Calling all travelers, explorers, vacationers, and wanderlusts who don't want to be taken advantage of abroad: here's the continuation of last week's series on scams you need to be aware of in cities around the world.
7. Forced Upgrade at a Hotel
You book and pay for your hotel online through Expedia, Hotels.com, Priceline, or another well-known vendor. When you arrive at the hotel, you're told that there was a "mistake" with the online booking, that it's all the online vendor's fault, and that your room is not available and you have to pay for a higher-priced room if you want to stay. You either have to pay for the more expensive room or find another hotel, which is often impractical unless you know the area well.
What can you do to avoid this scam? If you're staying at an independent hotel that isn't highly rated (and that you're unfamiliar with), try emailing them a week or two before your trip with a question, concern or any other excuse that involves forwarding your confirmation email right along to them. Bring a printout of your correspondence with you when you check in. It will be a lot harder for them to claim that they don't know about your existing reservation.
8. "Free Tour"
You are approached by a cab driver or tout outside your hotel and offered a free tour of a historical district or exclusive area a considerable distance away. You take them up on it after getting a nod or a shrug from the man or woman behind the reception desk. You're then driven to a store or restaurant (owned by the cab driver's or tout's friend) where you're pressured to buy expensive, inferior-quality items. When you ask about your "tour," your scammer says it's coming, but there are a few places he'd love for you to see first. Meanwhile you have no idea where you are and are wasting your money and time.
It's tempting to think that in the most beautiful, least expensive countries in the world (where this scam often takes place) you can truly get "something for nothing." Nope, nothing's free in life, not even in these places, so stick with your planned tour and don't let anyone "take you for a ride."
9. "Amenity Fees"
Unscrupulous hotels will charge you an additional fee just for the use of certain things in your room, such as the safe, the microwave, the iron and ironing board, or the refrigerator. Some will charge only if these items have been used; others will charge even if you haven't touched them. You'll see the "fees" on the final bill and be given a bewildered look by the receptionist when asked why the use of your "amenities" don't come with the price of the room.
If you've prepaid for your room through Priceline, Expedia, etc. it becomes a little harder for the hotel to assess the fees. Beware though that they might disguise the charges under a "city tax" in a city where there is no such thing. Online booking websites will usually warn you when there will a city tax to be collected at the end of your stay. At any rate, the best way to fight "amenity fees" is to print out a receipt of your reservation including all the amenities right above your room charge -- or find out about and stay away from nickel-and-diming hotels by reading reviews on TripAdvisor or Hotels.com.
10. Distraction Opportunists
Lots of us are pleasantly distracted when we're touring. We want to be unexpectedly delighted or drawn in by something new and different. Unfortunately, scammers and thieves thrive on our distraction. These scheisters often work in pairs or small groups: one person will distract you, while the other will rob you while you're distracted.
If you're traveling alone, you might be approached by a very attractive member of the opposite sex and offered advice, help, or the privilege of their company. While spellbound by Ms. or Mr. Hottie, another person slips something out your bag or pocket.
Scams that employ children are becoming more and more common as poverty and desperation make thievery a family affair. A smiling kid will come up to talk, sing, or "perform" for you until an adult (who may or may not be the kid's real parent) comes up to apologize for the bother. While the parent is sweetly engaging you in their apology, the kid is robbing something out of your bag.
Another common distraction scam features scammers pretending to be hit by bicyclists, or starting to drown in the hotel pool, or otherwise the victim of some major trauma that makes everyone, including you, stop and stare -- and possibly step away from your belongings. The "victim's" friend may rush by you on their way to the scene, making a big swipe for your valuables in the process.