Don’t let travel scams hurt your vacation

Pizza in a box by Eggplant,

Most people don’t think it can happen to them, but if we as travelers don’t keep our guard up, and “street smarts” on, plus use our commonsense while traveling, we can become victims of travel scams. It can happen to anyone.

Whether it’s fatigue, a lack of familiarity with surroundings, or the cultural customs and traditions of destinations, the habits and praxis of the local people, trust, or other factors, travelers, even experienced ones, too often become victims of travel scams.

Some can result in a significant loss of belongings or cash, while some can result in the very serious problem of identity theft.

Whether it’s the Pizza Purloiner, the Cabbie Filcher, the Clumsy Cons, the Hotel Hustle, or the Airport Security Scam, be prepared, be alert, don’t fall prey.

Not long ago one of my neighbors was the victim of a Pizza Purloiner. She and her family came back to their hotel room at the end of a long day, exhausted. They opened their door to find a Pizza Parlor flyer. The kids were screaming “Pizza, Pizza!” Dinner was chosen. It would be less expensive than room service, they thought, just as easy, convenient, and they wouldn’t have to get dressed up. They ordered and, “oops,” gave their credit card information to pay for the pizza dinner.

Surprisingly, they got the pizzas, albeit bad ones. They got something more: a credit card company call the next morning asking them about fraudulent charges. The “pizza guy” bought $2,500 worth of stuff in just a few hours before being stopped. They canceled the card and got a new one the next day, but for the rest of the trip, and several months afterward, they worried about identity theft.

Be sure you know to whom you’re giving any credit card or personal information.

You’ve just arrived at your destination and walk out of the airport to find the line for taxis goes on forever. If a voice behind you offers you a ride in their cab, don’t take it.

All too often you’ve just met the Cabbie Filcher.

These cabbies have many “rip-off” schemes. Some will only take you for a “ride,” going the long way to your hotel to maximize the meter charge. Others will wait to hand you your change until they’re unloading the cab. When they give you your change, as you’re counting it, no longer paying attention to your luggage, they’ll say, “All done,” slam their trunk closed, and quickly drive away with some of your belongings.

Always find out what the fare should be before you leave for a destination. Use the regular airport procedure, or your hotel’s personnel, to get a taxi.

The Clumsy Cons are almost anywhere: airports, train stations, hotel lobbies, and even public squares. They’re the people, men or women, who “accidentally” spill food or drink on you, or “accidentally” knock you down to the ground. While they’re helping you to clean up or get up, their accomplice uses the diversion to steal your luggage or “lift” your wallet.

Be aware, if something like this happens to you, it’s likely a scam.

The Hotel Hustle has even caught some on cruises.

Here’s how it goes. You’ve crammed as much touring as possible into each day. One evening at or near the end of your trip you return to your room, completely spent. As you’re about to call it a night, the phone rings. It’s the front desk, or so you think.

The “clerk,” really a thief, apologizes for calling so late, but says their credit card runoff didn’t go right. They can’t find your check-in form, and their shift is ending. You’re asked to confirm your card’s last 4 digits. Of course, the “clerk,” sounding perplexed, says that’s not what they have, so could you please read the full card information to them. At this point, exhausted and groggy, you comply. The clerk again apologizes and thanks you, saying they just found the form and everything is now straightened out. You go to sleep.

When your credit card is declined the next morning you learn you were duped.

Legitimate hotels will ask you to bring your credit card to the front desk to run it again, not ask you to read it to them on the phone. If someone asks otherwise, hang up and go to the front desk to see the manager.

I saw the Airport Security Scam in Houston.

The security lines were jammed. Just before a man waiting to walk into the metal detector stepped forward, a person from behind cut ahead of him, fast talking about missing his plane. He set off the alarm (purposely) when he walked through the metal detector.

Everyone waiting threw up their hands and sighed, angrily staring at this guy who was holding up everyone in the crowded line. While travelers had their eyes focused on the man setting off the alarm, wondering how long they’d be delayed, his accomplice snapped up several items off the conveyor belt and tables and walked off with them.

I suggest you always keep a watchful eye on your belongings at airport security. At the last minute, I put my valuables in a bin I’ve set aside. I wait until I can go through the metal detector, or get patted-down, before putting my carry-ons and bins into x-ray. I go forward only after my last bag enters x-ray.

  • Marilyn

    For some of us, keeping our eyes on our belongings at security is difficult. I will always set off the metal detector because of my knees and often I have to wait quite a while for a female agent to arrive for the pat down. Recently there were 3 of us backed up in the little glass holding pen waiting our turn. Meanwhile the items on the conveyer belt keep piling up and all we can do is continue to try to watch ours as people who have passed security grab their items off.

  • Anonymous

    Marilyn, you’re right about that. My wife always gets a pat-down. She sets off the metal detector, and like me refuses to submit to the full body scanner, for health and safety reasons.

    Here’s what we do. We’ll wait until the last of our belongings has entered the x-ray unit. We then present ourselves for a pat-down. Prior to getting the pat-down a TSA TSO gathers our belongings and takes them to the pat-down area. When we get the pat-down, all of our belongings are with us, so they can’t be stolen.

    According to TSA, it is every traveler’s right to have their screened belongings gathered and taken the pat-down area to prevent their theft. Travelers can’t gather the belongings because while their belongings have been screened, they have not.

    The one time the TSOs told me they had no one to do that for me, I asked for a supervisor. I didn’t get a supervisor, but did get the TSO who told me no one was available to gather and carry my belongings to the holding area while I waited for the pat-down. There should be no excuse for not gathering your belongings as each person requesting or being required to have a pat-down must be escorted by a TSO until the pat-down is complete, whenever moved to a different location. That person should gather and carry your belongings for you.

  • bc

    The biggest thing you can do to prevent this is do NOT go through the metal detector before your belongings go through the scanner. I see some people just leave there stuff there and walk through not paying attention and I have to push it through. My stuff goes through before I do or I stay…Virtually all of these kinds of theft happen outside the security gates, not inside.

  • James Penrose

    You are quite correct although it p***** off the TSA wonks. I’ve been yelled at and ordered to “Step on through, right now!” as I’ve waited for my stuff to be swallowed up by their machines as I’m not about to leave my laptop etc (and cash and credit cards and so on with their new “strip to the shorts” rules”.

  • bc

    Oh I know and it pisses me off and I usually say “I don’t go through until my stuff does” and they get the hint.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re been reading my column regularly, you know I refuse to go through the full body scanners, and always opt for a pat-down, due to safety considerations. Refusing to go through the scanner really gets some of the TSA TSO’s upset.

  • James Penrose

    “his accomplice snapped up several items off the conveyor belt and tables and walked off with them.”

    His accomplice was probably wearing a TSA uniform. Doesn’t even need this particular scam anyway as they can just hold up the line for any reason they want with your stuff out of sight and reach and use the x-ray machine to look for the good stuff.

  • Anonymous

    James, while we have reports of thefts by TSA during the security process, what I described wasn’t one of those incidents.