By Markus Allen
Founder of TruthIn7Minutes.com
My family likes to travel. A lot.
And over the years, I've read about (or personally witnessed) almost 100 ways of getting scammed.
Even worse, there are new scams emerging every year. The worst part is these scammers are getting smarter and more clever.
Here are more than a dozen ways we protect myself against most travel scams:
Avoid tourist traps
Yes, I know London's Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower would be great places to visit, but these tourist magnets are a scammer's paradise. So I just avoid these areas at all costs.
Read the comments at review sites
One of the greatest travel inventions ever created is the online review portal.
These sites have saved my bacon countless times... especially when people comment on individual reviews.
Some reviews and comments are bogus. For example, if someone has one post and they rip a travel site to shreds, I often ignore it (as it's probably a competitor). I also ignore one-post glowing reviews (as it's probably an insider).
I pay extra-special attention to those who leave long, detailed experiences - especially if they've got a high number of past reviews.
Another great source of intelligence can be found at embassy websites and online travel forums. Even better, visit a travel blogger's site and use their search box for your travel destination - I often find a lot of gold nuggets in the comments below the blog posts.
If it's too good to be true, it probably is
Never, ever use a hotel safe
Putting valuable stuff in a hotel room safe is like putting a hundred-pound, milk-chocolate rabbit in the kitchen closet. Trust me, it's asking for big-time trouble.
Those programmable room safes also have a master/factory reset key. I've heard too many horror stories of people leaving cash in these safes... only to have a rogue hotel staff member pilfer the content and reprogram the digital code...
... And the worst part is the hotel is not legally responsible for any thefts (it's written in small print legalese in your registration agreement).
Here's a video showing a dishonest hotel employee getting caught redhanded stealing money out of a room's hotel safe:
If your hotel has a safe behind the front desk, you might consider exploiting that option. Those are the safest... much like safe deposit boxes in banks. They operate in the "your key + their key = open" standard. And if you lose the key, it must be replaced by a locksmith.
I'm normally a VERY social person, but accepting food or drink from strangers at a hotel or on buses or trains is a surefire recipe for disaster.
Skip the map and taking pictures
Looking like a tourist in a touristy area is a guaranteed way to get targeted by scammers.
"This is closed"
You arrive to your destination, but your taxi driver informs you that your chosen hotel, restaurant or shop is closed. The good news is there's another, even better one you should try. The driver gets a commission and you typically pay a lot more money for an inferior destination.
Bottom line: if they say it's closed, call their bluff and check it out for yourself.
Avoid cash machines
Scammers place card readers over the insert slot that reads your card number and reads your keyed PIN password. They drain your account and now you're broke very far from home.
A much safer (and cheaper) way to get cash is to use a debit card at a department, grocery or drug store and ask for cash back.
Assume you're going to lose everything
Carry a backup debit or credit card in case you lose it. There's nothing worse than being broke in a country far from home.
Don't buy counterfeit merchandise
Knockoffs (especially fake medications) can be dangerous - even deadly.
Sure, no one is going to get physically hurt buying a knockoff Louis Vuitton handbag, but we're at risk when buying non-original merchandise like knockoff electronics (with the potential of faulty wiring or hazardous batteries) to shampoos and perfumes (that contain unhealthy amount of bacteria or inferior ingredients).
Become your own expert
Exploit the internet and become familiar with your target location... especially their currency.
My family usually invests a few days online getting a feel for our ultimate destination.
Don't assume officials are on your side
When it comes to dealing with police or customs' officials, their honesty is directly proportional to the wealth of their country. In poor countries, corruption is very high.
Deceptive hotel advertising
It's AMAZING how many hotels don't live up to what's advertised...
... Beach hotels that are miles away from the sand is one common trick. Even airport hotels use deception to lure in naive customers. For example, the Ramada Inn Miami Airport North is actually 10 miles away from Miami International. Even worse, the Hampton Suites LAX Van Nuys is an hour's drive away from the Los Angeles International Airport.
Bottom line: check the comments at reputable review sites for the inside scoop.
Skip the valet parking
Having a stranger drive your car is beyond insane to me.
Sure, it's convenient and luxurious to arrive in style, but hotel parking valets notoriously steal valuables from our vehicles...
... I know this as my high school friends worked with me at a country club. And they'd brag about each day's loot. They'd also brag about how fast they drove these cars to the lot...
... Some smaller hotels don't even have their own parking lots. Your car could get parked on a public street. And if the meter runs out and/or the car gets towed, we're stuck with the ticket (not the valet or hotel).
Bottom line: always self park.
Here's the scam... fake police (or even real police) demand to see your passport. They find something wrong, but suggest your troubles are going to end if you pay a fine - in cash... right now.
Stand your ground and offer to accompany them back to the police station and watch your problems almost always melt away.
P.S. Have a look at my other investigations, videos and podcasts and get the real truth about life...