Here are some of the best travel scams I have encountered or heard about in Europe.
ROME. Woman Holding Infant. Fairly innocuous, right? Not necessarily.
My husband and I were walking down one of the streets leading to the Coliseum. A group of 4 or 5 women, one of which was holding an infant, came toward us. They looked like they could be up to no good so we immediately moved away saying “no, no.” One of the women showed us a piece of cardboard with something written on it while another shoved the infant at us and made a distracting noise, like a whistle. It is human nature to instinctively react to a baby being shoved in front of you and to look in the direction of an unusual sound. We did both but only for a split second. We moved the women out of our way and rushed in the opposite direction.
After a few minutes one of the women ran up to us holding my husband’s passport. She handed it to him and walked away. My husband had been wearing a windbreaker over a sweater. His passport was in the sweater pocket which was zippered up. These women had pickpocketed him so deftly that he didn’t even feel them reaching under his windbreaker, unzipping his sweater pocket and removing his passport within seconds.
We often speculate as to why she even returned it. It’s almost as if she were saying to us “look how talented I am and what I can do to you!”
MOSCOW. The Stolen Shoes.
A colleague tells me this is one of the easiest travel scams he knows of. He was in his hotel room and heard a knock on the door. He opened it and saw a hotel valet who told him to leave his shoes outside the door for shining overnight. He did. Next morning, no shoes. He called reception and asked what time his shoes would be delivered. “What shoes?” they asked. Apparently the hotel does not offer any overnight shoe-shining service. He had to wear his running shoes to his meeting until he could purchase a new pair of dress shoes.
AMSTERDAM. The Unattended Briefcase.
This happened to my husband. Schiphol, Amsterdam’s airport is famous for travel scams. It is the place where if something bad is going to happen on a trip, it is likely to happen here. It just has that reputation. So whenever you land in Schiphol you are on high alert. My husband knew this. He arrived in Schiphol on a Hong Kong flight exhausted and longing to check in to his hotel. At reception he placed his briefcase on the floor for the briefest of instances while he completed the check-in process. When he reached down the briefcase was gone! The hotel immediately alerted security who ran the security camera tape. The tape showed a short, slim man draping his coat on the briefcase before picking it up and stepping outside the hotel through the revolving doors.
A few days later the Amsterdam police advised my husband that some contents of the briefcase were found in a dumpster and they were returned…no valuables though. The thief was never caught.
PARIS. The Lost Motorist.
In a very nice part of Paris a motorist stopped us and asked for directions. We responded as best we could not knowing the city well. He then started to sing the praises of the leather coats he had in the back seat and asked us to buy them. We declined and he began yelling insults at us in about four languages. Do these travel scams ever work?! Who buys leather coats, on the spot, out of a sleazy guy’s back seat?
What travel scams can you share?