How to Avoid Common Travel Scams

Toy airplane on the world map.

By: Sally Norton

We live in an age where travel has become common amongst families in almost all income brackets. Vacations were once luxury trips, only reserved for the wealthiest in society. With the onset of the industrial revolution and innovations in transport, vacations slowly started to become the norm. In Britain, ferries carried workers from one city to another to get a weekend away. Today, we can travel almost anywhere in the world for a few days of rest and relaxation. However, as the travel demand grew, so did the various scams and con schemes that capitalize on this market. In this article, we will explore some of the risks and teach you how to avoid common travel scams.

How, why, and where do the scams happen?

When talking about travel scams, it's essential to understand the broadness of this umbrella term. Most people would limit the phrase "travel scam" to something happening in your home country and with a sketchy travel agency. This is not true, however. In fact, this will be the least of your worries because travel agencies tend to be regulated competently. After all, you can do so much to learn about the quality and reliability of service on the internet. The most considerable risk with travel agencies is hidden costs. This is why the best travel agencies provide transparency in service fees and other expenses.

Still, one should be careful with "independent travel agents". These could be con artists with fraudulent documentation, selling you nothing but paperwork, and promptly ghosting after completing the transaction.

So how do most of the scams happen? You are most likely to get scammed when you travel to less developed countries. People living in these countries often struggle daily to make ends meet and look for any opportunity to make a quick buck.

Common travel scams and how you can avoid them

Some of the most common travel scams are difficult to spot. They sometimes rely on misdirection, misinformation, abuse of compassion, and pressure. Sometimes, even more sinister means are used, such as drugging and extortion. We will address the most common travel scams and give you some headers on how to get around them or out of them.

The "Friendly local"

This is one of the oldest and most common travel scams around. This can happen virtually anywhere and will most likely occur in countries with less developed economies. Keep in mind that this may still happen in developed countries, with scammers looking for an easy score exploiting the fact you're in that environment.

The "friendly local" may meet you at the airport and offer to guide you around the city (or offer some other service) "for free". Little does the unsuspecting tourist know that this "favor" and all the pleasantries that go along with it are not, in fact, free at all. You will inevitably be asked for some compensation, or the friendly local may be staking out your valuables and the location of our accommodation. To avoid this scam, thank the friendly local and try to get a taxi. This brings us to the next most common scam...

The crooked taxi driver

So you've finally arrived at the location you had on your bucket list for years, and before you know it, you already regret it. We've all heard of someone who was given the runaround by a crafty cab driver. One example of this scam? The "broken meter" scam.

A taxi

The “broken meter” scam is a common travel scam but luckily, it’s easy to avoid.

This is one of the most common scams. It revolves around a fictitiously broken meter with the cab driver offering to drive you off the meter for an unspecified amount. The driver may also pretend to be doing you a favor by driving you "for less than on the meter". Do not fall for this. Either ask the cab driver to drive with the meter on or demand to know the final price of the ride without hidden costs. Remember that meters can be altered as well, so get some info on what the average cab ride costs for each mile passed, as many meters function this way.

Fake police officers (and other public servants)

When you pick a destination to travel to, it may be a good idea to read up on reviews by people who've been there. Try to find out if anyone has had a bad experience with scams. One of the most efficient and inventive scams is the "fake police officer" scam. It may be tricky to figure out what a police officer may or may not look like when we travel abroad. We may be used to the police in our home cities, with recognizable uniforms and insignia. However, in foreign countries, we may be utterly clueless. So what is a "fake civil servant," and how to avoid this common travel scam?

Police officers standing and conversing

The “fake police officer” con is one of the most common travel scams and one of the more inventive ones as well.

The "fake civil servant" scam works by creating a situation where the scammers put you under pressure or scare you. For example, a shady dealer may approach you, offering you illegal substances. While the dealer has your attention, you will get "busted" by locals in police uniforms. They will ask for your passport and wallet. This is where you need to start getting suspicious. Say that you will call the police to verify their badge numbers, tell them to accompany you to your hotel room for your papers, or demand further proof of their legitimacy. If they protest, feel free to walk away if they are not armed. Next time, make sure you book your vacation with professionals.

"Juice jacking"

This is a very simple yet brilliant scam. It functions through your lack of being aware that this is even possible. You may be at a public place, such as a shopping mall, and need to charge your phone. A terminal with available chargers will be around, and, completely oblivious, you will connect your phone. After that, the port may be secretly swiping your phone data or installing malware. To avoid this, simply use your own chargers. No other way to be sure.


This is a widespread occurrence in areas with a higher rate of crime. An individual or a gang may have staked out your home for some time. Being aware that you've left the city for an unspecified number of days, they now have free reign. While you can never be sure past locking and installing surveillance, there are further steps to take. Consider renting storage for your most precious belongings. Storage units are readily available for almost any specific requirement. Of course, there are some essential features to look for in a storage facility, depending on your items. But the storage provider will help you and set you up with a unit to securely keep your valuables until your return from abroad. Remember that this will not only protect your valuables from burglars and thieves but also unfortunate accidents such as fires and natural disasters.

Storage safes

Investing in storage before you travel can ensure the security of your most precious belongings while you’re away.


There are plenty of different travel scams. This article went over some of the most common travel scams and how to avoid them. Still, keep in mind that there are numerous other ways to exploit tourists and travelers. Hopefully, this article has helped you avoid at least some unpleasant experiences. Stay safe out there, and happy trails!