Avoid scams on your hard-earned vacation

Avoid scams on your hard-earned vacation

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

At long last your time has come, and you’re heading off for your days in the sun or to explore one of Europe’s great capitals. The last thing you need during your valuable time off is stress in any form. Falling victim to theft, scams and deceptions can leave you with such a bad taste in your mouth it threatens to ruin your entire holiday. Here are just a few things to approach with caution or avoid altogether.

Street games: a crowd has gathered to watch a game of chance. A man places a ball under one of three cups on the sidewalk and mixes them up. The sleight-of-hand is so inept that one of the spectators whips out a bill and places a bet as to which cup hides the ball. Lo and behold, he’s guessed correctly, and he doubles his money. Another man decides to give it a try, and he’s right too. You’re justly skeptical that there’s some form of deception going on here, but what is it? Your eyes are riveted on the game. While your attention is diverted, thugs in cahoots with those staging the game are rifling through the spectators’ pockets.

Public transportation pickpocketing: you’re riding a crowded bus or metro when you’re jostled or pushed from behind. The ride is bumpy, but your guard is up. You reach into your pocket or bag and dread of all dreads, your wallet is gone. You can kick up a fuss and accuse the most likely perpetrator, the person who’d been standing closest to you, and even go so far as getting the authorities involved. The person you’ve accused is searched but to no avail. Why? You’ve fallen victim to gang activity, and your wallet was passed along and out the door by the next stop.

Motorcycle/Scooter/ATV rental: you’re at a beach resort, and tourists are zipping along the busy commercial strip on rental quads or motorbikes. It looks like so much fun you want a piece of the action. You ask how much it costs to rent one of these vehicles for several days, and the price quoted seems reasonable enough. You agree to rent and sign the contract. Only after you’ve done so are you told how much it will cost to ensure it. The price quoted is easily double the rental cost. Loathe to see your initial outlay come to nothing, you agree to the additional fee, and your charges skyrocket. The agency’s deception can run even further, with charges for dings, dents and damages you had nothing to do with added to your total bill.

Lottery scratch card: you’re approached on the street and handed a scratch-and-win lottery ticket. It’s free, so why not? You rub off the field and lucky you: you’ve won a valuable prize. All you need to do is go to a certain address to claim it. Coincidentally, a taxi is nearby, just waiting to take you there. Once there, claiming your winnings isn’t quite so straightforward. You must first listen to a long-winded pitch for the purchase of a timeshare. If you confess right away that you’re not interested, you’ll be told you’re ineligible for your prize. If you do sit through the entire spiel, perhaps eventually you will emerge with the promised gift. But was it worth the waste of the better part of your afternoon?

Currency exchange points: you bring a large wad of U.S. dollars on your trip abroad in anticipation of exchanging it at a fair rate. Even though you choose a well-patronized booth, the amount of local currency seems less than you anticipated. Why? A commission fee has been assessed to the transaction. Or perhaps a map or other nicety has been provided along with your batch of currency. It’s only later when you check your receipt that you see that the “freebie” actually cost you cash. A much better bet is to use an ATM, where you’ll likely get the best exchange rate. Of course, be sure to cover the keypad with your hand as you enter your PIN number, as a hidden camera can be recording your every move.

The party boat: the beach is great, but how much cooler would it be to go out on the party boat? The tour organizer paints a rosy picture of the day ahead: diving into the pristine waters of secluded coves, an open bar, a lunch of fresh fish…you sign up on the spot. The next day you show up and board the craft, which quickly fills up until you’re jammed elbow-to-elbow with your fellow passengers. The line’s fifty thick to the open bar, and once you finally get your turn, the choices are lukewarm draft beer or wine from the carton. Lunch is an over-fried, bony little critter of a fish. At the end of the day, you can’t demand your money back, as everything promised was provided in principle. The lack of quality means you’d never sign up a second time, but with a fresh batch of tourists arriving daily, what do the organizers care?

Deceptive menu pricing: a fish or seafood dinner is a logical choice in a coastal resort, and the market price is indicated on the menu. After enjoying the dish (or not), the bill comes, and with it, a shock: a price tag many times over what you expected to pay. Why? The price indicated on the menu or specials board was for 100 grams of fish, not per portion or per kilogram.

Drinks wristband: In theory, it sounds like the perfect way to save money on the drinks you’ll be putting away later that evening anyway. Just buy a bracelet and drink for free or at vastly reduced prices at any number of participating pubs. What’s the catch? Perhaps nothing. But you’d have to drink an awful lot of alcohol to justify the price, and how will the six beers, four shots, and two lewdly named cocktails you felt obliged to consume in order to get your money’s worth to leave you feeling the following day?

How to avoid running afoul of such schemes? Traveler forums such as those on Trip Advisor empower ripped-off tourists to voice their displeasure, help others to make better decisions, and divert business from operations best avoided. It’s never a bad idea to read the reviews of those who’ve gone before you and be sure to compare the number of rave reviews with those giving it the thumbs-down. There’s wisdom in crowds.

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