21 Devastating Holiday Scams And How To Avoid Them - Oversavvy

21 Devastating Holiday Scams And How To Avoid Them

"The success of this scam relies on our natural fear of going to jail, especially a foreign jail."

Marissa Brun

Marissa Brun

Money Maestro & Writer at OverSavvy
With her combination of intensity and empathy, this mastermind will bring on the tough love when it comes to out-of-control spending, and show you how to spot a scam from a mile away. By teaching you how to save smart, Marissa will have you building up that bank account without having to give up all the little luxuries that make life worth living.
Do You Have Something Savvy To Share? CLICK HERE to write for OverSavvy

Heartless and shady, a new age of sophisticated scammer lays waiting, often hiding in plain sight, ready to take advantage of unsuspecting tourists and swindle them out of their hard earned cash with some of the most devastating holiday scams.

It’s easy to think that you are sharp enough to spot a scammer in your hometown and familiar surroundings. But, on holiday in a country and city you have never been to is an entirely different ball game.

Friendly locals, hotel workers, and taxi drivers are just a few of those ready and waiting to make you a victim to the many holiday scams capable of ruining your holiday in an instant.

While it’s virtually impossible to know the exact moment you will get scammed, this article aims to help you recognize these holiday scams early enough to avoid being duped.

Here are 21 of the smartest holiday scams to avoid this summer

“Pay big fine or go to jail tonight!” holiday scams

Pay big fine or go to jail tonight - holiday scams

These are holiday scams that prey on our natural fear of being held in a foreign jail.

1. The Fake Police Scam

This scam involves being approached by uniformed police who claim that counterfeit currency has been circulating in the area and they will ask to see your wallet. If you hand over your wallet or purse, you’ll find money missing when you get it back.[1] In some cases, they may even ask to see your passport or visa. They will then claim that there is an issue. and attempt to arrest you unless you pay a large fine on the spot.

Finding yourself in this situation, in a foreign country, can be a very unnerving experience, and that’s why this scam works so well. The police uniforms will look legit and will only have subtle differences that only locals will spot.

If you suspect this is happening to you, ask for I.D and tell them that you will confirm who they are by calling the police.

2. The Dodgy Deal

Most often, a local will approach you and try to offer you illegal items such as drugs at a low price. Regardless of whether you purchase anything or not, uniformed police officers who just “happen” to be passing by will then approach you and demand to search you. They will then accuse you of being in possession of or attempting to buy drugs. They will then demand that you pay a hefty fine on the spot or face spending the night in a police cell.

What you might not have realized is that the “Drug Dealer” and the fake “Undercover Police” are all in on the scam together. The success of this scam relies on our natural fear of going to jail, especially a foreign jail.

Again, if you suspect this is happening, ask for I.D and tell them that you will confirm who they are by calling the police.

“Thanks for giving us your credit card details” holiday scams

Thanks for giving us your credit card details - holiday scams

These are very clever holiday scams that are engineered to get your credit card details and empty your account before you even realize anything is wrong.

3. Fake Front Desk Call

It’s 3 O’clock in the morning and the phone in your hotel room rings. You answer the phone, and it turns out to be the front desk. They claim there has been a technical issue and ask you to confirm your card details again. You then give them the details and go back to sleep thinking nothing of it.

What really just happened is a fraudster has called you at a time they know you are less likely to go down to the front desk and check for yourself. The scammer now has your credit card details.[2]

Never give your credit card details over the phone, especially in the early hours of the morning. Always take a trip to the front desk and check in person.

4. Fake take away Menu

Finding a mouth watering takeaway menu in your hotel room could be the perfect alternative to hotel food on a night you choose to stay in a relax. However, the food you decide to order may never actually arrive.

Clever scammers have found ways to get into hotels (sometimes the hotel workers are involved in this scam) and put fake takeaway menus under room doors. When you call to place an order, they get all your card details and go to work on your account.[3]

Do not automatically assume that a takeaway menu found in your room is legit and authorized by the hotel. If you really want to order, check with the hotel first. Most hotels will not allow outside vendors to sell food to their guests.

5. Fake WiFi Hotspot

With international roaming charges being so high, many travelers only get full functionality of their smartphones when they are connected to WiFi. A few hours disconnected from email, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube is a hard task for some people, and the scammers know this.

They will set up FREE unsecured WiFi hotspots in public places just waiting for eager, data deprived travelers to connect to. Once connected, they will access all your online accounts, contact lists, passwords and more.[4]

Only connect to the secure WiFi connection of the cafe, bar, restaurant or hotel you are in. Ask them which is their connection and what the password is.

6. Cashier On The Phone

This scam involves cashiers who pretend to be on a mobile phone while serving you. The cashiers only intention is to take a photo of a credit card, getting the crucial information that is later used to clone your card and siphon your account.

Be extra vigilant, especially once you take out your wallet/purse to pay for things and are using your card. With “Chip and Pin” and “Contactless” card machines being more common, it’s less likely that you will need to hand over your credit card. If you do however hand over your card, never let it out of your sight, not even momentarily.

