Summertime, the season for extended vacations and tourists trips, is prime money-making time to the scammers who make a bulk of their money off of non-local visitors. The travel numbers are going to rise this summer for the first time in over five years, and it’s to be expected that the con men are going to be salivating over the increase in potential victims.
AAA projects an increase of over 5% in travelers that venture 50 miles or further from home this Memorial Day weekend. Considered the unofficial start of summer, the upcoming holiday is often a good barometer of the amount of travel expected this season.
Whether visiting the big city, touring a foreign country or just trying to get to and from the airport, scammers are out there trying to get the upper hand on passengers with a myriad of schemes and cons.
One of the most popular scams is also one of the simplest and has been around for centuries…as long as folks have had pockets, some crook has been figuring out a way to get what’s being kept in them. Purse snatching and bag grabbing are natural companion crimes for the wily pickpocket. Although theft is the straight-forward result, there are some pretty elaborate set-ups used to separate victims from their belongings often involving a number of criminals to steal from a single victim.
— Disgusting substance: The crooks will either cause the initial action, by spitting on the victim or having an pre-set accomplice drop a suspicious substance from a window or balcony, or they will hang out at an opportune location and wait to take advantage of Mother Nature(normally in the form of pigeon droppings).
Once the victim has their fine holiday clothes ruined, a “Good Samaritan” will suddenly materialize from the margins and begin to wipe the offending substance off the victim while complaining about the rude locals be they birds or youth. While cleaning off the stain, the “Good Samaritan” will also be cleaning out the pockets of the victim while distracting them with the cleaning action and colorful chatter.
According to Jane Knight, in an article she provided to the United Kingdom’s paper The Observer, this scam is quite popular in South America, particularly Rio and Peru.
— Train compartment trick: The traveler thinks they’ve lucked out and found an empty compartment on a train still sitting in the station. They stow their luggage and are surprised when a stranger on the platform taps at the window and beckons them over.
If the victim falls for the ruse and approaches the window, an on-train accomplice of the window-tapper will rush in and steal the luggage while the victim is being distracted by the person on the platform.
Obviously, this is a scam to be aware of when visiting countries with heavy dependence on train travel such as Europe, Southeast Asia and India.
— Street Block: This is one of the oldest scams around, simple in idea but quite complex in its timing and execution.
The setting is normally a busy marketplace or crowded street. While being carried along in the flow of pedestrian traffic, the victim finds they have to stop suddenly for a person in front of them. It can be a man who drops his briefcase, a kid deciding to tie his tennis shoe, or even a woman with a child who stops to adjust her stroller. Due to the traffic, when the lead scammer stops, the victim also quickly stops, and another scammer runs into the victim from behind grabbing whatever valuables they can collect from the victim’s pockets or bags. The rear accomplice is often an unexpected sleight-of-hand artist, a young child or a kindly-looking grandmother.
This scam has a long history in busy cities where the streets are clogged with pedestrians, from New York to Paris to Mumbai.
— Flat Tire: While traveling the roads, another motorist will indicate that the victim has a flat tire in the rear. When the driver pulls over and inspects the damage, an accomplice will quickly take any valuables from the parked car.
Sometimes a tire will actually be punctured at a previous stop by the scammers, but this isn’t always the case. Normally rental cars are targeted, or tourists will be spotted by the scammers at service stations and rest stops when studying maps or asking for directions.
According to Miss Knight this is a popular scam in the south of France and Spain, but can happen anywhere that driver’s are visiting.
— Airport Scanner: Never put your bag onto the conveyor belt if there are still passengers waiting to go through the security scanner ahead of you.
This two-man scam is pretty simple. The victim is third in line to go through the metal detector, but has already put their bag on the belt and it has started through the scanning process. The first person in line goes through the metal-detector without incident. The next person sets the detector off then hems and haws while removing coins, gum wrappers and other minutia from his pockets. The victim waits patiently, while the first person through takes their bag that has already come out of the other side of the scanner
There have been complaints about this scam in almost every major airport.
Here are some simple tips to help with pickpockets and bag grabbers:
If you are visiting another city or foreign country, the best bet is to try and blend in. Don’t wear expensive jewelry or a camera around your neck.
Be aware of your surroundings and study maps ahead of time. A map isn’t just a red flag to scammers that a potential victim is vulnerable, its can also be a tool and cause a distraction they can use to their advantage.
Carry wallets in your front pocket and wear backpacks and fanny packs front-facing. Don’t wear a bag or purse over just one shoulder which makes it much easier from a con to grab it and run. Keep bags in your line of sight at all times.
Use cash and have it split over several locations, a shoe, a pocket, a bag.
Vacation is a time to explore and relax. It’s hard to enjoy your trip if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder. An ounce of preparation and pre-planning can go a long way to making you a difficult target and not worth the scammers’ time. So keep these things in mind and enjoy your vacation.