There are some shady people in this world who would rather scam others than get a real job. Unfortunately, we tourists are often the targets of these scammers. Travel scams are real, plentiful and very easy to fall for, even for frequent travellers. Falling victim to a scam can ruin your day and can sometimes be so bad that it makes you hate an entire city or country.
Common sense will often help you avoid a scam but even the smartest of us can fall for them. My rule of thumb is, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is and people are never super nice to you for no reason.
I am always suspicious of strangers trying to help me, more so in some countries than others. We’ve been scammed many times in our years of travels and so unfortunately we are less trusting than we used to be. But even if you are super careful, you can still get scammed.
I asked some of our fellow travel bloggers about the worst scams they’ve come across during their travels. Check them out, it’s not pretty!
1 – Helicopter Rescue Scam in Nepal
By Michelle – Full Time Explorer
The biggest scam I’ve ever encountered is for helicopter rescues while trekking in the Himalayas. Trekkers are often asked if they’d like to take a helicopter back down to Kathmandu instead of walking. All they have to say is that they have a headache from altitude sickness and their insurance will pick up the $10,000 rescue fee. The problem is, this is insurance fraud, and you can go to jail for it. I was asked if I’d like to take a helicopter a few times and politely declined all offers.
I’ve also heard stories of guides forcing their clients to walk too fast in order to trigger altitude sickness or even slipping something into their food to make them throw up. Helicopter companies in Nepal are known to give a handsome fee to guides who use their rescue service as an incentive to call them over other rescue companies. The problem is, the fee they give is more than a few months’ pay for a guide, which doesn’t encourage the guides to continue their treks in an ethical manner.
The best way to avoid this scam is to book with a reputable tour company, know the signs of altitude sickness, and turn down helicopter rides unless you’re truly ill and need to get to a hospital immediately. Most of the time, you can descend in altitude and the symptoms of altitude sickness disappear.
2 – Airport Security Scam in Cairo, Egypt
By Charlotte – A Wandering Web
My husband and I were patiently standing in the security line at the Cairo airport in Egypt. A man with an airline “Security” jacket came over and said, “Come to this line over here. It is shorter.” So, we took our bags and followed. As soon as we stopped, he put out his hand, looked over my husband’s shoulder and said “Tip! Tip! Tip!” in a quiet but hurried tone. I looked at him, dumbfounded and said, “What?” He asked again for a tip. Seriously? Airport security wanted a tip for moving us to another line when we didn’t even ask for it?
The only cash in my wallet was 10 Egyptian Pounds. Abused by this man’s sense of power and how we felt helpless to stop it, I shoved the 10 pounds in his hand saying, “This is all I have!” The worst thing about the situation was as a female, I couldn’t even go through the security line the man took us to. Once we got to the front of the line, I was sent away to a different line because there were no female guards present. Only female guards can pat down a female passenger.
3 – Rental property scam in Malta
By Adam – Wanderway
I had just arrived to the small European island country of Malta for a semester abroad in the Mediterranean. Filled with excitement, I made my way from the airport to the flat which I had arranged to rent before arriving to Malta.
You could understand how flustered I was upon arriving to the address of my supposed flat, seeing that it was actually the address to a local eatery. Panicked by the thought of being without a home on my first night abroad (ever), with all my luggage for the long semester dragging behind and not a clue what to do, I called home.
It wasn’t until then that I came to grips with the reality that I had just been scammed for over a thousand dollars.
About a month before I was boarding my plane for Europe, I came to an agreement with a landlord I found through a Malta Accommodation Facebook group. A beautiful seaside apartment in the city’s most happening part of town at a fraction of the price of other flats. She sold me a story about how she needed to get it rented as soon as possible for the four month period I would be there and that meant she would lower the price just to get it filled if she found the right tenant – it couldn’t have been luckier, I thought. I should’ve known it was too good to be true.
I filed a police report the next day, but there’s not much they can do about a cyber crime which can’t be traced.
I learned a valuable lesson, at least, to never throw a bunch of money at someone you’ve never met over the internet. Should’ve been a no-brainer.
4 – The Great Wall bus scam, China
By Danni – Live in 10 Countries
I got caught in a very common scam because I tried to reach the Great Wall from a layover in Beijing via an ordinary, very cheap public bus rather than take a pricier private tour or taxi.
