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How to recognize and avoid travel scams

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Why you are at higher risk of being scammed while you travel

Traveling allows you to see new places, meet new people, try new foods and experience cultures different from your own. Traveling allows you to disconnect from your everyday life and explore the world at large while creating new opportunities for hands-on education.

Travel is rewarding, but it also presents a few risks. Travelers can fall victim to a number of travel-related scams, particularly if they’re in an unfamiliar environment. These scams often include the status of your travel documents, driving permits or hotel reservations, and can compromise your vacation if you’re not careful.

Though travel-related scams represent less than 1% of scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2021, they still expose nearly 54,000 travelers per year to fraudulent activity.

What elements make traveling risky?

Travel can be a risky activity, even if you take all necessary precautions. Travel often takes you to an unfamiliar environment, where you’re eating new food, meeting new people and staying in new places. A language barrier or currency exchange creates additional risks during travel, along with any travel-related stress you might experience.

Unfamiliar surroundings

Traveling to new places can create additional challenges, particularly when you’re unfamiliar with your surroundings. Many cities have areas to visit and areas to avoid. While locals are familiar with the area, tourists can accidentally visit, or travel through, areas associated with higher risk.

Unfamiliar surroundings can also create additional financial risks. For example, travelers may get tricked into buying tickets for free attractions. Some tourists also end up paying more than necessary to visit an attraction, or paying an excessive amount of money to travel from one place to the next.

Unfamiliar culture

Unfamiliar cultures can also make it easier for tourists to fall for scams. For example, unscrupulous businesses might try to take advantage of tourists by tacking on additional charges for a straightforward service.

Some scammers take advantage of high traffic to cultural locations. For example, a pickpocket or vendor scammer might spend time in a highly visited area, using the crowd to hide while stealing possessions from passersby

Stress from traveling

Travel-related stress is real. Between preparation, air travel, time zone changes and added financial burdens, travel can become an overwhelming experience.

Travel can often cause tourists to feel anxious or rushed. You might have a limited amount of time to see an attraction or spend time in a certain place. This anxiety, and the resulting fatigue, can create carelessness — which makes it easier for a scam to take place.

Sometimes, travelers can forget one or two details when preparing for a trip. For example, you might forget to confirm your international phone coverage before your trip begins. Overlooked details can create new opportunities for scams, particularly when travelers become desperate for food, transportation or a place to stay.

Common travel scams

Tourists may run into a variety of different scams when traveling. Some scams take place in person, while others happen without the scammer ever making contact with the tourist. In all cases, travel scams can separate a traveler from their possessions and ruin an otherwise amazing vacation.

Phone scams

Scanners may perpetrate phone scams at any time, in any place — even before you begin to travel. Look out for phone calls that are threatening or desperate in nature. Phone scammers often try to create a sense of urgency to prevent travelers from thinking clearly. Other travel-related scams include offers for “free” vacations or robocalls promising “exclusive” vacation deals.


To avoid phone scams while traveling, take the time to confirm the proper phone numbers for the places you’ll visit and the services you’ll use. Research the legitimate phone numbers for hotels, airlines, car rental facilities and restaurants. Document the correct phone number for your bank, to prevent scam calls from suspicious or unconfirmed phone numbers.


It’s also important to follow general cell phone safety guidelines while traveling. This means uninstalling suspicious applications, clearing your browser history, erasing unnecessary data and updating your operating system before departing.


Stay on the lookout for signs that your device might be compromised by malware or another type of breach. If your device’s battery life suddenly drains, or you see unexplained charges to your phone bill, it might be time to assess your device. Excessive pop-up advertisements, spikes in mobile data usage and new apps on your phone can also mean the presence of malware.

Free Wi-Fi networks

While you’re traveling, free internet networks might seem incredibly convenient. They can allow you to communicate, access funding and even check the news while on the go. However, free Wi-Fi networks also create opportunities for scammers to access and exploit your personal information — and even your device itself.


Free Wi-Fi networks threaten consumer safety in several ways. Through man-in-the-middle attacks, unencrypted networks or malicious hotspots, attackers can use public internet access to steal users’ data.


Malware can also lock your files and prevent you from accessing your own data, at least until you pay a ransom to preserve your files. This type of malware — called ransomware — can also spread through public Wi-Fi access. Some ransomware is smart enough to identify weak points in an unsafe network, bypassing security protocols and obtaining access to your device’s administrative settings.


Scammers may also use free Wi-Fi to remotely monitor your device or send unnecessary software updates. Both of these techniques can result in a scammer compromising the privacy of your device and gaining access to the personal information saved inside.

Taxi scams

Unsuspecting travelers can also fall victim to a variety of different taxi scams. For example, dishonest taxi drivers might take advantage of your unfamiliarity with the area, and charge more than they should for a specific trip. In other cases, taxi drivers will take a longer-than-necessary route to inflate the fare. They might also cite an incorrect currency exchange rate to earn more per ride.


To prevent taxi scams, travelers should research travel routes before stepping into a driver’s vehicle. Take note of the distance between one destination and another, including any gratuity you might owe the driver. Point out when a driver turns down an unfamiliar, unnecessary street that you know will result in a higher price. Don’t be afraid to turn down a taxi driver who expects you to pay more than a fair price for a ride.

Fake tickets

Some travel-related expenses, like ticket purchases, are inevitable. You might need to purchase a ticket to participate in a tour, ride a bus or plane, see a show or witness a sporting event. Scammers know that travelers need tickets, and often sell fake or steeply inflated tickets to unknowing tourists.

The easiest way to avoid fake tickets is to purchase your tickets from reputable sources. Buy tickets directly from your transportation provider or event coordinator. These vendors are often insured against fraud and help create peace of mind when you’re purchasing tickets for your next vacation.