Latest travel scams both at home and abroad: Internet Scambusters #493
Over the years, we've reported on scores of travel scams and you'd think there couldn't be anything new. But there always is.
As the vacation season ramps up, crooks are sharpening their wits with new ways to steal your money, your luggage, and even your identity.
This week, we bring you five of the latest travel scams along with some valuable links to past travel scam issues so you can prepare yourself for the risks ahead.
Let's check out today's...
5 New Travel Scams
It's that time of year again, when a new batch of travel scams shows up on the Scambusters radar as millions of us make plans for our annual vacation.
And we're here to let you know that, although we've featured travel scams virtually every year since we started the Scambusters newsletter, the crooks haven't run out of ideas and have dreamed up a new bag of tricks to relieve you of your possessions.
This week we have 5 new travel scams to warn you about. But you might also want to check out some of our earlier issues covering this crime.
You can never be too well prepared!
The Pizza Menu Scam
You know that menu that was slipped under your hotel room door offering to deliver a pizza to you at any time of night or day?
Sounds like a good idea, right? But where did it come from?
According to police in Orlando, where this travel scam was recently spotted, it could have been from an identity thief.
You're hungry, the pizzas look mouthwatering and the price is just great.
You make the call, order, and give your name and credit card number (they may even ask for the security code on the card).
The pizza never arrives but you're left with an empty feeling in more than your stomach.
The crook has all he needs to drain your bank account or max out your credit card.
Action: If you need to eat urgently, refuse to provide a credit card and pay with cash only, or better yet, get recommendations from the hotel desk or use the phone book.
Of course, you can never totally be sure that these will lead to an honest outcome but the odds are more in your favor.
The Cell Phone Snap
Here's another way to lose your credit card number. This travel scam has been encountered in several parts of Europe but is just as possible here in the US or anywhere else.
You're paying for an item on your credit card and the cashier seems to be conducting a conversation on their cell phone as they complete the purchase.
These young people, eh? Never off their phones.
But what they're really doing is using their phone camera to snap the card -- both sides.
They're adept at this so what they're doing doesn't seem obvious.
Action: In an unfamiliar tourist shop pay with cash.
That makes sense even if the clerk isn't on the phone because of the risk of other travel scams. They may have a skimming device or other means of recording your card details.
Skimming was featured in our Top 10 scams list for both 2011 and 2012. In fact, so were travel scams.
Pay the Camel Man -- Again
In an exotic location, like Egypt, other African countries, and even in parts of Asia, you just can't resist the come-on to take a camel ride.
It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing and the price seems right, so you pay the owner, climb aboard the crouching beast, it stands up and off you go.
A memorable experience but, still, it's not too comfortable and you're glad to arrive back. Time to get off.
But hold your horses. Or, rather, your camel. The driver is telling you there's a dismounting fee and he won't let you off till you pay.
Action: If you can, book your camel ride in advance through your hotel or tour organizer.
The Trojan Horse Scam
This cunning trick is based on the theme of the ancient Greek legend in which warring Trojan soldiers hid inside a hollow wooden horse that their Spartan enemies misguidedly towed inside their fortress.
This time the deception is based on a hollow upright suitcase with an open bottom-edge and it can happen not only in Greece!
These travel scams are most common in airports and train stations. You take your eye off your luggage or a bag for a few moments, the crook plops his enormous hollow suitcase over it, pulls a lever, and walks off with your possessions.
Sound unlikely? Just such a trick was recently witnessed in Frankfurt and reported by the Seattle P-I newspaper.
Action: Don't let your luggage out of your sight or grip while it's under your control.
The Vegas Rush
Another way to lose your luggage is to fall victim to a crooked cab driver in Las Vegas, also reported by the Seattle P-I.
We don't want to imply that all cabbies are dishonest. The vast majority of them are not, but a few crooked ones have tarnished their reputation.
The most common trick, recently reported in Vegas -- though it could happen anywhere -- plays out when you arrive at your hotel or airport destination and the cabbie unloads your suitcases.
He pretends to be in a big hurry and, while you're distracted, looking around or organizing your luggage, he shuts the trunk and speeds off with one of your cases or bags still inside.
Action: Count them in and count them out, standing by the trunk so the cabbie can see what you're doing.
And, of course, make a note of the license plate and any taxi registration info -- and take a good look at the driver.
We covered some other taxi-related travel scams in an earlier issue, 7 Common Taxi Scams -- and 7 Steps to Beat Them.
That's a wrap for this week but just before signing off we wanted to remind you about an increasingly common travel-related con trick -- the distress email scam.
You get a message that seems to come from someone you know -- a friend or relative -- with a tale of woe about being robbed or suffering some other disaster while they're abroad.
They tell you they don't have enough money to pay their hotel bills or get back home and ask you to wire the cash, which they promise to repay as soon as they get home.
You can be 99.9% sure this is a scam. For the other 0.1%, contact your friend/relative by phone and find out where they really are.
You'll also need to let them know it looks like their email account has been hijacked.
And they may need to notify others in their address book that one of these travel scams could soon be hitting their inbox.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.