Even the most experienced traveller is more vulnerable to becoming a victim of scams when abroad. You’re likely to be either more relaxed, physically and mentally, if you are travelling for leisure purposes, or distracted and pressured if you are abroad for business meetings; either way, you may present as an easy target and find yourself considerably poorer as a result.
Here at Consularcare, we want to help you to avoid becoming a victim of scammers, so we have compiled a list of some of the most common cons. Our advice is to stay vigilant, and if you feel uncomfortable or are offered a deal that seems too good to be true, just walk away.
Not dissimilar to an episode of the A-Team, these scams may vary in script but always have the same outcome. Whether you are surrounded by a group of vocal children, all badgering for your attention; find yourself ‘accidentally’ covered in ketchup by an apologetic passer-by; happen to witness an old lady taking a dramatic tumble down some steps; or are an innocent bystander in the middle of a marital altercation at a restaurant; there is every possibility that the scenario has been staged to distract your attention. Whilst you chat amiably with each of the children; busy yourself wiping condiments from your Ralph Lauren T-shirt; don your superhero cape to rescue the poor old lady who has been throwing herself down steps three times a day since she retired from being an acrobat in the local circus; or do your best Jeremy Kyle impression to solve the marital dispute; you are probably being divested of your passport, wallet, phone, watch, and any other valuables you hold about your person.
The best way to avoid falling victim to scams of this nature is always to assume the worst. It may not be in your nature to always be cynical, but it could save you a lot of money and anguish. Be on your guard, carry your valuables where they are more difficult to remove, and if you do find yourself in the middle of an extraordinary situation take stock of your possessions before you rush in. We’re not suggesting you don’t help the old lady who fell down the stairs- just that you give the possibility that she may be part of a scam a thought before getting involved.
Overly Helpful Locals
You’d be surprised at how many kind and helpful ‘locals’ happen to find themselves in the vicinity of ATMs at just the right time when ingenuous travellers are trying to fathom out the machine’s operating instructions. They may be memorising your PIN number or getting ready to run off with your card or your cash. Just as you would at home, if anyone is looking over your shoulder or invading your personal space whilst you are at an ATM, just cancel the transaction and walk away. Alternatively, it may be prudent to make withdrawals at the cash machines located within the bank, where you can seek the assistance of the staff if you are having difficulties.
Fake Police Officers
This is a particularly challenging scam to detect and avoid. The favoured modus operandi is for the con artists to stop you on a false pretext and insist you need to pay a fine. They may also ask for your passport or visa and advise you there is an issue, again insisting on payment of a fine. Either way, if you comply, you will be out of pocket and may also run the risk of losing your travel documents. The scammers may well be dressed in uniform and be carrying convincing ID, so the best way to avoid being a victim in this scenario would be to advise the ‘police officer’ that you are willing to pay the fine but insist on doing so at the police station, and never hand over your passport.
We’ve all been there. You desperately need access to the Internet, but you are conscious of the cost of roaming data, so you search desperately for a WiFi hotspot whilst out and about. Unfortunately, you could find yourself using unsafe wireless networks which provide next to no security and giving criminals access to your data. The most effective way to protect yourself is to use a virtually private network (VPN), which encrypts your data, protects your information and can bypass government censorship in some countries. There are a number of different providers, so do your research before committing yourself.
Stay Safe Out There
As with many forms of criminal activity, fraud is always evolving, and hindsight will often leave you wondering how you could have fallen for it. Remember that these people are professionals, they have been practising their skills for a long time and are exceptionally convincing. Just be vigilant and questioning, and try not to take everything at face value and you stand a good chance of avoiding becoming another casualty. Do a bit of research before you travel, and you will be one step ahead of the swindlers.
However, if you do find yourself cheated out of your assets whilst abroad, our ConsularAssist solution provides advice and support if you find yourself a victim of minor crime, which includes scams, and is currently available through P J Hayman and Emerald Life Insurance.