Travel is full of risk and adventure: What if this taxi driver takes you “the long way?” How do you avoid getting ripped off in a busy souk? Is this random guy actually trying to practice his English, or is he going to take you on an unofficial tour, and demand payment later on?
Street urchins are as old as the hills, as are crooked cabbies and impromptu guides. No matter where you go in the world, someone is actively trying to take advantage of tourists, who are often starry-eyed, jet-lagged, and may not even speak the local language.
But evolving technology has given rise to a whole new breed of conmen, and their capacity to steal your information or attack your checking account is unprecedented. Nothing ruins a vacation like getting scammed, especially when the scammers can hurt your pocketbook without you even knowing it.
Here are some common 21st-century con-jobs to avoid.
These tiny ultra-slim devices can steal the data right off your debit card, and you won’t even realize it. “Skimmers” lurk everywhere, and you should even be watchful in your hometown, but it’s particularly frustrating when your information is stolen on the road. Hackers love to drain bank accounts, and infected slots are often found in touristy, high-traffic areas. Your best bet is to use ATMs that belong to well-known companies, especially inside actual banks. The most suspicious ATMs are dusty old machines in convenience stores and on the street.
Compromised Public Wi-Fi
Some of the most talented hackers are popping up in places like China and Russia, and no matter where you travel in the world, you’ll find some computer wiz with a taste for crime. One of the most vulnerable places to use your computer is in a café or hotel lobby, where the “public Wi-Fi” may actually belong to a clever hacker. If you can, you’re better off using a hotspot of your own or even tethering to your phone.
Fake Travel Agencies
If you’re new to booking travel packages online, make sure that the site you’re using is legitimate. There are many “travel agencies” with fancy-looking websites that are completely fake and just want your credit card number. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of a certain website, consider using a popular booking service like Kayak or Priceline, or even visit a brick-and-mortar company.
Incredibly, people still fall for email scams. Just last year, thousands of people were extorted with ransomware, all because of an email that promised cheap flights. Please remember: If you receive an email from a brand you’ve never heard of, offering you free flights and a stay in a luxury hotel, make sure to vet the offer before you reply. Some realistic-looking emails slip through our spam filters and get us excited about a discounted cruise down the Nile. But if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whatever you do, don’t click any links or send any personal information. This is a surefire way to have your identity stolen, or worse.
Seasoned travelers often buy a new phone at the airport, especially when they arrive in foreign countries, and use pre-paid SIM cards for the duration of their stay. It’s cheap and easy, and you can dispose of your phone just minutes before you depart. But be careful where you obtain this phone: Some “burners” are pre-infected with malware, which is designed to monitor everything you do. Sophisticated hackers can follow your movements, spy on your browser, and even read your texts and emails. In certain countries, it might even be the government that is spying on your smartphone activity. Used phones are by far the biggest liabilities, so make sure you’re buying a temporary phone from a trusted source.