Posted: May 6, 2014

Avoiding Scams Overseas
Beware of scams in a new country.

In a new country, it can sometimes be hard to discern between what's foreign politeness and what's a luring scam. Travelers are easy targets because they are not familiar with the atmosphere, lack awareness and can be too trusting. It's especially hard to spot fraud in a new language.

While vacation is filled with new experiences and friendly new faces, some people, just like anywhere in the world, are deceptive and target American tourists for their money. Many Americans have fallen prey to deceptive tactics when traveling abroad, according to the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. The U.S. State Department warns travelers to beware of the common scams. Here are some of the typical schemes reported in foreign countries:


At airports, taxi drivers sometimes refuse to use the meter to deceive tourists into paying higher fees. Keep valuables in your lap throughout the ride and ask the driver to remove the bags from the trunk before you get out of the taxi and before you pay, so he or she does not drive away with your luggage.


Pick pocketing is extremely common on the rail link from Paris to the airports surrounding the city. Watch out for people trying to distract their target by creating a disturbance, asking a series of questions or requesting someone to take a survey.

There's a scam practiced throughout the Montmartre area that's among the more dangerous. What happens is a stranger approaches the tourist on the street with a piece of string or yarn. He asks if they want him to make a "friendship bracelet" or "friendship ring." The person will slide the string over the finger or wrist and tie it so tight that the tourist cannot let go. Then he will lead the person to an ATM and empty the contents of his or her bank account. Though this scheme is serious, avoiding it altogether is easy. Whatever you do, just say no and keep walking.


Travelers in Florence, Rome and Naples should beware of the "mess" trick. Typically, three thieves work together, one spills or drops something on the victim, and the other offers to help clean the stain. The third pickpocket then steals from the traveler.

Similar to in other countries, taxi drivers in Italy have been known to cover the meter with a newspaper or piece of clothing so they can keep the previous fare running and jack up a traveler's bill.


"Good samaritan" scams occur all too frequently in Spain. In this situation, a thief diverts a driver's attention by indicating there is a flat tire, broken tail light or other mechanical issue. When the driver gets out to check on the problem, an accomplice steals the car.

While many of the people you meet will be genuinely friendly, it's always wise to be wary of your surroundings, trust your instincts and keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

United Kingdom

Sometimes imposters posing as undercover police officers call out tourists on bogus minor offenses such as not having ID documents or littering. They will demand cash and even aim to extort a bribe, but don't give in. Ask to see their official badge.

Vacation tips to staying safe overseas

  • Before taking off, read the warnings and travel alerts on the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs for the country you are traveling to.
  • Put your passport and other valuables in a hotel's safe prior to seeing the city. Carry only cash, credit cards and other necessities for each outing.
  • Avoid dark or non-tourist areas at night. If you do find yourself walking alone in the later hours, walk slightly behind a couple to avoid standing out as walking alone. 
  • Exercise caution when using ATMs to protect against stolen card information.

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