Tourist Traps To Watch out For On Your Vacation

Looking for the best vacation? The world is full of wonderful places: nature, buildings, stories, culture, people, traditions. Today, anybody with a fair budget can travel anywhere in a matter of hours.

Some cities look so attractive to tourists that they receive visits consistently throughout the year. It helps to boost the economy, although it conflicts with citizens’ daily life sometimes.

Thus, you have millions of people in a city— which they don’t know— looking for the best place to spend their money on.

This opportunity motivates people to work on the tourism business, and not always for good reasons. For unsuspecting travelers, a local scammer can:

  • Sell products for more than they’re worth
  • Solve a problem he caused by recommending business and get commissions
  • Offer as a tour guide to trap you in a store
  • Disguise as an authority to ask money for some bogus laws you didn’t know
  • Switch items/pickpocket when you don’t pay attention
  • Pose as a fake ticket seller to run away with your cash

What Are Tourist Traps?

People refer to tourist traps as the most deceitful cities/attractions for travelers. The term implies inflated prices, ridiculous waiting queues (due to overtourism), and dishonest/bogus sellers.

Tourist traps stand for the dark side of travel businesses. They exploit unsuspecting travelers who just want to have some fun on vacation.

Due to the number and how easy it is to scam, these tricks have become the norm in many cities. No matter where you travel, this exploit costs tourists millions of dollars every year.

Now, you probably won’t lose all your money with one street scammer. One little lie here and there and losses add up quickly. Losing $20 may not matter that much, but who wants to reward crooks for it?

Tourist traps make profits, are easy to hide, and are many times socially accepted. It seems you’ll need to take charge of your finances yourself before trusting anyone else. 

Below we list examples of the most common pitfalls. An extensive list can be found in the travel scams guide.

Types Of Tourist Traps

#1 Fake Police

If you have bad luck, these guys can spoil your vacations as soon as you arrive in the city. You can find them at the airport, taxi, and train stations. Two or three men will approach for no reason in particular.

“Where is your ID?” — They’ll ask. No matter what you show, they take them as invalid/expired. Lacking the documentation makes you look like an unauthorized traveler, and they’ll order you to either travel back to your city or arrest you. 

If you bring cash, you’re in luck. These casually-dressed policemen will forgive you for their threats if you pay for the fine on the spot. If you met a real policeman later, you’d find out the imposter scam.

(Learn more about impersonation scams here)

How To Recognize?

  • The “police officers” will encourage you to pay on the spot
  • They don’t want you to contact the police office
  • They may have a badge to prove they’re authorities, but then reply with hostile/evasive answers when you try to verify them

How To Stop?

  • A police ID can be harder to fake than a uniform. If the policeman refuses to show it, it’s an imposter.
  • If problems worsen, ask them to lead you to the police station and resolve it there. The last thing an impostor wants is having real police recognizing them.
  • Once you’ve recognized the scam, persist until they give up and walk away.

#2 Counterfeit Items

Different cultures may mean different prices, but that’s not the case for global brands. Yet, some locals offer to sell them three times cheaper. How? 

That’s the magic of counterfeiting: if nobody notices, nothing ever happened! Fake items cost less to produce and still sell for more than what you spent. 

How To Recognize?

  • If you’re loyal to a brand, you may already know what prices should be. Anything different than that screams “scam.”
  • You find the item in a local bazaar when only branded stores should be selling it.

How To Prevent?

  • The price usually goes hand in hand with quality. If it costs too little to be true, it’s probably fake. Buy in trusted locations to avoid counterfeits.

For better prevention, check our guide to avoid counterfeits and fake medication.

#3 Unexpected Hotel Scams

Hotel con men always try to make you think something goes wrong with your reservation. Plus, they reach out to you at the worst moment, like in the middle of the night.

If a hotel impostor calls your room phone while you are sleeping, you’ll choose to stay on the phone. You won’t want to bother to dress up and head to the reception room at 3 AM. 

They make up some issue which you can instantly fix by telling them your credit card number. Later in the morning, you wake up with an empty bank account.

Bogus room inspectors may also steal while you distract. One man will ask you to sign some papers at the door of your room. Meanwhile, his mate will be “inspecting” the room and take your valuables.

How To Recognize? 

  • If they reach out for a problem, they want to solve it on the spot. They don’t inform you beforehand and reach out unexpectedly on purpose.

How To Stop?

  • You don’t need to follow instructions unless you know they’re genuine hotel employees. If you ignore the real ones, they’ll come to you in person, or you’ll meet them in Reception. A hotel con man, however, will desist.

Complete Guide To Hotel Scams Here

#4 Fraudulent Referrals

In a popular city, countless local businesses compete with each other daily. You can always incentivize people to bring some clients, so you don’t leave the local unattended.

Imagine you exit the airport and take a taxi. You tell the driver to take you to Hotel A, but he tells you it’s overbooked or closed. He proposes Hotel B instead (or he drives wherever he wants without telling you). Hotel A was always available, but you took Hotel B, and the driver got a commission for lying.

But referrals can be nastier at times. For example, you get back to your car and notice a flat tire, and then a helpful man approaches. He takes you to the closest mechanic, which will pay him commissions for the new client, also for the tire he punctured.

How To Recognize?

  • The person wants to lead you to a particular location. It makes you change your plans on a whim.

How To Prevent?

  • Before trusting a stranger, call your hotel to double-check the information.
  • Tricky sellers want you to buy from an affiliated business, if not from their own store. If you smell a scam, at least pick another location so that they don’t get rewarded.

