Language barriers, foreign surroundings, and cultural differences can all be disorienting for international tourists, making them easy targets for financial schemes. When traveling abroad, try to blend in and avoid displaying items that scream, “I’m a tourist,” like guidebooks and cameras. Similarly, keep indications of wealth to a minimum by concealing major amounts of cash and leaving expensive and flashy jewelry at home.
Before you journey abroad, do as much research as possible to protect yourself and your money from swindlers’ deceiving schemes. Guidebooks, like Fodor’s and Frommer’s, are great for learning all about what to see but also what to avoid, like common rip-offs. Here are a few personal finance tips for traveling abroad that will help you protect your valuables and money during your trip.
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1. Dynamic Currency Conversion
DCC, or dynamic currency conversion, is a financial service, which allows credit card transactions to be converted from a country’s foreign currency to your local currency. It sounds harmless, but shop owners can use it to their advantage and profit from your oblivion. For example, if you’re in Europe, when using your credit card you might be asked if you’d like to pay in U.S. dollars or Euros. If you choose U.S. dollars, the merchant will convert the amount owed based on a set exchange rate that he has chosen. This exchange rate is generally less economical than the exchange rate that would be used by your credit card issuer. To avoid a DCC scam, always opt to pay in the country’s local currency. It’s best to understand the conversion rate before you shop and use cash when possible.
Long flights and jet lag can leave you in a haze when you arrive in a new country, so it’s important to research public transportation before you travel. For longer cab rides, like from the airport to your hotel, check the rates in advance to ensure your driver isn’t taking advantage of you by up charging your ride. Always be sure to ask the rate before you agree to ride. If there isn’t a flat rate, make sure the taxi is using a working meter. Often, taxis claim the meter is broken and try to charge you an exorbitant rate. Lastly, before you ride, use a map or GPS system to research your route so you can avoid the taxi taking the longer, scenic route, which may put a dent in your wallet.
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3. Hotels and Accommodations
Recently, there has been a spike in hotel front desk impersonators calling rooms to confirm credit card information. Beware: This is a scam and you shouldn’t disclose any credit card information. Instead, hang up and call the front desk via the proper instructions in your hotel room to confirm or deny the request.
Vacation rentals are another area in which you should be cautious, as there are numerous rentals on the market that are falsely portrayed or simply nonexistent. There are endless horror stories of travelers paying “landlords” large sums of money before a trip only to find out that the rental doesn’t exist when they arrive. Use a reputable travel aggregator when making reservations and avoid money orders and wire transfers, as these are popular for fraud because they’re untraceable and anonymous. If you’re using a site like Airbnb, warning signs that the post might be misleading or nonexistent include: if the host doesn’t have reviews or friends; if the pictures look fake; if the host asks for money via Western Union. Another rule of thumb for rental accommodations: If the offer is too good to be true, it probably is.
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4. Distractions and Pickpocketing
To avoid the age-old pickpocketing scam while abroad, never let valuables out of your sight, especially in crowded places. Pickpockets are becoming more creative, so beware of any situation that seems a bit fishy. Generally, pickpockets work in groups — a few create a distraction, while one quickly grabs your valuables. For example, spillage is a common trick. Someone will spill something on you with the hope that you’ll drop your luggage and tend to the mess, giving a second person enough time to snag your wallet before you realize what’s happening. Scammers also like to prey on tourists’ kindness by using — for example — children to pull on your heartstrings and distract you. Don’t fall victim to sob stories — just keep walking, avoid eye contact, and blame it on the language barrier.
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