Thursday, February 17, 2011

Top 5 Travel Scams to Avoid

We're all searching for the best travel bargains we can find. That's a worldwide truth. No one wants to hear that someone else paid half what they did for the same cruise by going to a specific website, or that they could have gotten free hotel upgrades by booking at a certain time.

But in our quest for savings, we sometimes get taken in by unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of our lack of knowledge by at best charging us more than we actually need to pay, or at worst just outright stealing from us.

So here's our list of the top 5 travel scams to avoid:

Timeshare 'deals' - It's happened to most of us on holiday: you're walking along the promenade, and someone offers you a lucky draw prize. If you're truly lucky you'll come out with a 10% off ice cream coupon, but most likely you'll 'win' a free vacation. Unfortunately, nothing here is free and you'll end up wasting at least several hours in an office being pitched pricey and fine-print-ridden timeshare contracts. They'll also call and tell you that you just won a free trip.

How to avoid it: Remember that if you didn't enter, it's probably not really free, and an hour presentation could end up costing you a lot more than time. Just say no!

Retail tour stops - This has become a big concern on Hong Kong city tours. Tour operators strike deals with stores for commission on sales when they bring foreign tour groups in. Usually the goods are more expensive and of lower quality than can be had elsewhere, but you'll be left in the shop for sometimes hours on end.

How to avoid it: Check your tour in advance and be sure how much time will be spent shopping before you sign up.

Inflated drink prices - This tends to happen in slick bars operated in developing countries. Some bars in Thailand are known for handing foreign customers enormous bills after a night of drinking, and threatening them with violence if they don't pay. Similar scams involve making local 'friends' who take you to bars that will charge inflated prices and give them a commission on your business.

How to avoid it: Always know what the drinks cost before ordering them, and never go clubbing alone in a foreign country.

Crooked cops - The set-up could be anything from a person throwing themselves at your car and then writhing in 'agony' as a crowd demands compensation, a drug dealer trying to sell to you as the cops appear as if by magic, a dodgy-looking road block demanding to see your papers... the end result is always the same: angry men calling themselves policemen demanding your papers or wallet. You'll never see them again.

How to avoid it: Always insist on seeing official police identification, and never hand anything over unless you are taken to a police station.

Nigerian love scams - These are a bit different than usual travel scams. You meet the person of your dreams online while they happen to be working overseas. Things are perfect and they're coming home to start your fabulous life together - but oh no! They've been in an accident and need cash to pay the hospital up front, or they need to hold a certain amount of cash before they can board the plane, or they need cash... The truth is, as obvious as they may seem, innocent and well-meaning people get taken in by these scams every day. Read some of their stories here.

How to avoid it: Never send money to a person you don't know, and remember that no one needs to have a certain amount of cash to board a plane.

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