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Tourist Scams and Rip-Offs in the United States: Everything You Need to Know

Despite economic concerns, 49% of Americans intend to travel more in 2023 than they did last year. Traveling is, undoubtedly, an excellent way to take a break and unwind. But tourist scams can throw a spanner in the works if you are not careful and sap the joy out of a long-awaited vacation.

If you are planning on exploring the best tourist hotspots in the US this year, knowing the potential threats to travelers is important for ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip. Here are the top tourist scams you should be aware of and what you can do to avoid falling victim.

Taxi Scams

Most people rely on taxis when they visit a new state or city. Unfortunately, cab drivers can be exceptionally good at identifying tourists from locals and target travelers for various scams.

The most common one is overcharging passengers. For example, drivers can take longer routes when they know you are unfamiliar with the area. They can also zero the meter before you check when they reach the destination, preventing you from verifying the amount they want you to pay.

To avoid these types of fraud, checking the meter from time to time and familiarizing yourself with the local streets is vital. You can use Google Maps to find the best route based on traffic to get where you want to go. Alternatively, use a ride-hailing app instead of random taxis.

Another common taxi scam is unloading only part of the passenger’s luggage when dropping them off at a hotel or airport. So, keeping a watchful eye on your belongings is also essential when using cabs.

Fake Front Desk Calls

This involves scammers impersonating the front desk staff of your hotel to steal your payment information. They can call your room to inform you about an issue verifying your card and request your credit card details to update their records. Once you hand them over, your card will be maxed out with all sorts of purchases before you know it.

If you ever receive such a call, be polite and inform them that you will call them back. Then, walk up to the front desk and check whether they had called you. If they have, provide the required information in person.

Card Skimming

This is a highly prevalent scam you can encounter anywhere you travel in the US, especially when withdrawing cash or paying for a product or service.

So, check for hidden cameras or unusual gadgets attached to ATMs before inserting your card. And never leave your cards out of sight when paying at a merchant. Using cash is always a safer option; however, it may not be practical at times. Therefore, practicing caution and being mindful of how and when you use your credit and debit cards is imperative.

Call Scams

Shady telemarketers could trick you into signing up for travel packages using misleading information. Unusually attractive deals, high-pressure sales tactics, and vague details are typical signs of deceptive telemarketing schemes.

Some scams are well planned out and could be more sinister in nature. For instance, racketeers may target you for financial fraud when they find out about your travel plans from your social media posts. Knowing you are away, they could impersonate your credit card issuer and call to inform you that they have noted suspicious card activities. To verify and protect your account, they will request your card information, account passwords, and other identifiers that could compromise your identity when disclosed to a con artist.

This is why verifying unsolicited calls is crucial before divulging personal information or authorizing payments over the phone. If you don’t recognize the phone number of an incoming call, run it through PhoneHistory to check under whom it is registered. If the caller claims to represent a reputed or known organization, tell them you will call them back and contact them using the relevant company’s official hotline.

Another important measure is keeping your travel details safe. Never share them on social media until you get back home.

Rental Car Scams

If you intend to rent a vehicle, keep in mind that rental companies could dupe you, too. This usually happens with old dents and scratches, for which they may try to charge you when you return the car.

So, before you rent, carry out a thorough inspection of the interior and exterior. Take photos of any visible damage and ensure you put it on record when you sign the papers.

Online Scams

Nowadays, almost all travelers find and book their travel essentials online, including accommodation, flights, and tour visits. This has given rise to a surge in online travel scams.

For instance, dishonest hotel operators can display lower rates on their websites and add hidden taxes and charges to the agreed price once you arrive. Scammers can also spoof the website of a reputed hotel and steal your money with fake reservations sold at steep discounts.

Therefore, be extra vigilant about too-good-to-be-true deals, which often serve as bait to attract victims for scams. And before making payments, ask about additional taxes or fees and read the terms and conditions.

In addition, review the website for signs of fraud, and never click on promotional emails, ads, and links on messages to access online travel platforms.

Betting Fraud

Shell games are one of the most common swindles to watch out for when you travel. It typically involves three cups or shells, one hiding a ball. The scammers will ask you to place a bet on where you think the ball is hidden, promising to double or triple your money if you get it right.

To lure you in, swindlers plant a few people in the audience who will take part and win their bets. Thinking it is easy, you will make a sizeable wager, only to get tricked and lose money.

Wrapping Up

If you plan to travel locally this year, staying away from scammers is a must to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation. Shady taxi drivers, fake front desk calls, card skimming, rental car swindles, betting tricks, and phone and online fraud are the top tourist scams in the US to guard against.

If you ever experience fraud, ensure you bring it up with the local law enforcement authorities and lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

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