Last week, we wrote about a scam at Manila Airport that involved planting bullets in the carry-on luggage of unsuspecting travelers. As stories trickled in about individuals who were either detained, arrested or forced to pay large bribes as a result, it got us thinking – what are the other airport-based travel scams that our readers should know about? Personal experience and research helped us build this list of the top 5 airport-related scams you should watch out for when traveling abroad.
1. Security Separation
Most people know that the first rule of travel is to keep your valuables close. However, when you’re passing through security, you can’t avoid a temporary separation from your laptop, wallet, passport and phone. While most of the time this is a smooth and standard process, some travelers report getting stuck behind individuals riddled with keys, coins and other alarm-triggering items. As that person passes and re-passes through security, their buddy has an opportunity to rifle through your scanned hand luggage, while you wait to be scanned yourself. Often, this scam is done in cahoots with airport security personnel, making it all the more difficult to catch.
How to avoid it? Insist that you and your hand luggage passes through security at the exact same time, and ensure all valuables are present when you walk away from the security screening point.
2. Tricky Taxis
One of the more common traps worldwide is the allegedly broken or non-existent taximeter. After walking out of the terminal into a new country or city, you’re faced with a barrage of cab drivers hoping to take you to your destination. You pick one and set off together, only to realize midway through that there is nothing tracking your mileage or cost. When you arrive at your destination, you’re shocked by the exorbitant price the driver is asking you to pay – and horrified that he has no documentation to back up his quote. Unfortunately, your bargaining power is fairly limited and you get stuck paying the overly high price.
How to avoid it? When possible, take only licensed taxis with meters or flat rates and make sure they re-set the meter when the trip begins. If you’re in a country where it is customary to negotiate rates, be sure to research and confirm a fair price before departing in the cab.
3. Wonky Wi-Fi
So many travelers jump at the opportunity for a free Wi-Fi connection, particularly when bored at the airport. As you scan the list of available networks, those titled something along the lines of “Free Wi-Fi” inevitably catch your eye. Quickly, you connect and begin perusing your favourite websites for hours on end. The downside, you might wonder? These free networks are not necessarily as secure as you might think. There are reports of hackers taking advantage of our love of internet, creating fake Wi-Fi connections that silently transmit personal information back to the hacking computer.
How to avoid it? Be cautious about the networks you connect to. Make sure you connect only to wireless networks, and never to connections listed as computer-to-computer networks. You’d also be wise to disable any automatic Wi-Fi connections. While browsing, turn off any file sharing programs and avoid visiting websites that require personal information. If you absolutely have to access sensitive information like online banking, consider setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for added security.
4. Phony Phones
Stuck in a new country with no local currency and no cell phone? Credit card-accepting pay phones often seem like a quick and easy fix. Though you can’t find posted rates for the phone, you’re so desperate to make that call that you figure, surely it can’t cost that much. After plugging in your credit card, you make a quick call, solve your problems and happily carry on your way. However, your tune may change dramatically when your monthly statement comes in. Some travelers have reported being charged upwards of $40 for a 1-minute phone call!
How to avoid it? Find cash! Even if rates are posted for the phone, hidden charges have a funny way of surfacing. Absorbing steep airport exchange rates is far safer and more cost-effective than allowing the phone to charge your credit card without any form of approval. If you absolutely have to use your credit card, try calling the operator for rates on a hook up call.
5. “Horrible” Hotels
On the taxi ride into town, your seemingly helpful cab driver tells you that your chosen hotel or restaurant is closed/fully booked/not good. Instead, they offer to take you to a spot they know to be far superior. You arrive there only to find out that it is overpriced/inconvenient/not what you were looking for, while your driver chats happily with hotel staff. In all likeliness, they have a standing relationship where they get a commission for each guest they bring to this particular hotel, and you’re the latest profit.
How to avoid it? Confirm that your chosen hotel is available prior to departing. If a taxi driver tries to take you elsewhere, insist that they take you to your destination or find someone else who will.
In addition to those three major scams, here’s a list of other things to look out for when passing through the terminals:
- Phony airport officials who use a sense of authority to convince you to go particular places or give them particular things.
- Poor foreign exchange rates given by official and unofficial currency converters.
- Porters who forcefully carry your luggage and demand exorbitant prices in exchange.
- Airport pickpockets who bump into you in congested areas, swiping valuables off you.
- Corrupt customs officials who demand bribes in exchange for your entrance or your luggage’s entrance into the country.
Have you experienced these or other airport scams? How do you stay vigilant and safe? Share your stories and lessons learned in the comment section.