How to Avoid Common Airport Scams

How to Avoid Common Airport Scams

We’ve all heard the horror stories of overseas pickpockets and travelling scams. It seems like every country has its risks these days, regardless of where you travel. But there’s one place even the most well-versed travellers often forget is a high-risk area for crime: the airport.

Whether you’re eagerly awaiting your departure or wearily catching a taxi upon arrival, the airport can be a breeding ground for quick-handed pickpockets, distraction artists, and taxi scams. It might seem like something you can avoid, but it’s all too easy to become distracted or confused. Since you may conveniently have all your most prized possession with you, it’s a gold mine for scammers.

Travel to: Europe

In order to avoid airport scams, you’ll need to be able to recognize them. Here are a few of the most common ones you may come across, and our top tips for avoiding them. 

Plane flying - avoid airport scams

How to Avoid Common Airport Scams

The Staller

This scam is relatively easy to watch out for, but also very easy to fall victim to. “The staller” here is the person in front of you while you wait in line at security. You place your items in the bucket for scanning while they stall in the line and steal your belongings before you’ve made it through. You don’t even realize your items are gone until you’ve made it to the end of the carousel and they’re simply not there.

  • Avoid It: Before placing your items on the conveyor belt, make sure the path is clear for you to walk directly through the scanner and to your items. If you’re suddenly unable to see your belongings, alert security immediately.

The Distraction Artist

This is perhaps the most common form of airport scams, but definitely one of the hardest to avoid – especially if you have a heart of gold. This involves another “traveller” approaching you and asking for advice, starting a conversation, or asking a question. While they’re asking you where the bathrooms are, their partner is rummaging through your luggage and taking your wallet, camera, cellphone, or any other valuables you may have on you.

  • Avoid It: Keep a close watch on all your belongings, especially if someone tries to start a conversation. If you have a lot of baggage, try to set yourself up in a corner or close to the check-in desk at your terminal.

The Bump

The “bump” is common pickpocketing practise, and can happen far beyond just the airport. It’s just as it sounds – someone nearby bumps into you, and before you know it, they’re gone with your wallet. The bump is particularly hard to avoid in highly populated areas such as airports, bus stations, train platforms, etc.

  • Avoid It: Don’t keep all your valuables in one place and definitely don’t have them in loose areas like pockets. Consider investing in a money belt – it keeps everything that’s crucial right against your body at all times.  

“Free” Wi-Fi

Chances are you’re going to want to post a quick picture of yourself at the airport before you depart for your tour through Thailand – totally understandable. But watch out for wifi that seems a little too convenient. An unsecured wifi network gives thieves access to virtually everything on your phone, including passwords and banking information. Unsurprisingly, this wifi scam has become all too popular in recent years.

  • Avoid It: Never assume the airport you’re in offers free wifi. Before connecting to any network, ask an official airport employee if there’s a secure network. It’s also wise to report anything suspicious to security if you think a network is posing a threat to fellow travellers.

Man in airport - avoid airport scams

The Helper

If someone approaches you at the airport and offers to carry your luggage, it should set off alarm bells in your head. While it would be nice to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, chances are this is a scam.  Your “helper” will carry your luggage out to your car and hold it ransom until you pay them, often with whatever is in your wallet. Not a great way to start or end an adventure abroad.

  • Avoid It: The easiest way to avoid the “helper” scam is to carry your own baggage. If for some reason you can’t, ask airport staff if there is a porter to help you get your items to your car. This is one of the many reasons expert travellers pack light – it’s easier to haul around.

The Currency Scam

Occasionally, cashiers at airport currency exchange desks are looking to make a quick buck. If you’re not well versed in the country’s language, don’t know the currency well, or are in a rush, it’s easy for you to be taken advantage of. Cashiers will purposely give you the wrong amount of money, charge higher rates, and even count your money slower so you lose your patience and leave with whatever they’ve given you.

  • Avoid It: Go to your bank a week or so before your trip and exchange money. Plan in advance, as not all banks carry every currency and they might have to have it brought in. If you are stuck at the airport and need money, take out just enough to pay for a cab to have money exchanged somewhere more affordable.

Mobile Phone Scams

It might seem like a dream come true to find a company at the airport that will rent you a mobile phone for your tour abroad, but be wary: it’s possible you could be being scammed. Often times these companies take a hefty deposit, and won’t reveal the extremely expensive cost of calls or texts. Sometimes, you’ll return to get your deposit, and they simply won’t give it back to you.

  • Avoid It: Talk to your current cell phone provider and see if they offer any international call and text packages. If not, do some research and find an international phone company before you arrive at the airport.

Taxi scams

One of the easiest (and most dangerous) places to be scammed at an airport isn’t actually in the airport, but rather in your taxi after you’ve arrived at your destination. Here are a few of the most common taxi scams to watch out for.

