5 tips to avoid travel fraud

Update:03 Apr 2010
From confusing currencies to 'free' tours, here are 5 scams unsuspecting tourists easily fall prey to.
HERE are five leading travel scams that I have heard about or experienced myself.
It happens here too. The other day, I purchased an $8 thumb drive. I paid with a $ 50 note and got $ 12 change. When I pointed out the mistake to the cashier, she was apologetic, admitted the error and gave me the correct change.
It might have been an honest mistake, or maybe she thought I was a tourist and she’d try her luck.
It’s hard to say.
A variation is to switch currencies. It happens a lot in Eastern Europe.
You pay in one currency and receive the correct units of change but in a less valuable currency.
For example, the Polish currency is called the Zloty. Say you expect to receive 60 Zlotys ($ 29) in change. You count and sure enough, you got 60.
Later, you discover the change you received was 60Hungarian Forints ($ 0.40), which are worth less than 1 Polish Zloty.
Tip: In unfamiliar countries, those funny-looking currencies all look alike.
Rates are displayed at a money exchange store in the old town in Warsaw.
My wife, Mrs Money bought a big red ruby for $ 100 when we visited Myanmar last year. When we got back to Singapore, we took it to a jeweller who appraised it at $ 30.
We told him our sad story of how we paid $ 100 and he said: “You’re still lucky. Some people buy a “ruby” that is a piece of red glass. It’s worth $ 0.”
Tip: Be cautious when buying hard-to-value items like jewellery, gold, carpets and paintings, especially in developing countries.  
Many buyers do not know the difference between fake and real precious stones.
Some of them are confused by the appearance of the red ruby (left)
and the gamel stone (right) which is also red in color.
My wife’s sister visited Italy and their bus stopped for dinner. The bus driver locked the bus door and ate with them. Everyone returned to find they had been robbed.
The thieves took all the valuables from the first eight rows and then ran off. My sister-in-law was fortunate. She sat in row nine and lost nothing, but it was a shock and wrecked the trip for many.
Robbery of tour buses is common in Italy and the entire bus is occasionally stolen. When it is recovered, all the valuables are missing. Bus drivers are suspected of being accomplices, but it is hard to prove.
Thefts usually occur at the end of the day when tourists have finished their shopping, so there are plenty of rich pickings for the thieves.
Tip: A locked tour bus gives a false sense of security. Take your valuables with you if the bus is out of sight.
Mrs Money and I went to a museum in Thailand where a staff member followed us for an hour, explaining each of the exhibits.
He was knowledgeable and friendly but it turned out he wasn’t a staff member at all. When we were about to leave, he said: “You know, this is what I do for a living.”
He expected payment so we gave him some money, but we felt like we’d been conned.
Tip: If someone acts as your guide, he’s probably not doing it for free. Either tell him “no thanks” or agree on a fee beforehand.
A variation is when someone asks to follow you around for the day “to practise their English”. Be careful. What they want is money and not English tuition. A scam is likely to follow.
Tourists visiting the Wat Phra Kaeo (Emerald Buddha Temple) in Bankok.
I have a friend who was holding a briefcase while waiting for his luggage at the San Francisco airport.
Someone with an European accent told him he had mustard on his shoulder. He set down his briefcase, took a look and, sure enough, there was a big spot of mustard. It was a real mess.
He cleaned it off and turned to thank the stranger, but he had left. My friend then noticed that his briefcase was gone too.
Another friend told me a variation of this scam. He was talking on his handphone when a stranger approached him and started talking loudly in a foreign language.
The troublesome fellow finally left, but my friend noticed after the phone call that his notebook computer was missing. He suspected a team of two did it. One diverted attention while the other stole.
Tip: If you are distracted by a stranger, grab your bags and walk away. Report it to the police if they are nearby.
SOURCE: www.relax.com.sg
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