7 travel scams that could await you at the airport: Internet ScamBusters #294
Goodness knows, air travel is expensive enough these days
without losing your money (or worse!) to an airport travel
In our new batch of 7 travel scams, we focus on airport cons
and what you can do to spot and avoid them: from unscrupulous
money changers to South American kidnappers. This issue is a
“must read” before your next trip to the airport.
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Time to get going…
Airport Travel Scams: Watch Out For These Airport Tricksters
Every year, vacationers lose a fortune to travel scams. Every
year here at Scambusters, we highlight the latest cons aimed at
the unwary traveler. And every year, the scammers come up with
a whole new set of tricks.
So, let’s review the latest travel scams — some common, some
This time, we focus on a batch of tricks you might run into at
airports, though some of them may also turn up on the streets
or in other public places.
And, as more and more people travel with laptops and cell
phones, travel scammers are increasingly targeting these
devices. Sometimes, even perfectly legit companies pull the
wool over the eyes of travelers, and we have some advice for
you about these scams as well.
From the moment you step off the plane into an airport,
especially an unfamiliar one, you’re a walking target for
travel scams. Here are 7 tricks to watch out for.
Travel Scam #1. Short changed!
In most North American, European and Australasian countries,
authorities license and carefully control money changers. Not
so in some other countries, where anyone can set themselves up
as a currency exchange bureau and charge whatever rates they
That’s OK, you might think, as long as you know the rates they
charge and take the trouble to compare them at one booth with
another. But, when it comes to money changing, what you see is
not necessarily what you get.
For example, some bureaus post an exchange rate that looks
really great but when you make the exchange that’s not the rate
they give you.
With all the hustle and the language difficulties, you might
not even spot it, but if you do, you’ll find either that you’ve
been charged an additional “commission” or that the posted rate
applies to sums over $1,000 or is the “day rate” when you are
changing your money at night.
Action: Take some currency with you when you go, so you don’t
have to exchange at the airport. When you do need to change
money, go to a bank or a recognized brand-name exchange bureau.
Hotels are usually reliable too but their exchange rates are
When you can (and you feel in a sufficiently trustworthy
situation) use a credit card for purchases (except as we
outline below). You’ll probably get a better exchange rate and
your purchase will be protected.
Travel Scam #2. Phone Sting #1
You’re in an unfamiliar airport in a foreign country and you
need to make a phone call. Either you don’t have local currency
or you haven’t got the hang of it. Or maybe you just can’t
figure out how to use the coins with the phone.
You spot a phone that takes credit cards. Great? No, bad move.
There’s nothing on the phone booth about call rates. Well, you
think, credit card calls always cost a bit more than cash —
but surely the bill won’t be huge.
Maybe it will. In the Caribbean island of Aruba one caller
recently paid more than $40 for a call that lasted less than a
minute. The victim tracked down the phone operator who told him
that the minimum call charged was five minutes and that calls
were transmitted via satellite.
Action: Avoid using your credit card to make phone calls in
tourist airports. Even when rates are posted, they often don’t
reveal additional hidden charges.
Travel Scam #3. Phone Sting #2
At a couple of airports in Germany, travelers jump at an
attractive cell phone rental offer: Return the phone within two
weeks and get your rental money back.
What they don’t reveal are the exorbitant rates you’ll pay
while you use the cell phone, plus a security deposit and other
charges. Of course, you handed over your credit card and signed
a form when you rented the phone, so you’re sunk.
You may get the rent back but you could be hundreds of dollars
out of pocket. All perfectly legal as well.
Action: These days, most people carry cell phones and have
subscriptions that will work in just about any country. But if
you don’t, try to find airport booths selling SIM cards for a
fixed price that slot into your own phone and work for a
specified amount of time.
If you really must rent one, always read the fine print and
make sure you know all the charges. If it’s in a language you
don’t understand, either get someone to explain it to you or go
Or even better, plan ahead and buy a cheap unlocked phone that
will take a locally purchased, pre-paid SIM card.