The scam involves the Mutianyu section of the Wall and as you enter the bus depot you won’t be able to read the Mandarin bus destinations, so you’ll ask for help. If you ask the wrong employee, they will direct you to a bus heading to a very rural area and you’ll be clueless that it isn’t going to the Wall until the driver stops and some officials hustle you off, saying that the road is flooded or something similar.
You’ll be stranded and forced to take the waiting taxi, which will charge you an arm and a leg to get where you originally wanted to go. Of course, everyone involved gets a kick back from the taxi.
Luckily, this is simple to avoid once you know about it. Look up the bus number for the Wall online along with a pic of the characters for its destination. Refuse to get on any bus but this one, ignoring any suggestions from others. It will take you straight to the Wall.
5 – Village tour scam in Fiji
By Raksha – Solo Passport
Fiji is a dream come true kind of a destination for most travellers. I had travelled to this beautiful place with my mother few years ago. I have many wonderful memories, but I also have one memory which was not so pleasant. I was forced into giving a tip to a lady who was my guide in a village tour.
Since the island still has many tribes living in the villages, I took a day tour to go visit some of these villages and learn about their local culture. My mother did not accompany me for this tour. When I visited the village, I was met by a local lady who explained that she would take me around the village explaining and showing the various important sites. She first showed me the chief’s house and explained a bit about the cannibal culture they had centuries ago. Then she escorted me to a local church. This church had nobody inside and it was undoubtedly beautiful. After I had gone around the church and clicked some pictures, the lady started demanding me money as tips. She mentioned the exact amount I had to give her and that she would not let me out of the church if I had not given her that money. I finally had to come under her pressure and give her the money she demanded. Only then she let me out of the church. This was very disturbing that I did not want to continue the tour with her anymore.
I understand every tour that you take in an unknown country is a gamble. Most of the times, you do get good ones, but once in a while you get the bad ones. The only way I think I could have avoided this scam was by reading the existing reviews of the tour and the provider on the internet before actually booking the tour.
6- Gladiator scam in Rome
By Shireen – The Happy Days Travels
Heading for the famous Colosseum, I was in disbelief that I was walking in the same spots as people were over 2000 years ago. It’s quite a brilliant feeling and I was ready to learn more about history and the Romans. Suddenly, I was taken by surprise when a man dressed as a Gladiator approached me, he really looked the part and I instantly thought it was a funny and good touch by the city to have these figures around. This local, friendly man kindly offered to take a picture of me and my partner with the large Colosseum in the background and I was delighted with his hospitality. He then, cleverly, persuaded me to pretend to fight him as a gladiator by holding his sword and doing a dramatic pose while my partner took the picture. My partner and I swapped places and this funny man continued to strike a pose.
I was wrong to assume that it was all smiles and a bit of a laugh before a day of learning. The moment we thanked him and walked away, he ran before us with his hands out demanding euros and his whole demeanour changed. Looking back, it was naive of me to fall for this scam but perhaps I was bedazzled by the glory that is Rome! I look back now and laugh but it has taught me that if I’m ever within a mile radius of a tourist spot, anyone seeming to be friendly or doing me a favour, could possibly be a scam and I’m well on guard. I still have the pictures though and look at them with fondness… when in Rome, I suppose!
7 – Blocked off road in Bali
By Trang – Travel with Trang
I encountered this scam in Bali, Indonesia, where tourists frequent the island for its temples, beaches, and cheap drinks. Three backpackers and I had split costs towards a rental car to get around. As we drove towards Besakih Temple complex (the biggest one on the island), a local on a motorcycle flagged us down and motioned us to pull over. He said the main road (about 30 minutes ahead) was blocked off by police due to some event or protest. It’d be a waste of time if we drove all the way up that road and had to turn around.
He said he’ll show us a detour and so we followed him. Our car got stuck in a large pothole along the way but he helped us get out of it. He seemed pretty carefree and nice, or so we thought. Turns out, he took us to a buffet restaurant at the top of a hill that had a beautiful view, as a rest stop before getting to the temple. During lunch, he tried to sell us a tour the next day, insisting that we could be picked up at our hostel. After telling him (really lying to him) that we were leaving tomorrow morning, his mood turned sour, and his face unhappy that he couldn’t make a sale off of us. After lunch, we drove onward to Besakih Temple and continued our way.
