Travel Safety Tips
Summer is the time for travel, but while you’re packing your suitcase, scammers and schemers are preparing their tricks. It’s pretty easy to spot Americans and many would-be petty thieves get dollar signs in their eyes when they see us coming. It’s not just the trusting and naive travelers who get bilked – plenty of more sophisticated ones get taken advantage of as well. Here’s how to protect yourself while traveling this summer.
What Americans take for promptness other cultures see as being in a hurry. Any time you are having money counted out for you, as when you change currency or get change, be patient. It is common for cashiers to pause from time to time while counting. Many tourists have gathered up the amount on the counter and left with only part of their money. Especially if you are visiting a laid back culture like Latin America or the Mediterranean, take a deep breath, relax and wait a moment. After the money is counted by the cashier make sure you count it in your hands before you leave the cashier stand to ensure it was counted properly and that you haven’t been scammed.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to take your money out of your pocket or purse to lose it. Pickpockets are hard at work when other people are on vacation. Several cities are known for their pickpockets: New York, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Rome and others. But it only takes one to ruin your vacation. Some cities post signs warning about about pickpockets – pay attention and be careful! Pickpockets loiter around these signs because people usually touch the pocket where their wallet is when they see the sign. In this way tourists unconsciously tip off the thieves as to which pocket to pick. Beggars serve the same function. If you want to give, keep some change or small bills separate from your wallet.
Don’t imagine that a button on your back pants pocket will make it too difficult. They often use a razor to slit the cloth below the wallet and it falls quietly into their hands, adding insult to injury – or rather damage to theft.
Be especially wary of crowds, like bazaars, or street entertainment. A magic show is the perfect distraction to lift your valuables from you. Even children participate in picking pockets and purses, often working in gangs. One runs by throwing mud on your shoe and when you bend to clean it, the accomplices get into your purse, packages or pockets. A friend of mine had her tote bag on her shoulder and clamped under her arm in savvy traveler form and still found a woman behind her scrimmaging through her bag!
Many travelers rely on ATM machines to conveniently give them cash in the local currency but many of the machines now have signs warning you to look for any apparatus added on that might be a card scanner which steals your card number. But people on their cell phones can do that, too. If the cashier is on their phone pay in cash or insist that they put it down while they take your card – otherwise they can photograph your card and use the number for an online buying spree or sell the number online.
Watch out for fake take out menus slipped under your hotel room door. When you order your meal, they will take your credit card info and you won’t ever get the meal. Also be wary of phone calls to your hotel room asking to confirm your credit card details because of some problem with the computers (or any other excuse). Often these calls are made late at night and travelers don’t feel like going in person to take care of it at the front desk. If you suspect that it is a scam, don’t give your credit card details or any other information. Tell them that you will resolve it at the front desk at the soonest opportunity.