45 Most Common Tourist Scams in USA

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Empire State Building

Empire State Building

 

Canyons, glaciers, deserts, rainforests, beaches, cities, skyscrapers, towns, music, Hollywood, you name it, the USA has it.

As one of the world’s superpowers, Uncle Sam has an astounding list of experiences to offer to make your holiday the trip of a lifetime.

However, with the third largest population in the world, the USA is also home to a number of criminals and scammers.

Over the years, these scums have perfected quite a couple of tricks up their sleeves to fleece you of your money.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself on this trip of a lifetime!

 

Contents

A. Tourist activities

  1. Music artist
  2. Taking photos with TV / movie characters
  3. Fake Las Vegas sign photographers
  4. Fake charity peddlers
  5. The three card monte scam
  6. Restaurant gratuity / double tip scam
  7. Hidden “resort fees” at hotels
  8. Fake takeout menu
  9. Hot dog mustard / spilled liquid scam
  10. Street pickpockets
  11. Shake my hand and buy my item to let go
  12. Casino theft (many variations)
  13. Can you help cash out my chips / can you help me?
  14. VIP pass scam
  15. Street cards / escort cards in Las Vegas
  16. Free meal at a casino
  17. Fake monks
  18. “Free” comedy show scam
  19. Slot machines at Las Vegas McCarran International airport

B. Transport

  1. Public transportation pickpockets
  2. Metrocard scam
  3. Ferry to Staten Island / fake tickets
  4. Fake taxis / ubers at the airport
  5. The runaway taxi driver
  6. The “longhauling” taxi driver
  7. Taxi driver’s advice
  8. Taxi “arranger”
  9. Pedicab
  10. Traffic smash and grab

C. Miscellaneous

  1. Selling free newspapers
  2. Candy boys / men
  3. Snatch thefts / robberies / muggings
  4. Rigged ATMs / card skimming
  5. Electronic pickpocket
  6. Fake front desk phone calls
  7. Room service
  8. The bump, drop and spoiled item scam
  9. Italian suit scam
  10. “Dynamic” prices at hotdog / food carts
  11. Beggars with babies
  12. Timeshare scams
  13. White van speaker scam
  14. Watch my place at the bar scam
  15. Victim turned robber scam
  16. Public WIFI cyber thief

D. Key safety issues

  1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest
  2. Medical care
  3. Natural disasters
  4. Transport safety

E. Getting help

  1. Emergency numbers to call

F. TravelScams community

  1. Community comments
  2. Submit a scam / share your experience

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Music artist

 

How it works:

This is a scam that is common in New York City (Times Square especially or the Las Vegas strip). An overly friendly guy will approach you and offer a free CD of his music.

He claims that you would be doing him a huge favour if you were to accept it and play it in your country. Some would even autograph the CD as a show of sincerity.

Should you accept the CD, you will then be asked for payment. If you refuse, the scammer will refuse to take back the CD and make a scene claiming that you have stolen it.

Some would even have a gang of accomplices surround you and pressurize you into paying.

 

What to do:

There are actually legitimate sellers. But to spare yourself the trouble, spot these sellers from afar and avoid them.

 

2. Taking photos with TV / movie characters

 

How it works:

You can find tons of these characters on Broadway, such as spiderman, Elsa from Frozen, Ironman, etc.

If you were to take photos with them, be prepared to pay a tip, or be hounded or even attacked.

 

What to do:

If you must, either pay or take a photo from afar without them realizing it. Or just pay up for a cheap thrill.

 

3. Fake Las Vegas sign photographers

Las Vegas sign

Las Vegas sign

 

How it works:

At the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, you will find many official-looking photographers ready to help you take a photo.

Note that there are no such official jobs around and these scammers will help you a photo first and then hound you for a tip.

 

What to do:

Just ask a fellow tourist to help you take a photo.

 

4. Fake charity peddlers

Charity peddler in New York City

Charity peddler in New York City. Source: nydailynews.com

 

How it works:

There have been many reports of scammers claiming to represent some charity at the Times Square in New York.

For instance, they may claim to represent homeless people working for the Time Square news, or that they are helping people living in poverty in Africa, or even saving endangered animals from extinction etc.

