5 Scams Every Traveler Should Watch out for

Amy Bertrand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 2012

Luckily, I've never been the victim of a travel scam, but I know people who have. Criminals prey on distracted targets, unfamiliar in their surroundings.

Discount travel experts at Lets Fly Cheaper have compiled a database of the most "popular" travel scams. Here is their list.

Scam No. 1: Vegas Cabbies in a Hurry with Your Bags

People go to Vegas to gamble. But far too often, they're rolling the dice with their luggage before even setting foot in a casino. One common Las Vegas scam involves the cabbie who insists on unloading your bags, either at your hotel or the airport. He says he's in a rush. You're distracted with the grandeur of the hotel, or counting your change from the cab ride, or otherwise simply not paying attention. Before you know it, the cabbie slams the trunk and speeds away. As he squeals the tires onto the strip, you notice - too late - that one of your bags is missing.

Solution: Note the cabdriver's name, cab number and company when you get in. That way, if anything should happen, you have recourse.

Scam No. 2: The Trojan Horse Hollow Bag Grab

Tour guide Ann Lombardi of the Trip Chicks recently watched a schemer in the Frankfurt, Germany, train station perform the classic "hollow suitcase with rollers and frame trick," which Lombardi says works thusly: "A distracted tourist takes his eyes off his bag for just a second. Behind the tourist lurks a guy with an enormous suitcase. In a flash, the thief lifts the enormous hollow luggage, puts it over the tourist's bag, and calmly wheels away the Trojan Horse with his prized catch inside."

Solution: Avoid such schemers by always protecting your luggage between your legs while in crowded transportation areas.

Scam No. 3: The Slow Count and Other Money Changing "Errors"

Most tourists are unfamiliar and even uncomfortable with foreign currency. Even those who pride themselves on being good with money can get flustered by local currency conversion. And guess what: local con artists use your lack of confidence to their own advantage. For example, as soon as you arrive at your travel destination, you'll want to change your money over to the local currency. You may notice people on the street or in the airport offering excellent conversion rates - much better than the hotel or local bureau. Often these black market exchanges will leave you with a pile of fake money or a bunch of newspaper wedged between two actual pieces of money.

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.

Scam No. 4: The Good Samaritan Technical Adviser

The machine dispensing train tickets is unfamiliar, but you're determined to figure it out. As you puzzle and fret, a kindly stranger appears out of nowhere, offering assistance. Be careful!

Scam artists stake out ticket machines and ATMs all over the world. Out of the blue they appear, like technical angels, to give you the benefit of their local gadgetry experience. But what they're really after is your pin code, which they will use to clean out your account. Or perhaps they simply watch where you stash your ATM cash so they can pickpocket you later. Ticket machine artists practice sleight-of-hand and exchange your first-class tickets for something less than what you purchased.

Solution: Be wary of unsolicited assistance and guard your transaction from prying eyes.

If you have trouble understanding the ATM or ticket machine itself, or if a stranger tries to help you, go inside the facility (bank or station) and conduct your business at the window rather than through a machine, if possible.

Scam No. 5: Tea for Two... Hundred Dollars?

This scam comes in many disguises around the world. Our Chinese tea house version takes place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Here's how it works: You are chatted up by two sweet looking young ladies who claim to be studying English. They ask if you have some time to chat so they can practice their language skills. Sure, why not? The young beauties will coyly suggest some tea and take you to a traditional Chinese tea house. This is done oh-so discreetly and subtly, making you believe you might actually have picked the place yourself. At the end, you might offer to pay for the tea. More likely, you'll find the girls are gone when the bill appears. In any case, the tea turns out to be extremely expensive - anywhere from $75 to $200. And yes, the girls are in on this, no matter how cute and friendly they might appear.

Solution: Decline any offer from anyone approaching you around Tiananmen or Wangfujing. Nipping it in the bud is the best way to avoid this scam. Insisting on seeing a printed menu with posted food/beverage prices up front is another safeguard. But if do find yourself confronting an outrageous bill, the best thing to do is scoff.