Traveling is a very exciting adventure, but it can also come with some uneasiness and worry. Will your home be safe while you’re gone? Will you have enough time and money to do the things you want? Will your flights be on time? Will the hotel be as nice as it looks online? The uncertainty of traveling is both exciting and intimidating.
One thing seniors shouldn’t have to worry about on the road is being taken advantage of, but the sad reality is just the opposite. Every year, billions of dollars earned by seniors are snatched away by scammers, and travel is one of the major times they are targeted. Stay safe and smart on your next vacation by recognizing these six red flags and learning how to avoid them.
Anything “Free” That Requires Upfront Payment
You’ve stepped off the airplane in the beautiful Caribbean to a cloudless sky and the soft sound of rolling waves. Then, a man approaches telling you that you have won an amazing, free excursion — maybe it is snorkeling with sea turtles or a sunset sailboat dinner cruise — you can’t believe your luck. When he asks for half the cost of the tour upfront, which will be reimbursed on the excursion, you still think you’ve found a deal. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common financial scams that target vacationing seniors. If it seems too good to be true, chances are it is. Ask the person for their contact information, tell them you want to check into your hotel first, then decide. If they pressure you to act right away, it’s time to walk away.
Distractions That Separate You from Your Belongings
Don’t leave any of your bags unattended for any reason. Another common scam — especially in large cities or foreign countries — involves distracting someone and then taking their bags or pickpocketing them. Be savvy with your personal items, and keep your wallet in your front pocket or in a pouch hidden under your shirt. If possible, use cross-body purses and bags with zippers and flaps to make opening them more complex.
Fake Taxis That Charge Outrageous Fares
Especially common in third-world vacation spots, this scam occurs when a senior needs a taxi and a scammer arrives instead. They usually come in a regular-looking car or a cab that looks outdated or suspicious. Most of the time, their service is subpar, and when you get out of the car (regardless of whether you have arrived at your destination), they charge you an absurd amount for the ride. Be wary of taxis that don’t look or feel legit, and go with your instincts. Use a verified ride share service by asking your hotel who they would recommend. Use taxi stands, and only get into cars with drivers displaying an up-to-date license.
Free Gifts That Are Pushed Upon You
You might be charmed at first — a man or a woman offering you a free trinketlike a bracelet, rosary or flower. Once you accept it, they then begin to demand payment, even going so far as to cause a scene. It’s surprising and shocking, to say the least. Frozen, you might feel obligated to give them money just to end the harassment. The best way to avoid this scam is to never accept any gifts or allow someone to put anything on you. It might be hard to do, but ignoring them and walking away is the best way to avoid this scam.
Fake Police Officers or Law Enforcement
While this bold scam is rare, reports show it has been increasing. Because we are conditioned to trust and obey law enforcement, we often don’t question their legitimacy. In this scam, people dressed like police will come to you and demand to see your wallet, passport, or that you pay a fine for some minor infraction. First, ask to see their identification. If it looks fishy or you are still unsure, tell them you will cooperate, but you want to check with the local law enforcement office first. If they ask for your ID or passport, tell them it is locked in a safe in your hotel room. Ask them to accompany you to get it. If they act like this is unacceptable, call the local authorities.
ATM Helpers Who Want Your Pin Number
This one is really scary, and can sometimes throw you off guard because the scammers come in pairs. As you are about to withdraw money from your account, a person approaches and offers to help you avoid bank fees. They may seem even more legitimate because someone else in line — a plant — will enthusiastically decide to use their method, as well. This is to make you feel like this option is safe and secure — but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Their real plan is to scan your card and watch you enter your pin number, then drain your account days later when you forget it ever happened.
Traveling should be fun, not fearful — especially for seniors who have been waiting and saving to see the world in their retirement. While worry over scams shouldn’t be strong enough to deter you from touring and exploring, it should inspire you to be educated and activated. Know the common scams in areas where you are traveling and protect yourself with confidence. Scammers look for an easy target — avoid being seen that way by arming yourself with knowledge and travel savvy.