15 Travel Scams That Can Drain Your Vacation Budget

Discover the top 15 travel scams that could ruin your dream getaway.
Updated May 8, 2024
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Vacation and travel scams can ruin a getaway in an instant. According to a McAfee survey, 35% of Americans have been scammed when booking travel online.

Scams also pop up later when you're trying to enjoy the vacation itself.

No matter how savvy you think you are, it helps to step up your travel game by becoming more aware of some of the following 15 common travel scams.

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Overpriced taxis

Beboy/Adobe yellow cabs on new york street

One of the most common scams isn’t overly dastardly or cleverly concealed. Instead, it involves locals overcharging tourists for taxi drives.

Due to currency conversion, it can be difficult to know the going rate for basic services such as taxi rides when you travel abroad. That makes you more susceptible to the scam.

One simple way to avoid this scam is to ask a trusted local — such as a hotel concierge — about the going rate for cab fare. Also, make sure your driver turns on the meter once you get in the car.

Tales about overbooked hotels

boyloso/Adobe woman exploring hotel room with luggage

Another taxi-related scam involves drivers insisting your hotel is overbooked or closed. The driver then offers to take you to another hotel, which is likely much more expensive.

The scam is that the hotel owner secretly gives the driver a cut of the profits for bringing you there.

When you land at your destination, call your hotel to make sure it’s open and your room is still reserved.

The ‘spilled drink’ pickpocket scam

Mulderphoto/Adobe thief stealing smartphone from unsuspecting woman

Pickpockets are another common source of scams when you travel.

One common pickpocket scam involves someone accidentally spilling something on you and then offering to help you clean it up. While you’re distracted, the pickpocket snags your wallet or money clip. Be on guard for this scam.

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Offers for ‘free’ vacations

Goffkein/Adobe couple having drinks on beach vacation

There are many online travel scams, but some of the most common start with the offer of what appears to be a “free” vacation.

In this scam, fraudsters often ask for credit card information and tell you it’s just so you can pay taxes and other small, seemingly nominal charges. But the charges will keep coming, making your “free” vacation look like something less than a bargain.

Scammers impersonating police officers

moodboard/Adobe handsome policeman writing on clipboard

Many scammers are just after your cash, but some are more sinister. One such scam is the fake police impersonation, where someone impersonates an officer and invents a false reason to see your passport.

The “officer” may then try to take the passport and your wallet. So, make sure any officer you speak to provides legitimate identification.

Phony international driving permits (IDPs)

robertuzhbt89/Adobe couple on road trip in car

If you plan on driving while abroad, you’ll need an international driver’s permit or IDP. These are offered by legitimate agencies, such as the U.S. State Department or AAA.

However, scammers might try to sell IDPs to you for a cheaper price. Of course, the documents you receive from these scammers are fake. Being caught with a phony permit could get you in trouble with the law.

Demands that you pay for jewelry

EdNurg/Adobe handmade earrings for sale at fair

Beware if you’re in a place with street vendors or another type of marketplace environment: A common scam involves a vendor placing a piece of jewelry — such as a bracelet — on your person.

Then, the vendor rather aggressively asks you for money for the item.

The scammers in this situation are relying on you to feel embarrassed or awkward and pay them to keep from causing a scene. Don’t fall for this.

Instead, remove the item they gave you, hand it back, and leave. Don’t be socially pressured into falling for what's clearly a scam.

Warnings that tourist attractions that are closed

UlyssePixel/Adobe musee du louvre closed during pandemic

If you’re nearing a popular tourist destination, be wary of locals trying to talk you out of your plans. They might say a restaurant, museum, or other attraction is closed or that they can offer you a more authentic local experience.

In truth, the scammer might take you to another location with much higher admission fees or prices, pressure you to buy items you don’t want and engage in other tactics that will leave you poorer.

