If you've ever been involved in a travel scam, you'll know how utterly frustrating it is—not only that you've been duped, but that you allowed yourself to be fooled. Shouldn't you have known better? According to professional traveler Matt Kepnes, author of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and founder of travel site Nomadic Matt, there are a number of red flags everyone should be aware of.
"Avoiding scams requires a lot of common sense and a healthy dose of suspicion," writes Kepnes, who admits he got scammed multiple times on his first trip overseas to Thailand. "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." Don't fall for the same tricks—these are the five most popular scams he says to be aware of on your next trip.
The Taxi Scam
"Your driver will try to tell you your hotel or hostel is overbooked or even closed," says Kepnes. Then they'll then offer to take you to another good hotel nearby, which is often operated by a friend or family member. They'll get a cut of your booking cost, and you'll be none the wiser.
The Bracelet Scam
"In this scam, common in Europe, a friendly person will approach you for a quick chat, then place a bracelet around your wrist, a hat on your head, or give you a little sprig of rosemary," he explains. Once you're wearing it, they'll demand money. "When you refuse, they will begin to cause a scene in the hopes you would rather give them some money than be embarrassed."
The Bike Rental Scam
"You rent a bike, and then when you bring it back, the owner demands additional payment or expensive repairs because there is some damage you didn't know about. I see this scam a lot in Southeast Asia and other developing regions of the world," says Kepnes. This simple scam could amount to a huge bill, especially if your travel insurance doesn't cover motorbike hire, which is usually an "opt-in" part of policies. To avoid it, he recommends taking photos of the bike and using your own lock.
The Currency Scam
When you're dealing with foreign currency, it's easy to be confused with what the bills look like. "People tend to look at colors first, so when you get a pile of change that is the same color, you think you got the right change—but they really gave you the wrong bills, hoping that you wouldn't notice until after you rushed out," he says. To avoid the scam, count each note every time.
The Drink Scam
It might seem like an innocent mistake, but Kepnes says to be cautious when someone spills a drink on you and creates a scene. "They are profusely sorry and offer to clean it up, dabbing the stain and apologizing. While you are all flustered, they are picking your pocket. By the time you realize what has happened, they are long gone," he says.