There are common scams that occur in many places that the traveller should be aware of. These are designed to get your money or business from you under false pretenses. They fall into three categories: overcharging you, deceiving you or coercing you into paying for a service you don't want, and outright theft.
A scam is not necessarily a crime, and police might not have the will or legal ability to help out victims. In the worst case they may even be in on it and some ways of local law enforcement may indeed work with various forms of entrapment or trickery that might fall into a moral category not all that unlike some scams on this list.
Prevention is based on knowledge: researching your destination will both alert you in advance to scams in the area and let you know what the usual prices and truly good sights are so you will be less reliant on the approaches of helpful individuals when you're vulnerable.
At the same time, if you do get stung, don't be too hard on yourself: you were dealing with people who knew the location a lot better than you and with people who were out to deceive you. In some cases, you were dealing with hardened criminals. If you think what happened to you was illegal and the police are trustworthy, report it; otherwise, just chalk it up to experience. If you wish to make a theft-related claim against an insurance policy, you will generally need to make a police report within 24 hours and keep a copy for your insurance company. You will also need a police report to replace some stolen identity documents, such as passports.
The US State Department has a page warning of scams practised on travellers.
|“||Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.||”|
- Keep in mind that when you meet someone new, you never know who they really are or what their intentions are until you dig a little deeper into them (and sometimes not even then).
- If you have travelling companions, keep each other informed of the general outlines of your plans for the day. Buy an inexpensive SIM card or burner phone for each person so that people in your party can contact each other if they get separated.
- Don't carry unnecessary amounts of cash, jewelry, or luxury items around with you. If you have an expensive smartphone, conceal it when you are not using it.
- In high-risk areas, don't draw attention to the fact that you are non-local. Travel light, don't carry a camera around your neck, and dress as the locals do. Avoid typical "tourist" accessories, such as maps or backpacks. A vehicle with number plates from another country, or with a prominent rental car firm logo, may be targeted for break-in or theft.
- Don't print your name on the outside of your bags; use an opaque luggage tag. Someone may read your name off of your bag and pretend to know you.
- Alcohol and other drugs affect your judgment and should be indulged in only among people you have good reason to trust.
- Research into your destination, its general layout, and the usual price ranges are helpful in avoiding many scams. When arriving in a new city, have a plan of where to go and be aware that airports, railway stations and the like are often places where touts and con men wait for newcomers they can offer their "help" to.
- Knowing where you want to go and what you want to do and then sticking to that plan is a good way to avoid getting ripped off.
- Knowing the language — even just basics — will make you look less "foreign" and be helpful in getting the help of locals when you're the victim of some malfeasance.
- Each country has different high-crime areas. In general, low-income areas, touristed areas, stations for rail and other public transport and nightlife districts have higher crime risk than other areas. While airports themselves are often safe enough, the surrounding community may be dodgy; it's also likely to be far from the heart of the city. Many destinations have a motel strip on what used to be the main road into town; as these roads are bypassed by motorways, the lodgings (or even the local area) may go into decline or become a crime magnet. As each community is different, check the "stay safe" section of the Wikivoyage city article before deciding where to stay.
- Remember that astounding deals and amazing winnings are as unlikely as they seem and likely to be part of a scam.
- Be wary of any stranger who seems to be singling you out for extended special attention, especially if they are trying to persuade you to leave your friends or accompany them to an unknown area.
- Avoid anyone begging, particularly if they're using children to beg on their behalf (a common scam). In China, if you see a child begging, please post a picture of them online, as those children are often victims of kidnapping, and posting a picture online can make it easier for the children to be located.
- Being in any situation where you are among a group of strangers who all know one another, but who don't know you, provides them a great deal of power over you.
- When sending money to people or businesses you don't know, use repudiable payment methods such as credit cards. If a stranger insists on a non-repudiable method, such as cash or a wire transfer, you should be suspicious. A repudiable payment can be cancelled or refunded in case of fraud.
- Be wary of attractive-looking strangers trying to raise your sexual emotions, including sex workers, touts and hospitality staff.
- Always discuss and agree a price before you accept any products, services, or accommodation, and always have some proof of payment.
- You are not required to be polite or friendly to anyone who refuses to leave you alone when you request it.
- Nor are you required to answer getting-to-know-you questions from random people. These may just be friendly locals, but they might also be scammers looking for information useful to them.
- Walking on when offered some "incredible deal" might seem rude but really is par for the course and many locals have it down pat. Try to learn from them.
These scams are based upon the idea of offering you help or advice that is actually deceptive, trusting that you will rely on the scammer's "local knowledge". They usually involve giving advice that results in you paying for something that you otherwise wouldn't or going somewhere you don't want to go. Some scams in which a helpful local offers to cut you a good deal can be outright fraudulent, such as convincing you to buy fake gems, but many simply get you to pay for something that you wouldn't pay for if you knew the area better, or to pay too much.
One of the biggest traps of these kinds of scams is the desire to be polite to people who are polite and friendly to you; and the scammers know this. While you shouldn't become a hard-nosed nasty person, you should receive unsolicited offers of help with polite caution, and if somebody insists on giving help you don't want, there's no need to stay polite in fending it off: feel free to walk away or speak firmly at the person. Yelling for help could be necessary, but reserve that for situations where you feel threatened; otherwise it will often just attract more unwanted attention. Pretending they don't exist, which entails not making eye contact, not walking faster, not saying 'hello' or 'no', will often humiliate them or tire them out without frustration on your part. Do not respond if they call you racist to attract your attention. If you said "no thank you", don't let them use that as having their foot in the door in engaging in a conversation with you.
Another trap is the "too good to be true" offers: they are almost certainly not true.
Your driver or guide will tell you that the place you're heading to is closed, no good or too expensive and that he knows somewhere better. While this may be true, it's likely that the 'better' place is giving him a commission for referrals, and his commission is just going to increase your room rate.
You must insist on going to your planned destination. In some cases the driver will not drive you to your hotel even if you insist. In some places, taxi drivers will take you to the wrong hotel and insist it is the one you requested! Get the correct name because there are a lot of copies and similarities in their names.
To avoid being held hostage by a mercenary taxi, keep your luggage with you on the back seat so you can credibly threaten to walk out and not pay. They'll usually back down by the time you start opening the door—and if they don't, get a new driver.
One option for avoiding potential hassle is to arrange for your hotel to pick you up at the airport or train station.
Before arriving in a new location, have your accommodation pre-booked, find out where it is on the map and see if there are alternatives to hailing taxis, such as public transport. If you're willing to pay a bit extra, many airports and train stations have dedicated taxis or limousine transfer services, or you can arrange a pickup directly with your hotel. If you do need to book accommodation after arrival, book from a reputable source such as a local travel agency or tourism office and get their recommendation on how to best get there, or do your own research.
You may arrive at a major tourist destination only to find a very helpful local near the entrance explaining that there's a riot/holiday/official visit at the place you want to go and it is closed. (Sometimes, taxi drivers are in cahoots with these helpful locals and will purposely drop you off to be received by them.) The local will then offer to take you to a lesser known but infinitely more beautiful sight or to a nice shop. Generally, the destination is in fact open for business: simply refuse the offer and go and have a look. Even on the very rare occasions that they are telling the truth, they may not be as helpful as they seem so it would be better to pursue your own backup plan. Just walk away from them and walk towards the main tourist entrance where they stop following you.
The opposite might in fact take place when arriving by car, especially in places like Rio de Janeiro, where scammers might ask for a fee to "keep your car safe" (a widespread scam in Brazil). While sometimes tourist attractions are in fact closed or under maintenance, scammers will state those are open, and demand a small fee in advance. Taxi drivers will also sometimes take a long route to a place and "forget" to mention the place is closed, then suggest an alternative attraction far away from the original place.
You are met in the street by people who say they are art students. They speak English well and invite you to visit their school. Then they will try to get you to buy one of their works for an excessive price. The "students" are usually attractive young women who are employed by the gallery to attract customers and to make the customers feel obliged to purchase "their" works to encourage them and repay them for their friendliness.
Sometimes locals will simply try to force themselves on you to help with a ticket machine, a subway map or directions. They might just be overly helpful but they may also be looking for and demand a small tip for their forced help. In general, be wary of anyone who forces their way into your personal space, and who starts doing things for you without asking you if you need them. If you have received help and then some coinage is demanded, it's probably easier to pay it. However, this kind of situation can also leave you vulnerable to substantial theft so be polite but firm, and then simply firm, by telling the person that you are fine now and that they should leave you alone.
A local eagerly offering to "help" take a photo of you might be unwilling to give your camera back, or might demand money for its return; likewise, anyone too eager to "help" you with your luggage may be intending to steal your valuables for themselves. A local may also offer to pose for a photo; only after you take the photo, they demand money.
Poipet (on the border between Thailand and Cambodia) is a classic example of the border crossing scam. "Helpful" people will charge you for doing a useless service (like filling out your application form); "friendly" people will charge you twice the normal fee for obtaining a visa (which you can do yourself), crooks will tell you that you must change money at their horrible exchange rates (they will also tell you that there are no ATMs anywhere in the country), and tuk-tuk drivers will charge you some idiotic amount for taking you 100 meters.
The cure is simple: read up on any border crossing before you cross it, know the charges in advance, and don't believe or pay anyone not in uniform. Even then, try to ask another person in uniform to see if you get the same story.
Usually the Wikivoyage country articles have a description of the common procedures at all (major) border crossings in the "get in" section. In the case of huge countries, you may want to look in region and city articles as well.
