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The 12 Biggest Scams That Tourists Fall For. (And How to Beat Them)

Surprise taxi detours, helpful strangers with ulterior motives, and pricey encounters with baby alpacas. Here’s how travelers are being ripped off abroad and what you can do to be vigilant.

Where there’s a tourist, there’s a scam. As newcomers to a destination, we’re obvious targets for criminals, ready to take advantage of our dizzying lack of local intel and jubilant holiday spirit. Back home, everyone feels pretty street-smart, right? When you’re well-versed in a destination and its customs and know exactly what to do in an emergency, few will attempt to mess with your fine ‘n fierce self.

The moment we land on foreign territory, that confidence dissipates. We can’t speak the language, Google Maps keeps failing, and trying to stay alert of your surroundings with bratwurst vendors nearby is impossible if you’re partial to a fragrant piece of meat.

No wonder millions of tourists are tricked out of their hard-earned cash every year, and some even find themselves in danger. We’ve scoured the forums, blogs, and socials and asked travel-holics about their worst scam experiences to help you stay alert and avoid falling victim.


1 OF 12

Similar Paper Money

The Scam: Think of all the times you’ve had a couple of margs and confused a one and a ten dollar bill…and that’s in your home country! Scammers know that tourists are unfamiliar with local currencies, and in countries where the bills look similar, it’s easy to do a switcheroo.

Reddit user harperfin was in Morocco when a waiter insisted she’d handed him a smaller, similar looking, bill. “He distracted me by waving the money around and talking rapidly about his small children at home. When I got back to the hotel and counted [up my money], I realized what had happened.”

How to Beat It: Study currency bills and coins before using them. When handing over a large payment, confirm the amount out loud as you place it into the vendor’s hands.

2 OF 12

Broken Meter Taxi Detour

The Scam: The taxi line at the airport is huge and it’s late. Somebody steps up, offering a ride into town, estimating a fare that, in your home country, sounds quite reasonable. Except, you’re being charged four times the normal amount. That’s what happened to Survivor contestant Christopher Haul in Malaysia.

“I landed in Kuala Lumpur, and my phone wasn’t connecting to order a Grab rideshare. At arrivals, someone offered to take me straight into town in a metered ‘private taxi’, so I got in,” recalls Haul. “But when I finally got online, I saw he was taking me a long way round, and the meter was at $40. Checking the rideshare app, the whole journey should have cost less than $10. I called him out on the highway, and after threatening to get off and call a real taxi, he agreed to let me pay the real rate. If my phone hadn’t woken up, I’d have paid over four times more.”

How to Beat It: Use a rideshare service. In Southeast Asia, Grab and Gojek are popular. If you’re unable to hail a ride, ask the airport information desk for guidance on reputable taxi services and a rough cost to reaching your destination. Remember to download Google Maps and make it offline so you can keep track of the route.

3 OF 12

The Paid Photo Opportunity

The Scam: Everyone has their cameras out at famous attractions, making them prime targets for photo scams. In Times Square, costumed characters have gone vial for their ridiculous photo fees (up to $50 for a photo with a creepy Mickey and Minnie Mouse? No thanks!).

Owmyeye encountered a photo scam with baby alpacas in Cusco, Peru. “Those older alpaca ladies […] quickly dropped a baby alpaca in my arms and took photos with me. My husband gave one lady $20, and she walked away from the group. The other ladies were like, ‘You guys going to pay us? That lady who walked off isn’t with us.’ [They] all had the same traditional garments on, and all had an alpaca.”

How to Beat It: Ask upfront how much a photo will cost if you want one. Be vigilant of forced situations, such as when a character jumps right into your photo. When that happens, do not pose, do not click, and wait until they walk away before resuming your shoot.


4 OF 12

"Free" Gifts and Fake Souvenirs

The Scam: Friendly locals may place “free gifts” directly into your hands, but the moment you accept it, payment or large tips are demanded. Bracelets and small handmade goods are the most common offerings of this nature. For those actively searching for souvenirs, beware.

“We were staying in a non-touristy [area] and walked past this man selling beautiful watercolor paintings. I never buy from street sellers but what caught me out was he was painting one right then. I got [him] down to €50 for three paintings,” says chloesdealclub on TikTok of her trip to Rome. “But then I walked past a shop that had identical paintings for €2.50, and I started to realize my mistake.” They were not watercolor paintings but just very good prints.

How to Beat It: If you don’t want a random bracelet from a stranger, pull your arm back, and if you do want to buy souvenirs, shop around and find something you love that’s both authentic and fairly priced.

5 OF 12

Rigged Games of Chance

The Scam: Gambling in a casino has its odds, but gambling on the street with a crew of scam artists is a guaranteed loss. Givemerosesrn found out the hard way when she joined a shell game in New Jersey.

“We saw this guy outside playing that game where you have to guess which cup a ball is under after he shuffles it. There were some people playing, and he was giving them money for winning. I withdrew $500 from my bank account and went back to play, [but lost all of it]… turns out the people who were ‘playing the game and winning money’ were working with him.”

How to Beat It: Walk away from roadside games of chance. Don’t even stand to watch them, as they are where pickpockets commonly operate.

