Sure, you sometimes draw the dishonest cabbie who slyly sets his flag for out-of-town rates, or a waiter who gives himself an extra tip by padding your bill.
But that can happen anywhere, and I don't find anywhere else in the world to be more crowded with con artists than the United States.
Rule #1: Don't be an easy mark
A con artist or petty thief always looks for the easy mark. You are a foreigner and a tourist, and in their eyes that paints you with a big bull's-eye.
You don’t speak the local lingo, you're probably a bit lost, you may be jet-lagged, you're so busy taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a new and exciting destination so you're not paying as close attention as you might otherwise.
Most of all, you simply don't know how things work locally—that there's a little window on the taxi meter that should say "1" and not "2" when you're just getting a ride around downtown; or when a random extra charge for "bread and cover" on the bill is perfectly normal and acceptable (say, in Italy) or is unusual and may be a sign of greedy waiter trying to pull a fast one (say, in England).
- The easiest catchall solution is, of course, to be as un-touristlike as possible.
- Try to stay alert to your surroundings and don't give over all your attention to gawking.
- Try to blend in and not be the obvious, flashy Westerner.
- Make a point of studying the posted list of fares in the taxi and peer at the meter.
- Check over the restaurant bill carefully and politely question any suspicious items.
- Show them you are a sharp cookie, and the opportunistic thief won't bother trying to see if you crumble. He'll wait for easier prey.
Common tourist swindles
Here are some of the most common swindles (though, of course, every con artist has his own tactics).
- Padding restaurant checks
- Black-market money changers
- Confusing money
- Meterless taxis
- Taxi overchargers
- Commissions & kickbacks
- Hotel rip-offs (legal, but still scams)