Financial expert Jasmine Birtles reveals some clever ways for families to stay safe while abroad and avoid getting conned by holiday scams.
1/ Car hire
Some car rental companies, particularly in southern Europe, will try all sorts of wheezes to get more money out of you. Watch out for ‘full–empty’ offers, where you’re offered a car with a full tank of petrol and then asked to return it with an empty tank. Of course, you usually don’t use all the fuel and return the car with a half-full tank. Indeed, it would be impossible to return the car with an empty tank. Unscrupulous rental firms may also try to get money from you for dents and scratches that were already on the vehicle, and many insist on arranging insurance for you if you haven’t done so already.
The solution: Always agree to return the car with a full tank and, before you drive away, check the vehicle thoroughly. Ask for a document where you can make a note of any damage (dents, scratches, broken locks etc) and when you take the car back, have the company sign it to say that the car has been returned without any damage so that they can’t charge you later. It’s also a good idea to book your rental car and arrange insurance before you go away. Try comparison sites such as holidayautos.co.uk or confused.com.
2/ School holidays
You’ll be well aware of the price hikes that occur during the school holidays that can make it difficult for families to afford to get away. You’re caught between a rock and a hard place – if you take your children out of school you risk a fine and they miss vital schooling, but going away during the holidays will cost a fortune.
The solution: The Facebook group Holiday Price Increase is trying to persuade companies to reduce costs during the holidays and has created an e-petition, asking the government to cap holiday prices. In the meantime, consider swapping homes with a family in the same situation through websites such as homeexchange.com.
Unfamiliar bank notes and coins can be confusing, and value doesn’t always correspond with size.
The solution: Always check your money carefully. Check your change while you’re at the counter as you won’t be able to rectify mistakes once you’ve left the shop. Some bureaux de change offer attractive exchange rates but charge horrible fees. Do a bit of research as soon as you can to find the best place to buy foreign currency. The Post Office offers competitive commission-free exchange rates, as do some supermarkets. Once on holiday, be wary of requests for change from locals – as a tourist you’ll stand out and be vulnerable to potential con tricks.
4/ Bank cards
It can be easier to pay for things with a credit or debit card, but most credit card fraud and theft happens abroad. Rigged card readers can capture your data, meaning fraudsters can go shopping at your expense.
The solution: Get a pre-paid card. This isn’t connected to your bank account so fraudsters won’t be able to get any of your money, and it is also a good way to budget as you can’t spend more than you have pre-loaded on to the card. One of the best pre-paid cards for use abroad is the FairFX MasterCard Anywhere Card, which has competitive transaction fees and offers business exchange rates.
5/ Ring scam
You’ll be walking through a busy city and someone will find a ‘gold’ ring on the floor. For whatever reason they will then give it to you and walk away. They will return a little later asking for some money, perhaps to ‘buy food’. You, touched by their earlier generosity, hand over a little cash. This is a scam. The ‘gold’ ring, which may well have a fake hallmark, is worthless and they have just made off with your cash.
The solution: Walk away, even if they shout after you.
6/ At the airport
This one is particularly prevalent in countries where you can go in and out of the airport departure lounge. You’ll be queuing up to go through the metal detector and will have put your valuables in the tray. In front of you, one person has gone through without a problem, but the second person sets off the alarm and spends a long time getting their things in order. While you’re waiting behind this person, their partner in crime has made off with your valuables.
The solution Wait until the metal detector is clear before you put your valuables onto the conveyor belt.
Many pickpockets lurk in tourist areas. For example, you might be approached by someone trying to sell you souvenirs. After the transaction they then hug you, apparently to express their gratitude. But it’s a cover to grab your purse or wallet.
The solution: Avoid such approaches. Keep your distance and never leave valuables unattended.
Restaurants and bars in tourist regions are lively, busy places, so in some situations you’ll have to ask the waiter or waitress for the bill. Cheekily, some take advantage of this and add a little extra money to your bill.
The solution: Work out roughly how much your bill will be and, if possible, ask for a receipt or itemised bill so you can check. It’s also advisable to research the ‘tip rules’ of the country you plan to travel to so you know how much you’re expected to leave as a gratuity.
9/ Phone call
Sometimes scammers will ring your hotel room early in the morning claiming that they work for the hotel. They’ll say there’s a problem with your credit card and ask you to confirm your details. Ringing early in the morning catches you off-guard and tired.
The solution: Never give out credit card information over the phone.
Unnecessary detours, excessive prices and shady additional charges are the most common ways to increase the price for a taxi ride. You could even find yourself in an unlicensed taxi, which might put you in danger.
The solution: Agree the destination and a fixed price before you depart, and don’t pay until you reach your destination. Ask the driver to show you his licence and a meter. You can often find out typical taxi fares for the region you’re travelling to on Tripadvisor forums. Don’t take any shortcuts with kids’ car seats. It may be tempting to sit your child on your knee, but don’t put your family in danger. Also ensure there is a seat belt for everyone.