Much of the enjoyment of travelling comes from letting our hair down and having fun. Sadly, there are criminals who prey specifically on tourists, seeing them as lucrative targets. Most major cities will have some criminal element, although the size of the problem, and whether it affects tourists, will depend on where you go. There are things you can do to make yourself a less appealing victim (much of this advice would also apply at home), if you’re aware of popular “scams”. Common scams or “cons”. We’ve put together a list of these to help you travel smarter:
If you’re pulled over without reason, be on guard. Cases have been reported where “police officers” will inform you of some (non-existant) you that you have broken, and the resulting fine which can be settled on the spot. A con artist will probably let you off, just this once, if you insist on following them to the police station to pay your fine.
If someone spills something on you, move away and politely decline any offer of help to clean up. As they sponge you down, they could be removing your valuables. Spilling drinks is a distraction also used in a scam known as “apple-picking”. This occurs when the victim has left their phone, iPad or other gadget on the table in restaurants etc. Someone walks past you and accidentally spills a drink on you. While you react, their partner swipes your gadget and makes a quick exit.
An outdoor distraction (could be a legit street entertainer, or a staged argument) is perfect for a pickpocket to work the crowd. If you’re bumped into, check your belongings. If you have been robbed, inform the police immediately.
Fake Flat Tyre
A couple from Lancashire visiting the Costa Del Sol a couple of years ago, had to pull their car over when they realised they had a flat tyre. A group of four con artists approached posing as lost tourists. While tourist ‘Sheryl’ helped with directions on a map, one of the group helped her husband, ‘Geoff’ to change the tyre. The other two helped themselves to money and credit cards from the car. Police advised them that this wasn’t the first incident of it’s kind. It was suspected that the group had slashed the tyre slightly to facilitate the scam. ‘Sheryl’ said “Although the police were extremely helpful, they never recovered our things. We spent the next day cancelling our cards. It hasn’t put me off the area, but it has certainly made me wary”.
Thieves in different cities have their own tricks of the trade. Check with tourist information, or your hotel manager for details. Of course these scams aren’t the only type of crime that can affect us as tourists. Often we’re vulnerable because we’re in a strange place where we don’t know the customs, or places to avoid.
How To Avoid Bad Situations
Tourists make attractive targets as they are likely to be carrying money and valuables. Blending in can make you less likely to become a victim of these crimes. You can do this by following these guidelines:
- Don’t have expensive jewellery, handbags, cameras etc on display. They attract attention.
- Study your map before going out. Stride confidently, and look as if you know where you’re going.
- Stick to well-lit busy areas. Don’t take short-cuts.
- Don’t discuss your plans within earshot of others. This not only identifies you as a tourist, but also tells people when your hotel room is unoccupied.
- Pack lightly so that you can keep a closer eye on your possessions.
- “Bum-bags” are a good idea (and can be work under loose clothing if you’re worried about the style factor!), as are cross-body bags.
- Blend in with the locals. Wearing a camera round your neck, a Hawaiian shirt and a back-pack will certainly identify you as a tourist!
- Have a note of your passport number, and keep it with copies of all travel documents, with a relative at home. If your passport gets lost or stolen, contact the British Embassy immediately.
- When in an unfamiliar area, check with hotel management for areas to be avoided.
- Don’t flash your cash. Thieves will know how much you have, and where it is.
- Never keep your bag on the back of your chair. Keep it where you can see it, or under the table where your legs can “guard” it.
- In public toilets, don’t put your bag on the floor. It’s easy for an opportunist to swipe it.
- Get a pre-paid mobile phone for each member of your party (even kids who are old enough to use one) and make sure you all have each other’s number stored.
Hiring A Car
If you hire a car on your trip, there are precautions you can take to keep your group and property safe such as:
- Ensure your vehicle has a satellite navigation system. You don’t want to find yourself in a high risk area, with no idea how to get out. Also, make sure you always have plenty of fuel.
- Don’t leave valuables where they can be seen. Keep them with you, or in the glove box. When putting things in the boot, be aware of anyone around who is paying particular attention.
- Park in well-lit, attended car-parks, or valet park and keep your ticket with you. Anyone trying to leave without a ticket will normally be asked for documentation.
- Keep a record of the car’s make, model, year, colour and license plate, in case it is lost or stolen.
- Never hire a vehicle with the rental company’s logo on. This alerts criminals that you could be a tourist.
- If you find yourself in a run-down area, the crime rate could be high. Keep your doors locked and windows up.
- Never pick up hitchhikers.
- If you see children unattended by the roadside, don’t stop. This could be a ruse to get you to pull over. Drive to the nearest safe place and call the police.
- Carjacking is rare in most tourist hotspots, but if it happens to you, let them take the car. The same applies if you’re mugged. Possessions can be replaced.
- Emergency vehicles have flashing red or blue lights. Don’t pull over if someone is flashing their headlights. If in doubt drive to a police station or busy area.
Hotel Rooms & Villas
Crimes such as theft are the ones most likely to happen in your accommodation, and are more likely to happen when you’re not there. Unfortunately more serious crimes, such as rape, have happened in hotels, so it is important to take the same precautions you would at home. These tips can help reduce the risks:
- Never enter your room if the door is open when you return. Ask a member of staff to check it for you.
- Keep doors and windows locked at all times.
- If your door has a peep hole, use it. Hotel staff should always carry photo ID. If in doubt, check with the front desk.
Although this seems like a lot of information, the majority will be precautions you already take without thinking. The risks you face on holiday are normally no greater than at home. We are just more inclined to let our guard down, and that can make us vulnerable.
For advice specific to your destination, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. This holds up-to-date information on areas to be avoided
For further details, contact tourist information at your destination. If you are the victim of crime while abroad, get in touch with the British Embassy. Overseas offices can be found at www.gov.uk/victim-crime-abroad.
Victim support (tel: 0845 3030900) can help with practical issues, as well as counselling.