7 Common Family Travel Scams and How to avoid them

Behind every beautiful family holiday photograph are stories, some happy stories of genuine local interactions and an amazing relaxed break and some not so happy stories of how you got swindled.

The truth is the positives of family holidays outweigh the negatives, however, it is important to share the truth, and those not so happy stories of family travel. When you are travelling as a family, you are more susceptible to common travel scams for three reasons:

  1. Con masters know that you are physically and mentally stretched so they make their offers irresistible.
  2. Con masters believe you will not physically challenge them in front of your children so they take advantage of you.
  3. Con masters use your child/children as a bridge to carry their scams out.

Common family travel scams can make you vulnerable because of the shame and feelings of foolishness and trusting to strangers. Long after a scam has happened, it remains devastating no matter how little the money lost is, the hurt stays with you for a long time.

My travels so far have been around Africa, Europe and the Middle East, however, the seven common family travel scams I will share can happen in any country and to any tourist. I base these seven common family travel scams around my experience of travel scams encountered in my decade long experience of travelling. Remember, it can happen to you too, no matter how travel-savvy you think you are.

7 Common Family Travel Scams.

7 Common Family Travel Scams
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1. Car Rental Damage Scam.

2. Suitcase Helper Scam.

3. Phone Sim Card Scam.

4. Seminar Sign-up Scam.

5. Photography Scam.

6. The Bracelet Scam.


7. Stranded Tourist Scam.

Family Travel Scams 1: Car Rental Damage Scam.

What happened:

This travel scam happened at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport and with no research, I headed to one of the various car rental stores at the airport. I signed all the documents, including car insurance with them. They took my card details and promised not to take any money. I returned the car at the end of my holiday and they complained about a liner missing in the boot. I argued that there was no liner and after tiring of arguing; I asked them to subtract the cost of the boot liner from the deposit I made. Long after I returned to my country, they took £860 for a boot liner that was never there.

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

  • Inspect the car thoroughly.
  • Use a car mirror Dash Camera.
  • Take pictures of the car, both interior and exterior, especially areas prone to easy damage.
  • Take separate car insurance, not the one offered by the car rental dealers.
  • Pre-arrange your rental car prior to travel.
  • Research the best car rental service at the airport if you intend to use them.
  • Fight them if they charge you for any excess. It’s most likely they will return your money if you make a fuss.
  • Go through the papers offered carefully. Circle No for the additional optional services, scan or take a picture of the paperwork immediately.
  • Read reviews from trusted travel bloggers.

Family Travel Scams 2: Suitcase Helper Scam.

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What happened:

Overwhelmed by the long delays by one of the budget airlines, I was so ready to accept any help and as some guys came round to help with the three pieces of baggage; I was so pleased and unsuspecting. The bags had locks; I didn’t realise they had been watching me and saw where I had placed my passport and as I adjusted to pick my daughter up; they picked my passport.

The next day, I received a call asking me to pay some money because they had my passport – I had two options:

1. To pay to collect my passport.

2. To call the police and report my passport was missing so they could sell my passport in the Black Market to a prospective buyer.

After thinking about the potential Black Market sale and the consequences it will have on me if I reported it, I agreed to pay £500.

I considered myself lucky with parting away with £500; I have heard stories of people paying and not getting their passports or others reporting their missing passports and getting reprimanded at the airport for attempting to sell their passport in the Black Market.

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

Family Travel Scams 3: Phone Sim Card Scam.

What happened:

As I arrived at Dubai International Airport, some men who presented a free Sim Card for my phone and free tourist sightseeing tickets approached me. I waved them aside at first, but they were persistent. They offered the Sim Card to reach me for a pickup from my hotel room to a seminar on Dubai’s property market business and how to invest in it. They saw my children, asked them if they would like to visit Legoland Dubai, my girls replied yes, they offered tickets to Dubai Parks and Resorts. Tired and stressed from the long haul flight to Dubai, I accepted. The seminar was a hard sell tactic and when I told them I wasn’t interested in buying a property in Dubai; they became aggressive and collected their Sim Card back and they refused to give the promised ticket to Dubai Resorts and Parks. In addition, they spammed my WhatsApp messages until I blocked them.

