Travel scams

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Drop the baby and other rip-offs

Scams are common in the world's great cities but you don't have to let one ruin your holiday.

All travellers will be scammed, robbed or be ripped off at least once. My turn was in Rome. I sat in a café and ordered a gelato and my companion ordered a coffee. A jaw-dropping bill later we realised there were separate prices for eat-in and takeaway. That’s a mistake neither of us will make again.

Different rip-offs and scams appear all the time, so before departure, check the internet for any new ones in the countries you plan to visit. You won’t be able to protect yourself fully, but with knowledge you can avoid the con and the hassle.

Below are some of the more common scams now operating.


This scam usually begins with a woman throwing her baby at you, wanting you to hold the baby for her. The baby is usually a doll and in the seconds it takes you to discover this fact your pockets will be picked. The scam is hard to avoid because it is instinctive to catch a falling baby. So if you see a woman approaching quickly with a baby, turn away or walk away.


A stranger bends down to pick something up near your feet. It’s a gold ring. They show you the mark to prove it’s real gold before offering to sell it to you. Don’t be tempted. The ring is fake but the money you hand over is real. The best thing to do is just walk away.


A stranger approaches and grabs your wrist, as a gesture of friendship begins tying a woven bracelet around your wrist. Once they finish the bracelet they then demand money. Avoid this scam by pulling your arm back before they have a chance to start.


You are stopped by a stranger who points out a stain on your suitcase. It could be bird droppings or tomato sauce, it’s hard to tell. As the stranger helps you clean the suitcase, your pockets are picked. To avoid the scam, do not stop when the stranger approaches you, just keep on walking.


Pickpockets operate in almost every major city and at most major tourist attractions. Don’t be an easy target.

Avoid backpacks and daypacks that make it easy for someone to come up behind you and open your bag – swing them around to the front if you’re in a large crowd. Keep handbags zipped and don’t remove cameras or wallets from your bag until you need them. Avoid storing cash and other valuables in your pockets and don’t store them all in one place. If your wallet is taken, having access to cash and another card will make life easier.

Pickpockets will often work in groups, with one or more people providing the distraction while another takes the opportunity to relieve you of your items. Take special care in major tourist areas, on public transport, at railway stations and bus depots, at ATMs and when making purchases.


Illegal taxis can be found in any major city. These taxis hang around major transport hubs such as railway stations, airports and bus stations. It can be hard to distinguish them from authorised taxis.

Hopping in those taxi swill usually only hurt your pocket but it could result in a more serious situation such as assault, kidnapping or extortion. Look for the authorised taxi rank or, if in doubt, ask a police officer.


Play close attention whenever money is involved. If you need to exchange currency when you arrive at your destination be aware of the exchange rate and watch carefully as the money is being counted back to you. Exchange rates are often more favourable away from major tourist attractions and transport hubs. If you’re paying by credit card make sure your card isn’t swiped twice or photographed as you wait.

Written by Amanda Willimott
June 01, 2015