An article in the April, 2017 AARP Bulletin, titled "Vacationers are Easy Prey for Scammers," explained some of the types of scams which are common and could easily ruin the best planned vacation. Below is a brief summary of these scams.
According to the article, hotels are full of scammers who are lurking around the lobby watching for potential victims. One of their common tricks is to call your room after you check in, pretending to be the front desk, and ask you to repeat your credit card number and security code number over the phone. They claim the clerk at the desk wrote it down wrong when you checked in. This is more likely to happen in small or boutique hotels, often in other countries. Do not fall for this trick. In addition, be sure you use the room safe and interior deadbolt when you are in your room, and take advantage of any other security measures available at the hotel. Be sure to look through the peep hole before opening the door. If you are not expecting someone to be at your door and the person does not look like a hotel employee, call the front desk to confirm they are supposed to be there.
The Good Samaritan Scam
In this scenario, someone steals your wallet and then calls your cell phone to tell you they found your wallet and will mail it to your home. As a result, you do not cancel your credit cards. However, while you believe you were fortunate that such a good person found your wallet, they are actually crooks who are using your cards, knowing you will not close the accounts because you think the wallet is being mailed back to you. While there are good people who will return your property if they find it, you would be well-advised to close the credit card accounts, anyway. This is a good reason to bring only a few credit cards with you on a trip. You should also make a copy of your cards, including the contact numbers for the card companies. Keep the copies in a safe place, separate from your wallet. It will make it much easier to close the accounts if your wallet is missing.
The Phony House Rental or B&B
If you decide to avoid hotels and stay in a rental home or quaint bed and breakfast, make sure you use a legitimate agency and check them out thoroughly. Call the Better Business Bureau in the U.S. or the local tourist bureau in a foreign country. Just because the company has a fancy website with gorgeous pictures of beautiful accommodations does not mean the place actually exists. You could send in your deposit or payment, only to discover that the place does is not real.
Keep Your Distance from Strangers
There are more ways that you could become a victim while on vacation (or even in your own neighborhood). The helpful stranger who offers to retrieve a dropped purse or clean up a spill, may actually be trying to pick your pocket or steal your wallet. Friendly people standing near an ATM could be looking for an opportunity to watch you input your PIN and, later, steal your debit card.
Someone offering to use your camera or cell phone to take your picture could actually be trying to steal the item. This last crime makes me particularly sad. I live near Laguna Beach, where I walk frequently. I often offer to take photos of tourists who are struggling to get a selfie with their family. While most locals may be genuinely kind and helpful, it is smart to keep up your guard and not let your cell phone or camera out of your sight.
Unsolicited Emails from Strangers
There are crime groups which send out thousands of emails every day containing special "offers." They may offer to provide low-cost accommodations, help in obtaining an international driver's license, or other assistance for someone planning a trip. Always investigate every company you use, especially if you have not used them before. Sometimes they will have names which sound similar to legitimate companies. Be very skeptical of unsolicited offers, no matter how good they sound. In fact, if the deal sounds too-good-to-be-true, it probably is.
Be Careful How You Pay When You Travel
Whenever you are traveling, the least risky way to pay for gas, food and accommodations is with a credit card. If you pay with a debit card, the money will be taken directly and instantaneously from your bank. This means it could be more difficult to get your money back if you have been scammed. If you write a check, they could cash it before you realize you have been scammed. Be suspicious of any place which does not accept credit cards.
Be Careful, But Have Fun!
If you are cautious and suspicious of strangers and unknown companies, you are more likely to be able to relax and enjoy your vacation. Just because we Baby Boomers are getting a little older, it does not mean we are easily fooled. We have the ability to protect ourselves from the crooks who would like to ruin our vacations.
If you would like more information about scams affecting senior citizens, where to retire in the U.S. and abroad, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.
For an overview of retirement planning, watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which is being published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.
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Photo credit: Laguna Beach photo taken by author