11 common tourist scams explained: Tips for holidaymakers to avoid being ripped off or duped

Don't lose your money on these criminals ploys when travelling

Susan Ramsay |

Latest Articles

Magicians mark 100 years of sawing people in half

‘The Monsters of Rookhaven’ review: A new classic of youth fiction

Hong Kong singer and actor Keung To breaks Canto-pop records

Racism partly to blame for the reaction to Kumail Nanjiani’s physique

One should be careful with money when traveling.

Some people are very kind. That’s a good thing if you are at home but pretty much a bad thing if you are wandering the streets of a foreign country. You have the word “TOURIST” flashing above your head like a neon sign, and that makes you an easy target for scammers. Here are some real scams you might encounter.

1. Milk for a hungry baby brother

“Please, will you buy some milk for my baby brother/sister?” Most people will just give that kid money. But it won’t go anywhere near a baby. If you agree to buy the milk, the kid will steer you to a particular shop. Decline the offer and buy it from another shop. If you buy from the shop recommended by the kid, you can be sure your milk will have a very short trip straight back to the shop’s fridge, and the money won’t be going anywhere near a baby.

2. Money for reformed citizens 

If a teenager or anyone old enough, really, asks you for money to help a centre for reformed drug addicts, criminals, etc ... nope. You have no proof that this is what they are putting the money to. Don’t be fooled by convincing testimony or glossy pictures or handwritten pleas. Nope nope nope. Imagine in your mind, the person you’ve just given money to heading off to the nearest pizza house and laughing their head off at you.

3. Backpacker in distress

I’m a backpacker like you and I’ve lost EVERYTHING. I don’t know how I’m going to get home! Some might even shed tears. Offer to go with them to the police station and report the crime. You’ll be amazed that they don’t want to do that.

Don't fall for the sad backpacker trick.
Photo: Shutterstock

4. Stationery for ophans

Please buy these hard-working orphans some stationery. They are so eager to learn. Er well, I don’t have any on me. Not to worry, here’s the stationery, if you pay for it, we’ll give it to them. LOL no. It’s a variation on the milk story. That pile of books or pens has been sold a few hundred times a week. It’s not going anywhere near the eager kids.

5. Money for a meal

We are not saying there are no poor people in desperate need on the streets of the world’s cities. The best thing you can do is donate to an organisation that looks after these people. However, if someone does strike you as in desperate need, again, don’t give them money. If a scrawny kid is hungry, by all means, buy them a meal. Or share a meal with them. If they are genuinely hungry, they will be grateful. Don’t give them money.

Many street kids work for gang leaders who will take their money and then put them out on the streets again, with no thought for their well-being. Also, many street kids are not looking to buy food; they are looking to buy drugs, or even glue that can be inhaled, so they can briefly escape from their life of pain and misery. Find a reputable church and make a donation there.

6. Money for the church

Religious people asking for money? Lol nope. The vast majority of religions are very rich. Check out their temples sometime. They don’t need your cash.

7. I just need to break this large bill

Don’t take money from people seeking change. It seems so simple: “I’ll give you ‘x’ amount because I need change to buy food etc, and the shop/vending machine won’t take this note ...” Sometimes, they’ll distract you, and you’ll find the money gone from your wallet – like a magic trick. Or, they may pass you a counterfeit note.

8. Shady fortune-tellers 

Fortune-tellers are scammers. Some of them give comfort to troubled people and that’s their business. But don’t you go paying them unless you understand full well that you could probably get more accurate advice from a blind octopus eating a hot dog. Nevertheless, they are very convincing, so if you do end up parting with your money, consider it to be the price you pay for a show by the fortune-teller.

Don't give money to fortune-tellers during your holiday.
Photo: Shutterstock

9. A team of scammers

Scammers often don’t work alone. You need to remember that there are others who may be after your money. You will often see this under bridges where people play a game called “Three Card Trick” or “Find the Lady”. It is used by con men to trick hapless observers. If you guess which card (or shell or cup) contains the lady, you win the bet. But one man among the crowd gets lucky and wins money! So you decide to have a go and fail badly, losing your money. The guy who won was one of the con-men. You can’t win. Walk away.

10. A priceless relic

There’s another scam called the priceless relic/diamond/whatever. Someone near you will begin talking to someone else about this amazing thing they have. The second person might ask to see it, and agree that it is priceless. But it’s hard to sell. So the seller is just happy to get whatever they can. Somehow the conversation begins to involve you. If you could give the seller money, and take the relic, the buyer will soon return with a small fortune and relieve you of the relic and give you a fee for your trouble. No they won’t. This is because the relic is worthless and they’ve fled with your money by the time you realise you’ve been scammed.

11. Asking for directions

People asking for directions. Don’t let them get too close; just move along and mumble something in another language. Once you stop and engage, you open yourself up to scams and pickpockets.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

You might also like: 

Adulting 101: a guide on how to stay safe and travel smart next time you go abroad

How to use an ATM and keep your money safe