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

  • Research the phone roaming charges with your current network.
  • Buy a Prepaid Sim Card. A Prepaid Sim Card comes with the convenience of recharging anywhere and at any time, a 4G internet connection, and no additional cost to roaming. There are various Prepaid Sim Card available for purchase before your travel. For travels to Dubai, buy a Data Sim Card. For travels to the Asia Pacific, buy A Prepaid Sim Card like Sim 2 Fly. For travels to Africa, use a World Sim Card.
  • Buy a local Sim Card from a reputable store – (this was the option available to me after my initial encounter). You will have a local mobile phone number, and it is always cheaper to pay local rates like everyone else.

Family Travel Scams 4: Seminar Sign up Scam

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What happened:

As I bought my tickets for a private day tour in Athens, Greece, they informed me they invited me to an English-speaking seminar on how to stay in the best hotels around the Greek island for free. It would take place after the private day tour. I was sceptical but couldn’t come up with an excuse to not turn up as it included free lunch.

Straight after the tour, they took us to a local restaurant for lunch and where the speaker spoke about this amazing opportunity to stay at amazing high-end luxury hotels in the Greek Islands for free. He claimed he had done it with his family and he had the evidence to back it up.

Randomly, he picks me from the group of about 12 other families and said my family look like the ideal family they were looking for. He then used a combination of emotional blackmail like I will miss out if I didn’t sign up on the application form straight away and a sense of fake urgency like the hotel needed people straight away, the offer was only available today. Intrigued to know more and with other families signing up, I joined the party and signed up. I wasn’t sure if the other family travellers were an accomplice or genuine families falling for the same fraud like most unknowing and trusting tourists. My instinct kept nagging me so much that I regretted signing up straight away. I tried to get my money back to no avail. I had to trigger a chargeback (Chargebacks are when you have to call your credit card company to get your money back).

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

  • Book private day tours with reputable tour companies.
  • Don’t put your credit card number on any form offered.
  • Be careful of cat and bull stories. There is a 100% chance that it is fake.

Family Travel Scams 5: Photography Scam.

Travel Camera
One of the 7 common family travel scam.

What happened:

We all love to keep memories of our travels, and the best way is to get a professional photographer to capture those precious memories, right? Be cautious as a few photographers parading in the lobbies of all-inclusive hotels are out to rip you off. These photographers might take your family picture unexpectedly or with prearranged consent. On our first day in Portugal, we dressed up for dinner in our finest and took some pictures with whom we thought was one of the hotel photographer. He quickly took the picture and asked us for the deposit. We checked if we could get the photographs the next day at the reception desk and he replied yes. We paid £100 in the hope to pay the balance when we see the pictures.

Well, the pictures never came. We went to the reception desk, and they confirmed that they don’t have a photographer and no one had dropped any pictures for us. Shocked and perplexed, I spent the rest of my seven day’s holiday looking for the mystery man who took our photographs for £100!

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

  • Book your photographs with registered tourist photographers – I learnt about this the hard way.
  • Invest in a good camera and hone your photography skill.
  • Negotiate for the digital prints only and get it downloaded.
  • Take an extra memory stick for your pictures.

Family Travel Scams 6: The Bracelet Scam.

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What happened:

As we were strolling around Paris just by Sacre-Coeur, some men approached us and convinced us that there was a children’s show at La Basilique du Sacre-Coeur at a later time and we just needed to show them the bracelet to get in. Before we could decline, they had put the bracelets around the children’s arm and then they asked us to pay. They tried to hold a conversation and asked us where we had come from. Still puzzled by what was going on, we asked how much it was and the reply was 50 Euro. It was very random, and we said no thanks. This infuriated the touts, and it turned aggressive. We tried to climb down the stairs quickly, but their accomplice was there, so that’s how we parted with 50 Euro for nothing.

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

  • Walkabout with a pack touch.
  • Be alert and always cross over to the other side of the road.
  • Walk around in groups, it limits the chance of getting surprised.
  • Follow a detailed itinerary for proposed destinations it will help with randomly getting lost and harassed.

