19 Top Travel Scams to AVOID & Ways to Prevent them!

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Christine Kaaloa

solo traveler guide to top travel scams around the world
solo traveler guide to top travel scams around the world

I’ve had my close calls and fair share of scams, so this post comes from the heart.

As thrilling as it is to explore new destinations independently, it’s crucial to be prepared for potential tourist scams that target unsuspecting travelers. In this blog post, I shed light on the travel scams to avoid if you travel solo, I share some of my own experiences with travel scams and tips to help you navigate these scary territories with confidence.

This post may contain affiliate links. I never leave home without travel insurance. Use this Trip Insurance Finder tool  to find one that matches your budget. I use World Nomads for adventures & travel theft coverage.

Despite what some may think, that solo travelers make easy targets because they are alone, I do not feel that is always the case. Travelers in a group can make ideal targets for things like pickpocket and theft.

Nevertheless, solo travelers only have themselves to look out for and make decisions. If you are a solo female traveler then i’m especially speaking to you– YOU are your own safety net. This weight of being responsible for your choices can make solo travelers feel hyperaware, anxious and vulnerable. So its good to know what to look out for when traveling alone.

Incidentally- check out my update blog post on fearless Street Smart Tips for Soloistas.The safety tips in this post will prepare you for much of the scams in this post.

Travel Scams to AVOID if you are Travel Alone

Whether you’re planning a solo backpacking trip or a solo business venture, avoiding travel scams and knowing how to deal with or prevent them, safeguards your peace of mind so you can appreciate your independence more. Here’s some common tourist scams to beware of.

1. “Your hotel burned down…”

Your hotel burned down is an all too common redirection scam to deter you from your original hotel so the scam artist can take you to their hotel, where they’re likely receiving a kickback. Always call your hotel in advance or on the spot to confirm all is good for your arrival. Many hotels and hotel booking services send you friendly email reminders about your stay, but all the same, this scam can work with naive travelers.

  • Book a hotel with airport pickup service so you don’t have to worry about getting to your hotel.
  • Buy an eSim, a local SIM or put your mobile service on roaming so you have access to a phone and can make phone calls or map quest your route. Read my tips on Staying Connected Abroad in Asia
  • Use a ride share app. Rideshare apps allow you to give drivers ratings and some allow you to leave reviews.  Although Uber is widely known, use the one that locals use and recommend.

2. “That attraction is closed.”

“That attraction is closed.” is another redirection tactic scammers use to free your plans up so they can seduce you to their tour and souvenir or gem shops. I had this happen to me when I was visiting Bangkok’s  palace. As I had read about this scam before arriving in Bangkok, I knew it was not true. Sometimes, scammers have agreements with the shop owners to bring you there in exchange for payment. I always check to see if the attraction is indeed closed.

3. A stranger leaves you a bracelet, pin, etc… 

If a stranger places a pin, jewelry or friendship token before you and walks away, do not take it unless you want to make a donation.  It’s not free. But if you want to support the community and it’s inexpensive, at least choose one that’s cute.

download checklist 25 travel tips for solo travelersDownload my Solo Travel Mistakes Checklist and get travel survival tips to your Inbox

4. Rideshares vs Taxis

I’ve had my run in with a Bangkok taxi scamming me or wanting to take me to commission shops. I’ve had Indian and Thai taxis try to drive without the meter, by telling me it was broken. I’ve even had an angry Indian taxi driver leave me in a dark street at 11pm because he was going in the opposite way of the railway station (according to Google Maps) and I had called him on it. He tried to intimidate me by yelling at me, but when I wasn’t scared, he told me to get out! Around the globe, the 411 is same about taxi drivers– some are unreliable, untrustworthy and will rip you off. 
So now there are rids share apps and no traveler is looking back.

  • Use ride share apps like Uber and Lyft . The ability to track your driver in real time and rate your ride, rideshare services are better and more accountable than taxis.
  • Ask a local for advice on their most reliable form of transportation is.
    • In Sri Lanka, I noticed there were many rideshare tuk tuk services.
    • In Mexico, Didi Driver app was more reliable than Uber.
    • In Nepal, they have Pathao and In-Drive where you can hire cars to motorbike transportation.  My hotel concierge recommended In-Drive as his favorite due to the costs. But expats I talked to preferred Pathao as slightly more in costs, but safer and more reliable.

Note: There may be rules about ride share and where they can/cannot go. In cities, taxi drivers have a tension with ride share drivers, especially when it comes to airports. In Cancun, Ubers are allowed to enter the airports, but they’re not allowed to pick up passengers and if caught by taxi drivers, this could spell a fight.

