Tourists make the perfect mark for a scam artist. We are disoriented, don't know the language, are wide eyed, and are distracted by the new world that we have found ourselves in. I have been approached by many people all over the world who, while they seem kind, are actually out to relieve me of my wallet or other valuables. Thanks to my wits, and skepticism, I have yet to be stolen from (knock on wood). Here are some of my tried and true rules:
- Never trust anyone who is approaching you that you do not know. They are usually going to try and sell you something or distract you.
- Don't agree to take a tour from someone who just approaches you on the street. If you need a guide ask at your hotel, guesthouse, or hostel for some recommendations.
- You do NOT need to wear a money belt in most of the places that you travel. In fact, that unnatural bulge around your neck or at your waist makes your tourist status even MORE obvious.
- At the same time, be aware of where your money is. Men, don't carry your wallet in your back pocket — especially in a crowd — and women, be aware of where your purse is, and make sure you use one with a zipper to keep hands from easily reaching inside.
- Be kind to the people that approach you. You will then be more of a person and less of a mark to them.
- Leave your valuables at home. The less you have with you, the less you have to worry about. All I am usually carrying with me on the street is some money, a bank card, my camera, and my phone. I don't wear expensive jewellery, and I leave everything else locked up in my hotel.
- It is easy to get a bit of a sense of invincibility when travelling, but if you use the common sense behaviour that you would at home, you should be fine!
Here are some common scams to watch out for on your next trip:
- The Rose or Gift For Your Lady — Someone will approach you and thrust a flower, or small trinket into your hand telling you it is free. They will then turn to your companion and insist that they pay for it. Often getting very pushy, touchy, or even aggressive. Give the trinket or flower back right away. If the scammer refuses to take it, just set it on the ground near them and walk away. This is common in romantic cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona.
- The Dropped Wallet — A wallet will be set on the ground so that when you walk by, you will instinctively reach for your own pocket/bag to make sure yours is still there. A spotter will make note of where you have checked and then will pickpocket you further down the road. Common in Rome and Ukraine.
- The Swarm — A group of children will swarm you either begging for change or trying to sell you small items. They will come very close, grabbing at your arms or pulling your clothes. This usually means that little hands will soon be lifting all of your valuables. The best way to get away from them is to act very angry and shoo them away. It isn't kind, but it gets the job done. This is common in Italy.
- The Photographer — This is more common during high season at tourist attractions. A local will walk over and ask if you would like him to take a photo of you and your companion. He will then demand money for the service before he hands over the camera or, worst case, will take off with your camera. If you really need someone to take a photo of you, try and ask a fellow tourist. This is common all over Europe.
- The Overnight Bus — On cheap bus rides from city to city, the driver and bus employees will go through bags and even lift valuables off of sleeping passengers. This is a time when a money belt comes in handy. On overnight bus or train trips, I will take all valuable items and put them in small bags or money belts under my clothes. No one is getting in there without me waking up! This is VERY common in Bangkok, but has been happening in other parts of Southeast Asia as well.
- The Map Seller — Someone will approach you offering to sell you a map. While they unfold it, capturing your attention, someone else will be picking your pocket. Common all over Europe.
Like I mentioned before, the best way to avoid all of these scams is to make sure that you are always aware of what is going on around you.