Gifts from beggars
A beggar stops you on the street and gives you a "present", like tying a "lucky charm" around your wrist. Alternatively, they "find" something like a ring on the street and give it you. After a few moments of chit-chat, they start demanding money and follow you until you give them money.
Avoiding this scam is easy enough: remember what your mother told you when you were in kindergarten, and don't accept "free" gifts from strangers. This scam is particularly common in Egypt and the UK. In one variant occasionally seen in particularly large Canadian, American and Japanese cities, the beggars dress as fake monks to solicit these "donations".
Another similar scam involves overly pushy people who pose as collecting money for charity. This is particularly common in developed countries. Usually an old woman will approach you, tie a small flower to your shirt and expect you to "donate" money. They never say the specific charity, they often say "for the children." Inquiring about the specifics of their "charity" may help scare them off. Typically, if they have no name badges or even a charity name, it's probably not a real charity.
Before entering a situation where you might get hassled, set rules with yourself for how and when you will spend money, stick to the rules, and let other people know.
Dirty shoes scam
A shoe cleaner says your shoes need cleaning, and he points out that there is dirt on your shoes. When you take a look, there really is feces or any other kind of dirt on your shoe (a lot usually). He offers to get them clean again for a very high price. What you most probably did not recognize is that a few meters before that cleaner or a helper has thrown that very dirt onto your shoes.
This scam can also be combined with pickpocketing or distraction theft, as has been observed in Cairo and Delhi. A variant in Buenos Aires involves someone throwing mustard or some other paste on your coat and then the helper or a third person pickpocketing you and occasionally stealing your bag.
While you're waiting in a public place, a friendly, well-spoken individual will approach you and engage in conversation. They may ask you questions about where you're from, how long you've been in the country, and so on.
After some chit-chat, they will let you know that they are a "collector" of money and they want to know if you can give them a few coins, notes, or both from your home country. When you give them what they're asking for, they will then exchange your money for the local currency of the country you're in.
A genuine collector of money will never collect money from random strangers on the street. As ever, never give your money to people you don't know.
One way to fend off a "money collector": firmly, yet politely say that you don't have anything on you. That should get the 'money collector' to leave you alone.
You are pulled over by a vehicle that appears to be a police car, often unmarked. The supposed officer says you are about to receive a large fine and points on your license, but you can avoid this by paying a much smaller fee up front in cash. A variant of this involves a fake officer approaching you, claiming that some convoluted minor offence has been committed, and that the victim can avoid the inconvenience of an arrest by paying a fine on the spot. This is not an official tactic used by law enforcement agencies almost anywhere. In countries with lower levels of corruption, legitimate police officers will either issue a real ticket that must be paid by mail, by bank transfer, or in person, a warning without a fine, or they will let you go completely free.
In another variant, a stranger at an airport asks an unsuspecting bystander to watch their bag or purse. The stranger leaves, returning with a police officer (or someone posing as one) who claims the bag contains drugs or contraband and demands a bribe to evade criminal prosecution.
There are many variants involving strangers suggesting illegal or gray-zone activities, and police officers showing up requesting bribes or "fines", wanting to see your passport or examine you (and steal your wallet or part of its contents). See "Maradona" below.
From the perspective of scammers, it is quite easy to impersonate a police officer. Police vehicles are typically models that are also sold to civilians, and many of these models have not been redesigned in many years, so older ones can be purchased cheaply. Lights like those found on the dashboards of unmarked police vehicles can be purchased easily in electronics or hobby shops, and police uniforms and badges can be purchased from uniform stores. Though a real officer knows the difference, a naïve civilian (let alone a foreign visitor) does not. In some countries, corrupt police officers are willing to offer scammers real police uniform and equipment, further blurring the difference between the real and fake ones.
Sometimes, fines can be paid directly to officers based on local laws and customs. In Serbia, for example, it is legal in some cases to pay 50% of a fine on the spot in cash to a traffic police officer or to pay 100% later in a bank or post office. On the other hand, in countries where police corruption is known to be a serious issue, a real police officer pulling you over may well be trying to extort a bribe. Use your judgement and your knowledge of the country to decide what to do.
The Maradona is a scam that is very common in Romania, especially in the capital Bucharest. Someone will approach you and attempt to engage you in a conversation (in English), usually about something vaguely illicit. Seconds later, two men will appear in plain clothes but flashing legitimate-looking police badges. They will accuse you and your "new acquaintance" of some illegal activity (usually 'currency swapping'), and demand to see your wallet and/or passport.
Do not hand them these things! Keep your documents and belongings in your pocket and out of sight.
Walk away, or yell, or tell them outright that you do not believe that they are the police or suggest that you all walk to the lobby of a nearby hotel (or police station) because you are not comfortable taking out your wallet or papers in the street. These conmen thrive because the police fail to enforce laws against nonviolent crime and some foreigners are easily fooled. They will not physically attack you: the treatment of violent offenders is severe (these men are professionals, and they would never be foolish enough to chance a physical attack). Do not threaten or try to fight them.
There is a more violent variant of this, observed in Cartagena (Colombia), where you are offered drugs to buy. If you do so, fake police officers emerge immediately and will demand for you to pay a huge fine. They will take you to the nearest ATM and make you withdraw as much money as you can and may even kidnap you.
"Official" asks for souvenir
After an official or someone dressed as one assists you at a transit station such as an airport or train station, that person will ask you for money from your home country as a souvenir. If you pull out less than what they want, they will use an overly friendly yet insistent manner to demand a higher amount, generally in notes. In some countries, giving money to an official can be misconstrued as a bribe and can get you in deep water. It's best to limit conversation as much as possible and when asked for money, to feign ignorance or lack of cash. This has occurred in Malaysia and China.
In many cities, in areas popular with tourists, scammers wear bright "hi-viz" vests and act as attendants at parking facilities. They may show you to an empty space, help you park your car, and collect the parking lot's fee in cash. They may even give you an out-of-date receipt that had been discarded by someone who had previously paid to park in the lot. This fee is not remitted to the lot's operator, who may ticket you for non-payment. Some people operate this scam at parking lots which normally have no charge at all. In some cases, the attendant offers to watch or protect the driver's car, with the threat (express or implied) that someone might damage or break into a car that is not being watched.
Many car parks have prominent signs indicating where you should pay, using a machine or a cash box. At particularly popular events, legitimate attendants will wear hi-viz vests with the venue's name printed on them. If you park at a place with an attended booth or payment machine near the entrance, ignore the attendants and pay at the booth or machine. Do not rely on the observation that other drivers have paid the same attendant who is soliciting you; there have been incidents where a police officer or a parking operator tickets many cars for non-payment.
Legitimate tolls use existing structures. But in some rural areas, primitive makeshift gates are set up on little traveled roads frequented by tourists, and money is demanded in exchange for passage. The appearance is given that it could be a "toll" or park entrance fee. In many cases you have few options besides paying and grumbling, but the mere threat of reporting the situation to authorities might do wonders in some cases.
Locals in need
Panhandling, the act of begging for money, is sometimes linked with scams that prey on tourists' emotions.
In some countries, begging is organised by human trafficking gangs. In India, it is believed that thousands of children are kidnapped and forced into begging, and some beggars deliberately disfigure themselves so that they can entice other people into giving them money. Some of the beggars are so proficient at soliciting donations that they can make a livable income from the act. Some female beggars carry other people's children around to entice others into giving them money.
As heartless as it may sound, give all panhandlers a wide berth. You can't be sure if you're actually helping them, if you're unintentionally aiding the development of a crime ring, or if you're unintentionally aiding their vices such as drugs and alcohol.
If you genuinely want to help the poor and needy, it is recommended that you volunteer at, speak to members of, or donate to a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Many NGOs actively work to reduce poverty around the world.
Just been robbed
This scam involves persons approaching you and asking you if you know where the police station is. They will seem frightened and shaken and inform you that they have just been robbed of the money they needed to get back home which is very likely to be in a different city or even country. Again, they will get emotional and say the police perhaps won't be of much assistance and they will turn to you for help. Although they only expect you to happily hand over a small amount, the more people they con the more money they make themselves. This scam also takes the form of refugees escaping a war-torn country, a father who needs to get to a hospital to see his sick child and many other variants.
Begging for medicine to sick family members
This scam is practiced in parts of Africa, where it's well known that tourists travel with their own medicine such as penicillin or anti-malarial drugs. Beggars will approach on the street, telling a sad tale about their little daughter or son who is dying with malaria or some other disease. They will then ask you if they can have your medicine to save them. The sobbing story makes it difficult to refuse the request and they may accuse you of everything from racism to willingly letting an innocent child die. As soon as they receive your medications they will run away, presumably to save their daughter but in reality they will run to the local pharmacy to sell your medications. Expensive drugs such as Malarone may fetch up to $10 US per tablet.
This scam places a lot of emotional stress on the victims, but remember that if a child really was sick, it's highly unlikely that the father would be running around in the streets begging tourists for medicine. The child would have been brought to the local dispensary, and, if there really was a scarcity in drugs, you would probably be approached in quite a different manner. Also, remember that giving up hard-to replace prescription drugs might put yourself at risk if you were to contract any illness yourself. The cure is to not get soft-hearted so simply ignore the person and walk away.
These scams are based on your ignorance of the area and rely on getting you to pay well over the market rate for goods or services. Some will rely on a helpful local steering you to the goods, but others will simply involve quoting a high price to you. In some countries this is institutionalized: foreigners have to pay more even for genuine sights.
Getting a general sense of accommodation price ranges and the like is the best way to prevent being overcharged. In some places, it's assumed that you'll bargain down overcharged prices, in others, you will just have to walk away or pay up for goods although you should still challenge the amount in the case of a service if it is clearly overpriced.
Rental car claims of damage
When you rent a car or other vehicle, you are rushed through the process of checking for prior damage, including scratches; the agent may not be so happy about you taking your time to do it. After you return the vehicle, the agency accuses you of having damaged the vehicle, and holds you responsible. Your credit card might be overcharged for a repair fee, whether or not the agency does any repair work on the car. It has been reported by industry insiders that the agents who "notice" the damages are paid commissions on damage fees, so they have an incentive to not notice small damage, then "discover" it upon return.
This tactic has been observed among many brands in the vehicle rental industry, with examples of local operators of Europcar UK, Budget Canada, and Hertz Australia having been prosecuted for defrauding customers.
Variants include charging clients for repairs which were never made, or charging for repairs at inflated prices. In some cases, the repair shop and the hire car agent conveniently turn out to both be controlled by the same person or entity, allowing claims such as $1,000 for a windscreen replacement which was never done.
You can protect yourself by taking lots of close-up pictures of the vehicle (inside and out) when you pick it up. You should report all flaws you observe, no matter how small, on the form provided. If you find yourself in a disagreement over damages when you return the vehicle, photographic evidence may get the rental shop to back down, and it is essential if you have to escalate your complaint with the corporate office.
If you make a payment that requires change, they will refuse it and demand that you pay the exact amount. If you are not very attentive however, they will "forget" to return your initial payment. It may seem strange not to notice this, but in a fast moving and confusing setting, it happens more easily than you think, especially if you are somewhat tired or intoxicated. Incidents like this do also happen in decent looking establishments, such as shopping malls and airport stores. A telltale sign of impending trouble is that the cashier will suddenly lose the ability to speak or understand a single word of English. If you still have all your money in hand, the best course of action is to abandon your goods and walk away.
In another variation, a seller will insist that he does not have change for the item you purchased and that you should accept goods (often of low-quality) in place of your change. If you ask to "cancel" the sale and get your money back, the seller may become quite pushy in insisting that you take the goods or try to make you feel guilty because they need the money for his family or business is not going well. If paying with large bills, it is best to ask if the seller has change before handing over your money.
Yet another variation involves ticket windows at tourist sites. Ticket sellers will take your money, take a long time stamping your tickets and talking to colleagues, taking your ID as security for audio guides, etc., and simply "forget" to give you your change. They may give you some brief information, smile, and say "okay!" to distract you and send you on your way. Once you leave the window you have no chance of getting your change, so be sure to ask for it and not be distracted by their "helpful information".
All over the world, but especially in Asia, are shops that will give your driver or tour guide a commission to bring in tourists. Some tours waste more time at these shops than they spend at actual sights. Often, these shops sell low-quality goods at exorbitant prices; they may claim to be selling handmade cottage industry products or to be child-labor free, but such claims are often false. It is strongly recommended to avoid buying anything from them, especially if you have been directed to the shop by someone.
Alternatively, decide what you want and then come back without a driver and bargain for a substantial discount. In Jerusalem this should be at least 35%, roughly the amount the driver gets. In some Chinese tourist trap stores, it should be at least 60%; the items are marked with "fixed prices" but the clerks are allowed to give up to 20% off and the guide gets 50% of the selling price, so the minimum price is 40% of the marked one.
These places often have clean, western-style bathrooms, which can be hard to come by otherwise.
See the Shopping article for some alternatives that are often better than these shops.
If you are persuaded to buy souvenirs or other items from people selling on the street, look at the change you are given from the sale before putting it in your wallet: it may be in a different currency of similar appearance. For example, in China, a street-vendor may hand you a 50 ruble note in change instead of 50 yuan; the former is worth one tenth as much as the latter. High-value coins, such as the €2 coin or the 500 yen coin, may be substituted with similar-looking coins from other countries that are worth much less in exchange, and that you can't spend where you're staying. In some areas, you may get outright counterfeit currency. Be careful that banknotes you receive are not ripped or damaged, as these may not be accepted elsewhere. It is also possible for the vendor to outright steal bills from you in the process of "exchanging" money.
Often, bad money drives out good. Many obsolete currencies which are similarly-named to the modern currency look official but are worthless; governments fuel inflation by printing too much money, then create a "new" currency which merely lops a few trailing zeroes off the denominations of the worthless "old" currency. Governments have also "demonetised" specific notes, deliberately rendering them no longer valid. There are also some countries which officially have (or had, such as Cuba) two currencies, creating opportunities for bait-and-switch on the hapless voyager.
"Better" exchange rate
- See also: Money
Locals may offer better currency exchange rate than official banks or authorized currency exchange stores. It is best to avoid these offers since you may not know if you are receiving counterfeit bills or obsolete currencies that the government has phased out and no longer has any value.
Precious metal items such as gold bracelets are sold as 'dollars per gram' in some countries. Comparing the price between shops and then against the current gold price makes the practice appear open and transparent, so much so that you may rely on the seller to do the calculation. It won't be till later, if at all, that you will realize that the price you were charged is much more than the calculated price.
A vendor may claim to be willing to accept your home currency for a purchase (and most travel venues on an international boundary do so) but their exchange rate is at least 10% worse than any local bank or a dedicated bureau de change. In that case, "US dollars accepted here" by a merchant is no bargain. Sub-prime cheque cashing businesses are also infamous for deliberately unfavorable rates on currency exchange.
This does not need to be a scam. There may be real costs for the merchant to exchange your currency themselves – but do both of you a favour and have money (or a credit card) for paying in the local currency.
One pitfall in this respect is dynamic currency exchange: the vendor on a card-paid transaction offers to do the conversion for you and bill your card in your home currency. In most cases, it's best to say "no" and refuse to complete the transaction if the vendor insists, as the exchange rate offered by the merchant is almost invariably worse than whatever's offered by default by your card's issuing bank or credit union. This is a common scam in Europe. The card terminal may be handed to you with the choice of local or your home currency. Always pay in the local currency as your credit card company will invariably provide the better exchange rate. If the vendor has already selected your home currency, cancel the transaction (red key) and ask them to enter again in local currency.
This scam is also often perpetrated by online vendors. For instance, if you buy online and pay with PayPal in a country that doesn't use the euro or US dollar, you'll have to manually opt out of currency conversion on every transaction, because you're always getting a worse rate than what your bank will charge you. For some currency pairs PayPal's fee can be as much as 10%, while the corresponding bank fee when the customer's account is charged in a different currency, would be only in the neighborhood of 2-4%.
Gem and other resale scams
You are taken to a jewelry shop and offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase gemstones or jewels at special discount prices. Another customer in the shop, well-dressed and perhaps from the same country as you, tells how he made incredible profits last year by reselling the gems and is now back for more but to hurry as the sale ends today and you have to pay cash.
Of course, once you get back home and try to sell your booty, it turns out to be low-grade and worth only a fraction of what you paid for it. This scam is particularly prevalent in Bangkok, but variations on the theme with other products that can supposedly be resold for vast profits are common elsewhere too. Another variation involves you exporting the gems for a supposed 'commission' in exchange for the scammer taking a photocopy of your ID cards and/or credit cards, which can of course be used to make a tidy profit via identity theft.
Unfortunately for the traveller, counterfeiting isn't limited to the manufacture of "Relox" watches or knock-offs of random overpriced luxury goods from CD's and DVD's to watches, clothing, bags and cosmetics. In some regions, branded prescription medicines are prone to being copied by rival manufacturers. Knock-offs vary from legitimately useful generics to poor copies with the wrong amount of an active ingredient; many are diluted and some don't work at all. Outdated medications, which can be unreliable, have a knack for turning up at inopportune moments in out-of-the-way places. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates indicate one million deaths are tied to bogus medicine, with fake anti-malaria tablets in Africa of particular concern.
American import law prohibits bringing more than one of any counterfeit item into the country and requires the items be declared. This is especially important when travelling back from Asia, where most counterfeit goods originate. It's assumed that if you are buying more than one, it's for illegal resale. One counterfeit Rolex for your possession is legal, but two fake Rolexes are illegal and subject to thousands of dollars in fines.
Counterfeit currency is also an issue in some regions, particularly in Asia. North Korea is accused by the CIA of printing very convincing (but bogus) US currency, known as "supernotes", for export within the region.
Cruise ship art auctions
Cruise passengers are lured to auctions of supposedly investment-grade, collector painting, which are actually industrial inkjet printed copies, euphemistically called giclée. Free champagne flows like water. The auctions may or may not be conducted by licensed auctioneers and may not adhere to standard auction practices. Since the sales take place at sea, it is difficult for buyers to do due diligence and research on internet prior to making decision. Buyers may have little recourse if the art is misrepresented. Furthermore, in traditional auctions the bidder buys the actual piece on display, whereas cruise ship auctions sell the art on display, but the winning bidder actually receives a different (but supposedly equivalent) piece which is shipped from the auction company's warehouse. Many art buyers at cruise ship auctions have later found that their shipboard masterpieces were worth only a fraction of the purchase price and will never appreciate in value. One major player in cruise ship auction is Park West Galleries.
Art auctions on cruise ships are not investment grade. To prevent being scammed, carefully read any terms and conditions prior to signing anything.
- See also: Art and antiques shopping
If you consider buying antiques, you need to do your homework on procedures and reputable dealers. Many countries impose various restrictions on exporting relics of their culture or anything of significance. This includes countries where copies of such items are a big business, e.g. China, Egypt, India and Peru.
In countries such as Thailand and Myanmar, it is illegal to export anything with Buddha on it (even statues of Buddha) unless you have permission from the government. These countries consider it extremely disrespectful to use Buddha as a decoration piece.
Unless you are a collector, you should buy items that are obviously recent copies. If you try for the real thing you might pay much more than for an honest copy, face problems at the border, and – after having paid fines, bribes and a lawyer – get home with what turns out to be a copy nevertheless.
In some cases your purchases may be confiscated at the border, you may have to pay fines or a bribe not to be arrested – and the confiscated item is returned to the seller to be sold to the next unsuspecting tourist.
Your own country may also apply import restrictions to items such as animal pelts (for a long list of species, some of which are not actually endangered) or anything containing ivory. Know before you go.
Plastic bag code
In some countries where haggling is common, people at markets may have an arrangement where they will put purchases in different colored bags to signal how much a customer has paid, allowing other vendors to charge accordingly. For instance, at a certain market, a white bag may indicate that a customer paid the usual price whereas a blue bag may indicate that they paid a higher amount - vendors will ask a higher price if they see someone carrying a lot of blue bags. Different markets have different color codes, and some may have several stages of overcharging.
To avoid this, try to figure out how much the usual prices for things are before making your purchase and haggling the price aggressively if they are charging too much, and putting purchases in a backpack or durable shopping bag rather than using the plastic bags provided.
Low cost airlines
While low cost airlines are legitimate and often genuinely cheaper operations, some of their business practices resemble scams. Such airlines are known to quote prices "from" a certain amount of money. A ticket for London to Milan "from" €19 sounds tempting, but those prices usually refer to a small contingent of tickets that sell out quickly. These teaser prices are almost always quoted for one-way fares and don't include a variety of fees and taxes, including fees for carry-on luggage and for printing a boarding pass at an airport kiosk. Read the fine print very carefully when you book with a low cost carrier.
Some low cost airlines are notorious for outrageous fees, such as €50 for printing a boarding pass or US$100 for half a pound of excess baggage. Another common trick is for low cost airlines to fly out of secondary or tertiary airports, often converted former military airbases. Especially in Europe, these airports are not connected to any sort of public transport, requiring you to buy an expensive bus ticket (often through an airline partner company) to get to your destination. Low cost carriers encourage airports to use deceptive names like "Barcelona"–Girona, "Düsseldorf"–Weeze, "München"–Memmingen, or "Frankfurt"–Hahn, concealing the large distances between the airport and its nominal city. In the US, low cost airlines often fly to airports closer to the city they are named after, but high fees may apply as well. That being said, legacy airlines have now copied several of the low cost airlines' business practices, especially on short distance routes and especially in the US. The lowest fares on legacy carriers, known as "basic economy," may not include seat selection, carry-on luggage, or frequent flyer miles. The upgrade from basic economy to economy may be cheaper than the sum of the additional fees that basic economy passengers would pay.
In short: read the fine print carefully, don't order any extra services you won't need (e.g., €10 insurance for a €20 flight), and jump through all the hoops the airline makes you jump through.
Many popular resort areas have touts offering "free" tickets to shows or attractions or "free" hotel stays for your next vacation. In many cases, these are come-ons for timeshare presentations. Timeshare presentations may be offered only to people meeting certain qualifications: for example, a couple must be married (and both spouses must attend), of a particular age, with a particular income, of a particular nationality, and fluent in a particular language.
Timeshare presentations can easily take up half a day of your time, including the time to get to and from the (often remote) presentation venue. To get your incentive, you must watch a lengthy presentation, take a tour, and/or sit down with a sales representative who tries to pitch you on spending a lot of money, potentially US$10,000 or more, for a timeshare membership. These memberships may be worthwhile if you like to visit a particular place every year, although their total cost of ownership includes annual fees, which are often downplayed during the sales presentation, and can make the timeshare more expensive than a hotel or vacation home. Very few timeshares are resold for more than their original purchase price.
The incentives that are offered are often overvalued, being equivalent to coupons that you could get at your hotel for free. Discounted tickets may be available from last-minute ticket booths or from secondhand sales (although be mindful of bogus ticket scams). The promise of a "free" hotel stay in the future may be contingent on you attending another timeshare presentation. To discourage people from signing up for these presentations spuriously, some operators ask for cash up front, only refunding the money after the person attends the presentation and sales pitch in full. Leaving early, or being overly rude, might cause the salesperson to keep your money.
These scams rely on trapping you in a bad situation and forcing you to pay money to get out of it. They're best prevented by avoiding the situation; once you're in it, you may well have no option but to pay whatever it takes to get out of it safely. Many of these scams are bordering on illegal.
You are offered a "free tour" of a shop or factory way out of town. Your driver may then suggest that you'll need to buy something if you want a ride back. The best prevention is avoidance as if you're stuck out there you might well be compelled to do as he 'suggests'. Don't accept any kind of lift or offer of a tour without having a basic idea of where you're going and how you will be able to get back if your driver deserts you. Of course, if you are strong and assertive from the beginning in dealing with any suspicious characters, you can limit your chances of being involved in this kind of sting. However, always bear in mind that the perpetrator may be carrying a knife or be willing to assault you if the situation arises.
Passport as security for debt or rental
- See also Theft#Passport and identity theft
You rent equipment like a jet ski or motorbike. You are asked to give your passport as a security guarantee. After returning the rented goods, the owner claims you damaged them and will ask for exaggerated prices to compensate or will claim to have "lost" your passport. Later, the police or lost property office want a substantial "donation" for its return. If you do not agree, they threaten to keep your passport. This scam is used in almost all tourist resorts in Thailand and is very effective.
Never hand over your passport as a security or guarantee under any circumstances. Pay cash (and get a receipt), or hand over something comparatively worthless, like your library card. You can also try going elsewhere; often the threat will be enough.
Note that most passports include wording such as this (direct quote): "This passport is the property of the government of Canada … If your passport is surrendered to any person or agency outside the Canadian government (e.g. to obtain a visa) and is not promptly returned, report the facts to [an embassy or consulate]." You should only hand your passport to a foreign government official such as a border guard, to a travel agent or an employer who needs it to arrange a visa, or to a clerk who needs it briefly to verify your identity. Your government can press the host government to fix the problem, and in theory that government is obligated to do so promptly.
Overpriced street vendors
You decide on a whim to buy a piece of one of the massive cakes covered in nuts and fruits that are a fairly common sight in the tourist-laden parts of cities in China. You ask the price, and the man tending to the cake tells you it depends on how much you want. You show him how much. Immediately, he slices the cake, weighs it out, and gives you an extremely high price. He tells you that since he already sliced the cake, you have to buy it.
The best thing to do in this or any similar situation is probably to leave your purchase and just walk away. If they hassle you, threaten to call the police. Like the art school scam, this ruse depends on using your guilt to coerce you out of your money.
Solicitation of money by photographic subjects
A local in a colorful costume offers to pose for a photo with a traveller, persistently asking "Want to take a picture?". The visitor takes one picture. The local then starts aggressively demanding money. The traveller objects, only to be met with a string of obscenities at best and physical force at worst.
The scam is that neither the price nor the intent to demand money is disclosed up front. Payment is only demanded after the visitor has taken the photo and it's "too late".
The operators are not licensed street vendors (they evade regulations by mischaracterizing their fee for service as a "tip" or gratuity, only to become rude, aggressive or violent when the victim refuses to pay). While they may appear as anything from bogus Sesame Street characters (who typically demand $2–5) to scantily clad women wearing little other than a thong and body paint (who take $10–20), they invariably do not have permission from the creators of any trademarked, copyrighted characters they're impersonating. As solicitations occur most often in high-traffic, touristed areas like New York City whose visitors are already subjected to begging, aggressive panhandling and various scams, their conduct reflects poorly on the city to outsiders.
While the best response to "Want to take a picture?" in some places is simply to walk away, parents travelling with children may find it very awkward to explain to tiny tots why the Cookie Monster was arrested in Times Square for pushing a two-year-old child to the ground (his mother refused to pay for a photo) or why officers carried an emotionally disturbed Elmo out of Central Park Zoo screaming obscenities (he was ejected for begging from the zoo's visitors).
Rigged gambling games
In many jurisdictions, gambling of any kind is illegal. Even in countries where gambling is legal, only gamble at casinos and other well-reputed gambling venues.
Gambling scams come in many forms, from the three-card monte cup shufflers of Europe's city streets to dodgy gambling dens in the backstreets of South-East Asia. In most cases, the target is alone. The conman strikes up a conversation and then claims to have family in the target's home country. After some friendly conversation, the target is then invited to a card game or some other type of gambling: just for "fun" of course.
The target is taken somewhere far from the tourist area. After doing a few "practice" games, then they start to play for real. Of course, the game is totally rigged. After losing, the target will find his "friend" not so friendly anymore, and then a massive amount of money will be demanded (often totaling in the thousands of dollars). Violence might be used to settle the debts.
Tourists are by no means the only targets for this. Professional Chinese-Canadian scammers routinely take huge amounts from Chinese overseas students in crooked mah jong games, for example.
Cash on the sidewalk
As you stand on the sidewalk studying your map or guidebook, a passerby will point to a roll of bills, wallet, or gold jewelry on the ground nearby and ask if it is yours. They pick it up and offer to split the stuff with you. If you agree, a couple of heavies will soon appear demanding their money back, much more than you originally "found" of course. This scam is most common in Russia and Ukraine but it's also used in France.
Free hair salon treatment
Most commonly in Asian countries, a good-looking hair dresser would stand outside the salon and pass out coupons for a "free" shampoo hair wash and "free" head massage. Even if you decline, they will continue to be persistent. As soon as they succeed in seating you down in a salon chair and start wetting your hair, they'll explain how damaged your hair is and which specific products will help. The prices are absurdly set and often 2 to 3 times more expensive than in the US for a similar salon treatment. It will be much more difficult to refuse then after they've stroked up a friendly conversation and compliments. The best way to avoid this is simply tell them you've just had a haircut and are not interested.