  • Beware of private or luxury taxis. They’re not quite scams but some will try to lure you away from the normal ones and charge a higher price.  New York and Seoul black sedan taxis are infamous for this. But the locals also know there’s a price difference between them. Only unsuspecting tourists don’t.
  • Never tell a taxi driver it is your first time in that city, even if it is. Never let them know if you are alone. It’s always good to take a photo of your taxi driver’s name/permit so you can report him if anything sketchy happens and it’s also handy, if you’re the forgetful type of traveler, who leaves your belongings in the car.  
  • If the meter is broken, find another taxi. Period. Foreign travelers don’t know the going rate per distance. Taxis do and this is taking advantage of helpless tourists that don’t know better.
  • If a taxi driver offers to take you shopping when you want to go elsewhere, tell them you’re meeting a friend and cannot waste time. These days there are so many ride-share services that I’m surprised taxis still attempt occasional scams.
Read how to to deal with tourist scams

5. Bogus Officials

Scam artists sometimes pose as bogus police, offering to guide you to somewhere safe, but often they will lure you to a shop where they get commission kickbacks or god forbid– somewhere worse where you are robbed. I was lost in the streets of Marrakesh, when a friendly officer offered to guide me to where I was going. I saw his police uniform and immediately assumed I could trust him. But instead of helping me find my way out of the maze of streets and to the main bazaar, he led me deeper into the streets and ultimately into the basement of a leather shop during after hours. By then, I knew he wasn’t a police officer. He gave me a tour of their empty tannery (the workers had gone home) and said if I wanted to buy anything. A salesman came out and I started to feel outnumbered, pressured and unsafe. So I quickly told them I was late, had to go meet a friend and quickly scampered out.  The bogus police let me leave and after that, I only approached Moroccan women to ask for directions.

  • Do carry a fake wallet.
  • Never tell strangers you are solo. Always let them know you are traveling with a friend/husband/wife, so they know someone will search for you if you go missing.
  • Avoid carrying all your money/valuables on you . Always leave the majority of your withdrawn cash in your hotel safe. I like also personally like to split my money into different stash pockets when I sightsee.

Check out my post how to deal with scammers, touts and beggars

6. Counterfeit companies

Counterfeit travel and tour agencies exist.  In Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, they are virtually everywhere and they sell their services in the name of reputable companies. I cannot tell you how many Vietnam Airlines shops I’ve seen!  And while you may still get decent service should you go with a counterfeit tour company or business, it’s all still shady.

  • Write down your tour company’s address beforehand.  When I was dropped off for my trekking tour with a reputable tour company, my driver didn’t know which address to take me to as there was a counterfeit shop down the street.

READ How to find reputable tour companies in Vietnam (and not get ripped off!)

7. Fake takeout menus slipped under your hotel door.

I’ve not encountered this one, but only heard about it, where scammers leave fake food menus under your hotel door and when you call the number, place an order with your credit card, you won’t receive your food.  Always check with the hotel reception desk before ordering or better yet, check your Google Maps for nearby food options.

8. Car Rental Damage

Always check your car rental before leaving the car rental parking lot, especially if you didn’t take the damage waiver.  I rented a car in Los Angeles with Enterprise car rental (yes, Enterprise). It was not the airport branch but one of the local ones in Hollywood. They tried to encourage me to buy collision and damage insurance and when I declined, they warned me about fees I’d incur if I returned the car with any “golf-ball sized dings”. They even showed me an example which I thought was weird at the time. I declined it because I bought collision insurance through Expedia where I booked the car and I had paid for my booking with my American Express card. I was doubly insured.  I used the car for one day and minimally at that. At night, I parked it in a quiet and nice neighborhood. The next day I returned it, they found guess what– a “golf ball sized ding” under the running board under my car door and on the roof! Oddly, no paint was scratched and the dings were in two spots you’d not think to look! I eventually fought this through my American Express insurance and won, but still, it had me upset for weeks and I pledged to never use Enterprise car rental again.

  • Ask the car rental agent to lead you around during your car check. Request the rental agent show you common places you need to watch out for. Check above and below the car. Beware of the “golf-ball-sized” warnings.
  • Take photos of questionable damage or scratch in advance.
  • Ask for proof the car the car did not enter the autobody shop within the last six months. Okay, so you are hit with a suspicious damage, and it’s in a location that you didn’t think to look at. Ask for the car’s repair records for the last six months to prove
  • Buy trip insurance. By now, getting basic trip insurance is a given to travel. I use it even for domestic trips.

You can find trip insurance plans in your budget here.

