It can happen to anyone, but the trick is to keep it from happening to you.  Be alert when you travel, and be aware of these common ways that people will try to scam you.  Some of them are more prevalent in other countries, but any of them can happen anywhere.


pickpocketCredit: wiki commonsThese basic thieves are everywhere, and the only way to avoid them is by being careful where you go, and having your valuables carefully put into hard to reach places. 

Don’t carry a wallet in an outer pocket, front or back, even if it buttons. Don’t carry a wallet in a suit or jacket pocket.  If you must carry a wallet at all, it should be in an inside jacket pocket, with the jacket zipped up.

Don’t carry a purse, or anything that can be rifled through without touching you.

Don’t put valuables in the outer pocket of a backpack.  Anything worth stealing should be inside your backpack, at the bottom, with the zippers either locked together or safety-pinned shut.

The best place to carry money is next to your body, either tied around your waist in a flat band, or over your neck in a carrying case.

Hare Krsnas in PragueCredit: JestMeAvoid crowds of children.  It’s a common scheme for one of them to distract you while another one rifles through your backpack.  The same thing could be accomplished by a team of adults, usually women (because people tend to avoid groups of men standing around looking at people – they look suspicious). I experienced this in Rome when a crowd of kids ran up to me, many of them right in my face jabbering and laughing.  I laughed back and moved on later discovering that the back pocket of my backpack was wide open.  They got some used tissue, and I got a good story, because I was prepared.

Any crowd in general is a good place to have things stolen.  Be careful in train stations or other crowded areas.

Miscounting your change

EurosSure it could be an accident, but in some places it seems to be a more common accident than in others.  Before you buy something, be sure you know what bill you have in your hand, and how much you expect back.  Count your change before you leave the counter.  This is easy enough when traveling in your country with familiar money, but takes some doing when using foreign currency.  It’s easy when you’re tired and handling unfamiliar money to misread the denomination and give the person 10 times more than you think you are.  If that person is hoping to scam you, they’ll count back the change you’re expecting, not what you deserve.   Don’t let your guard down when dealing with money.

Yep, I experienced this too, in Italy at the hostel.  And I did exactly what I described, handed over ten times too much.  This was back when they used Lire, and they had all those zeros to keep track of.  I did not count my change until later, but fortunately I got my change back after returning to the hostel and asking the desk person to count her till.  Maybe she needed her job more than she needed my lire.  I’ll never know.

Fake police

behind barsIf you are in a foreign country, you don’t necessarily know what the rules are, or if you may have inadvertently done something wrong.  Scammers will take advantage of this by approaching a tourist, possibly producing a fake badge and either demand you pay a fine for some transgression, or tell you you’ve been passing counterfeit money and they need to see it.  The easiest way to deal with this is to politely demand to speak to an officer in uniform, or politely demand to go to the nearest police station, which you will walk to.  Your last resort is to get the phone number of the local police (from someone other than the person demanding money) and call them.  Usually just starting any of these activities will send a fake detective running.  Don’t worry about getting in more trouble by refusing, you aren’t refusing anything, you’re just protecting yourself by asking someone in uniform to verify what’s going on.

This I’ve never seen, maybe because bad things can happen to men who accost single women.  I should ask around to see if anyone has experienced anything like this, or it’s just a myth.

Other fake officials

If you are unsure if the person asking for a ticket or money is real, ask someone.  You might look dumb, but they don’t care and it’s better than being robbed.  Before taking a train or taxi, confirm the expected fare with a hotel clerk or shopkeeper.  Someone that seems trustworthy.

Renting a car

It doesn’t matter where you are; don’t leave valuables visible in a car.  You can’t hide rental plates, but you can look like a local renting a car by leaving a bit of a mess in the back seat and a couple old, local newspapers in the front.  Ideally you don’t leave your luggage locked in the car anywhere.  When returning the vehicle, take your keys in to the front desk, don’t hand them over to the smiling person who walks up to you.

Leaving trains, buses or any public transportation

LuggageCredit: wiki commons

 Know what you brought on with you.  I travel with one backpack and a daypack, so my luggage is easy to keep track of, but anyone who’s been out for a bit of shopping is at risk for getting back to the hotel a few items short.  If possible I’d put everything in one bag and hold it closed the entire trip.




Don’t make change for fellow travelers unless you know them, don’t loan them money, and don’t let them watch your bags while you run to the bathroom.  Most of the time they are good people, but it’s that one bad guy that will mess up the rest of your trip for you.

Travel is a wonderful experience, and the fear of something happening shouldn’t hold you back.  Keep your valuables close, count your change, and stay aware of your surroundings.  Don’t flash wads of money and don’t take out your credit cards in public.  If you do lose something and have followed these guidelines, chances are it will be something small, and you can write it off as the cost of experience – and a good story.