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Common Scams to Avoid While Traveling

Photo from behind of a man sitting alone in a dark bar

Photo via Justin/Unsplash

Getting scammed can happen to the best of us. Learn what to watch for to avoid being a target.

3 Common Scams to Recognize Abroad

At some point during your travels—if it hasn't happened already—you may be scammed. It happens to the best of us. There are tons of scams to be wary of, but watch out for the following three in particular.

Request from a Kind Stranger

Never, it bears repeating, NEVER agree to transport packages, envelopes, suitcases, or anything not belonging to you, for a stranger—no matter how desperate or heartbreaking their story may seem. You could become an unsuspecting smuggler or mule. If you have two hours to spare, watch the movie Brokedown Palace to see what happens to Claire Danes' and Kate Beckinsale's characters after falling for an attractive drug smuggler in Thailand. If you're caught smuggling anything illegal, local officials won't care that you were scammed into the situation. If you're ever asked to transport anything for a stranger, say no and walk away.

This Round Is on Me

You're overseas and meet a gorgeous local at a bar, or you end up at a bar of his or her choosing. Next thing you know, your new friend is gone, and you owe the bar an exorbitant bill. Don't have a credit card? Don't worry, the scammers may even take you to an ATM to get the money you owe.

Men tend to be the most common target for this scam. There have been times when the victims pay the bills, sometimes in the thousands, just to remove themselves from the situation. If you're at a bar, ask for the cost of a drink before ordering, each time. Or pay for each round individually. This may seem paranoid, but you're better off safe than sorry—and with your savings intact.


Keep in mind that your travel could make your family back home susceptible to a scam. In what is commonly referred to as the grandparents scam, a con artist calls your family pretending to be you and asks for money. They make your family believe it’s an emergency and ask for the money to be sent through Western Union. Usually, the level of information that can make this type of scam possible is readily available online.

So, what can you do to try to protect yourself from this type of scam?

  • Limit the amount of information you put on social media.
  • Don't post in real time and tag your location (i.e. #latergram should be your rule of thumb when posting photos).
  • Use strict privacy settings on social media.
  • Keep in touch with your family.


If you've been scammed while on a Harvard-related trip abroad, let us know so we can provide you with the proper support. While abroad, contact International SOS, our 24/7 global emergency response program, at +1-617-998-0000 or through the Assistance App. You can also contact International SOS after the fact. Learning about your experiences helps us educate future travelers.

Before you travel, research your destination thoroughly. The following resources can help: