Three of the Latest World Travel Scams to Look Out for and How to Avoid Them.
We are always being warned to be vigilant of thieves and scams when we travel. Pickpockets, bag snatchers, fake petitions, even fake police; the list goes on.
Tourist and travel scams are such big business; many popular tourist cities are allocating additional resources to combat crimes against tourists. This summer, France has deployed an extra 5,000 police officers in the streets of Paris to help protect tourists from various scams and petty crime.
However, it would seem no matter how vigilant we become, thieves and scammers continue to come up with new ways to target tourists.
Here are just three of the latest world travel scams to be aware of when you travel this season and tips on how to avoid them.
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Authorities in Paris are warning tourists about this latest travel scam, but it is a situation occurring all over the world.
Dubbed “hotel rats” by the authorities, these criminals target popular hotels during peak seasons. They steal hotel guest belongings by mingling with tourists or checking in using fake names and breaking into rooms. Working in teams; the groups can be both petty thieves and professional burglars.
These gangs of criminals work for a few months in one city before moving to the next popular tourist destination.
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How “Hotel Rats” Operate
Bag Stealing From the Lobby or Corridors
Thieves in the group will slip into the hotels by mingling with tour groups as they check in or out. They target their bags, stealing them while the guest is preoccupied. The thief then walks out of the hotel in plain sight.
It is especially easy for the thieves when it is a larger tour group as there are often many distractions amongst the group.
Others will use a similar tactic by blending with guests in the lobby area and again targeting bags while guests are distracted, or in some cases when the tourists are away from their luggage altogether.
People tend to be a little complacent in a hotel lobby with their belongings. There is an assumption the area is secure or too public for people to steal a bag. It is this complacency the thieves use to their advantage.
How to Avoid Having Your Bag Stolen From the Hotel
You need to vigilant with your belongings in any public space when you travel. Even in the safe confines of a hotel lobby. Keeping your bag safe is as simple as-
- Keeping all of your bags with you at all times or having a friend watch them.
- Be aware of your belongings especially when in large groups such as tour groups.
- Don’t allow yourself to be distracted and lose sight of your belongings.
- Mark your bags with a bright identifier such as a brightly coloured luggage strap or similar. Thieves will be less inclined to target luggage that stands out.
- If you are in a tour group, do not allow your bags to be taken out of your sight by a porter service to load on a bus or taxi. Stay with the bags until you see they are securely in the vehicle.
- Be wary of leaving bags outside a hotel room at a set time to be collected by a porter service as some tour groups will ask you to do.
Breaking into Rooms and Room Safes
These gangs also check-in under false names to break into rooms and safes. Many are international professional criminals who can pick the hotel electronic or magnetic locks and know how to break into the room safe.
They move through the hotel undetected, even by security cameras, and have left before hotel staff are alerted to the theft.
How to Avoid Having Valuables Taken From Your Hotel Room
Many will believe it is wholly the hotel’s responsibility to ensure rooms can be adequately secured. This is simply not the case. These are some of the things you can do to protect your belongings and possibly avoid a break-in.
- Leave the do not disturb sign on your door even when you are out.
- Leave the television on so it appears someone is there.
- Keep curtains closed when you are not in the room and lights on.
- Keep your luggage locked up and secured to a permanent fixture in the room with a luggage chain or similar. While this may not be entirely burglar-proof, it may deter thieves from wasting time cutting locks etc.
Don’t Use the Room Safe
While this may sound counter-intuitive, the room safe will probably be the thieves primary target, then your bags. If you have something very valuable, perhaps the hotel safe at reception is a better bet than your room.
A portable travel safe for valuables such as computers, cameras, jewellery and cash may be better than the obvious room safe. Keep your valuables in the portable safe and hide it somewhere other than the same cupboard as the room safe. Preferably locked to a fixed object. A portable safe may not be the ultimate solution but thieves will be moving fast and will be looking in the obvious places first.
Travel Safety Tip
Always remember to document any valuables you will be travelling with for insurance purposes. Make sure you photograph the items and record the make, model and serial numbers.
Accurate and current records of items will help when completing a police report should you have anything stolen.
Airport Bus Scam
In the wake of a spate of worldwide mid-air scams where millions of dollars worth of valuables and cash have been stolen from carry-on luggage in overhead compartments, thieves are one step ahead of authorities again.
While authorities crack down on in-flight theft, thieves have turned their attention to airport transfer buses.
Thieves Will Target Tired Passengers on Arrival
Con artists, pickpockets, and scammers will gravitate towards new arrivals at a destination. Passengers are tired, distracted and maybe even a little disoriented by the unfamiliar surroundings. Criminals also factor that passengers who land safely with all of their property intact would drop their guard once clear of the baggage collection area.
Airport Shuttle Thefts
One should always be wary of pickpockets on crowded airport trains, which is where a good anti-theft handbag or anti-theft backpack for travel comes in handy. But now, you need to be mindful of your suitcases on airport shuttle buses. Thieves are targeting passengers who place their bags on luggage racks and then take a seat somewhere else on the bus. In some cases, luggage racks are on the lower level of a bus away from the seating or even in a hold underneath.
