The truth is, no matter how well traveled you are, falling for travel scams can happen to anyone. This was the lesson we (re)learned in 2016. Although, we were lucky enough to not succumb to many, the ones we did, in retrospect should’ve never happened.
But they did.
And that is the point of this article. Regardless of how well versed you are with the travel scams many tourists fall for, every now and again, it happens to us too. Here are the ones we fell for this year.
While visiting the Berlin Wall, East Side Gallery, we were walking down the steps to the river to get a closer look at the Oberbaum Bridge, when two young women approached us to sign a petition with regards to providing transportation for children. Normally, we won’t stop to sign anything and even here, we hesitated when initially approached, but once the girls mentioned children, we figured, what’s the harm? While signing the petition, I (Saadia) had my phone on one hand, and the pen to sign with in the other. My friend, Ana, had a phone and an umbrella in her hands so she put her phone in her pocket to free up her hand. While we were both signing, a third person (guy) approached us too and I thought to myself, why is he approaching us, we are already signing. Mind you all of this happened in mere seconds. No sooner was I done with my thought, and us with signing the petitions did Ana put her hand in her pocket to grab her phone, and realized it was gone. We knew immediately, he took it! That’s why he approached us in the huddle even though we were already signing. He swiped the phone from her pocket! No more than 15 seconds had passed when we turned around to look for them and they were long gone. Not a sign of them as far as the eyes could see. We were stunned. How had we been so stupid? This was the classic scam! Sign a petition, get distracted, get phone (or something else) stolen. Not only had we been scammed but it was by teenagers!
Of course, that phone was never to be found. We called to report the phone stole and long story short, Ana had to purchase a new phone from the Apple store in Berlin.
Sadly this had happened to me a couple years ago in Beijing, since then I have never put anything valuable in my outer pockets of my clothing, not even for a split second. Sadly, Ana had to learn the same lesson the hard way. The reality is, once you lose a phone that way, it usually does not happen to you again. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive lesson to have to learn this way.
Do NOT put your cell phone (or other valuables) in your outer clothing pockets. EVER!
This was a new one for us. Walking from Piazza del Popolo to Vatican City, we were approached by a well dressed middle aged man in a car, wanting directions to Vatican City. Since we were walking in that direction, we simply pointed towards it. He pulled out a map and called us over (this incident should have ended here). We reluctantly approached a bit closer, he introduced himself as an employee of Versace, working in Paris and coming to Vatican City for a meeting (another red light which we clearly ignored at the moment). He pulled out a binder and flipped through some pictures to show us his “professional portfolio”, which in retrospect, looked completely unprofessional, but it didn’t matter because whatever he had to do to keep us standing there long enough, he had managed to do successfully.
He kept ushering us to come closer to his window, which Saadia did somewhat hesitantly. He asked her how tall she was. She replied and he pulled out a jacket (supposedly Versace) and grabbed her hand to give it to her, stating it was hers to keep. He joked that his only request was she doesn’t try to sell it (insert his creepy laugh). We both laughed a bit too. He joked with Kapil that it was for the lady only. And before you knew it, he proceeded to say it was free but that he just ask for some money for gas. We both said we didn’t have any cash on us. He insisted a bit more pressingly and when we reiterated that we did not have any cash (wasn’t going to give it to him even if we did), he took the jacket back, and murmered frustratingly to himself.
We walked away having completely realized what fools we had been. Not only was this a scam, one we had never fell for before but everything we know from common sense told us we should’ve never approached that car. Prior to approaching we noticed no one else was in the car with him, however, we would have had no way of telling if he had weapons with him, if he was a kidnapper, murderer or anything else for that matter. It was a situation that went off pretty harmlessly for us but could have easily led to a more disastrous scenario or horrifying ending.
That was an immediate NEVER AGAIN moment for us.
NEVER approach anyone in a car. You have no idea who else is in the car, whether or not they have a weapon and you certainly don’t want to be within arms reach to be grabbed and kidnapped.
Trattoria Pizzeria on Borgo Pio, next to Via Del Mascherino 36
This is a bit of an underhanded scam, but scam nonetheless.
We wanted to have dinner at a locally recommended place, Restaurant Arlu, near the Vatican. Unfortunately, the place was packed and the wait seemed long. As a result, we ate at a small restaurant on the other side of the same street.
Due to heavy sets of outdoor seatings in front of the restaurant, it was impossible to take a photo of it. The restaurant had a very generic name, Trattoria Pizzeria, and is located on Borgo Pio, at the corner of Via Del Mascherino 36 (next to the Bar Cafe pictured above).
We had the most delicious meal, great service, were talked into a couple of dishes, but we didn’t mind. After a lovely meal, we were asked if we could pay the tip in cash instead of card, because if we wanted to pay tips on card, it would need to be added to up front. To be nice and accommodating, we said we would pay in cash. When he took our card to charge (bill was approximately 55€), he also took the tip in cash (10€) along with him.
Then came the kicker.
When he brought the charged receipt back for us to sign, he added an additional 10€ to the bill under tips. He was jolly, laughing, as though none of this was a big deal. So suddenly our dinner went cost a total of 75€. Not wanting to make a scene and keeping in mind that we had a great dinner, we decided to let it be. We politely said goodbye and vowed to write about this so visitors in the future can avoid the same trap.
In retrospect, regardless of how great the food was, this was NOT good customer service. It was downright sleazy and a scam. Avoid at all cost!
Give your cash tip AFTER you receive your charged receipt because you never know where you’re being charged double (or triple). Not everyone who appears friendly is nice.
All in all, it was not the worst year for scams for us, but zero would have been the more ideal number. Still, it happens and all we can do is learn from them.
Traveling is our freedom, nothing makes us feel more alive than to be on the go, discover, see, learn. But, being vigilant, even when seemingly letting your guard down is important. We live in a world of “you never know” and we must always be aware of that, even if we can’t always prepare nor prevent it.
Have you been a victim of scams while traveling? What happened? Share below.
Until next time, Happy and Safe Travels!