These Five Scams Snare Even Seasoned Travelers?
“T he U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs website — which is a smart place to visit anytime you are traveling abroad for business or leisure — allows you to search country by country for tips on guarding yourself during your visit. Click on the ‘safety and security’ link in your destination’s profile.
These Five Scams Snare Even Seasoned Travelers?
Although some good advice has been imparted in this article written by Scott Cohn of CNBC, the title of the article implies that even you — a seasoned traveler — will be “tripped up” by the five scams listed in this article.
Judge for yourself as you read about those five scams.
1. Identity Theft
“Thousands of passports are stolen every year from Americans and citizens of other developed countries. In addition to simple theft by pickpocketers, a corrupt hotel clerk or border control agent could steal your passport or the information on it.”
I always keep my passport in one of the front pockets of my pants; and I usually have my hand blocking access to that pocket. I have been fortunate that my passport was never stolen, as I have never had anything lost or stolen in my front pockets — ever….
…but I am also always aware of the location of my passport, as recommended by both Cohn as well as by me in past articles. I never let it out of my sight, as there is usually no reason for an agent of either the the front desk of a hotel or resort property or of border control to leave their station while I am in front of them.
Also, never give out your Social Security number if you are a citizen of the United States — or personal identification number if you live in a country which has a similar system — to anyone. That is one of the easiest ways for identity theft to occur — and once that happens, correcting and resolving identity theft is still extremely difficult to accomplish; and doing so can easily take years of your time.
Besides, there is little reason for anyone outside of the United States to need your Social Security number.
“…make color copies of the ID page of your passport, the visa and your travel documents. Leave one set with a friend or relative at home, and carry the others separate from your actual passport. If your passport is stolen or lost, the copies will help you obtain a replacement quickly so you can get back home. Be sure to report the theft immediately using the State Department’s special website.” This is good advice; but you may also want to also consider keeping a digital version of your documents in a secure location which you can access.
Please refer to this extensive article I wrote pertaining to Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud: What You Can Do and How to Reduce Your Risk for additional information.
2. Credit Card Skimming
I prefer to use credit cards wherever I go, as they offer the best combination of convenience and security in terms of financial transactions while traveling — but that does not mean that the use of credit cards is without risks.
“But in a crime that the State Department says is increasingly common in, for example, Namibia in southern Africa, that convenient handheld credit card machine is actually a skimming device that steals your account information.”
Using the example of Namibia as offered by Cohn, here is the warning issued under the safety and security section by the Department of State of the United States:
ATM and Credit Card Fraud is becoming more sophisticated and more common in Namibia. ATM users should be suspicious of any unknown person approaching while at an ATM, even if that person appears to be offering assistance. A variety of distraction schemes have been used to steal money or information from tourists at ATMs. Perpetrators may also use card-reading or card-trapping devices attached to ATMs to procure PIN codes or other important personal information. Carefully inspect an ATM before using it and, whenever possible, try to use ATMs which are enclosed and in highly trafficked areas. While most business establishments deal honestly, some may have individual employees who use card-reading machines to steal information when patrons pay with a credit card. This can be done with hand-held devices in a matter of seconds. Whenever possible, pay with cash. If you must use a credit card, it is best to observe the transaction closely as it is processed, and to ensure that the card is not taken out of your sight. Many banks and credit card companies have the capacity to send automatic “alerts” by e-mail or text message when a card has been used. Before traveling, inquire whether your bank or credit card issuer will provide such services.
Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security has written this extensive article which has links to other articles in what has become a series of reports over the years pertaining to “skimmers” of all different varieties.
In addition to “skimmers”, there are other risks to using credit cards; but a credit card offers you protection by setting the maximum limit for which you could be liable — at $50.00 on some credit cards, for example — if your credit card account is compromised. Even if $5,000.00 were charged to your credit card, chances are you will not have to pay most or all of it if you successfully dispute that you were not the one who used that credit card for those fraudulent transactions.
Also, credit card accounts can be closed as a preventive measure if you suspect fraud. One telephone call will usually close down the account and an investigation will usually be launched by the credit card company. Closing down a bank account to which a debit card is tied is not as easy to accomplish — and you will most likely have already lost money before you even know that fraud is indeed occurring.
Chip-and-pin credit cards — which have been in use in various places around the world — have become more prevalent in the United States; and I have two of them. Transactions are supposed to be even more secure than they have been in the past; but the use of them is still not free of fraudulent activity.
I never use debit cards, as they serve no purpose for me.
As with your passport, awareness is your best defense against fraudulent use of your credit card. Know where your credit card is located at all times; and — although this can be difficult to do while a transaction is occurring — never let your credit card out of your sight.
Again, please refer to this extensive article I wrote pertaining to Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud: What You Can Do and How to Reduce Your Risk for additional information.
3. Cop Con
In terms of scams, Cohn notes that “One of the latest in Italy involves thieves posing as plainclothes police officers. They will demand to see identification in order to resolve some supposed crime. Of course, what they really want is your wallet, either for your money or your personal information.”