To sound even more convincing, they come armed with fanciful brochures and postures.

Once you are hooked, they will ask you to sign on a form and to make a donation.

 

What to do:

If you really want to donate, go online, search for legitimate, registered organizations and donate to them instead.

 

5. The three card monte scam

Three card monte scam in New York City

Three card monte scam in New York City. Source: nypost.com

 

How it works:

Besides in the US, the shell game is also especially common in Europe (e.g. Germany, UK).

This game involves the showing and then shuffling of three cards (e.g. 2 black, 1 red). You have to guess which card is the odd one out. Guess correctly and you double your money.

The scam is perpetrated by a group of scammers. There is one dealer, two to three in the crowd acting as onlookers, one playing the game and one on the lookout for the police.

This game seems easy but it is impossible to win, because the dealer uses a sleight of hand trick to swap the card.

If you see anyone winning, that is the accomplice. This is so as to tempt tourists into thinking that it is easy to win.

Watch out for those accomplices acting as onlookers, as they will pressure you into playing or intimidate you into staying. Some may even steal your valuables when you are distracted.

If you’re interested, here’s a video exposing how the scam is done:

 

What to do:

Avoid – it’s impossible to win.

And as we always recommend, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch. This makes it impossible for these thieves to steal from you.

 

6. Restaurant gratuity / double tip scam

Double tip scam

Double tip scam. Source: nydailynews.com

 

How it works:

It has been reported that restaurants at Times Square have been charging customers double the tip, by adding an additional gratuity on the bill.

For those who are lucky, you might get a waiter who tells you that you don’t have to leave a tip at the end.

 

What to do:

Go through your restaurant bill carefully.

Also, do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

If researching is too much of a hassle, you can also consider joining a fun local food tour!

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • Viator: largest platform of day tours globally and in the US with low price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

7. Hidden “resort fees” at hotels

 

How it works:

For many hotels along the Las Vegas strip and even some in New York, they charge customers “resort fees” in addition to the advertised room rate.

The advertised room rates tend to be a low one to pull in unknowing tourists.

By the time you realize, it will probably be too late to back out.

Some of these hotels further benefit by separating this resort fee revenue from the normal revenue and not pay tax on the former.

 

What to do:

Do your research online to find the reputable places to stay.

Here’s a list of hotels which charge and also those which don’t. However, as we don’t have control over that site, do double check in case that page is not updated.

If you were asked to pay, here are three steps to avoid paying that charge.

 

8. Fake takeout menu

Two Italians Pizza takeout menu at Disneyland

Two Italians Pizza takeout menu at Disneyland. Source: doctordisney.com

 

How it works:

This is an easy scam to fall for, as it looks so believable.

As the name suggests, these scammers will slip fake takeout menus under your hotel room door.

Should you order through the menu, the scammers will get your credit card information and you know what happens next.

Orlando / Disneyland seems to be the hotspot for this crime. Despite efforts by the authorities to clean it up, the scam still exists, probably because it is an easy and lucrative one.

 

What to do:

Double check with the hotel reception before ordering, or order room service instead.

 

9. Hot dog mustard / spilled liquid scam

Manhattan

Manhattan

 

How it works:

This is a common scam around the world (e.g. Argentina, UAE) just in different variations (e.g. bird poo, spilled liquid, green liquid, white liquid, spit, etc).

It usually happens in crowded places, where a man eating a hot dog (a mustard tube in a bun actually) “accidentally” squirts mustard over you.

He will help you clean up, forcefully even if he were to reject his help.

This is to create time and space for his accomplice to make off with your luggage or your valuables.

 

What to do:

Be wary around those eating a hot dog in crowded places (airports and malls largely). If anyone spills something on you and tries to help, stand your ground and push them away forcefully.

Only carry small amounts of cash around with you in a cheap, spare wallet. Avoid carrying the purse or wallet in the back pocket.

For the rest of your valuables, hide them securely with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag, this way, thieves will almost never be able to steal from you.

Further, keep most of your valuables and passport in the hotel / hostel / apartment safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools. Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead.