9. Motorbike Rental Damage

You’re renting a motorbike in Thailand or Bali and they ask for your passport. Some travelers don’t want to give it as it is sensitive information and it is really not necessary. Some companies will use it as a security deposit as travelers DO get into motorbike accidents often. This is why trip insurance is handy and I always get it ( World Nomads  is the best because they cover activities like this, where other insurances do not)

  • Do not give out itinerary information on where you’re staying. Some tourists have found their motorbike tires slashed overnight or their bikes stolen.
  • If this happens to you, get a police report. You cannot claim insurance without it.  Also, take photos and do not trust the motorbike company’s repair quote if it feels excessive. Get it estimated or offer to get it repaired elsewhere.

10. Buying expensive jewelry or gems

Okay, I’m not a big jewelry or gem person, so I’ve only heard of this scam, which is being taken to a scam jewelry shop and being sold fake gems. Don’t trust a taxi driver or a random person off the street, who wants to take you jewelry shopping.

  • Do your research and only purchase gems from legitimate gem dealers.

11. Destitute Mother with Baby

You may have seen a mother with an infant in her arms begging (or for that matter, a homeless person cradling a dog– these really make me mad). In many cases, the infant does not always belong to the beggar (and the dog is stolen). Other examples are begging children, and cripped or blind beggars. This is a tactic to gain sympathy and although you have good intentions, the money does not often go to the beggar, but to whom they work for or to an addiction. After the movie Slum Dog Millionaire came out, it exposed how children are used by gangs to work as beggars.

One traveler said they bought milk for a begging mother with an infant at a nearby milk shop, only to witness the mother return the milk back to the shop, where they paid her.  I’ve bought food for beggars only for them to not know what to do with it.  The moral is, you don’t know if the panhandler is truly who they appear to be, …if they’re using your money in the way that is intimated… or if there is a larger scam at play.

  • If you want to make a donation, do so to The Red Cross, Salvation Army or charitable non-profit that assists homeless families. Donate to the organizations you know are helping many recover from poverty.

Check out 30 Responsible tips for Ethical Travelers to avoid situations like these!

12. Credit Card Identity theft

Always keep your credit card in your eyeshot.  Anyone can take it to the back and take a photo of it. 

I once checked into a hotel and within a few days, my credit card company flagged a notice about a huge Best Buy purchase made in the city I was in. At the time, I traveled a lot for work at the time and always had to put a credit card down for my hotels, so I opened a separate credit card that I used strictly for staying at hotels and work incidentals.

  • Keep a separate account for travel and travel debit/credit cards.  Some travelers like to travel with a prepaid credit card so if their card gets stolen, they only lose the money the put on it.
  • Place notifications on your credit card so you are notified each time the card is used for a purchase.

Read my tips for using international ATMs abroad if you’re concerned about money

13. Gypsies and pickpockets

There are many types of pickpockets out there. The ones you hear most about are gypsies in Europe like Barcelona, Paris, Rome, Athens.  Sometimes, they come in the form of an overly helpful local who helps you clean up mustard that’s spilled upon you. Many of them stand outside train and metro stations waiting for an unsuspecting traveler to help and sometimes they can work in teams to distract their targets as their accomplice does the stealing.  I’ve had a gypsy who was an obvious gypsy wait at a train station in Bologna to help passengers buy their ticket in exchange for money. In my case,I actually needed help in buying my ticket so I let her show me how but kept my credit card far from her. All I had on me was a yogurt, so unfortunately that’s all I could pay her with. 

  • Always hold strangers at a distance from you and utilize the street smart tips in this linked post.
  • Situational awareness. Be aware of your surroundings and hold your bags close to you. If you’re going into a crowded train or bus, swivel your bag in front of you and place your hand over it to show you’re prepared for pickpockets.
  • Carry anti-theft purses (here’s wonderful recommendations here and here)
  • I wrote more tips about travel theft on this post  27 ways to prevent pickpockets

14. Overly friendly locals & quick friendships

Some locals may want to take you home with them or treat you to a drink. Ask yourself what you did to merit that hospitality. In Kyoto, I once met an unusual grandma on the bus who wanted to take me home to meet her nephew. In Japan you don’t think about scams because the country overall feels safe. But while I wasn’t looking that grandma was trying to look into my backpack and when I turned back she whipped her hand away.

As a solo traveler, I have a tendency to make fast friendships with locals and other travelers. I’ve gotten bold about inviting travelers to split the costs of a room with me or to share a taxi. But while I like to give strangers the benefit of the doubt, I never drop my guard. When meeting people, I always have my window rolled up high until they prove themselves and over time, I slowly roll that window down to half way.

Read solo travel safety tips you SHOULD FOLLOW!  

15. Attractive Flirts

This is for the guys. I’ve heard stories from male travel friends of being hit on by local ladies. The lady suggests they visit a bar to get to know each other better. The lady scammer has them buy drinks, gets them drunk and then robs them.

I had a male friend that met a Chinese woman in Beijing at the Great Wall and she took him to a bar where she had him hooked into buying expensive drinks for her. That’s a common scenario for bar escorts in Asia.