Thinking back now, that main road probably wasn’t blocked off by police at all. We should’ve just followed the GPS.
8 – The pass along scam in Vietnam
By Stephanie – Travanie Travels
In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta I found myself unwittingly caught up in a “pass along” scam where I was guided from one scam to the next across two cities and almost a third before I was able to get away.
It all started with a seemingly harmless recommendation from my homestay host for a taxi ride to my next destination. Over the course of two days I ended up staying at hotels I didn’t want to stay in, taking tours that didn’t deliver on their promises, and drastically overpaying for everything by a ring of people who took advantage of me and then cleverly passed me onto the next person.
It even went so far that the hotel staff intentionally booked me a bus ticket to the wrong destination undoubtedly to be met by another scam ring. When I realized what happened, the bus driver even physically blocked the door to prevent me from leaving!
Thankfully, I got off the wrong bus & found another one going to the correct destination. It was a terrifying and emotional experience, but I’m definitely wiser because of it.
My biggest advice to avoid a “pass along” scam like this is to 1. Listen to your gut, 2. Stay firm in your decisions, and 3. Don’t be afraid to be “rude” to anyone who pressures you under the guise of “helpfulness” (which kills my Midwestern heart to say).
9 – The taxi scam in Almaty, Kazakhstan
By John Paul, The Hangry Backpacker
I am an observant and informed traveler, and prior to landing at the airport in Almaty, Kazakhstan, I had done the essential research on the city. This included appropriate taxi fares.
A taxi from Almaty Airport to the city center should cost about 2000-3000 tenge ($5-8 USD). I knew this beforehand. When a taxi driver approached and offered 15,000 tenge to my hotel, I instinctively countered with 10,000. Naturally, he agreed and I reassured myself this was no big deal. For my short stay in Almaty, there was no time to haggle on taxi fares.
Realizing later that I paid about five times the going rate, I was mad at myself. Not only was it a waste of money, I knew I was being swindled and did not stand up for myself. My cowardice also helped perpetuate this scam for future tourists.
In a sense, overcharging “rich westerners” for a cab is not a big deal. On the other hand, as travelers, we have to be smart and strong. Sometimes, even with good information, we make mistakes. The lesson I learned in Almaty is to be patient and always stick with what I know is right.
10 – The Classic Tea Ceremony scam in Asia
By Talek – Travels With Talek
No matter how savvy a traveler you are, at one point or another, you will fall victim to a scam. The reason travelers and tourists are such perennial targets of scammers is that that a traveler is in new and unfamiliar surroundings. They are looking about to see the wonderful things they came to see in the first place. It’s easy to drop your guard occasionally and that’s when the scammers pounce.
I know of so many scams but one of the ones that have caught my attention the most is the “Classic Tea Ceremony” scam common in Asia, particularly China. Here is how it works. A tourist, usually alone is wandering about, looking around, when a friendly stranger comes up and starts a conversation. The traveler may be wary, but the stranger is dressed nicely, speaks reasonable English and is polite. He too, it turns out, is a stranger in town. He comes to this city frequently on business, he claims.
“Ah” the victim thinks, “a fellow traveler looking to make a connection in this lonely world of frequent travel”.
“Let me show you a tea house I discovered on my last trip” the stranger suggests.
Off they go to a tea house where a pretty clerk pours tea with exaggerated drama, describing the tea’s rare and exclusive provenance. They sip, they chat, they smile. What a pleasant interaction with the locals!
The bill arrives; an amount so exorbitant it makes the blood rush to the guest’s face but, lo!… the stranger displays his empty wallet. Simultaneously two burly men appear at the doorway. You’ve been had! The victim doesn’t have that kind of money so they’ll just take whatever is in your wallet. Lesson learned.
11 – Taxi scam in Hanoi
By Leyla – Women on the Road
Whatever your level of travel expertise, beware of Hanoi taxis. They have the most ingenious tricks to get you to pay twice or three times the standard amount – and I’ve heard them all.