7. The Overly Helpful Local

You’ve been cueing in line to use the ATM cash machine and it now your turn. You insert your card and then enter your pin just before a friendly local man approaches and advises that you will receive hefty bank fees if you use that machine. He points you to “Another” machine that will supposedly charge nothing.

At this point, 50% of the scam is complete and can go one of a few ways.

If the “Friendly Local Man” has approached, it means his accomplice, who is standing behind or aside from you has already seen you enter your pin and can remember it.

If you chose to use the “Other” cash machine, the chances are that a skimming device has been attached to it which will aid them to clone your card.[5] Or, they will simply wait for the right moment to pickpocket your card. Either way, they will have your card and pin, and you lose.

When on holiday, you need to be extra vigilant when using cash machines in public places. ALWAYS cover the pin pad with your other hand and don’t use it if you feel people are hanging around trying to see your pin. Be wary of the distance between you and the person behind you at all times.

“HaHa… we just stole your luggage” holiday scams

HaHa... we just stole your luggage - holiday scams

These holiday scams involve elaborate ways to part you from your luggage, which in any case, can completely ruin your holiday in the most devastating way.

8. Punctured Tyres

Public transport in a foreign country can be challenging for most people, so a hire car is a great idea. However, hire cars are often very easy to spot and make you easily identifiable as a tourist. Locals may target you and deliberately puncture one of your tyres then flag you down to offer to help you fix or change the tyre for free.

While they have you distracted changing the tyre, one of them will attempt to steal your luggage and other valuables from the car.[6]

Always check your tyres before every journey or if you stop off on your way from the airport to the hotel. If you suspect something is not right, pull over in a safe place and call the recovery recommended by the car hire company.

9. The Getaway Taxi

You take a taxi from the airport to the hotel or vise versa, and the taxi driver claims he is running late for his next job. If he kindly rushes to help you get your bags out of the car, then attempts to drive off just as quickly, be very weary of him. Often times, you will find that he has purposely left one of your smaller bags in the car.

It’s easy for a smaller bag to go unnoticed until you start unpacking.

Never let a taxi driver rush you out of a car and always check you have all your luggage before he leaves.

10. The Amazing Overnight Bus Deal

Traveling from city to city while on holiday can be expensive and time-consuming. So the offer of an overnight bus ticket at rock bottom prices could seem quite appealing. You’ll save money on the ticket, and you can sleep on the bus, so you don’t lose a day, sounds perfect right?

Well, unfortunately, what you’ll probably find is that you have missing luggage or at best, your luggage has been searched, and you have missing items.

Always use official transport vendors and agents that are registered and trustworthy. Being approached by strangers offering the perfect deal at a fraction of the cost should always be a red flag.

11. The Metal Detector

You are cueing to go through the metal detector at the airport and place your laptop on the security scanner conveyor belt with two people ahead of you. The first person passes through with no issue, but the second triggers the metal detector. He then takes what seems to be an eternity to remove a ridiculous amount of metallic objects from his pockets which he shouldn’t have had on him. By the time you finally make it through, the first person has disappeared, along with your laptop.[7]

This scam is notoriously common in countries that allow people to pass freely in and out of departure lounge.

You can avoid this scam by waiting for the metal detector to be clear before you place your items on the conveyor belt

12. Unattended luggage

You are waiting for a bus or train, and a passer-by seemingly drops his wallet, keys or money “Accidentally” right in front of you. Being the honest person you are, you quickly run after them to return their property. They thank you and then go on their way. You, however, turn around to find ALL your bags have disappeared.

These scammers will prey on you if traveling alone and rely on you being honest and kind natured. If you are alone, with luggage, stay cautious even if that means only worrying about yourself. Losing all your luggage hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home is devastating.

“You just paid 10x too much!” holiday scams

You just paid 10x too much - holiday scams

Being overcharged as a tourist abroad has been commonplace in many cities around the world for years. Many of us are smart enough to spot basic overcharging. However, scammers continue to find more ways to get the most in exchange for very little.

13. The Jewellery Deal

A friendly local starts a harmless conversation with you and casually mentions that he is there to visit a “Secret” shop that sells diamonds and other precious stones at a fraction of the price. He goes on to tell you that he sells the items when he gets home for big profits. He then offers to take you there, stating that you can only get the discount price with him there as he knows the shop owner. Although this sounds like a lucrative deal, all the stones will be fake and worthless.[8]

Luxury items such as gemstones are the last thing you should try to buy at a discount from a stranger on holiday. You will regret it, every time.

14. The Broken Camera

This happens particularly when touring a park or a public area. A group of teenagers may approach you, and one of them will ask you to take a group photo of them. Most of the time, the camera is already damaged and will not work. When handing it back, they will drop it, causing it to smash.

The group will then accuse you of breaking the camera and cause a scene. They will then demand you pay an extravagant amount for a replacement. If you refuse, the group will proceed to try and rob you for all your valuables.

This situation can be easily avoided by not agreeing to take the photo in the first place.

15. The Overbooked/Fake Hotel

These are probably the most common holiday scams mostly pulled by taxi drivers working with unsavory hotel owners. Soon after starting your journey to your hotel, the driver will tell you that the hotel you requested is overbooked or closed for renovation. He will then take you to another hotel that is more expensive and pocket a nice commission.

