7 Common Travel Scams in 2023 and How To Avoid Them

October 19th, 2023

Travel is an escape from the everyday and an opportunity to create cherished memories. However, with the allure of new destinations also comes the risk of falling victim to various types of scams. And in 2023, travel scams have evolved, becoming more sophisticated and deceptive than ever.

To ensure that your journeys remain pleasurable and safe, we'll take you through the seven most prevalent travel scams and equip you with the knowledge to steer clear of them. However, let’s quickly explain what we are referring to when we say travel scams.

What Do We Mean by Travel Scams?

Travel scams can happen both before you reach a certain destination and after you arrive. This article does not deal with travel scams that can happen before you even begin your journey, such as travel documents or charter flight scams.

The Federal Trade Commission has a good guide on how to avoid these types of scams, which you can find here. In this article, we will focus on travel scams that can happen once you arrive at your destination. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

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Common Types of Travel Scams

You may encounter a variety of travel scams designed to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists in your travel. Here are the 7 most common types that we will discuss in detail:

  1. Credit Card Fraud.
  2. Train Station Scams
  3. Exchange Rate and Counterfeit Money Scams
  4. Taxi Driver Scams
  5. Fake Police Officer Scam
  6. Friendly ATM Helper
  7. Fake WiFi Hubs

1. Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud is a pervasive threat for travelers in 2023. One of the most common scams is "skimming," a stealthy technique used by scam artists to steal your card information. Skimming devices can be discreetly installed on ATMs, gas pumps, or even handheld card readers by dishonest employees.

When you use your card at these compromised terminals, your card's magnetic stripe data is copied. These criminals can then create counterfeit cards or make unauthorized transactions on your account. Skimming is particularly perilous for travelers who frequently rely on their credit cards for payments.

So how can you avoid skimming?

  • Choose ATMs Wisely: When withdrawing cash from ATMs, opt for machines located in reputable banks or well-lit areas. Avoid standalone ATMs, especially in remote or poorly lit locations.
  • Inspect Card Readers: Before inserting your card, inspect the card reader for any unusual attachments or inconsistencies. A loose or protruding card reader may be a sign of tampering.
  • Use Credit, Not Debit: When making payments, use your credit card rather than your debit card. Credit cards offer greater protection against unauthorized charges, and you won't risk direct access to your bank account.
  • Set Travel Notifications: Inform your credit card company or bank about your travel plans. This helps them monitor your account for unusual activity and ensures your card isn't blocked unexpectedly.

2. Train Station Pickpocketing Scams

Train stations are often bustling with tourists, creating a fertile ground for scammers. Thus, you should be aware of common train station scams and take the necessary steps to protect yourself from these opportunistic thieves. Let's explore the risks and the precautions you can take.

The "Bump and Grab" Technique

Imagine a crowded train station, bustling with people rushing to catch their trains. In the chaos of the crowd, a thief spots an opportunity. They deliberately bump into you, distracting you for a fraction of a second. During this momentary contact, their nimble fingers dip into your bag or pocket, retrieving your wallet or other valuables.

This technique is known as the "bump and grab." It's effective because the victim often doesn't realize the theft until much later when the thief has vanished into the crowd. The loss of cash, credit cards, and important documents can put a severe damper on your travel experience.

Door-Swiping Maneuver

Another common train station scam is the door-swiping maneuver. This trick involves a thief who stands near a departure gate or ticket counter. When a traveler swipes their access card to enter or exit, the thief is quick to slip their hand into the victim's bag or pocket, grabbing whatever they can.

This method preys on travelers' distraction and the belief that their bags are secure. The consequences can range from losing cash, credit cards, and identification documents to having your personal information compromised.

Protecting Yourself from Train Station Scams

Protecting yourself against pickpockets as a tourist is no different than what you would do at home. Always keep your valuables, including cash, credit cards, and identification, securely stored. Use a money belt or a bag with zipper compartments to make it difficult for thieves to access your belongings.

Then, divide your cash and documents, placing them in different locations. This way, even if one stash is compromised, you won't lose everything. And pay attention to your surroundings, especially in crowded places like train stations. Be cautious if someone bumps into you, and immediately check your belongings.

Finally, avoid displaying valuables. Refrain from flaunting expensive items or large sums of money. It's best to keep a low profile to avoid attracting unnecessary attention.

people at the train station

3. Exchange Rate and Counterfeit Money Scams

Foreign currency exchange is a necessity for travelers, but it's also a hotspot for scams. In 2023, you should be wary of exchange rate and counterfeit money scams that can leave you with less money than you anticipated.

Counterfeit money scams often revolve around the exchange of counterfeit currency. Scammers may offer you fake banknotes in exchange for your genuine currency. These counterfeit bills can be remarkably convincing, making it challenging for even experienced travelers to detect the fraud.

Besides being unable to use the money, you may even face legal consequences for handling counterfeit bills.

However, while not all exchange rate scams involve counterfeit money, travelers should also be cautious of where they exchange their currency. In some locations, scammers and shady exchange offices offer unfavorable rates, essentially "stealing" your money through poor exchange rates.

Tourists are often lured into these unfavorable exchanges by the promise of convenience or proximity. Locations to avoid include airport kiosks, exchange offices in busy city centers, and unverified street vendors. It’s best if you exchange your money at a bank or an exchange office you trust. And always compare rates before you make a decision on where you will exchange your money.

Additionally, before you travel, take the time to become familiar with the local currency's appearance, security features, and denominations. This knowledge can help you identify counterfeit bills. So, if you are planning on visiting Brazil, learn a bit about the Brazilian real and so forth.