 

10. Street pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, restaurants, tourist attractions, hotels, nightspots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

11. Shake my hand and buy my item to let go

Union Square

Union Square. Source: tripsavvy.com

 

How it works:

As the title suggests, there have been reports (e.g. at Union Square) of a guy coming up to you to shake your hand while holding a box of candies.

Once you fall for it, he is not going to let go until you pay an inflated price for the box of candies he is holding.

 

What to do:

Decline and avoid.

 

12. Casino theft (many variations)

Vegas casino

Vegas casino

 

How it works:

There have been reports of theft at casinos, in many different variations:

  • At female toilets in casinos, a thief can reach over the stall and grab handbags / purses off the door’s hooks
  • A scammer might drop some money on the floor and ask if those are yours. Once you are distracted, the scammer’s accomplice will swoop in and steal your bucket of coins or tokens.
  • In casinos with coinless machines, there are scammers who roam around trying to find machines with high credit. Next, they distract you, and an accomplice swoops in to cash out the machine by pressing the button to print the redemption ticket and then escapes with it.

 

What to do:

Avoid putting yourself in the aforementioned situations and stay alert.

 

13. Can you help cash out my chips / can you help me?

Roulette

Roulette

 

How it works:

This can come in many variations as well.

One common variation is near the casinos, where the scammer will say a sob story such as:

I was winning lots of money, but the casino accused me of card counting and threw me out. I didn’t even get a chance to cash out of my chips. I have $10,000 worth of it now, can I pay you $500 to help me cash it?

 

However, for me to trust you, can you pass me your wallet so that I can exchange it back with you once you cash in those chips?

Those are obviously fake chips but there are still tourists who fall for it.

Other variations could be for instance, claiming to be robbed and needing money for transport to the hotel / police station; or asking you to buy a jewellery which is obviously fake at an inflated price, etc.

 

What to do:

If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Never accept such kinds of propositions from a stranger.

 

14. VIP pass scam

Las Vegas

Las Vegas. Source: visitlasvegas.com

 

How it works:

You will find VIP passes being promoted in nearly all casinos or strip corners in Las Vegas.

This pass, which may come with a free drink or expedited entry, doesn’t actually work as advertised.

The free drinks which these passes entitle you to are usually limited to a certain time. Expedited entry also doesn’t work if the club is full, which defeats the purpose of the pass in the first place.

There are even fake passes being sold, so do be wary of that.

Of course, there are legitimate VIP passes, but be prepared to spend more.

Also there is a risk of being rejected by the club hosts and employees who claim that these are fake. This is because the host / employee did not take a cut of the profits of the pass and so would not care.

Pass your pass to the cashier instead of to them.

 

What to do:

Do your research to find the legitimate promoters / places to buy from. Consider these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Viator (largest globally and in the US).

One way is to buy it at crowded areas or where there’s a police presence, and get the promoter’s name and mobile number.

 

15. Street cards / escort cards in Las Vegas

Escort cards

Escort cards. Source: kreyolasjourneys.com

 

How it works:

These cards are given out on the strip, with each card showing a prostitute on it and the price of that prostitute.

Note that the fee shown on the card is for the prostitute to show up, anything else comes with extra charges.

And if you do not know, prostitution here is illegal. As such, they usually use fake pictures and aliases. Thus the person who turns up is not going to look like the one on the card!

What’s worse, because prostitution here is illegal, the person who turns up is more likely to be here to rob you, instead of engaging in any sexual activities.

Even for the real prostitutes, they are likely to rip you off and are unlikely to have gone through any health check ups.

 

What to do:

Do your research to find the legitimate promoters / places to buy from.

Don’t act on these cards but if you do, be prepared to pay out of your pocket. Or you can simply head to the legal red light district.

And of course, leave your valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

16. Free meal at a casino

 

How it works:

You might meet an attractive stranger, who will try to hit it off with you.

Once trust is established, he / she will claim that he / she has just won big at the casino, and offers to treat you at some expensive restaurant.

Should you accept, halfway through the meal, your new found friend will excuse himself / herself to the bathroom and not come back.

 

What to do:

Reject such offers, especially from a random stranger.

