Keep your cash and cards safe when you travel by avoiding these scams.
Whether it's your first time overseas or you're a seasoned traveller, there's a chance you could fall prey to pickpockets, dodgy exchange deals, card fraud and other scams on your trip. But being aware of these risks helps protect you from major issues. So, here are some of the most common travel money scams and what you can do to avoid them.
ATM card scams
If you're withdrawing cash, scammers could have a well-placed skimming device installed to capture your card details. This is usually placed where you'd put your card in and while they all look a bit different, a few signs can give it away. These devices can often be a bit loose or not securely connected to the machine, or the card reader and keypad may look suspiciously large for the space it's in (perhaps covering up instructions or arrows showing you where to insert your card). A different approach involves someone offering to translate ATM messages that are written in a foreign language (while taking note of all your details).
How to avoid: Steer clear of ATMs in isolated places that could be easy to tamper with, such as outdoor ATMs or standalone machines. Instead, look for machines inside a bank or shopping centre, where security is likely to be higher thanks to cameras and staff. Also remember that many ATMs offer different language options at the start screen, so there's no need for a stranger to "help" you.
Some thieves may use old tricks, such as bumping into you in a crowd, while others invent distractions to take your attention away from your belongings. For example, someone could call out and point at something in the opposite direction, or even throw something at you so you catch it by reflex.
How to avoid: As well as being extra alert in crowded areas, avoid carrying money in visible pockets or a bag that would be easy to grab, or consider getting a cross-body bag. You could also keep cash and cards in separate places or use a smartwatch or other wearable payment options, like the Bankwest ring, for destinations where contactless payments are accepted.
Card skimming at shops and restaurants
Stores and restaurants can have skimming machines too. Usually, these machines look similar to other EFTPOS or point-of-sale devices but need to be used separately to pay and then get your details.
How to avoid: If you see two machines being used, ask to speak to the manager straight away to sort it out. Also make sure you always keep your card in your sight when you make a payment so there's no chance of it being run through a skimming machine when you're not looking.
Being given the wrong change
Dealing with an unfamiliar currency can make you a target for being deliberately short-changed. If you're struggling to figure out the value of different notes when paying, the merchant could target you and give you change in lower value notes. Alternatively, you can be accused of not paying enough.
How to avoid: Take your time with the money and count it out aloud before handing it over. Do the same when you're handed your change, so that it's clear you're alert and won't be tricked.
From taxi drivers taking the "scenic route" to restaurants that seem to offer you "complimentary" entrees but later add them to your bill, there are all kinds of sneaky ways you could be overcharged when you're travelling.
How to avoid: Do your research first. Know roughly which route you should be taking and look up whether those complimentary entrees actually are. While it seems like a scam, it's common in some countries to charge diners for bread that may be free in your home country.
Hotel credit card scams
Getting a call in your hotel room that seems to be from the front desk telling you there's an issue with the credit card you had put down at the front desk and telling you that they need your details again. There's a good chance this isn't the front desk.
How to avoid: Tell whoever is at the other end of the line that you'll go down to reception and sort the issue in person, then hang up and report them to the front desk so they can try and avoid it from happening again.
Money exchange scams
There are a few different ways you could be scammed when switching your money between currencies overseas. These include:
- Dodgy exchange services. Some unregulated currency exchange booths will advertise incredible exchange rates but then add extra fees after you've paid. They could also short-change you or even fold notes over so that it looks like you're getting the correct amount (until you unroll the notes later).
- Tour guides offering to help. Be wary of any tour guide that offers to show you a cheap place to change money. They could be in on a scam, particularly if the place they take you to does not look reputable.
- Counterfeit money. It's hard to tell what's fake and what's real when you're dealing with an unfamiliar currency. So keep this in mind if you're offered a deal that's too good to be true.
How to avoid: Go to an official money exchange place or a bank. If neither option is available, ask your hotel for a recommendation on where to exchange your cash. Alternatively, get your foreign currency before you go overseas.
Preying on those unfamiliar with local laws, people dressed up as police officers will dole out "fines" and ask you to pay on the spot. For example, Singapore's reputation for cleanliness has seen some opportunistic people pretend to be officers so they can "fine" you for something as simple as accidentally dropping something on the ground.
How to avoid: Ask to see their identification and tell them you will go to a police station and pay the fine there. If it's a legitimate fine, this should not be an issue.
What else can I do to keep my money safe from scammers when travelling?
These tips can help you avoid scams in a wide range of situations.
- Only carry a small amount of cash. Limiting how much cash you have on you can help protect you from losing all your money to a pickpocket. It also gives you an excuse if someone tries to make you pay a fake fine.
- Take more than one form of travel money. This gives you a back-up option if something happens to your main source of money. For example, if you're mainly using cash and it is stolen, having a travel money card or credit card with you will mean you can still access money.
- Stick to established stores and vendors. While someone on the street might offer you a great deal on a tour or tickets to a show, there's a risk they could rip you off. So do your research and make tour and ticket purchases at businesses that have a storefront and established reputation.
- Trust your instincts. It can be tricky to tell when someone is trying to scam you. But if you feel like a situation isn't quite right, pay attention and take precautions to help reduce the risk of being scammed.
Even frequent travellers can fall prey to a scam when they're overseas. So being aware of these common scenarios, as well as possible variations, can help you avoid scams and enjoy your trip.