‘Experience’ scams at travel sites

Courtney Haas/peopleimages.com/Adobe woman city guide educating tourists

When booking an Airbnb or similar vacation rental, you’ve probably seen the option to book local experiences or to share time out on the town with locals. These are usually legitimate.

However, scammers run amok in these environments. Make sure to properly vet something before paying for it, or just consider opting for a more legitimate tour or experience.

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Fake charter-flight offers

visoot/Adobe chartered flight in air

Vacation packages are an excellent way to save money while traveling. They also simplify your plans. However, scammers can easily take advantage of people through vacation packages.

One major travel scam involves a fake charter flight deal. For example, you might be offered a luxurious private plane ride that includes a tour, residence, and more.

These packages are often scams, though. Want to make sure the deal is real? Stop by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Special Authorities Division website and check out the list of approved public charter flights.

Motorcycle or bike scams

Jacob Lund/Adobe happy friends cycling in city

A great way to explore a city abroad is on a motorcycle or bike. It is common to find folks in major cities renting these modes of transportation for the day.

However, this is a common way to get scammed. The person who rents you the motorcycle or bike will often keep your passport until the rental is returned.

Once you return, the person who offered the rental may claim you somehow damaged the bike and demand payment.

Look up these rentals in advance and check out the reviews. Also, take pictures of the equipment before you use it to prove you didn’t damage it later. If possible, let the person renting the equipment know that you are taking photos.

‘Juice jacking’ malware

amnach/Adobe passengers charging smartphone at airport

As people become more aware of scams, scammers are becoming more discreet and less detectable. One new way they’re ripping off people is through something called “juice jacking.”

In this trick, the scammer goes to a public charging station — like those found at airports, restaurants, and other busy areas — and installs malware on a device that can steal your personal information when you use the charger.

Many experts suggest avoiding these charging stations and simply using your own cable and plugging directly into an AC power outlet to recharge your device.

Pickpockets who work with beggars

Firn/Adobe homeless person in hood on street

Pickpockets are incredibly creative, and some plan on robbing you hours before the actual crime. One way they do this is through working with beggars.

In this scam, a beggar will approach you for money. Often, the beggar is a woman with a child or someone injured, so their plight really pulls on your heartstrings.

Meanwhile, the pickpocket lurks nearby to watch where you put your wallet after giving the beggar money. That makes it easier for the pickpocket to snag the wallet later in the day.

The dropped-ring scam

xy/Adobe woman holding ring in hand

In this scam, a fraudster asks if you dropped or lost a ring. After you say “no,” they’ll produce the ring and ask if you want to buy it from them. They’ll go so far as to show proof that it’s real gold or silver, suggesting you resell it at home.

Often, the jewelry is cheap and not authentic and has no resale value. If someone approaches you about a lost ring and it’s not yours, just politely say “no” and walk away.

ATM skimmer scams

Zamrznuti tonovi/Adobe african american woman besides atm machine

ATMs have long been a place where pickpockets and criminals thrive. Scammers now have the technology to steal your money and information without ever approaching you.

Scammers can install devices called skimmers on ATMs. Skimmers look exactly like a regular card reader and are often installed on top of the real one. However, this device records your credit card information. A hidden camera is often used to record your PIN.

When you use an ATM, check the reader carefully. Skimmers usually are noticeable and look out of place. For extra protection, cover your hand as you enter your PIN so a camera will have a tough time picking up the numbers you are entering.

Bottom line

CandyRetriever/Adobe women enjoying ferry ride in australia

Travel scammers are everywhere, whether you’re planning a trip locally, domestically, or abroad. While you shouldn’t spend your vacation looking over your shoulder in fear, it is still essential to remain alert.

Be wary of strangers, and never hand over cash, personal items, or information to people you don’t know.

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Author Details

Chris Kissell Chris Kissell is a writer and editor whose work has been featured at Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, MSN Money, Fox Business, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, Bankrate, Money Talks News, and more. He writes mainly about personal finance, insurance and health issues.

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