Travelers Advised to Be Hyper-Alert to These Three “One-on-One” Travel Scams

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Lets Fly Cheaper’s series on travel scams continues, this time unmasking 3 new travel scams where the scammers offer aid, guidance or pose as authorities – but are not what they seem.

We hate to see tourists fall victim to the fake kindness of strangers. If you have any doubts whatsoever, refuse the help offered or demand identification. Trust your instincts and play it safe. It’s better to be rude than be robbed!

As part of its mission to help the public travel smarter as well as cheaper, Business travel expert Lets Fly Cheaper (LFC), who specialize in business class to Hong Kong, is posting a series of articles on US and international travel scams.

LFC agents are on the frontlines of travel trends, including the latest scams targeting tourists. The company wants to help tourists make every trip memorable – in a positive way – by keeping them safe.
“Today’s focus is three different types of up-close-and-all-too-personal scammers. These lying, local leeches want to suck your money, so be on guard at all times,” advices Ramon van Meer, Lets Fly Cheaper marketing director.

Scam 1: The Slow Count and Other Money-Changing "Errors"
One of the most popular tourist scams, the "slow count," is especially prevalent in busy tourist areas.
How it works: the cashier will count out the buyer’s change very slowly, with confusing pauses, in the hopes the unwitting buyer will just take the money they hold, out and leave. Usually the amount in their hand is substantially less than the correct change.

Solution: LFC suggests a common sense (but too often overlooked) practice: always inspect the change given before leaving the premises. In Italy, for example, the old 500-lira coins look a lot like 2-euro coins. The difference? The 500-lira coins are worthless.

A similar and very common scam centers on incorrect change. “This one really hammers home the idea of being a mindful consumer –not only when traveling, but in all aspects of life,” notes van Meer.
How it works: A cab driver or cashier insists that the passenger/buyer mistakenly gave him a one. In reality, they were handed much more. Or they give change for a twenty when the passenger/buyer handed them a fifty.

Solution: “To avoid falling victim to local money schemes, learn what the currency in the city you're visiting looks like. Exchange money at authorized centers only. Reduce your risk by not paying with large bills. Pay attention to the money you hand to the cabbie/cashier/vendor and count your change carefully. Pay with small bills and/or exact change,” suggests Ramon van Meer.

Scam 2: Fake Police Officers Rob the Victim
LFC agents have heard variations on this outrageous scam perpetrated on every continent. “Police are supposed to uphold the law. Their job is to protect and serve the public. That’s universally expected. However, it's all too easy for scam artists to pose as police -- and use that implied authority to take tourists’ money. The “counterfeit cop” swindle takes place in many popular tourist destinations,” explains van Meer.

How this scam works: Most tourists are not familiar with the typical law enforcement uniforms. That makes it easy for scammers to don a disguise that looks official. In this scam, a person claiming to be a police officer approaches the unsuspecting victim.

Continues van Meer, “He will tell you there's been a problem in the area with counterfeit bills and ask to check your wallet for any offending currency -- all under the pretense of "protecting" you. The fake police officer will then rifle through your wallet, giving it back to you with an "all clear." He'll be long gone by the time you realize some of your money is missing.”

According to LFC agents, variations on this scam include fake authorities at train stations, roadblocks/checkpoints and other official sites. Sometimes these faux authorities don’t even bother with the ruse. They just approach, grab the victim’s wallet or passport, and run!

Solution: LFC advises anyone traveling abroad never to voluntarily hand their wallet or passport over to anyone, without first being 100% certain they person is legitimate. “It’s good practice to research what the local law enforcement uniforms look like before traveling. If anything seems suspicious, err on the side of caution and ask for identification, including the phone number of the officer’s police station/precinct. With today’s smart phones, it’s easy – as well as prudent -- to and cross-check the provided information with a quick Google search,” offers van Meer.

Scam 3: Shady Tour Guides
Phony tour guides can be encountered almost everywhere. Among the large cities of China, Hohhot is no exception.
LFC’s third person-to-person scam works like this: An attractive male or female approaches the unsuspecting tourist and offers to be a free or very inexpensive tour guide. En route to the main attractions they take the visitors to some local stores and force them to stop and shop. The products in the stores are expensive but of poor quality. The visitors are cheated by the “black” (phony) tour guide and bilked of their money by the merchants.

Solution: LFC advices tourists looking for local bargains to take special note of this scam. “There’s no free lunch anywhere in the world. You get what you pay for, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” says van Meer. “Whenever possible, let someone in-the-know (your hotel concierge, cruise director, tour company) arrange for trustworthy local tour guides. If anyone approaches you directly, politely but firmly decline. Their initial price may seem like a bargain, but the “insider” sights they’ll show you are simply not worth the price.”

Cheap Business Class specialist Lets Fly Cheaper plans to regularly publish advice to travelers on how to avoid travel scams. For more information check out http://www.letsflycheaper.com.

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Ramon van Meer
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