Travel Scam #4. Phone Sting #3
Got Bluetooth? Welcome to the world of cell phone hacking, now
in full swing at an airport near you.
As you probably know, Bluetooth is a radio transmission setup
that allows cell phones and PDAs to talk to each other and to
use wireless headsets. To link it to other devices, it has to
be set to “discoverable” mode.
If it’s left that way, an airport hacker can easily pair with
your device without you knowing, to steal information, send
messages or even install a virus. These scammers prowl around
airports and other public buildings with powerful Bluetooth
Action: Unselect the “discoverable” option on your device and
keep all sensitive data safe with encryption software
Travel Scam #5. Kidnapped!
Don’t be alarmed, but beware. We’ve previously talked about
taxi and limo
travel scams, where an unlicensed driver
approaches you in the airport or at the back of the line and
offers you a ride that turns out to be costly.
But this is much more cunning:
At Caracas Airport in Venezuela, several travelers report
entering the arrivals hall to see a man holding a placard
bearing their name.
He introduces himself as a driver for the named hotel where
they made reservations. Although the travelers aren’t expecting
a ride to the hotel, they think he must be genuine because he
knows their name and their hotel.
In fact, he got the info from someone on the airport staff who
handled the immigration cards they filled in. He phones the
details to his accomplice who then creates the placard.
What happens next can be anything from a meandering (and
expensive) journey to the hotel, to a kidnap, where victims are
robbed, then driven and dumped out of town.
Similar cases have recently been reported from a couple of
regional airports in India.
Action: If someone you’re not expecting meets you at the
airport, check their credentials and, if you’re not 100%
satisfied, go to the airport information desk and ask to
contact the hotel for confirmation.
Travel Scam #6. Computer scam #1:
Off With Your Laptop!
This is a cunning trick you might run into at any airport in
the world. You’re in the security line and place your laptop PC
on the conveyor belt. You wait to pass through the passenger
Then the person in front of you triggers the metal alarm. You
wait patiently as he empties coins and keys out of his pocket.
The alarm sounds again, so he removes his belt, and so on.
Meanwhile, his accomplice — yes, this is a scam — who has
already cleared security, walks off with your laptop. He may
swap it into another case, walk quickly down to a gate, or just
conceal it somewhere for later collection.
Action: If possible, don’t put your stuff on the conveyor until
you’re about to go through the scanner. If you can’t do this,
watch your laptop like a hawk and alert a security guard if you
see someone walking off with it.
If you are traveling with someone else, let them go thru the
scanner, and after they are through and can watch the receiving
end, put both of your laptops on the conveyor belt.
By the way, you did back up all the data on your laptop before
you left home, just in case, didn’t you?
Note: be aware that US border agents are demanding passwords,
and scanning laptops when you enter / return to the US. (This
is for citizens and non-citizens alike.)
Travel Scam #7. Computer scam #2:
Free Internet service could be a snoop
More and more these days, we expect to be able to use our
laptops to log onto the Internet in airports and other public
places, free of charge.
But when your wireless laptop sniffs out available Internet
connections, it often shows there are actually several in the
vicinity. These may include the free airport link and other
legitimate services that happen to be close by.
You may even piggy-back onto someone else’s unsecured Internet
link on a nearby laptop. But that same laptop may also be just
a lure. Once you jump onto it, the operator may be a hacker
waiting to get access to your machine.
He might then upload malicious software, including a
key-logging program to capture all your personal information.
Action: Either before going to the airport or by visiting its
information desk, find out the name of its public Internet link
service so you will recognize it when your laptop finds it.
Even then, the link may not be secure from snoopers so don’t
type in personal information.
As many of our new batch of travel scams show, technology may
be a blessing but it’s also a route to thefts and rip-offs. By
taking common sense precautions, checking facts and identities
and being vigilant at all times, you can make your journey
through the airport a safer experience and enjoy your vacation.
That’s a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!