Various scams are outright theft:
- Distraction theft, in its various forms, usually involves one villain distracting the victim while an accomplice steals items of value.
- Payment card thefts include various schemes to steal credit card numbers (card skimming) or copy the PINs and magnetic strips of ATM/cash-point cards. In some schemes the card itself is stolen, in others the card information is stolen and used to make fraudulent transactions.
- Pickpockets steal items (usually wallets, passports or other valuables) from people's clothing and bags as they walk in a public place.
A few scams involve putting you in a position where someone can take your money by force.
Friendly locals wanting to go out for a drink
While walking down the street you may be approached by attractive friendly locals wanting to go out for a beer or a drink. Then they tell you the drink costs way more than it actually does. Or worse, they just wait for you to become inebriated (or tamper with your drink to drug you in some manner) and take your money. See also clip joints, below.
People will approach you on the street and tell you that their car just ran out of fuel or is broken down and is only a few blocks away. They'll usually first ask for money for gas. If you don't believe them or try to walk away, they may beg you to come with them to the car to see that they are telling the truth. They may offer you some kind of security such as their jewelry and be well-dressed and plausible seeming.
Do not give people money in these and similar scenarios. Do not follow them to where they claim their car is. If you suspect they are really in trouble, you could report their predicament to police.
You are walking down the street alone and all of a sudden you see many people attacking one person (sometimes an old man or a woman). When you want to help, people will take photos of you and will blackmail you afterwards to go to the police. Now you find out that the attacked person, the attackers and the photographer are a group. They will blackmail you for large amounts of money, because if they go to the police, you most likely need to leave the country (for example in China).
As obvious as it may sound, do not feel tempted to act like a hero; you could face serious trouble for doing so. If you witness a fight, walk away or alert the police.
Payment card scams
- See also: Theft#Payment card theft
Your credit card number, your debit card PIN, or even the card itself is an obvious target for theft and fraud. Some of these scams are distraction thefts (one person distracts you while the other steals your card), some switch a merchant's debit keypad for a tampered or fake version, some add extra hardware to ATM cashpoints to skim the magnetic stripe from payment cards.
In one variant (which appears occasionally as a taxi scam) a vendor asks for payment by debit card and presents a keypad to enter a PIN. The vendor then hands back a card that looks like the one the voyager originally provided... but it's the wrong card. The scammer now has your card, the keypad was rigged to steal your PIN and the thieves go on a spree from cashpoint to cashpoint, emptying your account. Another variant is the restaurateur who wanders off with your credit card, either to secretly copy your card number or to take out a cash advance at your expense.
Counterfeit tickets and stolen goods
There are multiple variants of these scams. As examples:
- Someone lists hard-to-find tickets to a concert on an on-line marketplace, but these tickets were forged and are not accepted at the venue.
- A person at a public transport station offers, for a discounted price, to scan their unlimited pass so that you can go through a fare gate. Some cities' public transport systems employ fare inspectors, so even if you gain entry to a train in this way, a fare inspector may ask to see your ticket while you are aboard, and they may fine you or eject you from a train if you do not have a ticket in hand. Some cities' transport systems also expect travellers to scan their pass as they exit the system, so if you do not have a ticket in hand, you will need to find a staff member and potentially pay a penalty to exit at your destination.
- Using a marketplace, someone sells a mobile telephone which has been reported as stolen. Mobile carriers place stolen devices on a national blacklist, so they can't be subscribed anywhere. A fraudulent mobile phone may also be blacklisted if the prior owner was in a billing dispute with their carrier.
- Someone sells a previously valid but non-transferable ticket, such as a Disneyland multi-day pass with a few days left.
If the fraudulent item was purchased in a public place for cash, the buyer has no recourse when their item turns out to be bogus. In some countries, possession of stolen goods is a crime, even if the buyer did not know that an item was stolen when they purchased it. To protect tourists and local merchants, authorities in places including Mallorca and Pisa fine tourists who buy any goods from unlicensed merchants in touristic areas.
To avoid being a victim of these scams, buy your tickets and goods from officially licensed retailers or resellers. If you are planning to attend an event, visit the event's web site to understand how tickets may be purchased and resold. In the U.S., sports teams and concert promoters often designate an official ticket exchange where electronic tickets may be resold, at an agreed-upon price, and with fees imposed on both the buyer and the seller. This makes resold tickets more expensive, but an official ticket exchange will usually offer a money-back guarantee in case the tickets turn out to be invalid or if the event is cancelled.
Scammers don't rest during the holidays. Sometimes an event organiser will pop up just long enough to announce a big Halloween or New Year's Eve bash, with pricey tickets for admission sold in advance. The buyers of these tickets only find the event doesn't exist, isn't as advertised or that the tickets are counterfeit on the day of the event; at that point, because the vendor was a short-lived seasonal, pop-up operation, they're nowhere to be found. Another variant is a mail order vendor peddling seasonal merchandise (such as Halloween costumes) that either doesn't arrive, are not as advertised or only turn up after the event is over. Try to return the two sizes too small Halloween garb that didn't arrive until November, and the seasonal pop-up merchant is conveniently gone — closed for the season.
There's nothing inherently tying these scams to one specific time of year; the various holidays just provide convenient marketing opportunities.
Sex workers are a common sight in many cities, and you may find yourself interested in hiring one. Many sex workers are honest and committed to doing their work safely and consensually for all parties involved. However, in some cases, those working in this industry can be involved in a variety of crimes:
- leading you into an armed robbery
- having a confederate go through your clothes while you are out of them
- taking your hotel room key, which is turned over to burglars or thieves
- "cash and dash", where a provider accepts payment for services that are never provided, then leaves
- advance fee scams, where the pimp (or a thug) arrives without the service provider and demands the cash up front - before vanishing with the victim's money in pocket and no service provided
- a bogus "outraged family member" (or cop) appearing and needing to be bought off; alternately, this person's arrival is carefully timed to occur immediately after the provider has accepted payment and before any service is rendered, as effectively a "cash and dash" scheme
- hidden cameras, or collection of compromising material ('kompramat') to be used for eventual blackmail and coercion.
In some instances, the sex workers may have been coerced by human traffickers or organized crime, or have substance abuse issues that make them vulnerable to exploitation.
In almost all cases, the presumption is that victims will not call police; the clients are either ashamed to have to pay for a 'companion', afraid to be outed to a spouse on whom they are cheating, fearful of violent retribution by those running the scams or afraid of legal prosecution as even jurisdictions which nominally do not criminalize solicitation may still outlaw a long and arbitrary list of related activities.
Even if you do not allow one to lead you anywhere, "streetwalkers" (sex workers who solicit clients on the street, rather than online or through a service) can pose risks. Some of those engaged in sex work may be tempted to steal cash or other valuables from a client. In some countries, such as China or 48 states of the USA, prostitution is illegal and hotel staff may have the local police arrive at your room door not long after you check in.
In countries where prostitution is not fully legalized (and even in some cases where it is), such establishments may have links with other forms of criminal activity, notably various types of gangs, drug dealers and money laundering. A few are clip joints; as legal restrictions in many jurisdictions make providers claim to sell "massage", "companionship" or just about anything except actual "full-service" prostitution, these folks will gladly take the victim's money, then claim the payment was "just for the massage" and demand more money repeatedly. The mark is unceremoniously ejected from the premises (with no actual service provided) once his wallet is empty.
- See also: Taxis
Airports, stations and other places where people arrive in a new city are favorite places for all kinds of touts offering their (often overpriced) services. This includes taxi drivers and people pretending to be taxi drivers and if you're dealing with a dishonest person, the least bad thing that could happen is that you'll be driven to your destination but at an outrageous price. Therefore; if you need to travel by taxi from there, go to the official taxi line.
Scenic taxi rides
Since you don't know the area, taxi drivers can take advantage of you by taking a long route to your hotel and getting a large metered fare. The best prevention is knowledge: it's hard to learn a new city well enough to know a good route before you arrive for the first time. Always ask your hotel roughly what the taxi fare should be when you book or to arrange a pickup with them if they offer the service. Often you can negotiate a fixed price with a taxi before you get in and ask what the range of fare to your hotel will be. Good taxi drivers are on the route to your hotel every day and can give you a very accurate price before you or your luggage get into a cab.
Taxis not using the meter
In cities where taxis have fare meters, unscrupulous drivers will often try to drive off with tourists without turning the meter on. When you arrive they'll try and charge fares from the merely expensive (2 or 3 times the usual fare) to fares of hundreds of US dollars, depending on how ambitious they are. If you're in an area known for this scam and you know where you're going and want them to use the meter (rather than arrange a fixed fare), ask them to turn the meter on just before you get in. If they say that it is broken or similar, walk away and try another taxi. They will often concede: a metered fare is better than no fare.
However, an ambitious traveler can actually work this scam in their favor, as in certain countries where meters are required (China) the passenger cannot be forced to pay for an "informal" (that is, unmetered) taxi ride. A tourist is therefore free to walk away after the ride without paying anything at all: once you step out of his vehicle, the driver will have no proof of transaction to show the police. This tactic is, however, not recommended for use by the weak of heart but can save you money as a last resort.
