The thought of your first foreign trip may make your heart skip a beat with excitement but if you’re not watching out for scammers, you might be in for a rude shock.
Planning for foreign trips can be pretty exhausting-from getting your passport and visa in order, to ensuring that you’ve read up on all things that you’ll need to keep in mind for a perfect vacay, there’s little that you would want to risk leaving to chance and uncertainty. However, no matter how much you’ve planned everything down to the last detail, a foreign country can bring with it experiences bordering on the absurd and downright, scary. Places that witness a high footfall of vacationers throughout the year like Thailand, Singapore and Europe are infamous for the notoriety and petty crimes that tourists have to be at the receiving end of.
Scammers have become only more inventive with their tactics-from a stranger spilling ketchup on you to distract you while an accomplice picks your pocket, the list goes on. Take the case of Shivam Tandon who while on tour in San Francisco with his wife had all his valuables like passport, $800 worth of cash, laptops etc. stolen from their rental car. Shivam got immediate support from the local police station and Indian embassy for the police complaint report and new passport respectively. However, the airline that was supposed to fly him back to India refused to allow Shivam and his wife onboard since they didn’t have a UK transit visa. Although this was not a mandatory requirement and Shivam had all the necessary documents in order, the airline refused to budge. In the end, Shivam had to book his return flight tickets with an Indian carrier and had to shell out almost twice the amount that he had paid for his round trip to the US.
Let’s take a look at some of the common ways in which you could get robbed of your money and valuables in foreign countries and how to tackle them:
Currency exchange fraud:
In countries where different denomination notes are of the same size and colour, money frauds are a common occurrence. Money changers are at the centre of such frauds-a money changer either counts very fast while an accomplice distracts the tourist with small talk. Or they count so slowly that the tourist gets impatient and leaves without verifying. Either way, the tourist ends up getting much less than the amount that he had paid. In shops, cashiers often replace a bill of higher value with a lower one and hand back short change. This is typical in countries like the US and in some African nations as well.
How to avoid it: Familiarise yourself with the local currency and avoid cash usage wherever possible. Instead, use FOREX cards and try transacting with exact change.
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In countries where English is not commonly spoken, fraudsters often pose as friendly locals who loiter around ATMs, ticket machines, and currency exchange offices to offer you quick help when you need it. Their real intention, however, is to get closer to your belongings and steal them. Fraudsters who are quick with numbers may even loiter around to memorise your PIN when you’re swiping your card to make payments at shops. You may also come across instances when locals are recommending you places to shop or eat from. Do your own research and try not to fall for these traps as these locals usually get kickbacks for making these recommendations. These kind of instances are common in Thailand, Europe, Mexico, and South Africa.
How to avoid it: Avoid unsolicited help or advice from a local, including hotel staff. Take the help of a licensed guide or a travel guide to navigate the city/town. When stuck in an ATM or ticket machine, get an official to help you.
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Fake cop alert:
Scammers often pose as fake cops to extort money out of unsuspecting tourists. Sometimes during the robbery, an accomplice posing as a tourist will first make contact with you. As you two talk, a group of well-dressed men posing as undercover agents will surround you both and ask you to show your IDs. The accomplice will quickly take out his wallet and advise you to do the same thing assuring that it has happened with him before. Sometimes, the fake cops may even nab the accomplice saying he’s a drug dealer and ask you to accompany them to the police station since you’re a key witness, only to rob you on the way. These kind of instances are common in Barcelona, Bangkok, Mexico etc.
How to avoid it: Unless you’ve committed a crime, the police will not get in touch with you. If a plainclothes person approaches you in the guise of a policeman, just walk away. Walking away will deter the scammer from persuading you. Don’t hand your passport or belongings to even legitimate-appearing police. Instead, request them to inspect you in the presence of an embassy member or in your hotel. If you’re sceptical about the person’s badge or uniform, ask him to accompany you to the nearest shop to verify their badge. A legitimate police officer will comply with your request, whereas a scammer will avoid such a situation.
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This scam usually takes place in London. In a busy tourist spot, a friendly stranger will request you to take a photograph of them or their group. When you hand back the camera, he will fumble and drop it, breaking the camera into pieces. The scammer will then blame you for the incident and force you to pay up for the repairs of the broken camera so that you’re obliged to pay to avoid a scene in public. Sometimes when a group is involved, they may create a ruckus and pick your pocket when you’re bending to pick up the camera.
How to avoid it: One way to detect this scam is to check if the camera given to you is in working condition or not. Typically, in these situations, the camera equipment doesn’t work. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t give into paying. Walk to the nearest counter or security guard and get their help.
While some Travel Insurance policies may provide emergency cash in case of theft but there is no policy that covers scams. If you’re a victim of a robbery overseas, make sure you file a police complaint. An official police complaint can help with your insurance claim when you return to India.
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