The majority of reports of bag and possession theft on airport transfer buses originated out of Hong Kong but appears to be spreading to other major cities around the world.
Also Be Aware on Airport Train Services
Travellers should also be on the lookout for this scam on any airport to city train services where luggage racks are often close to the door and not necessarily near your seating. Airport train services can also become very crowded making it difficult to manage luggage.
How to Protect Your Bags in Transit.
Quite simply; do not let your bags out of your sight.
- If you have no choice but to leave larger suitcases on a luggage rack, consider a locking device to secure it to the rack to prevent grab and run theft.
- Make sure all zippers on your bags are securely locked.
- Try to sit close to your bags so you can see them at all times.
- Again, place a brightly coloured identifier on your bag as thieves will target less conspicuous bags and yours will be easier to spot should someone try to take it.
- Do not leave any valuables in suitcases. Keep all valuables with you at all times in a personal bag or smaller carry on bag.
- Be aware that when you land in a new destination, you may be tired and distracted, so you need to be even more vigilant with your personal belongings.
The Highway Pirate Scam
The highway scam is not really a new scam. We have heard of this scam, or versions of it in numerous countries. However, the highway scam is becoming especially prevalent in the Catalonia region of Spain. Specifically on the Costa Brava route on the AP-7 motorway. A route very popular with tourists.
The gist of the scam is; you will be driving along the highway and a car, usually a new model car with 2-3 passengers, will come up alongside gesturing towards your tyre. They will be indicating you have a problem and need to pull over.
Thinking this kind person is doing you a favour, you pull over. The other car will also pull over beside you.
The Flat Tyre Charade
When you get out to investigate the problem, the driver of the other car will divert your attention to the tyre. The good samaritan will be friendly and usually speak very loudly in broken English with lots of gesturing towards the wheel.
If you have a passenger in the car, they will insist the passenger also needs to inspect the problem with the wheel. Perhaps the passenger will understand their broken English better.
While all of the confusion and loud gesturing is taking place at the back of the car, the good samaritans passengers are quietly opening the doors to your vehicle and taking any valuables or bags within easy reach. Or worse, if you have left your keys in the ignition, the entire car.
By the time you have established, there is nothing wrong with your tyre; the thieves are gone, and so are your belongings.
Thieves May Have Targeted You Long Before the Incident
However, the punctured tire could be real. In some instances, these thieves will work in teams and your car may have been targeted earlier.
Part of the group will wait at rest stops or truck stop car parks and damage your tyre just enough for it to flatten further down the road. Then, the other car can alert you to a flat tyre which opens the scam up to a great distraction on the side of the road – the changing of the tyre.
There are also certain gangs who won’t go to the trouble of following you down the highway to execute the flat tyre charade. Some will simply target vehicles parked in remote or quiet areas and throw a rock through the window to retrieve any valuables.
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How to Protect Yourself
With this travel scam, the groups of thieves do not discriminate, however, they will usually target tourists. They can identify tourists in a number of ways; primarily from licence plates or car rental stickers.
Authorities in Spain believe car rental companies should warn travellers about the frequency of this particular scam. They also advise travellers to remove any car rental identifiers such as stickers or signage from the rental car. It will be unlikely the car rental company will approve of this, so it should be done at your discretion knowing it could incur additional costs on the rental.
Other ways you can avoid falling victim to such travel scams –
- Keep all possessions out of sight and secure in the trunk or locked glove compartment. (You should always do this in any situation to avoid unwanted attention.)
- At worst, if you can’t secure items, slide them under the seat, so they are not visible. A portable travel safe locked to underneath the seat is also a good option.
- If your car is open such as a hatchback and you can’t hide your luggage or bags, visibly lock them all together with a luggage cable lock and preferably to a secure point in the car.
- Always try to park your car in a busy area where there are other people around.
- If someone does try to pull you over on the highway, keep going or at least keep going until you reach somewhere well lit or busy like a service station.
- If you think you may have a problem and do pull over, lock all your doors as soon as you leave the vehicle and keep your keys safely in your possession.
- If you have a passenger in the car, tell them to stay in the car.
- If the situation is suspicious, get back in your car and drive away quickly.
Tip for Renting a Car When You Travel
Check which of your credit cards offer the best insurance for car rental and use that as the security and payment.
Often, you can include car rental in your travel insurance for less than the insurance the car rental company will try to sell you. This offers an extra layer of coverage to the credit card should something go wrong.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance no Matter Where you Travel
Protect Yourself From Scams and Enjoy Your Travels
There are many travel scams and crimes against tourists happening every day around the world. It is a sad fact of travel but one that should not deter us from enjoying our travels.
It just takes a little bit of research about the destination and some prior planning to protect yourself. Most importantly, always be aware of your surroundings and your belongings. Do not flash valuables around and always consider your environment when storing valuable in cars or hotel rooms.
Thieves will always be looking for where travellers are most vulnerable and use this to their advantage. They will also try to use methods of distraction to get your guard down. Always be mindful of your belongings and if it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.