 

17. Fake monks

 

How it works:

Fake monks are a global enterprise, you can find them everywhere around the world (e.g. Australia, Hong Kong).

These scammers, dressed in orange robes, go around tourist attractions. They offer golden medallions and greetings of peace in exchange for donations to help some temple which they are from.

If you refuse, they will turn aggressive and hound you, or snatch the medallion back as a last resort.

But that’s not all, if you’re unlucky, the fake monk might not be the only one hounding you.

 

What to do:

Decline and avoid.

 

18. “Free” comedy show scam

Broadway Comedy Club

Broadway Comedy Club.

 

How it works:

In New York, there have also been reports of this scam, where scammers hand out free comedy club entrance tickets.

They claim that famous comedians such as David Letterman or Jimmy Falon have previously performed at these clubs.

Should you go, what you will find is an old, rundown bar, where you will be forced to buy two drinks at the minimum.

You should still count yourself lucky. This is because the unluckier ones might even have been scammed into paying for the “free” ticket and lied to that the drinks are free!

 

What to do:

Do not buy from streets touts or unofficial sellers.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like Viator (largest globally and in the US).

 

19. Slot machines at Las Vegas McCarran International airport

Las Vegas McCarran International airport

Las Vegas McCarran International airport Source: Flickr – Cragin Spring

 

How it works:

This is not technically a scam but more of a tourist trap.

However, it should not come as a surprise that the slot machines and video poker machines here have a lousier rate of return!

It has been reported that these machines only return roughly 85%, compared to the 92% at the casinos in town.

 

What to do:

Avoid playing here.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Public transportation pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded transportation hubs with confused tourists and crowded trains / buses to and from the airport and tourist attractions are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround you and work like this:

  • One blocks you at the door(pretends to tie shoe laces / drops something), the other steals from behind and slips to a third who escapes, and one other blocks others from viewing the act.
  • Some are able to time it perfectly such that they can snatch your stuff and jump out when the doors are just about to close.
  • Other times, especially at escalators, they might trip you or bump into you. Next moment, your valuables are gone.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

2. Metrocard scam

Metrocard

Metrocard. Source: nydailynews.com

 

How it works:

There have been reports where people pick up abandoned cards usually with little value left in them and resell them for a higher price, while claiming that it is actually a “discounted” price.

In fact, it was reported that a homeless man made over $20,000 just from reselling these cards.

Note that it is illegal for anyone besides the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to sell these cards.

 

What to do:

Only buy your transportation cards from the authorized MTA dealers.

 

3. Ferry to Staten Island / fake tickets

Staten Island ferry

Staten Island ferry

 

How it works:

Found on most tourists’ list of things to do, a trip on the iconic ferry to Staten Island is a great way to see New York’s harbour.

You might find street hawkers pushing these tickets at any price. But thing is, you do not have to pay to get on board!

Besides the Staten Island ferry ticket, there are other “fake” and overpriced tickets sold by unlicensed groups.

For instance, the infamous SJQ Sightseeing tours scammers who wear dark blue vests with those words, sell new Statue of Liberty tickets for $80-100, reused Statue of Liberty tickets and even Battery Park entrance tickets for $20 when entrance is free!

SJQ Sightseeing tours touts

SJQ Sightseeing tours touts. Source: awalkintheparknyc.blogspot.com

 

Do beware of these crooks who operate around lower Manhattan!

 

What to do:

Do some research before buying these tickets. E.g. is a ticket required? If so, where is the authorized outlet to buy from?

 

4. Fake taxis / ubers at the airport

 

How it works:

Like many other countries globally (e.g. Philippines, Mexico), beware of drivers soliciting for customers away from the official queues.

They will claim to charge a lower price to entice you, however, you will definitely end up paying more.

For instance, he could be using a crooked meter, may drive you somewhere secluded and then demand a huge fee, or simply rob you of your valuables.

 

What to do:

Do not take an unofficial taxi. If you do take one, take a photo of the car plate and the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

Else, consider these other options:

  • Get a cab from the official line.
  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platform like Viator (largest globally and in the US).
  • Book a rental car through AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee.
  • Use a taxi booking app like Uber or Lyft.