Finally, if you suspect a scam, report it to local authorities or your embassy. Your vigilance can help protect other travelers from falling victim to the same scams.

4. Taxi Driver Scams

Taxis are a common mode of transportation for travelers, but unfortunately, some taxi drivers will try to exploit you through various scams. One of the most prevalent taxi scams is rigged meters. In this scheme, the driver manipulates the taxi's meter to increase fares artificially.

They may activate a "night rate" during the day, tamper with the meter's calibration, or employ various other tricks to inflate the fare. Travelers are often unaware of these manipulations until they reach their destination and discover that the fare is significantly higher than expected. While it may seem like a small amount, these overcharges can accumulate, particularly in destinations with high taxi usage.

Another taxi scam involves drivers taking travelers on unnecessary detours. These diversions can be motivated by a desire to increase the fare, either through longer routes or by taking passengers to establishments that pay the driver a commission. For instance, drivers may divert you to specific hotels, restaurants, or shops that reward them for bringing in customers.

To protect yourself, opt for well-known and reputable taxi companies with official licenses and clearly marked vehicles. These are less likely to engage in fraudulent activities. In some places, you can also agree to the fare in advance and simply not pay a dime more.

reputable yellow taxi

5. Fake Police Officer Scam

Scammers sometimes exploit the fear people have of the police, especially when you are not in your home country, and try to make a quick buck by posing as fake police officers. The fake police officer scam involves individuals who approach tourists posing as police officers by flashing badges, or even donning official-looking uniforms.

They may claim that they need to inspect your identification or search your belongings, creating a sense of authority and urgency. In some cases, these scammers demand your passport, wallet, or other valuable possessions, which they may refuse to return. They use intimidation and fear to manipulate travelers into complying with their demands.

If you are approached by someone claiming to be a police officer, politely request to see their official identification, badge, and credentials. Genuine law enforcement officers should be able to provide this information. Never hand over your passport, identification, or wallet to anyone without proper verification.

You have the right to ask for more information and to verify their identity. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of the person claiming to be a police officer, remain in a public area or near a crowd. Scammers often target individuals in isolated or less crowded places.

If you suspect that you are dealing with a fake police officer, contact your embassy or consulate for assistance and guidance. They can help verify the individual's identity and intervene if necessary. Additionally, keep photocopies or digital scans of your passport, identification, and important documents in a separate location from the originals. This can be valuable in case of theft or loss.

6. Friendly ATM Helper

ATM machines are a convenient way to access cash while traveling, but they can also be a target for scammers. The "Friendly ATM Helper" scam involves an individual who approaches you while you're using an ATM machine. They may appear helpful, offering assistance with the transaction, or posing as a fellow traveler experiencing the same issue.

While appearing friendly and approachable, their true intent is to compromise your ATM card and steal your PIN number. This scam functions very similarly to the credit card fraud scam we discussed at the beginning.

The primary tool used in this scam is a card skimmer, a device that can quickly scan the information from your ATM card's magnetic stripe. Scammers discreetly place this device in their pocket, wallet, or a bag. When they offer to help, they insert your card into the skimmer while pretending to assist you. Simultaneously, they watch you enter your PIN number.

With your card information and PIN in hand, the scammer can quickly drain your account through unauthorized transactions. This scam can result in substantial financial losses. So always shield your PIN when entering it by covering the keypad with your hand to prevent anyone from observing the numbers you press.

And try to avoid getting assistance from anyone while you use your credit card. Other than that, apply the same precautionary measures we described above and you should minimize the chances of losing money to this type of travel scam.

smiling woman using an atm machine

7. Fake WiFi Hubs

It’s expected that you’ll seek WiFi access during your trip. However, it's essential to be cautious about the threat of fake WiFi hubs, where scammers create deceptive networks to compromise your personal information.

They typically have names that resemble legitimate WiFi networks, making it easy for travelers to inadvertently connect to them. Once connected, scammers can intercept your data, monitor your online activity, and potentially steal sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card details, and personal data.

These deceptive WiFi hubs are often found in popular tourist areas, airports, hotels, and cafes, where travelers are more likely to seek WiFi access. While the convenience of free or public WiFi is appealing, it's essential to remain cautious about the networks you connect to.

Whenever possible, connect to WiFi networks provided by trusted establishments, such as hotels, cafes, or reputable public spaces. If you're unsure about the authenticity of a WiFi network, ask an employee or staff member for confirmation. They can provide you with the correct network name and password.

Use secure, encrypted browsing whenever you access sensitive websites. Look for "https://" in the URL and check for secure, password-protected networks. Disable your device's automatic connection to open networks. This way, you can choose which networks to connect to consciously.

You can also use a to help secure your internet connection and protect your data from potential interception. But this hinges on using a reputable VPN service while traveling. Your digital security is as crucial as your physical safety, so utilize these measures to protect yourself.

We Can Help You from Getting Scammed

While your safety is ultimately your responsibility and you should always stay vigilant, US First Exchange can help protect you from some of these common travel scams. We provide online currency exchange services right here in the US.

By buying the local currency of your desired destination and having it with you before you travel, you don’t have to worry about counterfeit bills or getting bad exchange rates. Plus, with cash on hand, you won’t have to use your credit card so much, lowering the chances of it getting skimmed.

And you can exchange any amount of currency you have left over from your trip for USD with us. You can buy and sell over 20 different currencies, from the Iraqi dinar to the Vietnamese dong. We offer competitive rates and will even deliver your chosen currency right to your doorstep within 24 to 48 hours. So prepare yourself before your trip and buy the currency you need.

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