6 OF 12

The Closed Attraction

The Scam: You stroll up to an attraction, and a ”helpful” local tells you it’s closed due to a special public holiday. No fear, they’ll take you on an alternative, equally riveting adventure, which turns out to be a trip to their buddy’s warehouse.

Reddit user Replicant_Material warns tourists visiting Bangkok’s temples. “Tuk tuk drivers will tell you [it’s] closed for the day, [offer] to take you elsewhere, then take you to a jewelry store, [where they’ll use] scare tactics to get you to spend money just to be able to leave.”

How to Beat It: Check before setting off that the attraction is open. If anyone tells you otherwise, go right up to the entrance and see for yourself. If it is indeed closed, do not accept offers to go with them. Hail your own ride out.

7 OF 12

New Friends Wanting to Show You Around

The Scam: There’s a random new friend, someone who strikes up a conversation with you and is happy to give up their time to show you around. Like a free tour guide who simply wants to practice some English. Only at the end, you’re ambushed with a ridiculously high bill, either from them or from a business they’re linked to.

TikTok user danawang famously befriended a man and his daughter in Fez, Morocco: “I thought he was just being hospitable and showing me around,” she said before he demanded she pay €40 for the walking tour. Her video drew local media attention and led to his eventual arrest.

How to Beat It: Use GetYourGuide or Devour Food Tours, which partner with local-owned businesses on a variety of city tours.

8 OF 12

The Rental That Doesn’t Exist

The Scam: You find the perfect holiday home online, only it’s a fake, and you’re not actually booking it through the owner. This is common in places like Bali, where rentals are often found through WhatsApp rather than reputable booking platforms. However, Sylvia from New York was lured by a discount on for a London apartment.

“Soon after [making the reservation], I received what looked like an official email from the company offering me a 20% discount and insisting I pay the host directly, in advance, via wire transfer,” she says. “I sent the equivalent of $3,100 to the account of a man named Nyholm Peik. Soon afterward, Booking emailed to tell me the property was no longer available.”

How to Beat It: Stay on the trusted rental platforms for all correspondence, and do not book directly unless you trust the host (for example, if you’re a repeat guest).

9 OF 12

Priceless Menus

The Scam: Yes, some high-end restaurants omit prices from their menus, but when this happens at a casual sit-down in a tourist hot spot, don’t expect to pay what the locals are paying (if they’re even eating there at all). Ljubljana_Laudanum felt the sting of this scam in Florence, Italy: “[I] was at an ice cream parlor. They had no price list available and in the end, they wanted €15 for one scoop.”

How to Beat It: Confirm the price of anything before you order it. Take a look at the Google or Tripadvisor reviews too, to make sure you don’t fall for a tourist trap.

10 OF 12

Outfit Admiring Pick Pockets

The Scam: For an excuse to get handsy, the scammer admires something you’re wearing. By the time the conversation has ended your wallet’s vanished. On Reddit, Mpblncpt90 warns of incidents in Cape Town, South Africa.

“You’ll be approached by someone admiring your shoes and asking which size it is. Seemingly in a joking fashion, they’ll put their foot next to yours to compare sizes, even if you keep on walking. That brings them close enough to take stuff out of your pocket.”

How to Beat It: Thank the stranger for the compliment, and quickly move on. Should they get close, put your hands in your pocket and hold on tight to valuables. If you’ve got expensive items in your backpack, be sure to stash them as deep as possible in the bag or invest in anti-theft luggage like Pacsafe.

11 OF 12

Spiked Date Drinks

The Scam: Criminals spike drinks in order to rack up charges on tourist’s cards or swipe personal belongings, either approaching victims in a bar or meeting them via a dating app. American traveler Paul Nguyen met a girl on Tinder one night in Medellin, Colombia. He was robbed of his phone and wallet, and the next morning, his body was found beside a dumpster five miles from where they met. Police believe he was drugged with a sedative called clonazepam. Date robberies involving spiked cocktails have been rampant in recent years, with strings of incidents involving tourists in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and Brazil.

How to Beat It: NEVER leave your drinks unattended. If you plan on meeting an online date abroad, have a friend join you for a happy hour first, and keep them updated on your whereabouts. Download the Find My Friends app with your travel companion.

12 OF 12

Evil Twin Wi-Fi

The Scam: This usually happens at hotels and in airports, whereby the scammer sets up a fake Wi-Fi network with a confusingly similar name. Travel writer Alex Carlton was at a Sydney airport when she logged onto their Wi-Fi to access her online bank account.

“I remember the Sydney Airport Wi-Fi login process looking a bit weird. The security question asked simply: Where are you traveling to? Unthinkingly, I typed in London, and the Wi-Fi connected right away. It did seem odd. A few days after arriving in the UK, I checked my bank statements online and noticed a charge made in the past 24 hours that I didn’t recognize: apparently, I’d spent $43.10 on Guzman y Gomez Mexican takeaway.”

How to Beat It: Ask the concierge or the information desk what Wi-Fi is. If you are creating a password to log in, choose something different from what you normally use. If possible, try to save the bank browsing for when you’re on a secure private Wi-Fi connection.