  1. The Fake Greeter: If you’ve arranged for your hotel to pick you up at the airport, they’ll have sent a driver to fetch you with your name. But a scammer can see these names and scribble them down on their own signage. This false greeter nearly always charges a higher rate, and takes business away from the hotel that you booked with.
  2. The “Broken” Meter: When you jump into a cab, you assume everything is in working order. But a dishonest cab driver can make a quick buck by claiming their meter is broken and charging you much more than the trip would actually cost.
  3. The Pull-Over: It might seem like a nice surprise to see your name on the board of a person in uniform, but be wary. If you haven’t arranged transportation beforehand, it’s very unlikely your hotel went ahead and did it for you. In some instances, the driver will pull over and demand a hefty fee to take you the rest of the way. In a foreign country in the middle of the night, that can be terrifying.
  4. Missing baggage: It’s all too easy for you to jump into a cab without realizing the driver just handed your luggage off to his partner behind him – make sure you keep an eye on your things!
Taxi - avoid airport scams
Be careful not to get caught up in a taxi scam

Avoiding taxi scams

  • Arrange transit plans in advance. Don’t leave yourself stranded at the airport with no idea how you’re going to get to your accommodations.
  • Call your hotel ahead of time and see if transportation arrangements are included or available. If you book anything, make sure you print your paperwork and confirmation numbers. Ask for the name of your driver, and confirm it before you get in the car.
  • Do NOT accept rides from anyone claiming be your arranged transportation if you didn’t book anything.
  • Do NOT accept a ride from anyone waiting casually outside the airport.
  • Only accept rides from cab companies that are officially lined up in the queue outside the airport. Ask security if you’re concerned about a driver or cab.
  • Use public transportation if it’s available. Lots of airports (especially the larger ones) have busses or trains that can help you get to the cities you need safely and affordably.
  • Ask your driver if the meter is working before you get into the cab. If it’s not, opt for the next available driver.
  • If you take a cab, offer to help the driver put your luggage into the trunk. Make sure you see the trunk close. If you can, keep your bags with you in the back of the cab.
  • For peace of mind, consider travelling with a reputable tour company. Your guides are airport experts and are more than prepared to help you navigate through the airport safely.

While it’s hard to say which airports are the worst for travel scammers, some destinations hold more risk than others. Here’s a list of the top ten cities and airports you should be EXTRA careful in while travelling.

  1. Barcelona – El Prat Airport This beautiful seaside city is known for its savvy and experienced pickpockets. Thanks to a bustling airport full of eager travellers, scamming is all too easy at El Prat Airport, so use extreme caution when visiting.
  2. Prague – Václav Havel Airport Prague Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Prague welcomes hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. That means its airport is one you should keep an extra close eye on.
  3. Rome – Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Rome’s airport can be filled with thieves that are eager to prey on travellers. So if a romantic Roma tour is on your list, play it extra safe.
  4. Madrid – Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport That’s right – another country from Spain has made it into the top five. While it’s beautiful, the Spanish capital of Madrid is also one of the world’s pickpocketing capitals, so don’t let yourself fall victim to their tricks.
  5. Paris – Charles de Gaulle Airport Paris may be known as the city of love, but it’s also known for its pickpockets. The airport is bustling with tourists eager to kiss under the Eiffel Tower who might be too excited to notice the scammers keeping an eye on them. Keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine.
  6. Buenos Aires – Ministro Pistarini International Airport As one of the wealthiest cities in South America, Buenos Aires brings in a lot of thieves looking to try their luck on well-off travellers. This is definitely one airport you’ll want to be cautious at:  don’t lose your wallet before the trip has a chance to begin.
  7. Florence – Florence Airport It might be a European cliche, but yes, this is yet another destination that might leave you susceptible to pickpocketing. Once again, just play it safe at the airport and keep your things close.
  8. Amsterdam – Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Amsterdam might have a laid back reputation, but it’s that same characteristic that thieves have learned to feed off of. Don’t let yourself get too relaxed in the airport; stay aware of your surroundings and be wary of anyone approaching you.
  9. Hanoi – Noi Bai International Airport Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, is also the pickpocketing capital of Asia. If you’re getting ready to book an Asian adventure, know that you’ll be fine as long as your travel with caution.
  10. Athens – Athens International Airport While it might be filled with ancient sites, Athens is also known for its tried and true scams. Before you set your sights on the blue waters, make sure you get through the airport without any hiccups.
Schiphol Airport - avoid airport scams
Schiphol Airport

Travelling is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, but that experience can easily be ruined by running into trouble with scammers or pick-pockets. Hopefully, with a bit of knowledge and preperation, you’ll be able to avoid airport scams no matter where your travels take you.

What are your best tips to avoid airport scams? Did we miss any common ones? Let us know!

Jesse is a blogger and content creator who loves travel, the outdoors, and her dog, Molly. When she isn't planning her next trip, she can be found watching Netflix documentaries, enjoying time by the water, or eating soft-serve ice cream. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or check out her blog.

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