If you're travelling abroad, it's always best to be informed about what sort of scams are being carried out by street thieves today so that you know exactly what type of situation you could be in if it arises. Travellers will always be an easy target for crime - when you're outside the comfort zone of home, you become more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
- Monkey thieves are groups of macaques (usually in Bali, India and other indigenous countries) which congregate around public areas. Inventive but unsavoury local characters have trained the monkeys to steal from travellers and the monkeys exchange loot for food and other monkey rewards. To prevent this from happening to you, keep your distance from the monkeys, or keep your valuables secure and fixed to you.
- The fake police officer scam preys on your inability to distinguish the real regional police uniform or badge - your automatic response is to obey someone who looks authoritative. There are lots of different versions of this type of scam, but essentially, a fake policeman approaches you asking for something. Be wary of giving them your wallet, as they can sneakily take a few notes or even take off with your entire wallet. Another form of this crime is by approaching you after you've disembarked from public transport asking to see your ticket. They shake their heads and explain that you've purchased the wrong pass for the route you've just taken so they stamp you with an immediate fine.
In any circumstance - do not hand money over to police officers. If cops could collect their own fines, the world would be too crooked to spin.
- We often travel to countries with the idea that the locals will be helpful and welcoming. In most cases, people are more than willing to help someone who is lost or needs assistance, but the bus robbery scam is becoming increasingly common. One person will assist you with stowing your bag above your seat or in the transport storage department, while another pickpockets you or slashes your bags. Or, in a deviation from this crime, the person assisting you with your bags will simply run off and give it to their accomplice in a nearby vehicle, meaning you have no way of catching them or finding out where they've gone.
To prevent being robbed of your belongings on any public transport (trains are also popular with thieves), make sure you don't let strangers handle your bags, and keep a close watch over both your luggage and your handheld belongings... especially whilst you're using public transportation. Nothing signals an easy target more than a tourist struggling with luggage, so be careful.
- Counterfeit money being given in return at restaurants is pretty common in Europe. After you've eaten a delicious meal, the waiter or restaurateur returns to your table with your bill, cash and bad news - the note you just paid with is a fake. With apologetic sympathy the staff will ask for a different type of payment. The scam? You gave him a real note and he returned with a counterfeit one.
This is an easy scam to avoid - only break notes at banks or other reputable establishments. If you recognise you have been scammed, call the police immediately. For the extra paranoid or meticulous, take a note of all of the serial numbers of your notes before you depart from them.
- The pickpocket theft is still one of the most common travel thefts in the world. The 'stop and slash' is a modern twist on the classic, designed specifically into making you a stationary target. You are walking along, maybe sightseeing, and someone stops in front of you (a lady drops her bag, a couple stop mid-argument or someone stops abruptly). Whilst you stop, distracted, a pick pocket or 'slasher' will come up behind you and relieve you of some of your belongings, like that bag hanging off your shoulder, your camera in one hand or your wallet in your back pocket.
'Slashers' are very common and use a really sharp razor blade or knife to cut open a bag, empty a pocket or slice a bag or camera strap. Defenses against this type of theft include slash-proof bag straps which include metal elements making it harder to cut, as well as storing money and other valuables in a money-belt. Hiding your valuables creatively also prevents the likelihood of theft - they might not be the most fashionable but they definitely work.
- The mustard/vinegar/pigeon poop/human faeces heist is a clever and advanced form of theft. Since everyone knows that you are at your most vulnerable when shocked or short-sighted, thieves have developed a crime with this in mind and made it possible to take your things when you're not focused and by blurring the bigger picture. The scam? You are walking alone, and someone sprinkled bird poop on the back of your backpack, squeezes mustard packet onto you when they bump into you or in an extreme case, drops faeces on you from several floors above. In many instances, a stranger will approach with tissues, attempting to assist you with the mess. Ignore this person. He will get you to focus on the situation while their accomplices steal from you.
To avoid being robbed: make sure you don't take your backpack or camera off. Politely decline any help. Be aware of your surroundings. If a foreign substance makes its way onto your shirt or bag, chances are someone is trying to rob you. Keep walking and look for a police officer (a real one). Do not chat with anyone, and definitely don't remove any of your bags.
- ATM scams are popular by thieves who think their marks are gullible. Before you arrive at an ATM, the thieves have already placed another plastic slip into the card reader, ensuring your card will get stuck in the slot. In many cases, a local will assist you in your troubles, trying to read your PIN. If he finds you especially gullible, the thief may also casually ask you for your pin - obviously, it goes without saying - do not ever tell anyone your PIN. Another variation of this scam involves a fake customer service number being stuck on the ATM. After your card gets stuck, you phone the fake number for assistance and they ask you for your pin.
The best way to avoid these kind of scams is to only use the ATMs inside buildings. Also, if you see a little plastic sleeve hanging out of the slot where you put your card, pull that sleeve out of there!
In order to make yourself completely safe against any form of travel scam, make sure you do your research about your destinations before you leave and read up on any popular types of crime. It's also a great idea to have travel insurance which will protect you against any loss of belongings including possessions, cash and travel documents.