Australian travellers of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds have fallen victim to scams overseas. The examples listed below will alert you to some common scams and suggest precautions you should take.
Airport taxi scam
What it is: Unlicensed, unmetered drivers often congregate in airport arrivals halls and major tourist destinations, offering flat-rate fees to drive foreign tourists to their chosen destination. In many cases the fees are much higher than metered fares.
What to do: Before you depart, read up on what transport services are available at the airport. Only follow signage or advice of authorities to official taxi service providers who most often remain outside the terminal in their vehicle.
Jet ski/motorcycle/car hire scam
What it is: When hiring jet skis, motorcycles and cars, Australian travellers have reported harassment and threats of violence by transport operators for returning vehicles that have allegedly been damaged. In some cases, thousands of dollars have been demanded and passports taken as collateral not returned.
What to do: Check online for reviews of local travel companies. Thoroughly check over any vehicle for damage before hiring. If you have a smartphone or digital camera, you can take photographs of any pre-existing damage. Ensure your insurance covers you for use of recreational transport, especially when you are not licensed in Australia. Never hand over your passport as collateral.
Wrong change/overcharging scam
What it is: One of the most common scams is to be overcharged by merchants, taxi drivers or ticket agents, or being provided with incorrect change (i.e. being given change from $10 when you had paid with a $100 bill).
What to do: Before travelling, familiarise yourself with local currency and get a sense of how much things cost. Avoid using currency of high denominations when paying for inexpensive items. Pay attention and take your time to ensure correct change.
Credit card skimming scam
What it is: 'Card skimming' is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit or ATM card. It usually occurs at the time of purchase when somebody takes your credit card away from your sight.
What to do: If a shop assistant wants to swipe your card out of your sight or in a second machine, you should ask for your card back straight away. Pay with a cheque or cash, or don't make the purchase. Never share your PIN or keep a written copy of the PIN close to your card.
What it is: In crowded areas with high tourist traffic, you may encounter scenarios in which your attention is diverted from your valuables and onto something else. This allows potential thieves to pickpocket you while you are distracted, for example a crowd of beggars jostling you or an unsolicited offer of assistance from a group of persons.
What to do: Be aware of parts of a city where pickpocketing is most common. Be vigilant in such areas, alert to your surroundings and treat any unusual diversion as a potential pickpocket attempt. Put valuables like your wallet, phone and passport in pockets which are harder to access.
What it is: Travellers have been scammed into purchasing visas for travel which are either unnecessary, unlawful or overpriced. There are a number of third parties that have established websites that charge a fee for submitting your visa application on your behalf – some of these are fraudulent.
What to do: Only apply through links or organisations recommended by the diplomatic or consular mission of the country you are going to visit. Read our travel advice for information on entry/exit requirements for your destination. If you think you have been defrauded, report it to the mission of the country you are going to.
Major sporting events/festivals accommodation scam
What it is: Scammers can exploit the high demand for accommodation or tickets during major sporting events or popular festivals by setting up fake websites, posting fake ads for hotel rooms and holiday rentals on genuine websites, or offering fake accommodation/ticketing packages.
What to do: We recommend you make a considered judgment when looking at accommodation and ticket options and only use a reputable website. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Massage/tea ceremony scam
What it is: Travellers are approached in public and invited for a massage, teahouse service, or to go to a café or bar nearby for reasons including ‘to practice English.’ In these locations and after services have been provided, travellers are presented with a vastly inflated bill and not permitted to leave until the bill is paid. Some Australians have been violently assaulted.
What to do: We recommend you do not accept unsolicited invitations while travelling. If you do, you should clarify any charges first. We encourage you to only organise massages and other similar services through your hotel or a reputable provider.
Carry my bag scam
What it is: An associate or friend asks you to take a bag or package on an international flight or across a border, sometimes for payment and other times on the pretense of assisting a family member. In some cases, the bag contains drugs or other illicit substances.
What to do: Never carry luggage or a package for anyone you have just met. Even if you are carrying something for a friend or relative, apply judgment on the risks you could be facing.
Common internet scams that often originate outside of Australia include:
- Nigerian letter scam: where help is sought placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts. This scam usually originates through unsolicited email, and may involve a request for personal or bank details.
- Business and employment scam: where large salaries and luxury overseas accommodations are promised for up-front payment of work permits, visa and immigration fees
- Relationship scam: where Australians are defrauded or have their lives endangered by bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes
- Friend/relative-in-need scam: where friends and family of an Australian travelling have been contacted by bogus doctors and hospitals requesting payment for urgent medical care for their loved one
- Hacked email/social networking scam: in which a hacker sends an email or personal message from a person's email or social media account requesting payment to return home.
Detailed information about financial scams, what to look out for and how to protect yourself from scams can be found in The Little Black Book of Scams published by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and the Australian Government's SCAMwatch website.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not investigate international financial or internet crimes.
What to do if you are a victim
For overseas scams, make sure you contact local police authorities and always obtain a police report. If it’s a serious issue, you should call your travel insurer’s 24 hour emergency number as soon as possible. Consular officers at Australian diplomatic missions can provide consular assistance.
If you are a victim of a financial or internet scam, we advise you to contact your financial institution and/or the ACCC and obtain legal advice. Do not travel overseas to seek restitution as there is a risk of physical assault from the perpetrators. Victims that have been defrauded and who travel to the originating country have had their lives endangered. Some victims have been killed. The Australian Federal Police advise you to report the matter to your state or territory police service and request that your report be forwarded to INTERPOL.
- CHOICE advice on tourist scams