Top ten classic travel scams

They're ingenious, the ways that the scam artists of the world have found to separate you from your cash and valuables. Here are 10 reasons to keep your wits about you.

1. "My friend, there's pigeon poo on your trousers/jacket." The kind and compassionate bystander is right, there it is, a messy dribble. Just by chance, he happens to have tissues and a water bottle handy. Too good to be true, right? While you are being cleaned, you are also being cleaned out. When friendly Franco departs, you will most likely find that your  wallet, phone or something else of value has gone with him.

Popular in: Spain

Avoidance tactic: "It's okay, I actually like this colour. In fact I'm going to spray the rest of my clothes with bird poo. Now beat it because I'm calling the police."

2. "Hey big boy, buy me a drink?" This pretty young thing has just sashayed up to irresistible you and wow – your lucky day! You will go to a nearby bar, you will drink and chat, she will laugh appreciatively at your man-of-the-world charm and when you come to leave, you will find yourself presented with an excruciatingly large bill, cash only. Accompanying the bill will be a couple of burly bouncers who will even provide another kind of escort  service, to the nearest ATM.

Popular in: Thailand

Avoidance tactic: "I'd love to but I'm in a rush to meet my wife."

3. "Excuse me, sorry to push in, I'm late for my flight" This comes as you're about to pass through the airport's electronic arch, and now there's a holdup. He's got something that sets off the sensor, but they just can't find it. When you finally make it through, the laptop and phone you put in the tray are gone. Protesting is futile, since airport security is in on the scam.

Popular in: Thailand, USA


Avoidance tactic: Put the tray with your valuables on the belt at the very last moment

4. "I'm police, I need to check your passport." When they do, there's something dodgy about your visa, which they can fix, for a fee, payable on the spot.

Popular in: Eastern Europe

Avoidance tactic: Ask to see their id card. If they persist, tell them loud and clear you want to go to their police station.

5. "Signor, you have a flat tyre." It's flat because at that last traffic light some lowlife ran behind your car and slashed it. In Good Samaritan guise, a motorist will pull in behind when you stop, say he's a mechanic and offer to assist. While doing so he or his accomplices will steal whatever they can from your car.

Popular in: Spain

Avoidance tactic: When helpful Juan approaches, get in your vehicle, lock the doors, take out your phone and photograph him and his conveyance. Make as if you are dialling and mention the word "Police" several times with full voice.

6. "I think you dropped this?" A pedestrian stops to pick something up as you pass by and voila! It's a gold ring. Surely this must be yours?  If you express surprise and delight at its swift recovery, the finder will ask for a reward, and make it pretty obvious you won't get away without paying. While it might look like gold to a casual eye, the ring is brass, and worth about 10 cents.

Popular in: Paris

Avoidance tactic: "It's not my ring."

7. "Thanks for visiting the Temple of the Mother Goddess, can you please leave a donation?" The monk is showing you a visitors' book that lists astronomical sums left by other tourists. This is intended to guilt-trap you into parting with something similar.

Popular in: Asia

Avoidance tactic: "I'll give you a dollar, and since your religion warns against telling lies, I'm writing that in the book."

8. "That hotel is now closed." You've got the name of a hotel where you want to stay but the taxi driver insists it's shut. It's not but he'll take you to another hotel where he gets a commission from shoehorning you in the door.

Popular in: India

Avoidance tactic: "Take me there anyway or I'll find another taxi."

9. "This is the number one place to buy carpets/pashminas/sapphires, cheapest price, best range. Would I cheat you?"

Yes you would. You're my guide and you'll get a big slice of whatever the merchant can squeeze out of me, and they're experts. Most guides make far more out of these under the table payments than they do from their guiding services,

Popular in: anywhere from the Bosphorus to the South China Sea

Avoidance tactic: Tell your guide "no shopping" at the start of the day.   

10. "Here, catch my baby!" This is pretty brazen. It involves throwing a baby at you, with the high probability that common humanity will prevail, you will catch the lobbed infant, your hands will thus be engaged and the baby thrower and her accomplices will rifle your pockets.

Popular in: France, Spain, Italy, common around tourist hot spots.

Avoidance tactic: The "baby" is actually a doll. Keep your hands in your pockets and walk away.