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Travel Money Scams to Watch Out For

24th May 2017

Travel Money Scams

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 travel isn’t always about the glitz and glam of a new destination, as there are some people in this world that try to take advantage of the fact that when you’re in a new city or country, you don’t know your way around, you don’t always know the language, the culture or the people, and you’re distracted by all the “newness”.

Travellers lose billions every year to scams, cons and tricks, and unfortunately a lot of people are naïve enough to think “It won’t happen to me”. But, it can, and it might. So we want to prepare you – if you’re more aware of the potential scams people try out on unaware travellers, then you’ll be in a better position to avoid them on your next holiday.

Here are five of the more popular scams used on tourists to try and fleece them of their hard-earned travel money:

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 try fleece their customers, so here are some things to watch out for:

  • Counting money too fast so you don’t notice you’re actually a couple bills short
  • Counterfeit notes, usually hidden in the middle of the bundle so the top and bottom notes look legit when you check them
  • Large denominations – money changers count on you to lose track of all those zero’s
  • Notes folded in two, 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 changing 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 and ticket agents - really anyone who deals with a lot of tourists. They are relying on you not knowing the currency well, or what things cost in that city or country, and use your lack of knowledge to try give you the wrong change or overcharge you for their services.

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 worthy) 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 and not a $100 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 so on - get comfortable handling the foreign money. Also do your own research as to what things should cost, like a taxi fare from the airport to your hotel. 

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. And 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 are 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

Have a read of our blog "20 Ways to Keep Your Money Safe while Travelling" for other safety tips.

Pickpockets & Diversions

In crowded tourist areas, you are 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 a (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, to later try take it off you

The Smart Traveller website details all of 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 that 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 that you can check it against your bank statement later and dispute any extra charges if you find any.

We're not saying that everyone you meet on your holiday is dodgy and trying to scam you, but unfortunately the reality is that some 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 what sort of scams are 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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