We live in a nation besieged by imposters. In our homes, the phone rings several times a day with various robot-callers threatening us with debts that don't exist, offering to fix computer problems that they themselves have caused, demanding that we pay taxes to an address they have concocted.
And travel is not immune from such tricksters. In airports and hotels, in particular, scoundrels seek to make money from our own innocent negligence. In a recent Washington Post article written by Kate Silver, the author of a best-selling guidebook published by Frommers.com (Frommer's EasyGuide to Chicago), she outlines some of the more frequent scams that are currently directed against travelers.
The most frightening of these was recently identified by our State Department as particularly prevalent in Russia, though it has been know to occur in other countries as well. In an airport waiting for a flight, a passer-by asks us to look after their luggage while they go to a restroom—and the imposter places a suitcase at our feet. Within seconds, a person purporting to be a policemen shows up and claims we are the owners of stolen luggage. He opens the suitcase to show drugs or other contraband items inside, and threatens to arrest us unless we make a payment to him. The frightened airline passenger pays up, in a transaction known as the Airport Scam.
And then there's the Handoff Scam. You're in a friendly crowd in a foreign city, and someone--a complete stranger—hands you a CD or a bouquet of flowers to hold. Puzzled, you hold them. And suddenly a confederate of the donor demands that you pay a sum of money for the CD or bouquet you are holding.
Or you're in your hotel room, and someone slips a take-out menu under your door. The phone later rings and you're asked for your order. You place it, and recite your credit card number. The food never arrives, because the architects of this plan are busily placing purchases on your credit card.
Or—and this is one of the most innocent and frequent scams—you tell a taxi driver that you are unfamiliar with the city in which you are riding. He/she then proceeds to drive you for an hour to a reach a location only a block away from where you picked up the cab. Or, from a jewelry store in Istanbul or Bangkok, you buy a stone priced at two hundred dollars, only to learn upon arriving home that it is a piece of colored glass.
I'm grateful to Kate Silver for reminding us of these frequent assaults on our pocket books and self-esteem. You avoid them by constantly reminding yourself that you are in unfamiliar surroundings and must necessarily be more vigilant, more sensitive, less unaware, than you would be in a neighborhood where you live.
Photo credit: Monkeymanforever/Flickr