First, do not hail a taxi on the street. Most will be fakes. Some will be the same color or even the same name as the more official taxis. They’ll have meters, except the meters will whirr far faster than they should. Ask your hotel to call a reputable cab company if you must take a taxi. For now those with decent reputations include Mai Linh, Taxi Group and ABC. Just don’t hail them on the street because you won’t know the difference between the real thing and the fake.
Second, why not give the whole taxi thing a miss and download the Grab app instead (it’s Southeast Asia’s version of Uber). I’d take them over taxis anytime.
Once you’ve been scammed, there’s little you can do, so best to avoid taxis altogether. Too bad for the honest drivers because a few rotten apples really spoil the bunch in this case.
12 – Train station scam in New Delhi
By Sam – Travelling Sam
The worst scam I encountered happened to be in New Delhi, India. It stands out as the worst because the scammers were the most aggressive; actually making physical contact and shoving me in my chest. The scam I am talking about happens just outside of New Delhi train station, scammers hang around the gates looking for tourists, and once spotted, will head straight for you. When they approach you, they either try and get you to go to the “official” tourist office down the street to buy your train tickets as you “can’t” enter the train station without tickets or, if you already happen to have them, they will tell you that you need to pay for your tickets to be stamped and validated for use. Both of which are completely untrue, the tourist ticket office is upstairs inside of the train station, and you do not need your tickets stamped or validated before use. The general give-away is that these scammers are not interested in any of the local Indians passing the gates. The best advice I can give is to remain calm, confident, and stay together. Do not allow yourselves to be separated, and keep physical distance from anyone approaching you near the gates.
13- The Vietnam Tourist tax in Hue
By John Paul, The Hangry Backpacker
The “tourist tax” is an unofficial price increase local vendors charge tourists for goods and services. This “tax” is common in Southeast Asia.
In Hue, Vietnam, I noticed a lady selling tiny dumplings on the street. I looked closer and decided to try a couple.
A local customer in front of me bought two dumplings and paid 2,000 Vietnamese dong. I held up two fingers and the lady said, “two thousand” in a thick accent. I attempted to hand her 2,000 dong. She took a second look at me, paused, and said, “20,000” while holding two 10,000 notes. I argued this blatant attempt at overcharging, but she would not budge. So I walked away, annoyed.
The tourist tax is not a big deal. I don’t mind paying a few extra cents to hard-working people in poor countries. But this street food vendor in Hue was attempting to charge me TEN TIMES the local price.
My inflated price was barely a dollar, but scams like this add up. Paying attention to the actual price, I avoided this scam in Vietnam. I didn’t save a lot of money, but it was the right thing to do.
14 – The flower petal and blessing scam in Pushkar, India
This is a scam that we recently experienced while travelling in India. The holy city of Pushkar is a beautiful city in India. It’s famous for Lake Pushkar, where people come to bathe in its holy water. The area around the lake in Pushkar is also the worst place for scammers, so any tourist visiting the lake should be extremely careful.
Before arriving in Pushkar, we were warned about these scammers. But even though we came prepared, we still found them difficult to deal with it.
As soon as we approached the lake, several men came straight towards us, offering flower petals and friendship bracelets. “They’re free” they said, “a gift for visiting this holy city”. We knew better and walked away, refusing to accept them. As we did, the men turned and started screaming at us, yelling that we weren’t allowed to go to the lake without the petals. We had to buy them! We knew they were lying, so we kept on walking, but it still made us feel very uncomfortable and angry.
Later on, we sat down at one of the ghats to watch the sun set over the lake. We watched as a solo female traveler nearby was scammed by a man pretending to be nice to her and asking about her life.
He then said that he was a holy man (a Brahmin), telling her that he could bless her and taking her down the shore of the lake. In the rush, this young girl even left all of her bags behind, which I was sure someone would come and steal!
Fortunately that didn’t happen but the pretend holy man demanded money from her and once he got what he wanted, he moved on to another unsuspecting tourist. It made me so angry that they get away with it. It really tarnished our time in Pushkar and we would probably never go back there again.
What’s the worst travel scam you’ve experienced? We’d love to hear about it so make sure to let us know in the comment section below!