Using the wrong metered rate
A related scam is using the wrong metered rate: setting it to a more expensive late-night setting during the day. You need location-specific information to prevent this one. A typical rip-off scenario involves a device known as "turbine". By pressing specially installed button (usually on the left of the steering wheel, or next to the clutch pedal) the driver starts the "turbine" and fools the meter to charge much faster than the usual speed. The change in the charging speed is obvious, so dishonest drivers talk and show around a lot, to make their passengers keep an eye off the taxi meter. The best way to prevent the driver from starting the turbine is to keep an eye on the meter at all times.
When suspicious, ask the taxi to drop you off at your (or any) hotel lobby. Security at most hotels can intervene if you are being overcharged.
Luggage held hostage
Watch your luggage as it is loaded! Get into the cab after your luggage is loaded and out before it is out of the trunk. If you put your luggage in the trunk, they might refuse to give you your luggage back unless you pay a much higher price the actual fare. Remember to always write down or remember the taxi number or driver's number in case of problems and keep your luggage in your hand at all times if possible. Often, just writing down the taxi number will make them back down if they are keeping your luggage hostage, but be careful that they are not armed or are trying to rob you by other means than just driving away with your luggage.
"Per person" taxi charge
Taxi, tuk-tuk, or auto-rickshaw drivers will agree on a price. When you arrive at your destination, they may or may not tell you that the vehicle is a share vehicle, and they will tell you that the price quoted is per person. The tricky thing is that a per-person charge (or a flat rate plus a per person charge) is standard in some cities and countries, so it's important to research the destination beforehand and make sure you and the driver are both clear on what the price means before you start riding. If you know the driver is trying to scam you, you can almost always just give them the agreed-upon fare and walk away. Just make sure that you have the correct change before departing as in many places drivers are known to come up with any excuse it takes to charge you extra.
Food and beverage scams
From the barkeeper who charges full price for watered-down drinks to the restaurateurs who give themselves generous tips using their diner's payment cards, there are various schemes in which travellers are overcharged for food and beverage service.
Some unexpected charges are not scams, although they may seem suspicious. In some countries, such as the US and Canada, taxes and service charges are not typically included in prices shown on menus. Conversely, conveniences such as glasses of water, soft drink refills, condiment packets, and bread or tortilla chips are expected to be free at many US restaurants, but they normally cost money in some other countries. It may be normal for foreigners to pay higher prices than locals do.
Before concluding that an unexpected charge is a scam, familiarize yourself with local practices. You can also ask at your hotel or at a local tourist information office.
A bar or restaurant gives you a menu with reasonable prices and takes it away with your order. Later, they present a bill with much higher prices. If you argue, they produce a menu with those higher prices on it. This scam is known in Romania and in bars in China among other places. The best way to avoid this is to stay out of sleazy tourist bars. Another option is to take a picture of the menu with your phone camera. If the restaurant argues, you can always tell them that you want to send it to your friends because they otherwise wouldn't believe the prices are so low. You can then proceed to take a picture of the food for your foodie-blog (which might come in handy if the items on your bill don't match the items you ordered or were served).
You could also try hanging on to your menu or paying when your drinks or food are delivered, preferably with the right change. Watch out for asking for a menu in English, as the prices on the menu are sometimes higher than the menu in the native language, although because of the difficulty of navigating a foreign-language menu, foreigners may justify this as a translation fee.
In some places where there is a common parallel currency, usually US dollars or euros, there might be a menu with prices quoted both in local currency and the parallel currency. Paying in the local currency is almost certain to be cheaper. Also, be wary of restaurants that offer dynamic currency conversion (DCC), where the payment terminal gives you the choice of paying in multiple currencies. DCC rates are typically worse than the rates that your credit card will apply, even if your card has a foreign transaction fee. If you are offered a choice of paying in multiple currencies, the local currency is likely to be cheapest.
A variation of this scam is one where your waiter will offer you a "special" that is not shown on the menu. The meal will not be very special but will come with a price considerably higher than anything else on the menu. Also, touts and barkers might advertise low-price offers, or an attractive discount is prominently announced by signage outside the restaurant, but then the bill is calculated with normal prices. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Unexpected cover charges
When the bill arrives at a restaurant, an extra cover charge is on it. Restaurants in some parts of Italy call this pane e coperto, an extra charge for bread (pane) and service (coperto or servizio). Some restaurateurs will try to slip them in cover charges by burying a one-line "service not included" in a lengthy menu. Sometimes, these extra charges are added to the bill for visitors, but not for locals. In some countries it is normal to add taxes, service charges etc. on top of the nominal prices, but when they aren't common and aren't disclosed up front, they might be a scam. Read up on the country, not to be surprised by the normal additions.
A fast-talking man (or attractive woman) standing outside a strip club will offer you free entry, complimentary drinks and/or lap dances to get you inside the club. They'll often speak fluent English, are able to identify your accent, and are very charismatic. The drinks and dances are indeed free, but when you try to leave, there's a "membership fee" or "exit fee" of at least €100. There will also be security waiting at the door for non-payers.
A variant of this is practiced in Bangkok, where touts with laminated menus offer sex shows and cheap beer. The beer may indeed be cheap, but they'll add a stiff surcharge for the show. Similarly in Brazil, expect to pay an extra "artistic couvert" if live music is playing. No one will warn you of this because it's considered normal there. Ask how much it is before you are seated.
You're approached by an attractive, well-dressed, local gentleman or woman, who suggests going for a drink in a favorite nightspot. When you arrive, the joint is nearly deserted, but as soon as you sit down some scantily clad girls plop down next to you and order a few bottles of champagne. Your "friend" disappears, the bill runs into hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and heavies block the door and flex their muscles until you pay up. A variant is the "B-girl" or bar girl scam, where organized crime recruits attractive women to go into legitimate bars, seek out rich men who display expensive shoes and watches and lure them into "after-hours clubs" which are not licensed (or not otherwise open to the public) and which charge thousands of dollars to the drunken victims' payment cards. Often, the victims are too intoxicated to remember exactly what happened.
This is particularly common in Europe's larger cities, including London, Istanbul and Budapest. Florida is problematic due to a state law which directs police to arbitrarily force victims to pay all disputed charges and then attempt to recover the money by filing a dispute with the credit card issuers—an uphill battle. The best defense is not to end up in this situation: avoid going to bars with people you just met, pick the bar yourself, or at least back out immediately if they want to go somewhere that is not packed with locals. In Istanbul this scam is also common with places packed with locals, where they scam the tourists, but not the locals, as it is a difficult and time consuming process to get the police to do anything. It is best to pay by credit card, then to dispute the charge immediately after it is processed. You may also need to change the number on a credit card used in this way, as criminals may attempt to use your card to make other fraudulent charges. While police in some jurisdictions are unlikely to be of much assistance, filing a report may make it easier to get the charges reversed.
A variety of this scam is extortionate tea ceremonies in Beijing and other cities in China. You will be approached by women who speak very good English, spend 30 minutes in conversation with you and invite you to have tea with them. The tea house they take you to will be empty, and you will end up in a situation of having to pay a huge amount of money for a few cups of tea. This is incredibly easy to fall into, as the scammers are often willing to spend considerable time "chatting you up" before suggesting going for tea. The best way to avoid this would be to not engage in conversation in the first place. Failing that, refuse to go with them to have tea, or if you find yourself having been fooled as far into going to the tea house with them, insist on leaving as soon as you can (e.g. fake receiving an urgent phone call from your friend), and ask for the bill (as each different variety of tea you drink will doubtless add up to the final cost).
Read the sections about tipping before you visit a country. Restaurants that include a service charge in the bill may still prompt credit card users to add a tip. You are free to do so if you choose, although it may not be necessary or expected, and your tip may be retained by the restaurant owner and not distributed to the wait staff.
In some countries, such as the US and Canada, automatic gratuities, or "auto-grat" in restaurant slang, may be added to the bills of large groups, such as parties of 6 or more. These should be indicated on the menu. Even if your bill includes an automatic gratuity, it may include a line for you to add another tip. Unscrupulous restaurants may add an auto-grat to a smaller party's bill in the hopes that, unaware, the guests will add an additional tip on top of the auto-grat. When the bill arrives, if you see numbers pre-printed for the subtotal, sales tax (if applicable), and gratuity, you do not need to provide an additional tip.
Phone- and tablet-based payment systems may offer a choice of several shortcut tip amounts. This is prone to manipulation in two ways. One is to provide higher shortcut tip amounts, such as 25%, 30%, or 35%, instead of the 20% that is commonly tipped in the United States at full-service restaurants. The other is to apply the tip to the total, inclusive of tax, rather than to the subtotal, which excludes tax. In a city with a 10% sales tax, that effectively turns a 20% tip into a 22% tip. When in doubt, you can compute your preferred tip yourself and choose the "other" option to input it manually.
Some hotels and motels may be unscrupulous. While independent establishments may be a higher risk (there is no franchiser to whom to complain), there are cases of individually owned franchises of large companies engaging in unscrupulous practices. More rarely, the chain itself is problematic or turns a blind eye to questionable hidden charges; in one 2014 incident, the US Federal Communications Commission fined Marriott International US$600,000 for unlawful, willful jamming of client-owned Wi-Fi networks in one of its convention centres.
Most hotels are honest, and you should not encounter these problems. These are the minority, but the customer should be watchful, and should be aware of what signs to look out for.
It is not uncommon for a guest to check into a hotel when they are tired after many hours of travel, or to check out when they are in a hurry to catch a plane or get to another destination. At these times, a customer is unlikely to argue. Guests in the middle of a stay are also unlikely to argue about being cheated due to fear of retaliation from management. Guests who intend to check out early in the morning should review their charges the night before check-out and should settle their bill at that time, if possible. This avoids an uncomfortable choice in case you've been overcharged: do you contest the charges while you're tired and you have a flight to catch, or do you pay the bill and try to negotiate a refund later?