In some cases, the taxi driver will take you to a hotel that is a clone of the hotel you booked. This hotel will have the same name, but, will be in a remote location, in very poor condition and will seriously overcharge you. They may even claim that the website pictures were mistakes.

To avoid this fraud, call the hotel and check for yourself. If the cab driver tries to convince you otherwise, tell him that you already have a reservation and that you have been there before. That way he will be less likely to take you to a fake hotel.

16. The Expensive Taxi

When in a foreign country, it’s sometimes difficult to find our way around unfamiliar locations, so we often find ourselves at the mercy of unscrupulous taxi drivers. These drivers are known to take longer routes or routes that are known to have heavy traffic in order to run the meter longer. Some will even have meters that are clocked to run faster. [9]

You should be most wary of taxi drivers who claim that their meter is broken or faulty. They will then go on to charge you an insane amount for your journey.

As tourists, we tend to stick out like a sore thumb to a taxi driver, but we don’t have to let them know it’s our first time in that location. If you indicate that you have been to the destination before and can roughly remember how to get there and how much you usually pay, they will be less likely to try and scam you.

Also, try to agree on a price beforehand if the driver claims his meter is broken. If he refuses, get another taxi. Not all taxi drivers will try to scam you.

“The Pickpockets have just set you up!” holiday scams

The Pickpockets have just set you up - holiday scams

Contrary to belief, pickpockets are not opportunists, but highly skilled gangs that are masters of distraction and sleight of hand. Some will have trained for months or even years to be able to lift a wallet undetected. All they need to know is where you keep it. And they have devised many ways to get you to unknowingly tell them.

17. The Pick Pocket Warning

Many pickpocket gangs will put up signs in busy public places warning that pickpockets are operating in the area. Some may even approach you and warn you to be careful in person. This is because our subconscious, natural reaction will always be to then check to make sure we still have our wallet or purse. The moment we do that, they know exactly where to find it when they try to pickpocket you later on.

Although checking to make sure you have your wallet/purse is a natural, instinctive reaction, try to wait just a little while, so you don’t give away the location so easily. They will only watch you for a few moments before moving on to the next potential victim

18. The Busy Train or Bus

Packed buses and trains are by far the perfect environment for pickpockets. As its common for people to have to stand so close together, it’s easy for pickpockets to get close enough to lift a wallet, phone or purse undetected. Your stolen item will then be immediately passed to different gang members within seconds just in case the actual pickpocket is caught.[10]

It’s important that when on packed trains or buses that you keep all valuables zipped inside pockets or bag compartments where you can see at all times.

19. The Charity Petition

These clever holiday scams involve what seem to be deaf children asking for you to sign a petition and to give charitable donations. This is all a distraction and a clever ploy to use the clipboard holding the petition to cover their wandering little hands as they attempt to pickpocket you.[11]

20. The Jacket Stain

This scam is very common in Europe. When walking on the streets, you may feel something wet on your shoulder or back. It could be fake bird poop, grease, or even fast food condiment. When you stop to clean it, a stranger will appear out of nowhere armed with a towel and start to help you to clean the mess. However, the stranger is doing more than that. This distraction will allow them to pluck your wallet undetected.

To avoid this fraud, do not let a stranger help you to clean the mess. Look for a public restroom and clean the mess yourself.

21. Street Magic / Games

You are enjoying a night out on holiday and notice the oohs and aahs coming from a crowd of people just ahead. You stop to see what is going on and find a street magician performing some amazing tricks.

What you don’t know is that most of the people in the crowd are all part of the act just waiting for you to get close enough to be pickpocketed.


Scammers continue to invent new and clever ways to swindle our money and belongings without raising any suspicion. We are all susceptible to these scams regardless of how prepared we think we are. However, being vigilant and staying up to date with some of these new methods will help us to stay one step ahead of them.


[1] Budapest fake police scam: Tripadvisor
[2] Summer travel alert: Scammers target hotel guests: NBC News
[3] Order Pizza Much? There Is A Fake Menu Waiting Hotel Room: Scam-Detector
[4] Hotel scammers with fake wi-fi want your credit card information : ABC Action News
[5] Security expert spots skimmer on ATM in Vienna: DailyMail
[6] The old “flat tire” scam worked again…: Tripadvisor
[7] The Real Hustle: Airport The Laptop Scam: Youtube Video
[8] Falling for the Bangkok Gem Scam: BBQboy
[9] Russia’s Most Common Taxi Scam: CnTraveler
[10] How to avoid the Paris Metro pickpockets: theLOCAL
[11] Deaf Mute and Fake Petition Scams in Europe: Corporate Travel Safety

Marissa Brun

Marissa Brun

Money Maestro & Writer at OverSavvy
With her combination of intensity and empathy, this mastermind will bring on the tough love when it comes to out-of-control spending, and show you how to spot a scam from a mile away. By teaching you how to save smart, Marissa will have you building up that bank account without having to give up all the little luxuries that make life worth living.

Do You Have Something Savvy To Share? CLICK HERE to write for OverSavvy

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