Family Travel Scams 7: Stranded Traveller Scam.

The Stranded Traveller Scam is when your accent or your children’s accent gets detected quickly, and as a result, someone tells you they are from the same country as you. However, they got stranded and need your help to get back home. This happened in Cyprus. Shortly after we returned from a boat tour, a man who spoke in a perfect British accent asked if we were Brits too. We nodded, and he explained how he got stranded on the island by a group of friends but wishes to get back to England. At first, we were sympathetic, but as we continued to listen, we noticed that his story didn’t add up. We offered to help him call the local police or the British Consulate office. He refused the offer and asked for money.

How to avoid this Family Travel Scam?

  • It is difficult to distinguish who is real and who isn’t.
  • Be firm, smile and move on.
  • Never give cash to street actors rather offer help.
  • Don’t offer money to strangers, keep your money safe in wallets.
  • Don’t give out personal information about yourself and your family.

Summary

This posts give an insight into seven common family travel scams and explains ways you can avoid been a victim of scam when spending a quality time with your family on holiday.

Let me know in the comment if you have been a victim of travel scams and what lessons you learnt.

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7 Common Family Travel Scams and how to avoid them
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Editor

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I'm Bolupe, a luxury family travel expert, a mum of 3, an independent travel agent and a travelpreneur. I travel for 13 Weeks a year and work full-time as an educator.
I help families thrive and lead a purposeful, luxurious life.
Fun fact: When I was 16 years old, I wanted to be a top model and the next face of Africa but I'm 5ft 7 and I was required to be 5ft 10.

40 thoughts on “7 Common Family Travel Scams and How to avoid them”

  1. Hi there. This is a very interesting post and I haven’t come across many websites that go this much into detail. When COVID-19 is over, I plan on travelling with my family for a vacation. I will have to keep your website in mind as a reference to ensure I do not fall for these common scams. I have definitely seen the suitcase helper scam many times!

    Reply
    • The suitcase helper scam is one of the most common family travel scam obviously because families tend to have more baggage than solo travellers. Also, the scammers always appear friendly and genuine.

      Reply
  2. This article will go a long way yo helping prevent the various ways you can be scammed on your trip due to one of more of the processes listed above…With this idea given am convinced that of will help prevent the reckless and unjustly acts perpetuated by criminals out there…just be sure to watch out for them.

    Reply
  3. Wow. That’s a lot of bad luck on your travels. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen prey to any of these, but security was my line of business for a long time, so I have a pretty good eye for ne’er-do-wells. That said, I do take precautions for against some of these every time I travel, because they are so common and difficult to guard against. The classic example is the car damage claim. I take pictures every time I rent a car. I’ve had the rental agent get annoyed because I spent so much time taking pictures before I’d accept the car. Recently, I’ve noticed that they have started taking pictures with their phone before they give you the car, but that doesn’t protect the renter at all. I’ve had them say, “oh, we’ve got the pictures if there’s a problem”. Yeah, right. I take these precautions domestically, but overseas I am doubly careful. As you say in the article, a scammer can charge you were you’re long gone back home. There’s not much recourse at that point. Great article. I hope it helps people realize they need to be careful.

    Reply
    • Thank you, it seems like a lot of bad luck but as someone who has travels so regularly, it is just a little fraction, less than 10 percent. Like you said, a number of car rentals tell you they have pictures and they always want to rush you along. You can do and initial check with them and once you have driven away, stop at a filling station and conduct an in-depth check with pictures. A good car rental should acknowledge any claims you make within 24 hours. 

      Reply
  4. I feel I have learnt the equivalent to years and years of traveling. Thank you very much for sharing these scam experiences with us. It’ll make me be on the watch-out from here on.

    I was really impressed how they put all of you as a family into that restaurant and made several of you sign. If it was a hoax involving all those other families it musta been a very well prepared scam. How sad those people are constantly thinking how to rip-off others.

    Reply
    • Thank you. IT is difficult to say if we were all scammed at the seminar. Unfortunately, the greed always think about new and innovative ways to prey on innocent people.