Advance fee scams
You book a room in advance. Soon after, you receive a payment request that appears to be from the hotel, and you pay. When you check in, the hotel tells you that they have not received your payment and demands to be paid again. Alternatively, the hotel may attempt to charge for more nights than originally agreed to. They may also insist on payment in cash. Check Wikivoyage guides so that you understand local customs; in some areas, it is normal to pay for your hotel in full upon arrival or when you make your reservation. If you are suspicious about a payment request, call the hotel directly (not using a phone number printed on a suspicious invoice) to verify its legitimacy.
In another variant, you see an attractive cottage for rent in an on-line advert, you pay to reserve it in advance, and when you show up, you see other people inside, with no awareness of your booking. As the scammer placing the ads has no tie to the property, they are suddenly nowhere to be found and the money is gone. Somewhat more audacious scammers rent out nonexistent cottages, often next to such small roads that they don't show up on Google Street View. Once you're there, you'll find out that there's only wilderness where the cottage is supposed to be, and the photo of the cottage was copied from somewhere else.
For Finland, a variant is a foreign agent selling a do-it-yourself trip with booked lodging. The lodgings are indeed there, but they are free-to-use wilderness huts, where you are expected to tighten up as more people arrive. This causes significant irritation and frustration, between the tourists who booked the huts for themselves, perhaps even expecting some service, and other hikers who expect everybody to play by totally different rules.
Payments by bank wire are very difficult to reverse. Credit card rules may require that you dispute fraudulent charges within one or two months. If you lose money to an advance fee scam many months before your journey, your bank or your credit card issuer may not be obligated to help you get your money back.
Your hotel should provide a list of amenities and should indicate, before booking, whether they are included with a room’s rate. Some hotels charge customers additional fees for certain amenities, even if guests do not use them. Especially at large hotels, Wi-Fi access may be advertised as “free,” but the free service is limited to speeds that are too low for many modern web sites and apps, and a paid option makes the Wi-Fi faster. The “resort fee,” which can double the cost of a cheap-sounding hotel room in Las Vegas, includes access to a hotel’s fitness room, pool, business center, and other common areas. Since 2017, Marriott adds similar “Daily Destination Fees” to bills at many of its properties, especially those in urban centers, and guests cannot typically opt out of them. Resort or destination fees should be disclosed when you make your reservation, although you may be expected to pay them at the hotel rather than in advance. This makes a hotel look less expensive when guests shop for the lowest-priced room.
Hoteliers are infamous for padding invoices with "incidentals", hidden charges for anything from telephone calls at inflated prices, to high charges for parking, to overpriced pay-per-view television programming, to bottles of water that a naïve traveller assumes to be free. It is common for hotels to charge high fees when guests call any phone numbers, even toll-free numbers. Some venues have illegally jammed mobile telephone data connections to force guests to use their overpriced services.
Services ordered from external vendors through the hotel desk, such as car rental, can be from less reputable vendors that overcharge the customer or that practice bait-and-switch. A hotel's concierge can help you if you are unfamiliar with the local language, customs, and businesses, although they may make recommendations on the basis of incentives that local businesses provide rather than based on quality.
Claims of damage
At check-in, you are required to provide a credit card, and you sign a contract that you can be held accountable for any damages. After you check out, you find your card has been heftily billed by the hotel. You contact your credit card company to dispute this, but the hotel responds by sending the credit card company a picture of supposed damage, and a supposed bill from a contractor to repair it. In some cases, you don’t notice the charges until after the window to open a dispute has closed, or your credit card issuer will not entertain disputes concerning vendors in a foreign country.
Another variant is for the hotelier to accuse travellers of stealing towels or other small items; instead of making the accusation to the client's face, the charge is silently added to the credit card bill. When the traveller disputes it, the hotel backs off, only to try the same scam against subsequent travellers.
Disposal of possessions
You return to your motel for the final night of your stay, only to find the key will not work. You go to the office, and you've been informed you paid for one less night. You are also told the management cleaned out the room and disposed of your possessions you left behind. Management, in reality, has kept your possessions and is planning to sell those which are valuable, all while you are angry and helpless.
Early or no-reservation arrivals
If you arrive very early in the morning at your hotel, well before check-in time, you will have to wait until check-in, or the hotel will rent you a very expensive room for the night. If you intend to arrive well before check-in, particularly before sunrise on that day, contact your hotel before you book so that you understand how many nights you should reserve.
A guest without a reservation might be charged the full "rack rate," similar to the suggested retail price for goods, from which retailers "mark down" to the price most customers pay. If you have a smartphone or laptop with Internet access, check whether the price you're being quoted at the front desk is higher than the price on the inn's website. If it is, demand a better rate.
Fake booking site
Online booking sites have become a common method of reserving hotels these days. Lesser-known sites will advertise the same hotels at a lower price, and upon making the reservation, will take your money and give you a confirmation number. Upon arrival, the hotel will tell you they do not have a reservation for you, and they do not recognize the booking agency you used. Your reservation will not be honored, and your money is lost.
Common red flags are that you have never heard of the company before and that prices seem unusually low for the property. To avoid these scams, only book through the sites of reputable booking companies or with the property directly. Type the booking company's web address directly into the browser address bar rather than following a link from another site. If you really want to be sure that your on-line reservation is valid, call or e-mail your hotel a few days before you arrive.
Another variant is the hidden middleman, where you think that you've contacted the hotel but you're actually talking to a reseller who is taking a commission for themselves. For instance, +1-800-HOLIDAY (465-4329) is a major hotel chain; +1-800-H0LIDAY (405-4329) is not the hotel chain but an unaffiliated reseller. The reservations created are real, either in the original hotel or a direct competitor, but dealing with a typosquatter instead of someone advertising for business by legit and conventional means might not get the best available rate as it's one more middleman to pay.
Higher rates in fine print
A lodging establishment will advertise a low rate in large print, but the rate has strings attached. It may, for example, be a "senior rate" available only to people who are over a certain age, or may be reserved for repeat guests or other who belong to some group defined by the establishment. The words "per person, double occupancy" slipped into the fine print mean that the actual price for one room is double what appears in the large-print advertising copy. Taxes and fees may be excluded from the advertised rate; in some cities, these can add 50% or more to your up-front cost.
Low rates may also be limited to very specific circumstances or quantities. An inexpensive-seeming motel may have only one room rented for their base price, for example, or the base price is only available on Wednesday nights in the dead of winter.
Hotels may also book guests at a low price, then tell guests upon arrival that their room is not available and that they must pay more for a higher-priced room if they want to stay at the property. A more subtle bait-and-switch is to claim that the room the traveller has requested is not cleaned or ready yet, then offer to switch them to a different class of room at a higher price, a form of upselling. A traveller who declines the extra expense, especially if they arrived early, is left waiting for hours for the desired room.
Home stay networks
The Internet has fueled massive growth in hospitality exchange and vacation rentals by allowing homeowners to list rooms or entire apartments for rent with relative ease. These can be an excellent money saver if used cautiously and honestly, but there are risks and pitfalls both for the voyager and the home owner.
Scammers steal login information of legitimate users and take over their profiles, giving the appearance of an established user with positive feedback. They then list a home for rent, responding to inquiries by directing users to a third-party payment portal. Messages in response to your inquiry on airbnb.com send you to a bogus web site made to look like Airbnb. If you make a payment outside the system provided by the real home stay site, the scammer has your cash, and the official site cannot help you get your money back.
Luggage or documents held hostage
A voyager notes currency, wedding rings or other valuables missing from the in-room safe and complains to management. The resort conducts an "investigation" in which they search the victim's belongings (the missing items, predictably, are not found there) and then tells them to leave everything in the room, including passports. The client is moved to another part of the resort, then accused of fabricating the original theft complaint and told they could move back to the room to get their belongings only if the original theft report is withdrawn.
You check into a low quality hotel and find you are unhappy with the conditions, as anyone would be. You promptly return to the office, asking for a refund. But the management refuses you the refund, and gives you the option either to stay there and tough it out, or to leave and lose your money.
This is considered standard practice, rather than a scam, in a number of countries, particularly with regards to walk-in (no reservation) guests. You should always ask to see the room before deciding whether or not to stay at a hotel. Plenty of bad motels run slick adverts or websites which take an outdated or very carefully selective view of a property. You are also more likely to end up with a nicer room if you check first.
Online reviews are invaluable to the traveller; a hotel with a string of dissatisfied travellers will be exposed by irate reviewers long before locals at the destination (who don't stay in the hotel) notice a new owner has let a once-respectable venue deteriorate into a transient lodger's nightmare. Unfortunately, like any powerful tool, the review website is prone to manipulation and abuse.
Some hoteliers have written positive reviews for themselves and negative reviews for their competitors, or they have hired professionals for this purpose. Some review sites offer marketing packages where, for a fee, businesses can promote positive reviews to show up first, relegating critical reviews to a lower position. In extreme circumstances, hotel operators have threatened legal action against authors of negative reviews, pressuring the authors or the sites on which these reviews were published. To avoid this manipulation, try to view reviews in chronological order starting with the newest. Read reviews carefully: if a lot of 5-star reviews are terse and repetitive, they may have been inserted to counteract more detailed and specific critical reviews.
Many businesses encourage guests to leave positive reviews on review sites; some offer a financial incentive to do so. In a few instances, innkeepers slip conditions into the fine print claiming that the traveller "agrees" to pay some inflated penalty if they (or, for wedding parties, anyone in the group) leaves a negative review. When these practices are exposed, they typically do more damage to the hotel's reputation.