 

5. The runaway taxi driver

Street in New York City

Street in New York City

 

How it works:

There have been reports of taxi drivers coming out of the cab to help you with your luggage in the boot.

However, they miss out one or two small bags intentionally and then quickly drive off with them before you realize.

Cities where this scam has been reported: Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Nevada, Maryland, New Orlenas, Baltimore, Louisiana, etc

 

What to do:

Before getting into a cab, take note of the driver’s name, car plate number and the taxi company.

When alighting, be sure to account for all your luggage in the boot, especially if the driver seems to be in a rush.

Ideally, keep all your valuables secure on you by using a money belt / hidden pouch.

 

6. The “longhauling” taxi driver

 

How it works:

As the name suggests, the long-haul cab driver takes you on a longer route than required to earn more fare off you.

It is a prevalent practice especially by the Nellis and Desert cab drivers in Las Vegas.

This is because the distance between the airport and the strip is pretty short, so the driver brings you along a longer route to earn extra fare.

These cab drivers are smart. They test you by asking if this is the first time you have been to Vegas.

If you say yes, you will find yourself heading down South through a tunnel which can add up to $10 to the fare.

 

What to do:

Say this is not the first time you are in Vegas and to go by the Swenson and Tropicana way.

If the driver refuses, you can refuse to pay and threaten to report him to the Nevada Taxicab Authority’s 24 hotline at 702-668-4005.

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. More prominent landmarks around your destination can be mentioned.

During the ride, check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

Sometimes, drivers do take detours to avoid traffic jams, but that should not detract from the correct general direction.

 

7. Taxi driver’s advice

Taxis in New York

Taxis in New York

 

How it works:

In Las Vegas especially, do be wary of your cab driver’s advice.

Some will advise you that the place you are not going is not good / over-commercialized / over hyped and that as a local, he knows of a better place.

Most likely that place is an establishment he gets kickbacks from. This is a common scam around the world (e.g. Morocco, India).

Also, if you are travelling as a single man, shady cab drivers will invariably recommend a massage parlour or strip-joint to check out.

Avoid these places as they are likely unregulated and you may be at the mercy of shady criminals.

 

What to do:

Take cab drivers’ advice with a pinch of salt, especially on topics such as accommodation which makes up bulk of a trip’s expenses

Get your accommodation only through legitimate platforms such as:

  • Booking.com: Frommer’s tests have found the site to offer the best selection and rates amongst competing sites most of the time.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of the US by staying with a local host!

 

8. Taxi “arranger”

 

How it works:

There have been reports in Miami some years back where scammers at long taxi queues would claim to help you get a cab for $20 which will go towards your fare.

This is obviously a scam yet there are some tourists who still fall for it.

 

What to do:

Ignore these offers.

 

9. Pedicab

Pedicabs in New York

Pedicabs in New York. Source: nbcnewyork.com

 

How it works:

The pedicab is just like the cyclos in Vietnam and tuk tuks in Thailand. They are a scam waiting to happen, a scourge of the road.

Their pricing system is tricky (think hidden charges in extremely small font) and complicated.

As such, you won’t know the final price till the end of your journey, which will be much more than what you initially expect.

This exists as legally, they can charge whatever they want. As long as it is stated on the card they show to you.

 

What to do:

Avoid at all costs.

 

10. Traffic smash and grab

 

How it works:

There have been reports of scammers hiding in street corners where there are long red lights.

They wait for rental cars and once they spot a potential target, they will look inside to see if you have anything in the back seats.

If you do, they will smash your back windows, grab your stuff and then escape.

Fortunately, this is not as common as in places like Brazil or Malaysia, but it is still one to watch out for.

Of course, besides street corners / near long red lights, as long as you leave valuables exposed in your car, you are fair game for thieves anywhere.

 

What to do:

Be careful around tourist areas and the business districts in Hawaii.

Keep your doors locked and windows up.

Do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

Finally, get travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any loss of valuables.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Selling free newspapers

Newspapers in US

Newspapers in US. Source: chicagotribune.com

 

How it works:

Can you imagine, people selling free newspapers just to earn a penny in New York City?