      Reply
  5. I fely too bad with all these mishaps. I am glad that you and your family are safe. We were informed about some situations like thise when we travelled to Europe. We actually experienced a weird situation with someone in France but we were quick to walk away. Thank you for sharing your experience and I hope a lot of people will be aware of these scams.

    Reply
    • Thanks Katrina. It is sometimes difficult to judge other people’s intention. As regular travellers, these incidents are only a tiny part of our travels. We have more highs than lows.

      Reply
  6. That is really useful! Agreed that it doesn’t happen to everyone and all that, but one instance is enough to cause stress and ruin a whole trip. Also, you never know when it turns scary and even violent. It is easier to avoid and be prepared with a calm solution, when you are aware at the back of your head that such things are a possibility. So thank you for that! I absolutely find it useful!
    Another scam in Paris, when they come to you about deaf people and ask you to sign and what not! A co-traveller on the train told me to watch out for that and just keep walking and saying no, waving them off. Not even look at them and be confident. It helped a lot when it actually happened twice!
    So there you go.
    🙂

    Reply
    • I am glad you found them useful.Thank you for sharing another travel scam, more people need to be aware of these travel scams in other to avoid them. It is a good idea not to make eye contact with strangers, and waving them off helps.

      Reply
  7. This is SO useful. When I was in Paris someone handed me a rose and it’s instinct to accept something that is handed to you. Then he wanted money and when I said no thank you and tried to give the rose back he would not take it back. He got angry just like what happened with you and the bracelet. It’s good to know how to deal with these things ahead of time. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Thank you, it must have been scary for you because it’s kind to accept things from people. Now we know it is one of the tactics used to grab your attention.

      Reply
  8. Wow, these are awful – but it’s also so useful of you to share them. How depressing to have to be so on guard, but thank you for the warnings.

    Reply
    • Yes thank you, it is important to share these family travel scams. Knowledge is power and thus this knowledge will give everyone the power to fight it if it was to happen to them.

      Reply
  9. I felt real bad that all these had to happen to you but we keep learning everyday. These tips are really important to keep in mind, don’t just trust any strangers offering to help. Thanks for sharing such a detailed post

    Reply
    • Yes, Travel scams are hurtful and first timer travellers need to be aware of the dangers. I’m glad you found this helpful.

      Reply
  10. Pretty wild I have heard of the suitcase scam and the photography scam but I haven’t heard of any of the others. But what it sounds like you have seen a lot more of the world than I have. Love the info. Have a good day.

    Reply
  11. Hi Bolupe,

    Thank you for these tips!

    It is a wonder that I’ve never been targetted for any of these travel scams as I often travel alone as a single woman. They must really think the extra pressure of having your children with you really increases their chances of succeeding.

    Nevertheless – I will now keep my eyes open to increase my chances of avoiding travel scams like these in the future!

    Cheers,
    Lisa

    Reply
    • Absolutely, the scammers always lookout for people to prey on. They often target those that look like tourists, acts like tourists and have their hands full.

      Reply
  12. This is one of the most helpful posts I’ve read in a while. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share your experiences and the best tips to avoid them. Definitely sharing with my friends and family!

    Reply
    • That’s so kind of you to say this, and I’m pleased you found it useful and you’re willing to share it with your friends.

      Reply
  13. What a great and HELPFUL article! The only one of these that we’ve encountered was the stranded traveler. We were San Jose, Costa Rica and we’re approached by an American guy who said he’d run out of money and was just trying to get back. Yeah, we didn’t give him any. I didn’t even think about the fact that it might be a scam, I just thought that was irresponsible of him and poor planning 😄
    We did end up paying about $50 to a policeman in Mexico, because he stopped us for a bogus charge and said he was going to impound our car if we didn’t pay. We figured $50 was better than being stranded with our three kids, in the middle of Mexico.
    Thanks so much for this!

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective into the common family travel scams and you made the right decision giving the policeman in Mexico $50. Sometimes we need to think about the most convenient thing to do.

      Reply

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