As I wrote in this article pertaining to 9 Tips on How to Deal With Aggressive Touts When Visiting Egypt, do not be afraid to politely question authority for your own protection, as a legitimate law enforcement officer will usually comply with your request. “When I drove up to the site of the pyramids, a man dressed in plain clothes started giving me instructions — such as opening the trunk of my rental car, for example. I hesitated, asking how was I to know that he was indeed a real police officer and not a tout. He insisted that he was a police officer and showed me his credentials — which, of course, were written in Arabic and I could not read them. I was still hesitant. He finally called over a uniformed police officer, who confirmed to me that he was indeed legitimate. Only then did I comply with his requests; and I also believe that he understood my hesitancy, as he laughed about the situation and assured me not to be concerned.”
Cohn also advises to “try to keep your wallet out of sight in a front pocket or someplace not easily accessible to pickpockets. If you’re waving your money around or otherwise displaying your wealth, you’re basically advertising to thieves that you are a potential victim.”
This is true, as I have advised the same advice in this article pertaining to 14 Tips on How You Can Prevent Theft in Hotels and Aboard Airplanes: simply do not be flamboyant or flaunt what you have, as you only become more of a target as a result. Rather, be as inconspicuous as possible and as often as possible — especially while you are traveling.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I have always practiced using a front pocket of pants as opposed to a rear pocket for better protection of my more valuable belongings; and I have advised multiple times — including in this article — in the past that you should consider doing the same, if you do not do so already. For additional information, please refer to this article pertaining to Three Reasons Why Pickpockets Have Never Affected Me.
4. Fare and Fare Alike
I despise taking taxi cabs — to the point where I would rather walk to my destination. I typically rely on hotel shuttles, mass transportation, rental cars and walking to get me to where I want to go — and no, I have not yet used a ride share service such as Uber or Lyft.
The last time I used a taxi cab was in Manila; and I was scammed by a taxi driver out of two or three dollars simply because I needed to get to the airport and the incident was just not worth the effort over which to raise a fuss. I typically know the tricks to avoid being scammed by taxi drivers; but in Manila, there were few other options of transportation in which to take — such as a Jeepney, of which you can read about my experience with one.
After giving a few examples of scams perpetrated by unscrupulous taxi cab drivers, Scott Cohn offers some good advice: “Consider arranging your transportation from the airport ahead of time, through your hotel or a reputable provider. If that is not possible, stick with the official taxi line at the airport, and avoid paying upfront. Once in town, try to use only radio-dispatched cabs, or arrange rides through your hotel’s doorman or front desk.”
That last tip is true: to get from the Hilton Buenos Aires to Ezeiza International Airport, I took a taxi cab which was arranged by the concierge of the hotel, as he was assuring me that I was transported to the airport by a legitimate service. While I was in Buenos Aires, there was at least one time where I also arranged for my transportation ahead of time from a reputable company.
5. Stung By a B
I never heard of this scam, which “employs beautiful and exotic ‘bar girls,’ also known as ‘B-girls,’ to con unsuspecting male travelers into signing for thousands of dollars in credit-card charges by getting them drunk or drugging them.”
Cohn tells the tale of a meteorologist who — while on vacation in the South Beach area of Miami — “would be stripped of tens of thousands of dollars — and quite possibly his entire career — after falling victim to a surprisingly common scam that targets a man’s ego and his wallet.”
Those “B-girls” are “part of an elaborate scheme that typically includes the bartenders, the management, even the club owners” where they play “to the malleable ego” of men who are typically middle aged — and the B-girls have little difficulty in convincing the traveler that “he is a player — maybe about to get lucky if he plays things right.”
They troll legitimate nightspots in Miami Beach in search of businessmen and tourists who appear wealthy based on such accessories as expensive watches and nice shoes. Once they find their mark and invite them to their “private clubs”, they ply him with alcohol while they drink water, giving the impression that they are drinking with him shot for shot — all while racking up thousands of dollars in charges on the credit card of the woozy victim “like a $5,000 bottle of wine that runs about $5 wholesale” and gratuities which run into the hundreds of dollars for every purchase. “By the time the traveler knows what hit him it’s the morning after, the B-girls are long gone, and it is nearly impossible to dispute the credit-card charges because he personally signed for them.”
I do not drink alcohol beverages; so I do not frequent nightclubs and bars — whether or not I am traveling — but Cohn gives good advice, which once again centers around awareness: “To ward off the B-girls, never let your guard down. Beware of any drink that you did not personally see being poured.”
If you notice any strange and exorbitant charges on your credit card account — whether or not they ma have been caused by an encounter with “B girls” — report it as soon as possible to the company which issued your credit card; and alert local police as well.
To be fair, I believe the that title of the original article is a little misleading, as it seems to imply that some of the aforementioned scams can be stopped under the complete control of seasoned travelers — but there are some things that are virtually impossible to prevent, try as you might.
Still, keen awareness of your surroundings and of your belongings at all times is the single best — but, alas, not completely foolproof — way to prevent yourself from becoming the target of a scam. Follow the advice listed in this article and your chances of becoming the victim of a scam will be mitigated.
All photographs ©2005, 2014, 2015 and 2016 by Brian Cohen.