I’ve heard of dicey scams, where a male is lured into meeting the woman’s male friends in a gambling room. He then finds himself roped into a friendly game of playing cards, until the friendly game quickly turns into betting and he has difficulty escaping.  Avoid the attractive flirts.

16. Taking photos of street performers

Think twice, before you snap at street performers!  The moment you snap, be prepared to pay for that photo. I especially do not like street performers who use animals as entertainment because of the exploitation. When the animal does not perform they are punished. Your dollars are not going to their care. Read my post on responsible travel tips for ethical travelers

17. Being charged double gratuity

Always check restaurant bills carefully. Sometimes, they’ve already added a gratuity or even a double gratuity. It’s not really a scam but still, make sure you’re not tipping twice.

As an American, this sometimes accidentally forget this rule, that in some places, gratuity is already added. Traveling Memphis, they not only had a gratuity, but one place also charged me an extra dollar for a Ukraine relief fund.  Mexico occasionally adds in a gratuity charge as well. Always, always check your bill when you get it.

18.The Sob story of Begging

Spare a quarter? I can’t afford the plane ticket, bus ticket… home. We’ve all heard this before, if not seen it written on cardboard signs at the on-ramp of a highway or been approached with it in the parking lot of  7 Eleven. Often that is a form of manipulative begging to get you to help by donating money.  With beggars, they’re not going home but often using it for a drug or alcohol problem.  In either case, you really don’t know how they’ll use your generosity or what you’re enabling, other than continued begging.

Panhandlers in the U.S. can make as much as a $100/day doing that and it does not motivate them into finding a job when that is their job.

The responsible thing to do is to keep walking.  Read my responsible tips for ethical travelers

19. Cashiers and money changers will count your money fast.

Always check your money when you receive it from a local money changer.  Recount the money before you walk away and stand in front of the changer while you do this. Some money exchanger will try to switch money on you or return less the amount they’ve quoted. For this reason, I avoid money changers and prefer ATMs at reputable local banks during banking hours or I’ll go to the airport exchange when I arrive, even if I know i’m paying a little more in the exchange value.

Additionally, when you make purchases at stores, using large bills, always recount your money. I have a bad habit of not doing this and sometimes, cashiers can be flawed. You want to make sure you’re getting your correct amount back.

Read Things that ruin your trip and how to recover from it

How to prevent travel theft and scams?

1. Safeguard your trip with trip Insurance

While you cannot always prevent bad things from happening to you, you can be insured enough to be compensated for some of it. Read my post on what you need coverage for (I list four trip insurance options for U.S. citizens).

On a budget? Use this handy trip insurance finder tool  to find one that matches your budget.

I use World Nomads because it covers a lot of the adventure activities I do that other trip insurances won’t like riding a motorbike, scuba diving, trekking, etc..  However, I’ve heard many good things about HeyMondo and plan to try it out on my next trip!

2. Research the city and its common scams before you travel

Research is the best way to prevent tourist scams because most scammers prey on naive and unsuspecting tourists. I like to Google “common tourist scams + (insert name of city)” to see what article it pops up.

In Southeast Asia and Thailand, scams can feel like annoying bug bites; scammers are often trying to “trick” you out of your money (apparently, it’s sort of a Buddhist thing: stealing is wrong but “outsmarting” someone out of their money is okay). In major cities like Rome, Barcelona, New York, they can feel much more intimidating, because you have to be aware of down-right theft.

3. Travel with anti-theft gear and accessories

Buying anti-theft bags and accessories certainly helps prepare you in avoiding pickpockets and theft. Check out this post for a variety of ways I avoid travel theft and pickpockets. I also covered anti-theft purses and bags for solo female travelers.

4. Avoid shady places with unfavorable characters

There are some places that just breed scams with sketchy characters and red light behavior. In Bangkok, I went to a ping pong show with some folks I met at a hostel and the night quickly turned from silly to dark when the mamma of the house, blocked the exit until we purchased more drinks.

Going to a ping pong show is a regret of mine, not because of the scam but because of how degrading it is to women- AVOID THIS at all costs.

5. Practice street smarts

Street smarts is something I recommend travelers use on every trips. It’s something many of us naturally use in daily life and we do it so often, we don’t think about using it for travel. Basically means that I don’t let my guard fall for anything, because I am the sole person responsible for my life. When traveling abroad solo, you are responsible for your life. Don’t entrust it to others. Check out my street smart safety tips now!

5. Trust your intuition and gut

If something doesn’t feel right, then it usually isn’t. Trust what your instincts are telling you. As solo travelers, our intuition is usually on high to protect us. Listen to it.


Have you been a target of a tourist scam? What would you recommend in travel scams to AVOID if you’re traveling alone?


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