#5 Fake Tour Guides

A local tour guide promises to get you to the best places that other travel agents don’t know about. Whether that’s true or not, you end up in a store and buy something you don’t need.

These locals may offer to get you the best prices for services. But are they real? Think twice before buying those tickets.

Bogus middlemen sell attraction tickets, hotel reservations, and other services posing as company salespeople. But the money goes only to the middleman’s pocket: the business never heard of you.

How To Recognize?

  • The seller offers bargain prices for well-known hotels
  • The seller sells tickets for a tourist attraction that should be free/public

How To Prevent?

  • Before buying, contact real employees to know whether the promotion still applies. Never trust only a middleman’s word.
  • Before you buy fake tickets, learn about the attraction and what you need to pay. The most famous buildings have prices listed on their websites. Also, visiting with a trusted tour guide will prevent these issues.

#6 ATM & Exchanges

Handling big sums of money can cost a lot on exchanges. Some of them offer unfair rates for those who’re unaware of them. Others use hundreds of the smallest bills on the exchange, so it’s easy to miss or miscalculate the amount.

Don’t think exchange machines are necessarily better. Like ATMs, con men can install card skimmers and cameras to steal your bank details. If you find a loose keyboard, a tight slot, or some strange holes, that could be the case.

How To Recognize?

  • Pay attention to detail. Check for signs of manipulation before using the ATM.

How To Prevent?

  • In the ATM, examine before you use it. Cover the number with your hand to protect from camera records or “shoulder surfers.”
  • In exchange, count the money before you leave. Read about fair exchange rates before taking their offer.

In our guide to ATM Fraud, we expose the tools scammers use to rob your identity.

Plan It The Right Way: The All-In-One Travel Guide!

Each country has its culture and differences. Given the diversity, it’s unrealistic to be ready for every single variation you can find. Schemes evolve every day in every country. At some point, you may fall for one, no matter how careful you were.

Despite the cultural contrasts, tourist traps share quite similar features among each other. That’s why preventing scams is easier than detecting or stopping them. 

Scammers know how their victims think, so they use confidence tricks. If you’re conscious of how you think and plan for those flaws, you’ll be far away from the tourist traps.

We’ve also collapsed it into five simple steps, so you don’t take forever to make traveling safe:

#1 Travel Agencies

Do you want to get the most out of your vacation? Finding the best plans for tourists can be hard to find if you aren’t familiar with the city.

The right travel agent can save you lots of headaches planning your trip. Working with a reliable agency already protects you against most service scams. They’ll help you to make a memorable trip and travel safely. 

Agencies aren’t cheap, but it’s better to pay someone to help you than giving money to a scammer.

It’s even better to have friends who live in the area. A citizen who has lived in that city for years will have no problem avoiding tourist traps. Thus, there’s no risk in approaching strangers because you have a guide/agent/friend you can trust.

#2 Educate Before Travelling

As someone who never left the country, your first trip can feel like an adventure. How much does society change? What’s their culture? What are their differences aside from language and territory?

What’s common in one place may be unthinkable in another. If you look at the world’s top tourist traps, travelers have reported a myriad of tactics scammers use to make easy money.

If you travel to a popular location, especially another continent, preparation is a must. In your travel plan, excluding problematic locations matters as much as including tourist attractions. 

#3 Do your homework first

An unknown city is a bad place to be when you arrive unprepared. Need some cash? Didn’t register with the hotel yet? Look for an attraction? 

Little things such as currency exchanges and taxis can quickly drain half of your money before you even get to the building. And who knows? Bad luck could lead to ATM machine scams, knock-offs, or bogus tour guides.

Before you travel to the city, get done as much work as possible, so you don’t need to worry about it at the destination. Preparing in your city is faster, cheaper, and safer than doing it abroad.

  • Reserve services in advance with a trusted provider.
  • If possible, exchange currencies and have cash ready in your home city. It lets you skip foreign exchange scammers.
  • Rent a car to avoid dealing with taxi scams.
  • Hire a guide— not a local stranger— which you can follow through the tourist attractions, from start to finish.

#4 Choose international brands, not local businesses

Large-scale companies remain unchanged regardless of their location. Local stores may have better prices, but you won’t know how trustworthy they are. That includes exchanges, shops, bars, tour guides, and transportation.

Most brands work on hundreds of locations, especially popular destinations. It won’t take you long to find them.

If you need a taxi, for example, they may scam you for twice the promised price. If Uber works in that city, you save yourself the risk of taxi scams. In the app, you’d see the closest Uber to you and its reviews.

#5 Be mindful with whom you talk

Traveling is about living experiences. You see new places, learn about other cultures, and meet new faces. In tourist attractions, it’s frequent (also seen as normal) that strangers approach you.

They want you to help them make a photo, buy their items, or just have some small talk. Why are some of them so friendly?

Mind that travel agents aren’t the only ones profiting from tourism. Some groups work full time to take advantage of them due to their ignorance. Think of a person who knows nothing about your city and wonders where to spend their cash. A scammer’s dream!

Why are they talking to you in the first place? Strangers don’t usually talk to each other. Is it because you’re a tourist? Ignore them and follow your itinerary; you made it for a reason. (learn more in our Confidence Tricks article)

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to feel lost when visiting a city for the first time. Fortunately, you’ll find many helpful locals who’ll share their knowledge with you.

You don’t use it to find tourist scammers unless you visit a tourist hotspot or visit some risky area in the city. In any case, always expect to spend more money than planned, because you never know what you can find.

If you travel often, you’ll see how these schemes follow the same patterns despite the different cultures. With enough experience, detecting and preventing these rip-offs will become easy for you.

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