Six tips for avoiding travel scams

Scammers and con artists are waiting to take advantage of travellers. Find out ways to outsmart them.

Unfortunately, many criminals see travellers as easy targets. They are perceived as being wealthy in comparison to the locals, and they are more relaxed (and less vigilant) than usual. Better yet, tourists are usually unfamiliar with their surroundings and circumstances. One of the keys to avoiding trouble is knowing what challenges you might face and taking appropriate precautions.

Whether you’re planning your next trip or about to travel, here are some tips to avoid being scammed:

1. Question the “too good to be true” deals
Won a free trip in a contest you didn’t enter? Offered a great deal at a fraction of the cost? We may laugh at these emails or phone calls, but the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that travel-related fraud costs consumers over $10 billion a year. It’s no surprise that the travel industry ranks among the top 25 industries (out of 3900) when it comes to complaints.

While it’s often safer to deal with a travel agent or major online company, you may want to explore other options. Don’t be fooled by professional-looking emails and websites Find out more about the company or provider by looking them up on vacation review sites and through the BBB website. Verify details such as office address and telephone number by checking with an outside source (such as or a travel directory). Get the details of any deal in writing, and remember that you should never have to pay a fee or deposit to claim a prize or to get more information. Unsolicited phone calls or emails should always be suspect, and you should never offer credit card information to solicitors.

Both the BBB and Canadian Foreign Affairs offer more detailed advice for recognizing and avoiding these kinds of scams.

2. Ask the price before you order
It’s a common trick to overcharge tourists, but some destinations take this tactic to extremes with excessively high bills – and then threaten physical violence if the bill is not paid. Sometimes there’s a face to this scam: a pretty girl who asks a male traveller to buy her a drink, or a friendly local who wants to practice his or her English over a cup of tea.

The trick to avoiding this scam is to ask the price before you order and pay up front if necessary. Reputable bars and restaurants should have a menu that lists their prices. Try to keep one at your table as there have been cases where a “second menu” with higher prices has been used to support inflated bills. A good understanding of local currency and a few key phrases in the local language can be a boon in this situation.

The same principle applies to taxis. Ask about the rate beforehand so you will be charged an appropriate fare, and make sure the driver uses the meter.

If you’re caught, it’s safer to pay the bill and report the incident to police rather than to risk physical harm.