Water bottles in room
Hotels often leave bottles of water in your room or minibar. Some hotels offer these for free, while others charge outrageous prices for them, even if the local tap water is perfectly drinkable. Las Vegas, where hotels often charge over $20 per bottle, is particularly notorious for this. Double-check pricing when in doubt, check if the tap water is OK, and buy your own bottles elsewhere if it's not.
As a countermeasure, when you make your reservation, you may request that your hotel not stock your room's minibar. Not all hotels will honour (or even acknowledge) this request.
Employment and charity scams
Working abroad, engaging in volunteer travel or maybe teaching English in some faraway land can be a rewarding way to experience another culture. But be careful, as the field is littered with a few outright scams, widespread exploitative conditions, and numerous pitfalls. There are few available resources for travellers who are harmed while working abroad.
Some offers are advance fee scams or forms that harvest your data for identity theft purposes. The supposed prospective employer may want payment up front for your visa, transport, lawyers, training, uniforms, commercial goods for resale or any of a number of items before you can start work. Once you arrive, the promised job isn't as advertised (or doesn't exist at all) and your money is gone.
Some easy-sounding courier jobs make a traveller into a "money mule," a job that involves a person transporting money from one country to another. Money mules are used by criminals to launder the proceeds from illegal activities. Even if a money mule is ignorant of the true source or destination of the money, being a money mule can subject a person to scrutiny at border control or when making bank transactions. Other "mule" jobs involve the transportation of drugs, documents, foodstuffs or animal products whose importation is restricted, or antiques that normally require government approval for export. Contraband may be concealed inside an ordinary-looking item like a suitcase or a stuffed animal. Customs officers ask travellers whether they packed all their bags themselves; if you are transporting items for other people, you make yourself liable for fines, imprisonment, and the confiscation or destruction of the items if they violate customs rules. Do not transport items for strangers when you travel.
Some employers abuse the visa system or employment law to inflict conditions on voyagers that local workers would never tolerate. They may take advantage of work visas which are tied to one employer, overcharge employees for housing or other expenses, promise a reasonable wage per hour but schedule too few hours to pay for your expenses, hold your passport or other documents hostage, or ask you to work illegally under the wrong visa. Long hours, low wages (or outright wage theft), housing of workers in overpriced and substandard accommodation, unsafe working conditions, and even physical or sexual harassment can go unpunished, as the worker who complains can be deported after their employer revokes their visa. In extreme cases, some employment schemes are bait-and-switch or even human trafficking schemes where the victim is offered a job in a restaurant or hotel abroad, only to find the advertised position doesn't exist, the recruiters are part of an organised crime gang and the prospective foreign worker is forced into prostitution or other forms of slavery.
If you intend to work or volunteer while travelling internationally, read your destination's visa policies carefully. If you tell an immigration officer that you are travelling solely for pleasure and that you don't have a work visa, but they find a laptop with a corporate asset tag or documents that look work-related, they may suspect that you have lied about the purpose of your visit and they may deny you entry for this reason. In some countries, volunteers need work visas just like professional employees do. If an organization offers you free room and board in exchange for your labour, immigration officials may consider that to be paid employment, requiring a work visa.
To avoid these scams, do your research before accepting a job, putting in any money, or sharing any sensitive information. Ask to talk to current employees, and look the company up online. If you can't find third-party sources indicating it's reputable, steer clear. It's best to find job listings from a source that vets the companies that it allows to advertise.
A full list of pitfalls is beyond the scope of this article; see working abroad and volunteer travel for more information, and if in doubt, obtain specialised advice before considering travel abroad to work or volunteer.
Dating and romance scams are possible for any combination of genders and in any location. In the U.S., in 2019, more dollars were lost to romance scams than to any other category of fraud.
It is fairly common for travellers to use dating sites/apps to meet locals of whatever gender, age group and type they are interested in. Most of the people on such sites are genuine and some are very nice indeed. Some apps, especially those which are not generally popular with locals in the destination country, attract scammers as well.
Do not trust what you see online; you do not actually know if a person is who they say they are until you meet them in real life, and sometimes not even then. Scammers reuse photos from other profiles or from online sources; try a reverse image search to see if a profile photo is used elsewhere. If you meet, have the first date in a public, safe place, with other people around (such as your friends or random café clientèle).
Do not send money to someone you have not met. They may be in another part of the country, or even in a different country, and want you to send the fare and perhaps some money for expenses so they can join you. They may pocket the cash, then ask for more, citing new complications. They may have a sob story, such as they lost their job or that a relative is sick, and they may ask the presumably wealthy traveller for assistance.
Some things should make you a bit suspicious:
- They seem to be rushing things, e.g. proclaiming "I love you", or calling you "baby" or "honey" before you have even met. This might just be because they are non-native speakers of your language and their culture is different.
- They push too hard or too soon for marriage or immigration to your country.
- They do not talk a lot about themselves (no introduction, little information on their background, and so on).
- They are not willing or hesitant to meet you in person.
Beware of sharing too much personal information with people you barely even know. Be especially cautious about sending sexy photos and videos; these can be saved and used for blackmail or extortion. There are reports of quite a few men (usually Western) being caught by this when a woman met online (usually in a low-income country) suggests some play on the webcam; she then has a video of him naked or masturbating, and threatens to send it to all his Facebook friends unless she is paid not to. In another variant, a man asks a younger woman for topless photos, then tries to blackmail her into sex; this has led to several suicides.
All of the hazards associated with other dating scams and prostitution may also apply to people you meet online.
Dine and dash scam
Your date will invite you to a restaurant. Once you are there, they will order the most expensive items on the menu. After a while, they will come up with some excuse (urgent phone call, need to pick up something from my car, etc.) and say that they need to go somewhere urgently. After they leave, they will never come back and you will end up being liable to the restaurateur.
A scammer who went on a date with a traveller (victim) professes to fall in love with the traveller. The scammer leads the victim to believe that they are interested in moving to the victim's home country, but first, they need money to settle their affairs or to cover travel expenses. The scammer may ask the victim to meet their "family", a group of their associates, who also ask the victim for money to cover their expenses. The scammer may claim not to own luggage, not to hold a passport, or not to have suitable clothing for the victim's home country, so they ask the victim to transfer money to cover these expenses. Long cons can last for months or years, and can cost thousands or even millions of dollars. Some victims have been duped into buying properties at grossly inflated prices, for example, unaware of the costs of real estate or the procedures for buying homes in the scammer's market.
Professional daters, or pro-daters, are scammers who go on dates with the primary goal of getting their victims to spend as much money as possible. Pro-daters may collaborate with bars, clubs, or restaurants that charge the victim inflated prices, then share in the proceeds. If there is a language barrier between the pro-dater and the victim, which can be addressed in text chat using mobile translation technology, an associate may join the couple in person to act as a translator. The victim is expected to pay for all parties' expenses. Pro-daters were notorious for operating in Ukraine prior to the 2022 Russian invasion.
Travellers can encounter pro-daters by visiting bars that are known to be popular with tourists or by using dating apps while they are on vacation in an unfamiliar country. These scammers are not genuinely interested in a romantic relationship, and indeed may already be in such a relationship themselves, but instead prioritize obtaining money and valuable goods from suggestible travellers.
If a person you've just met is asking you to go to a particular bar or restaurant, perhaps with one of their friends as a translator, look that place up on sites such as Tripadvisor. Read reviews to see if other tourists have been swindled by pro-daters there. Try suggesting an alternate location; if your companion insists on a particular place, this may be a sign that they are working with that establishment to defraud tourists.
A sanky-panky is a local who tries to seduce the presumably wealthy foreign traveller by preying on emotional or romantic vulnerability. The term is used mainly in the Caribbean region, but the phenomenon is common elsewhere as well. Overweight or over-40 people are those most often targeted, although anybody can get scammed. Instead of outright soliciting money for sex, the scammer creates a pseudo-relationship which can be continued when the guest returns home. They ask for money wire transfers using elaborate stories of need or seek a marriage visa to the tourist's native country; once they have what they want, the wealthy foreigner is jilted.
Because these operators repeatedly perpetrate the same scam on multiple foreign visitors and may have other lovers as well, there is a significant health risk associated with a sexual relationship with a sanky-panky.
In some countries, notably including India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, marriages are often arranged, even for those who have emigrated or never lived there themselves. You may trust your family's judgement better than yours, but if you want to choose yourself, you may be tricked into such an arranged marriage.
Your family may ask you to come on a short trip to your home country. What was supposed to be a short holiday results in you getting strong-armed into marital arrangements against your will. Your relatives may subject you to threats, intimidation, and violence, as means to make you feel you have no choice but to accept the marriage. In some cases, they have been arranged for purposes other than your happiness and well-being; your spouse and their family may treat you horribly, may try to take advantage of your financial situation, and so on. Even in the common case that your parents did want to find the right spouse for you, they might have thought more about your economic needs than about your feelings.
Involuntary marriages are illegal in many countries, and no parents and no future spouse want a scandal at the wedding. Is there still some chance to get out of this without anybody losing face? At the same time, be aware that your chances to escape and your safety may be at risk. Do you have somebody you can talk to confidentially and whom you can completely trust?
If you think that the marriage may be acceptable after all, do a comprehensive background check on the person you are being arranged to marry. They may be chosen for their status rather than their potential to be a loved spouse. If you feel there's something off about someone, trust your gut.
Consider calling the police or your embassy if you feel threatened. Always maintain possession of your valuable documents, particularly your passport. Do your best not to let your family members get their hands on them; otherwise, leaving the country on your own will get much more difficult.
The British government provides guidance about forced marriage. Local phone numbers are available in the most affected countries.