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Where to Find the Skinny on Scams

October 08, 2000|LUCY IZON

When funds for your adventure are limited, losing any amount to a scam artist is not only frustrating but also can mean having to return home early. Your best defense is knowing about the common scams so you can avoid them.

Well-researched guidebooks, fellow travelers and government travel advisories on the Internet are good sources.

The U.S. government's site, Internet, has posted a warning for travelers to Colombia: A tourist is approached by an alleged policeman, who says he wants to check the traveler's money for counterfeit U.S. dollars. The person hands over his money and receives a receipt, and the "policeman" disappears.

On the Internet this summer, the Canadian government warned Mexico-bound travelers to be vigilant when using bank or credit cards because card information has been copied by unscrupulous vendors who swipe cards twice.

The Canadian government Internet site can be found at

The British government Internet site warns travelers to India that tricksters (particularly in Agra and Jaipur) promise a substantial cash reward for delivery of jewelry abroad, but only for an initial financial deposit. The jewelry is invariably worthless and the deposit lost.

The Australian government ( is warning travelers to Russia about an ATM scam. There have been reports of devices being used to read credit card and PIN information from those withdrawing money, enabling thieves to access accounts and withdraw funds.

Here are some other frequently reported problems:

* In a scam reported from Southeast Asia to Europe, criminals sometimes use the drug scopolamine to incapacitate tourists in order to rob them. The drug is administered in drinks or through cigarettes or gum. Ingesting it can cause disorientation or prolonged unconsciousness. If you think it would be rude to refuse a drink from someone who has befriended you, claim you can't because of an allergy or an upset stomach.

* If you are storing valuables, including credit cards, in a hotel or hostel safe, put them in a sealed envelope and write your name across the sealed flap. When you retrieve the envelope, you will know if anyone has opened it.

* When you make payments with a credit card, be sure the correct currency is indicated beside the final amount--or one more favorable to the scam artist could be added later.

* When exchanging money, don't look only at the posted exchange rate; also look for additional service charges. It's likely your best rate will come from a bank.

* When getting change, don't accept badly torn currency. It may not be accepted when you want to spend it.

* Be wary of being befriended at popular tourist sites, especially if you are a solo traveler. In one popular scam that surfaces all over: A new "friend" starts to comment on what you're looking at, then tags along as you continue. When you're ready to leave, he demands a hefty guide fee.

Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet

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