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Travel Money Scams to Watch Out For

24th May 2017

You’ve flown 14 hours across the world, you’re surrounded by a new language and new culture, and you’ve been dreaming of this holiday for what feels like forever now. You’re a tourist. A sightseer. A traveller.

But, you’re also vulnerable.

Unfortunately, being in an unfamiliar country can put a target on your back for people who like to take advantage of those who don’t know their surroundings. Travellers lose billions every year to scams, cons, and tricks. And while you might think it won’t happen to me, it sure can – and it might.

Be aware of these five common scams before your next trip.

Money Exchanging Scams


This can happen when you’re exchanging money at home or when you’re overseas, so it’s a good idea to be aware of it whenever you’re exchanging money.
There are a few things dodgy money-changers do to fleece their customers, including:

  • Counting money too fast so you don’t notice you’re a couple bills short
  • Using counterfeit notes, usually hidden in the middle of the bundle so the top and bottom notes look legit when you check them
  • Using large denominations – money-changers count on you to lose track of all those zeros
  • Folding notes in half so it looks like you have two fifties making up that hundred – but it’s actually one and you’re fifty bucks short.

Our suggestions are to make sure you always change your money with a reputable money changer, and always count your cash yourself before leaving the counter. If they’re counting too fast, ask them to slow it down so you can keep up, and always keep your receipt so you can go back to them if you find a problem later on.

Wrong Change Or Overcharging


This scam is common among taxi drivers, retail merchants, ticket agents, and pretty much anyone who deals with a lot of tourists. They’re relying on you not knowing the currency well, or what things cost in that city or country.
For example:

  • Unmetered taxi drivers at the airport or in tourist areas offer you a flat-rate fare that is actually higher than what you would pay in a metered taxi
  • The store clerk "accidentally" drops your change and they pick up similar-looking (but less valuable) coins or notes to give to you
  • You buy a $25 ticket and pay using a $100 note. The ticket agent gives you $25 change and claims you only gave him a $50 note.

To avoid this happening to you, we suggest that before you go, you take some time to get familiar with the foreign currency. Get to know the denominations, what colour notes they are, what coins are used, and get comfortable handling the local money. Study up on how much things should cost (e.g. a taxi fare from the airport to your hotel) so you have a general idea.

It’s also a good idea to make sure you always have smaller denomination notes on you to pay for inexpensive items, as getting change can be hard in some places. Always pay attention to what you hand over and what you get given back, and count your change before you leave the store.


Credit Card Skimming


This isn’t necessarily a person-to-person scam like giving the incorrect change or picking someone’s pocket, but it could cost you nonetheless.
Card skimming is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip on the back of your bank card. It usually occurs at the point of sale in a store, or at the ATM when you’re withdrawing money. If your card information is copied, your bank details can be accessed and you could lose everything in your account, so this is definitely one you want to watch out for.
There are a few things you can do to avoid this happening to you:

  • Don’t ever let the shop assistant walk away with your card
  • Never share your PIN with anyone or write it down. If you have it written down it can be stolen and used in conjunction with the information taken from your card to access your bank account and everything in it
  • At the ATM, cover the keypad with your hand so no one can see your PIN
  • Don’t use an ATM that looks tampered with or is in an isolated or dark area
  • Don’t carry on with your transaction if someone is loitering nearby – they may be trying to skim your card or read your PIN number.

For more safety tips, check out our post: 20 Ways to Keep Your Money Safe while Travelling.

For more safety tips, check out our post 20 Ways to Keep Your Money Safe while Travelling.

Pickpockets & Diversions


In crowded tourist areas, you’re at your most vulnerable as a target for pickpockets. There are loads of ways that would-be thieves can try to divert your attention away from your valuables and on to something else, to give them the chance to discreetly relieve you of said valuables.
For example:

  • Someone accidentally spills something on your clothes and then tries to help you clean it (but uses the chance to go through your pockets)
  • A woman throws a "baby" into your arms – it's usually a doll, but while you're figuring this out, they're rifling through your bag
  • Distracting street games
  • Someone drops an empty wallet, which makes you inadvertently check yours to make sure it's safe – meanwhile, someone is watching you do this and takes note of where your wallet is in order to steal later.

The Smart Traveller website details all the popular diversion scams used in different cities around the world, so it's a good idea to check this out before you go. And while you're travelling, try be extra vigilant when you find yourself in a busy tourist area, and put your valuables in pockets that are harder to access.

Double-dipped Cards


You go to the counter to pay for something using your bank card. The clerk swipes your card and then tells you their payment terminal is broken, or your card can't be read. They try again, or ask for another card to try. But what you don't know is your card worked just fine the first time, so you land up getting charged twice for the same transaction.

If this happens to you, ask to see the error receipt and make sure the initial charge is cancelled. Also keep your receipt so you can check it against your bank statement later and dispute any extra charges.

While not everyone you meet on your holiday is dodgy and trying to scam you, the unfortunate reality is that some people are. And the best way to avoid becoming a target of a scam artist is by using common sense and a healthy dose of suspicion.
We believe forewarned is forearmed, so hopefully this information can help you be more aware of the scams being used, and in turn, make sure you don't become a victim of one.

For more information about travel money safety, visit one of our friendly FXperts in a store near you.


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