What they do, is to put today’s edition on the top of a stack of old newspapers. They tell you that it is free, and should you take one, they will pass you an old newspaper from below.

Although you do not pay, they will bug you for a tip, which they claim will go towards some charity or non-profit organization. This is a lie.

 

What to do:

Avoid and reject.

 

2. Candy boys / men

 

How it works:

You will find these candy boys on the New York Subway.

They will approach you to buy some chocolate / candies, and claim that they are fundraising for their basketball team / charity.

Some will even show you papers / photos of their team, and how they just need that bit more money to get gear for themselves, and try to evoke your sympathies.

What really happens is that these boys will be passing a cut of the proceeds to a neighbourhood wholesaler rather than any basketball team / charity.

In fact, one even made USD $55,000 a year from this!

 

What to do:

It’s up to you to choose whether you would like to buy these. After all, if the price is right, why not?

 

3. Snatch thefts / robberies / muggings

 

How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

At crowded places, even seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Do not carry valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off.

Other protection measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

4. Rigged ATMs / card skimming

Bank of America ATM

Bank of America ATM. Source: atg.wa.gov

 

How it works:

There have even reports of robbery at these machines, so do stay on the lookout.

Besides robberies, ATMs can be rigged in two ways generally:

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, check the ATM for any red flags, and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

5. Electronic pickpocket

 

How it works:

If you carry a credit card, your cards can get swiped by a thief with a RFID scanner.

How this works: credit cards / e-passports / key cards etc contain a RFID chip (you can find a symbol of radio waves on your card). This chip is what allows you to make contact-less payments / perform actions through radio waves.

However, a crook walking by with a device can swipe your credit card’s numbers and expiration date or personal information from other cards.

 

What to do:

Use a RFID blocking travel wallet or RFID blocking money belt or hidden pouch to store your valuables securely.

 

6. Fake front desk phone calls

Hotel in Los Angeles

Hotel in Los Angeles

 

How it works:

There have been many reports of this in Georgia (and also all around the country).

Scammers use smuggled phones acting as fake front desk personnel, calling guests in the wee hours to request for credit card information and there are different ways of doing so:

  • Method #1: they claim that the hotel’s computer system has crashed or that there is an error with the number, and a number of sleepy guests do get caught off guard.
  • Method #2: the scammer claims that he just wants to verify your card details on record. He will provide the last 4 digits of your card, which are obviously wrong. When you point out the error, he will act confused and ask you to tell him all the numbers.

 

What to do:

Do not provide your credit card details over the phone no matter the occasion. Cut the phone and check with the front desk if in doubt.

 

7. Room service

Room service

Room service. Source: uk.businessinsider.com

 

How it works:

Room service charges are usually charged to the credit card on file with the hotel.

If the staff demands cash when delivering your food, double check with the reception.

 

What to do:

Double check with the front desk if asked to pay cash upfront for room service.

 

8. The bump, drop and spoiled item scam

Seattle

Seattle

 

How it works:

Similar to the earlier scam, this can occur in many variations.

One is where the scammer will knock into you and drop a pair of broken glasses (can also be a broken phone, etc), then claiming that you have broken it.

They usually do this in a crowded place as it is easier to execute.

Further, it is also easier to intimidate you by claiming loudly with an accusatory tone that you have broken the item.

 

What to do:

When caught in such a situation, ignore and walk off.

Or you could accuse the other guy of bumping into you and threaten to call the police to mediate (number at the end of this article). That should solve the problem.

 

9. Italian suit scam

 

How it works:

This is one that also happens in Italy / Europe and it goes like this.

A scammer will happen to be lost and approach you for directions to the airport, as he is flying back to Italy.

Should you help him, he will thank you, make some small chat and then offer you some suits at a low price. He claims to have too many of these and he would like you to have it as appreciation for your help.

If you accept it, this also helps him as it is a great hassle to bring all these back home.

 

What to do:

These suits are mere thrift store stuff and not worth the few hundreds the scammer will ask for. Firmly reject.

 

10. “Dynamic” prices at hotdog / food carts

 

How it works:

Beware of those food carts on the street which do not post their prices.

