Six tips for avoiding travel scams

3. Exercise cab caution
Entire articles have been written on taxi safety and there’s a reason: Being charged inflated fares or driven “the long way” to a destination are minor concerns compared to the risks of express kidnapping, assault or robbery.

If you plan to take a cab, call the company yourself or arrange transportation through a reliable source rather than hailing one on the street. Make sure the taxi is fully licensed and offered through a reputable company. Check that the car is in good condition – especially that there are working door handles on the inside. Consult your map before heading out to get a feel for the streets, and pay attention to where you are going. Also, avoid cars that already have occupants, and make it clear that there will be no stopping to pick up other passengers. If you suspect something is wrong, get out of the car.

Many travellers choose to avoid taxis altogether and opt for cycling, walking or public transportation (as appropriate). The hotel van is also a good option, but beware of unlicensed private car hires.

4. Learn to tell the real cops from the fake
This scam has at least two versions: 1) You’re approached by a person claiming to be a policeman who asks to see your jewelry, cash or credit cards (along with your PIN information); or 2) You are pulled over and the “police” need to search the car – robbing you in the process.

Criminals are counting on the fact that you might not be able to tell a counterfeit officer from a real one, and you’re too intimidated to ask questions. Legitimate police will not ask for your credit cards and PIN information, or to see your jewelry and cash. Most advice warns not to give out this information, but not to resist if threatened with violence.

You can also help yourself by knowing what the local police uniform and marked cars look like. If you’re pulled over while driving or approached by a “plain clothes” officer, ask to see the officer’s badge, take note of the name and number and call the local police to verify this person is in fact a police officer.

5. Find out about local scams
Some scams are particular to certain countries and regions. For example, the UK and Australian governments currently warn about lottery scams in Spain and the Netherlands. In Russian, a perpetrator may drop money or jewelry and attempt to extort an unwary traveller who attempts to return it. Visa scams have affected travellers to the Philippines and Laos, and some countries such as Nigeria are infamous for financial scams.

Understanding tactics used in certain countries comes with researching your destination. Online travel forums and guide books are good resources, and government travel advice is also worth a look. Each country-specific report or advisory has a crime section, and most governments such as Canada, the US and the UK have general advice about avoiding scams.

6. Know how to get advice (and help!)
Unfortunately, many criminals will take advantage of people in trouble – especially when they cause that trouble, such as a car accident or flat tire. Having a plan and knowing whom to contact for help can offer an extra level of protection rather than relying on a stranger for help.