Unlucky for some: 13 holiday scams to watch out for

Conor Pope: An unfortunate list of scams that have caught readers out this summer

One scam sees someone approaching you on the street. While you are befuddled or delighted some light-fingered accomplice is making off with your wallet. Photograph: Getty Images

One scam sees someone approaching you on the street. While you are befuddled or delighted some light-fingered accomplice is making off with your wallet. Photograph: Getty Images

 

If you never want to leave your house again just enter the words “travel scam” into Google. There are hundreds and hundreds of scams listed on reputable travel sites, social media platforms and on the bajillions of self-styled “Independent Traveller” blogs on the internet.

It would be easy to be terrified by such material. But almost as easy to discount it. While some scams we have come across should be taken with a pinch of salt, others are worth being wary of. Here’s a round-up of ones to watch:

1. The web has put all sorts of amazing accommodation options overseas just a click of a mouse away. But this has not gone unnoticed by scammers. Criminals set up legitimate-looking websites offering holiday homes for rent. The sites are swish, the properties have clear descriptions, the pictures are bright, the agency has a physical address AND a landline and a person at the end of all emails.

But the scam website does not have any connection to any of the properties listed. They take your booking and your money - but when you arrive at your destination the people living in the property have no idea what you are talking about.

So use well-established, reputable sites, never use money-wiring services unless you know the person getting the money, and never transfer money to a stranger’s bank account. Criminals buy up dormant accounts on the dark web and use them to collect your cash before transferring it to untraceable accounts.

2. Things can even go wrong if you are booking on a website as familiar as Airbnb – if you don’t follow the rules.

You find a listing you like. You make contact with the renter. All is well. Then they ask for the payment to be made directly to them, promising you a discount if you cut out the middle man – Airbnb. This is a scam and if you follow this route you will lose all your money and your holiday.

3. You pick up your phone and see a mail from an old friend – or someone you met once at a party – let’s call her Maude. Maude is on her holliers but has grave news. She has been mugged in Paris (or New York or Sydney). She has no money, no passport and a broken arm. Can you help Maude by sending her €200 right now? No, no you can’t. Maude is grand. She is probably not even on holidays. Her email account, on the other hand, is not grand. It has been hacked by scammers who have sent begging mails to everyone in her address book.

4. A man stops you on a promenade in Sorrento. He works for an Italian leather company, he says, and has Armani samples in his car. He is willing to sell you a leather jacket at a knock-down price. Only €100 for a leather Armani jacket, you think. Amazing. But it is neither amazing nor is it Armani. The jacket is made of PVC and not worth a euro never mind €100.

5. You are out for a stroll somewhere sunny when someone approaches you and asks if you have a minute. You are offered the chance to take part in a raffle to win an awesome prize. You win an iPad. Exciting. The only catch is you have to take a cab to a hotel complex 50km away and sit through a three-hour presentation about the fabulous holidays that could be yours if you give the hotel chain your bank details and a down payment for a timeshare apartment. Never, ever do this. Ever.

6. You are walking along a sun-kissed street in Seville or Marrakesh and a cute child approaches you with a rose or a sprig of rosemary. “It’s free,” they say. You take it but once you do they start harassing you for money. A more difficult version of these scams to get out of involves a bracelet. Someone ties a terrible handwoven bracelet around your wrist. It is hard to get off. Then they will charge you a tenner for it. You don’t want to pay so you walk away and they start shouting the place down calling you a thief. It is both mortifying and intimidating in equal measure. Keep your wrists to yourself.

7. A related scam sees someone approaching you on the street. They will distract you – sometimes by just harassing you, but occasionally using more inventive methods such as magic tricks. While you are befuddled or delighted some light-fingered accomplice is making off with your wallet.

8. Taxi drivers are by-and-large honest and decent. But some do overcharge. And we don’t have to look too far for proof of that. Earlier this summer gardaí set up check points near Dublin Airport and found dozens of taxies taking a road less travelled in order to make more money from tourists and others unfamiliar with the fastest ways into the city. It happens almost everywhere – using Google Maps solves that problem. Other cab-related scams abroad see drivers taking passengers to higher priced shops or markets than they’ve asked to visit (for a commission) or handing over the wrong change or even making off with luggage.

9. Speaking of luggage, we heard a – possibly apocryphal – story of Spanish thieves hiding in suitcases which are then put into the boots of buses so they can rifle go through tourists luggage at their leisure.

10. Be wary if a shop assistant is texting on their mobile phone while serving you. They might just be rude or they might be sneakily taking pics of your credit card details so they – or more likely the criminal gang they are being forced to work for – can replicate the details.

11. If someone approaches you to say they have just seen pickpockets operating in a particular area, they may be acting in your best interests. Or they may be looking to see which part of your body you pat to make sure your wallet is safe so they can best relieve you of it later. Similarly, be wary of someone asking you for the time. Frequently nowadays people don’t wear watches and use their phones to tell the time. If someone asks you the time and you take your phone out to check you could find yourself relieved of it in double-quick time. Oh, and if someone spills something on you and then tries to help you clean yourself up, you might want to take care. Instead of helping you they are probably helping themselves to your wallet.

12. If a person who looks like a police officer accuses you of a crime you clearly did not commit and seeks to fine you on the spot then you are most likely dealing with a fraudster. Check ID and if there is any doubt say you will contact the police yourself.

13. If you are ever offered watches, jewels, gold or anything of value at a knock-down price from anyone on the street or in a tuk tuk or market, you can take it as a given that it is a fake. The maxim that says "if it seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true" is never truer than when you are on your holidays.

Have we missed anything? Have you been the victim of a scam that you’d like to tell us about? Email cpope@irishtimes.com

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