How to avoid tourist scams

5 minutes

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Tourist scams are an unfortunate reality wherever you’re going on holiday, but keeping your wits about you can reduce the risk.  

  • Only buy an air package holiday through an ATOL-protected travel company 
  • Book your transport to and from the airport beforehand – as well as attraction tickets, to avoid buying counterfeits
  • Take out travel insurance for any holiday – to protect you in case something goes wrong
Holiday scams can mean you lose well-loved belongings, money or even important documents. It’s normally impossible to get these items back so learning how to avoid travel scams in the first place is crucial.

People wanting to take advantage of blissfully unaware holidaymakers have become more sophisticated in their methods. Luckily, by being smart and noticing risky situations, you can steer clear of them.

We’ve created a guide to the most common tourist scams, what to look out for, and some everyday travel safety tips to ensure your trip is enjoyable and stress-free.

Take out travel insurance for any holiday 

1. Booking through a fake website

Scammers managed to take £6.7 million from holidaymakers booking trips online in 2017, according to Action Fraud . Many travellers have lost money by booking through fake travel companies, advertising seemingly genuine flights, only to send through counterfeit tickets – or none whatsoever.

How to avoid:

  • Check the website is legit by looking at the web address – check for any misspellings or extra words that might indicate it’s a fake 
  • Only book with a company whose web address starts with https:// - this means it’s a secure website 

2. False currency deals

Kiosks or stores that offer commission-free currency exchanges are common across the globe. These deals can seem too good to be true – and they usually are. You risk paying sky-high exchange rates and – if you’re not using an official bureau de change – receiving counterfeit money. 

How to avoid:

  • Buy currency before you travel – it can make planning your spending money much easier and help you avoid high rates
  • Count your bills as soon as you receive them – to make sure you get exactly what you’ve paid for 

3. Fake tickets for local attractions

Popular landmarks, museums and theme parks come with massive queues. Tourist scams look to target those waiting in-line with ‘jump the queue’ ticket offers. Be wary of these, as the tickets are frequently counterfeit and slightly more expensive . Fall for this trick and it can cost you a pretty penny – and your place in the queue.

How to avoid:

  • Book tickets for tourist attractions beforehand – that way you can plan your trip better, avoiding the queues and ticket scams
  • If a ticket tout approaches you, politely refuse – if they continue to hassle you, report them to the ticket office

4. Unexpected ‘room inspections’ or ‘credit card checks’

While hotel booking scams are common, staff fraud is less so – but still something to be aware of. These hoaxes can range from someone phoning your hotel room impersonating the reception staff and asking you to confirm credit card details, to thieves posing as hotel workers for a standard room inspection, looking to steal personal items.

How to avoid:

  • Never give your credit card details over the phone – genuine staff will always ask you to come down to reception to clarify any details 
  • If anyone asks to inspect your room, claiming to be hotel staff, call the front desk to confirm whether this is the case 


Be wary of 'jump the queue' ticket offers 

5. Last minute accommodation cancellations

Booking with independent hotel rental property companies can give you an authentic experience of the place you’re visiting. But certain private owners look to take advantage of holidaymakers by taking payment for a reservation, then cancelling before they arrive. 

How to avoid:

  • Check past guest reviews of any advertised properties and look out for multiple listings from a single person – as they might be fake properties 
  • Only pay through the website the accommodation is listed on – that way you can ensure you’re making a secure payment, not direct to the host

6. Not using the meter on a taxi

Taxis are an easy way to get around an unfamiliar place. However, some drivers will try and scam passengers by negotiating a set price for where you’re heading to, rather than using the cab meter. Charges can skyrocket and leave you paying through the nose for a journey that would typically cost less. 

How to avoid:

  • If the driver offers a set price, insist on using the meter – if they refuse, politely leave the cab 
  • Only use official taxi companies, try any hotel recommendations – that way you’ll likely be travelling with reputable drivers

7. Pickpocketing in crowded areas

Pickpocketing is a risk anywhere there’s crowds – which makes tourist hotspots a major target. Underground stations, big attractions and other busy destinations are a magnet for thieves. Sometimes there are teams who work together to identify a target and attempt to steal your valuables if you’re not vigilant. 

How to avoid:

  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you at once – only take whatever money you need for the day or use a travel money card
  • Keep your valuables in a zipped bag or pocket – this makes it more difficult for a pickpocket to subtly take your belongings

8. Street game scams

On any international scammer list, crooked street games are always near the top. While many are for genuine entertainment, some are designed to scam tourists. Classic examples include the ‘Shell Game’, where the player bets a sum to find a ball hidden under 1 of 3 cups. These are always skewed so the dealer wins – cheating you out of your money.

How to avoid:

  • Simply don’t play them – stick to the other fun attractions in the place you’re visiting
  • If a street gamer is insistent on you playing, just walk away

Keep your valuables in a zipped up bag or pocket

How can travel insurance help?

Wherever you go on holiday, you should always have travel insurance cover . A policy can provide legal liability cover, which protects against damages or losses through theft to your property, up to a certain value. 

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that a policy is unlikely to pay out if damage or loss happens through personal fault – so it’s important to be smart and travel safe. Relax while you holiday abroad or closer to home with our travel insurance.

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All content is approved by our in-house advisory board of experts.