Often times, they price discriminate and charge tourists / foreigners a higher price.

If you smell something amiss at the price they offer, simply walk away and the price offered will drop.

 

What to do:

Buy from stalls with prices displayed or simply walk away if charged an exorbitant price.

 

11. Beggars with babies

Beggar

Beggar. Source: nycvalues.blogspot.com

 

How it works:

It was reported in 2014 that there was a group of women who spent long hours on the streets begging, using babies / toddlers with signs claiming that they are jobless and hungry.

They would work in shifts, passing the babies / toddlers to the woman on the next shift.

 

What to do:

Ignore them (they could easily get government services but chose not to, as they prefer cash) to discourage such actions.

 

12. Timeshare scams

Resort

Resort

 

How it works:

How it works over here is that you will find well dressed salespeople offering you a free gift or discounted tickets to tourist attractions.

However, the catch is that you have to attend a timeshare sales pitch.

What happens next is that you will be subject to high pressure sales techniques over the next two hours either make a full purchase or sign up for a paid trial.

 

What to do:

Do not bother partaking in timeshare sessions. The timeshare apartment is likely a poor investment.

Plus you will almost never get the free gift due to the onerous terms and conditions. Or you might even have to pay to receive the “free” gift.

 

13. White van speaker scam

White van

White van. Source: bbb.org

 

How it works:

This is a really old scam that still exists (also in Canada) which targets both locals and tourists.

The scammers, working in groups of 3, will wear a company uniform and drive their van around.

They would approach you and explain that due to some corporate error (e.g. over-order by client; system error, etc), they are now left with many speakers which they need to clear soon.

As such, they are able to offer you at lower than retail prices if you are interested to buy.

Should you reject the offer, that’s when the high pressure sales tactics will come in. They will bombard you with fancy looking marketing collateral, technical jargon, hound you if you try to leave and finally, lower the price significantly.

Note that it is not just speakers which can be sold, anything else can be sold too.

 

What to do:

Reject such offers – these are poor quality speakers / items.

 

14. Watch my place at the bar scam

Cocktail

Cocktail

 

How it works:

This is a very simple yet ingenious scam.

A girl might chat you up at the bar, and then leave her bag there and ask you to help look after it, as she goes get a drink / to the toilet.

She heads over to the bartender, orders a drink and then calls / waves at you. Should you wave back, you have just acknowledged to the bartender to put the drink on your tab.

 

What to do:

It’s alright to meet new people at a bar, just be wary of such situations.

 

15. Victim turned robber scam

 

How it works:

This can turn out in many variations.

For instance, the scammer might approach you in a dark street and ask for help as he has just been robbed. Should you take your wallet out, the scammer’s accomplices will appear out of nowhere and snatch it away.

Besides a wallet, it can be anything, such as needing a phone to make emergency calls as the scammer’s phone has just been stolen, or simply asking what time it is and requesting you to check your phone, etc.

 

What to do:

Whenever you hear a “sob story”, walk off.

And as mentioned earlier, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag or a money belt or hidden pouch to make it impossible for thieves to steal from you.

 

16. Public WIFI cyber thief

 

How it works:

There have been many reports where users of free WIFI in public places have had their data / identity stolen.

 

What to do:

Use hard-wired connection instead of public WIFI.

If you really must use public WIFI, avoid logging into personal accounts such as emails or bank accounts. Also,

  • Verify the network name (some hackers set up working WIFIs with similar names to the bar / place you are at to use their WIFI, where they can track your data)
  • Only visit the site if it has https:// in the link address, as this means that the communication between your computer and the network is encrypted and can’t be read by a third party
  • For those willing to pay for security, use a VPN service. The VPN acts as a physical barrier between your computer the web, and it will encrypt your communication before sending ito the web
  • However, note that even encrypted information can be decoded, so be wary of what sites you use / what information you enter

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

                                                     

1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Map of safe and unsafe regions in US

Map of safe and unsafe regions in US. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: occurs but usually in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and not targeted at tourists.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: drug related crime / organized crime groups along US – Mexico border (Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas).
  • Terrorism: heightened threat, mainly from lone wolf attacks inspired by Daesh and al Qaeda.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Also, avoid or take extra caution when in the cities with the highest rates of violent crime per 100,000 people:

  • East St Louis
  • Darby Borough
  • Opa Locka
  • Florida City
  • Flint
  • Detroit
  • Saginaw City
  • College Park
  • Prichard
  • West Memphis

Finally, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issues terrorism-related updates through its National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin.

