Seven common scams to avoid when volunteering abroad

There’s a lot of truth in that old saying, “forewarned is forearmed” and at Globalteer we are firm believers that if you know about the most common travel scams before you set off, then you are less likely to fall victim to them.

Of course we also provide extensive support and country-specific advice to all of our volunteers pre-placement, but it is also important to be aware of some of the more common general travel scams that you may come across when abroad. This is especially the case when you are newly arrived, and are still trying to learn the local area, customs, currency, transport, and language.

We have put together this list to give you some idea of what to look out for when abroad, but also remember that the vast majority of people who travel or volunteer overseas return home without any troubles at all!

1. Overcharging taxis

Being ripped off by a taxi driver is probably the most common of all travel scams. In countries where meters are used, always make sure it is turned on at the start of your journey. If a taxi driver says their meter is broken, get out and wait for another one. When negotiating a price in countries without taxi meters, always confirm the currency if there are multiple currencies in use. It is helpful to research the approximate cost of your journey beforehand, and if worried, get your accommodation to call a taxi for you. It may be a little more expensive to do this, but it could save you a lot of hassle down the track.

2. Distraction scam

This can occur in many different forms, but the most common example is someone spilling something on you, like a drink or sauce, and while they are helping you clean up, another person will lift your bag, wallet, phone or whatever they can get their hands on. Always keep a close eye on your belongings in all situations, as it’s better to have a stained t-shirt than your camera being stolen!

3. Help with your luggage

While perhaps not a scam as such, when arriving at an airport, train station or bus terminal, a good Samaritan or assistant may offer to take your luggage and show you how to get outside. However, be aware that this will never be for free – even if it seems like they are just being helpful – so be ready to give a tip.

4. ‘Closed’ hotels

This is when a taxi driver or ‘guide’ asks where you are staying, and once hearing of the place, they promptly tell you that it’s closed. They will then take you to another highly recommended hotel. What you don’t know is that they are probably receiving a commission for taking you to this specific hotel, and that your planned for accommodation was not in fact closed after all. Just ignore this information, and make your taxi driver take you to your original choice.

5. Money and currency scams

There are a range of scams that you can come across regarding currency and money. Always try and use ATMs inside banks when travelling to avoid card skimmers. If you are exchanging money, or making any purchases in general, count the money you receive back to ensure it is exactly the right amount. And always check your larger notes (you don’t need to do this for notes straight from an ATM) to see if they look counterfeit. The easiest way to avoid scams like this is to become familiar and comfortable with the currency as soon as you can.

6. ‘Free gifts’

If you are walking through a popular tourist area, and someone comes and tries to give you a small bracelet, pin or similar (even seeds for pigeons!) as a gift or for a celebration, you will find in most occasions that if you accept, the person will then pester your aggressively for money. It is best to avoid these ‘gifts’ with a polite but firm thank you, and then walking away.

7. Fake police

This is not such a common one, but in some tourist areas people pose as police. These fake police may tell you there is an issue with your visa or try to give you an on-the-spot fine. If you are in a situation like this, and feel that something is not quite right, offer to pay the fine back at the police station. And never hand over a passport without seeing identification first.

As we have already said, the vast majority of people who travel or volunteer overseas have no issues. So when abroad just be aware, look after your belongings, and enjoy a trip of a lifetime and all the memories that come with it!