As families begin to make travel plans, they should be aware of tourist scams

Posted October 20, 2015


MIAMI – Cristina Wilson, a senior at the University of Miami, recently fell victim to the popular tourist street scam referred to as, “The Map Seller.” In this scam, someone approaches the victim and tries to sell them a map. They will unfold the map in the victim’s face and show it to them as a distraction while they or an accomplice pickpockets them. This scam is common throughout Europe.

“I was crossing the street in Madrid when a women speaking Spanish ran up next to me pointing at her map,” said Wilson “As soon as we finished crossing the street, she took off in an opposite direction and I didn’t think much of it until I got back to my hotel and realized my wallet was gone from my purse.”

Because tourists are probably unfamiliar with their surroundings, they are usually the most vulnerable to scams. Travelers are often in need of help, tend to be overly trusting of locals, often cannot speak the native language and are probably carrying large amounts of cash, credit cards and other valuables.

As families begin to make travel plans for the holidays, travelers should be aware of different tourist scams and be prepared to identify and avoid them.

Other examples of popular tourist street scams are referred to as, “ the rose for your girlfriend” and “the friendship bracelet.”

During the rose scam, a scammer will approach a man while out with his girlfriend and offer her a rose. The scammer will then ask the man to pay for it at a high price and make the man feel like a bad boyfriend if he refuses. This scam is common in Paris, Rome and Barcelona.

In the bracelet scam, someone will approach the victim and offer a friendship bracelet. Regardless of what the victim says, they will try to take their wrist and begin making the bracelet and ask for payment. The same scam can also be used as a distraction, while their accomplice pickpockets the victim. This scam is most common in Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Cairo.

Gabriella Yidi is the sales coordinator at The Mark Hotel in New York City. Working in the hospitality industry in one of the world’s most busy cities has opened her eyes to traveling scams with hotel guests getting to and from the hotel specifically in pedicabs. A pedicab, also known as a bicycle rickshaw, is a tricycle shuttle service or taxi. This scam is referred to as “the expensive taxi driver.”

In this scam, drivers will try to take advantage of the victim’s lack of knowledge about the area. They will purposely take longer routes, side streets and take routes that are likely to see traffic. Some even have altered meters, where the fare increases at a much faster rate than normal. This scam is common worldwide.

“There was once a couple staying at our hotel who had just finished eating about half an hour away from The Mark,” said Yidi. “They saw a pedicab with a sign saying $5 an hour and decided to hop on. The driver ended up taking the ‘scenic rout,’ which added on an extra hour to their trip. When they arrived at the hotel, the couple had to pay an extra $100. The driver had a sign in small writing on the opposite side of the cart stating that rides longer than an hour were subject to higher fees.”

Other examples of popular traveling scams are referred to as, “the drop and swap” and “the getaway taxi driver.”

During a drop and swap, taxi drivers, waiters and shopkeepers will “accidentally” drop your change, and pick up similar looking less worthy coins or bills instead. This scam is popular throughout Asia.

In a getaway taxi driver, when a tourist arrives at his or her hotel from the airport, the taxi driver will kindly take the bags out of the trunk for them. He’ll seem in a rush though and quickly hop back into his car and drive off as soon as possible. This is because he’s actually left one of the smaller and less memorable bags in his taxi. This scam is most popular in Las Vegas.

Angie Fernandez is a TSA agent in the American Airlines terminal at Miami International Airport. Fernandez comes across many tourists at the airport who have gotten their passports or driver licenses stolen while at the beach. This scam is referred to as “the eager beach friend.”

In this scam, a scammer will set up his or her beach items seemingly near victims. Once the victims get ready to go into the water, the scammer reassures them that he or she can keep watch of their belongings. When the victims are far enough, the scammer will go through their things and take their valuables. This scam is common in Florida and California.

“Most of the time, when people try to travel without their passports or without proper identification, it’s mostly because they were stolen on the beach,” said Fernandez. “These thieves are very clever and know that the tourists will trust them, especially if they look like a local.”

Other examples of popular attraction scams are referred to as, “a free massage” and “the broken camera.”

During a complimentary massage scam, a man will approach a victim relaxing on the beach and offer a massage. Even if the victim says no, he will try to give them a small sample massage for free. Once he has started, he will hang around and pester the victim for a rather high payment. This scam is common in Barbados and the Bahamas.

In a camera scam, someone will ask a tourist to take a photo of them and their group of friends. The camera won’t work and when the victim goes to hand it back to them, they will drop it and cause it to smash. The entire group will then demand money for repairs or pickpocket the victim during the commotion. This scam is common worldwide.

Before traveling, make sure to take some steps to minimize your loss in case of theft. Make photocopies of key documents to take along such as passports, identification cards, rail passes, car rental vouchers, itinerary and prescriptions.

If you have expensive electronics, consider taking pictures of them to leave at home to help settle theft insurance claims. Also consider leaving valuables you cannot live without at home. Considers buying a money belt to keep most if not all of your cash and credit cards in. Being prepared and aware of tourist scams will save one time, money and a few less headaches along the road.