 

2. Medical care

New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center

New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Source: epic.cumc.columbia.edu

 

How it works:

High standards of medical care.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: zika, west nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya virus, lyme disease.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV.
  • Others: algae blooms along the Gulf Coast of Florida.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Earthquakes: states susceptible include Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Washington stat, US Virgin Islands.
  • Hurricanes:
    • Atlantic and Northern Pacific hurricane season: June to November, affects coastal regions, Hawaii, Guam.
    • South Pacific tropical cyclone season: November to May, affects American Samoa.
  • Tornadoes: can happen anytime, most common in the Midwest.
  • Volcanoes: active volcanoes located along the Pacific Rim.
  • Wildfires: can happen in dry areas such as in California.
  • Snowstorms: December to February.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reportsweather forecasts and sources such as

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.
  • Tsunamis: signs include abnormal ocean activity and load roars. Protect yourself from an earthquake first if there is one. Else, get to a high ground as far inland as possible.
  • Hurricanes: stay indoors away from windows, do not use electrical appliances / equipment, do not head out and touch debris (more injuries / deaths happen after than during).
  • Volcanic eruption: avoid areas downwind and river valleys downstream of the volcano, do not drive in heavy ash fall, seek shelter (if no need to evacuate) or high ground if no shelter (crouch down away from volcano, cover head with arms).
  • Forest fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road conditions are safe, though vary state to state.

Most importantly, check weather conditions before embarking on long routes or to mountainous areas.

 

What to do:

Make sure your travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) covers travel accidents.

Driving:

  • Only get a rental car via legitimate platforms (e.g. AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee).
  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in US

Police in US. Source: boingboing.net

 

  • All emergencies: 911

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5 Comments

  1. Rac

    I was walking towards battery park to get the ticket to the statue of liberty. There was those people with blue coat. They asked me where we were going. I said it we are going to battery park to get the ticket to statue of liberty. She said the line is so long. I have to wait 3 hours just to get the ticket and 3 hours for the boat and she said for kids they require birth certificate to get the ticket. It sounded very odd to me and I told them that that was not true because I have been there before and we didn’t need them. The lady said rules has changed. I actually believed them. I asked her so if I take this tour will I be able to see the statue of liberty and Ellis Island. She said no. The boat will stop so that you can take a picture but you won’t be able to get in the island. After asking the price which was almost 200$+ for one kid and two adult. I told her we will go wait in the line for 3 hours and if they ask for birth certificate we won’t go. We went to battery park to get the ticket there was not even a long line. We asked the trooper if we need a birth certificate he said it was not needed. The total was 37$ to get the ticket for 3. Once we got our ticket after 30 minutes we were on our way to liberty island. I still can’t believe I was almost scammed.

    Reply
    • Kim

      Your gut is usually right!

      Reply
  2. Morris Belemans

    america–the failed hu$tling empire of hyper-aggressive thugs who cannot perceive a world where they compromise with anyone. America is a culture of domination and subjugation. A culture of greed and narcissism. It could never be the idealized America that its soft power sells in the form of Friends and the myriad of movies that paint America as a unique a beautiful place.

    It’s a spiteful, sleazy, ugly culture that inhabits that “nation”–business vulture/venture. From top to bottom the shyster people are rotten. It hasn’t spread, they have always been a rotten and selfish people. It’s why politically you can accomplish nothing. The poor that the Left love to idealize is just as nasty and as cruel as the elite who use them and throw them away like garbage.

    Reply
    • AKt

      Morris, whichever country you are from, the worst days of America is still much better the greatest days of any other country in the world.

      Reply
    • Jesse

      Then why are people from other countries willing to risk their lives to come here?
      Pretty big words for such a small shallow man!

      Reply

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