Wifi and Credit Card Sanner scams

Whilst on the subject of cyber scams this is a good time to remind people about the growing danger from public WiFi and data scanners.

Cyber thieves love hotels and not just the front desk.
They target areas within a hotel where there is public WiFi - hotel spas, parking facilities.

Recent attacks have targeted nearly 250 Hyatt hotels, as well as some Starwood and Hilton properties.

So how can you protect yourself?
Never use public WiFi in hotel lobbies for anything other than basic email – this means no financial transactions, which means no booking of any travel services. Save such purchases for when you’re in your room.

Be sure to let your credit card company know if you’ll be traveling and list specific destinations.

Never log into your bank in a public WiFi area. The best security is to have a virtual VPN link on your device. This editors method is to only log in to his bank from a private WiFi, but if necessary from a hotel room or the like, then he uses a VPN for a more secure environment.

Remember, clever hackers don’t just go for big cost items, but for smaller charges under $50, to avoid detection. Keep in mind that you should be responsible for reviewing your credit card statement, not just once a month, but every week. Those little unauthorized and often unnoticed charges can add up.

Buy one of the ‘scan protection’ cards for your wallet, or purse. These are supposed to interrupt someone trying to download the details off your cards data area. People who do this typically come close to you and will bump into you, or brush your pocket, or purse.

The WiFi scanners can work at a longer distance. In effect you have to be prepared for both.



August 2013 - Using tourists as unwitting mules by planting drugs or contraband in their suitcases is an old criminal dodge – but a Melbourne woman has brought it close to home by speaking to local radio station about a lucky near-miss in Thailand.

A woman identified only as “Georgia” told radio station 3AW she and her boyfriend were about to board a flight from Bangkok to Phuket when airport staff told them that one of their bags was overweight. The couple thought about moving some baggage from the overweight bag to the other one – and then noticed that their bags had been tampered with, straps sliced and locks broken.

Smelling a rat, they headed back to their hotel to rearrange their suitcases, rather than do it in public. There they found a stash of marijuana, about a handful, tucked into a pocket of the suitcase.

The couple called the Australian embassy. According to Georgia, the embassy told them to watch out for anyone who might be following them. They were advised to dump the bags, discard any items they didn’t need, wash everything and buy new suitcases.

Georgia told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell they spent an extra two days in Bangkok making sure everything was clean and in order.

Georgia believes the bags may have been tampered with at the luggage holding area of their hotel. She suspects somebody might have been setting her and her boyfriend up for a sting in which criminals impersonating police or customs officers (or possibly corrupt genuine police) claim to have found drugs in the suitcase, and then demand a big bribe.

“But who knows? We still don’t know to this day,” Georgia told the radio station. Georgia said they were “extremely lucky” to have spotted the damaged bags in time.

To listen to the interview:    Written by : Peter Needham

United States Visa Waiver Programme - electronic lodgement.

For those nationalities that are eligible make sure you log onto the CORRECT U.S. Government website to do this. Watch out for the many 'overlay' sites. These look legitimate and process everything and actually make the application, but UNDERNEATH/behind the scenes so to speak. You give authority for your credit card to pay, but the fact that the cost is so high should alert you!! They skim off upwards of $60 for a 'so called service'. Mechanism to print money is a better description. Most of these are Indian operated.

They do not commit outright fraud, because you get the product, you just pay 3 times and upwards more for it!!

Details and official link via the Australian Government site.

Money changing and Street Money Scams

“Scams involving money and valuables apparently dropped by a passer-by are common. The unsuspecting traveller picks up the money to return it to the person and is told that it is not the correct amount. Travellers are advised not to pick up money, not to get involved in disputes with strangers over such incidents and to walk away immediately. Only exchange currency at bank counters. Travellers have become scam victims when trying to exchange money with strangers in the street or in a bank queue.”

Taxi Scams

I think we all have been takne for a ride by a taxi driver! A recent report May 2013 brings attention to Las Vagas - beware!

Nevada taxi drivers overcharged almost one million and a half travellers going to and from McCarran International Airport to the tune of almost US$15 million last year, a recent report from state auditors has revealed. According to the legislative audit, of the 6.6 million rides going to and from the Nevada airport, some 23 percent were “deceptively long”, the Las Vegas Sun reported. This so-called “long hauling” can increase the average cab fare by about US$10. The report has called on the Taxicab Authority to take “preventative measures” such as providing price guides at the airport. The official Las Vegas Tourism website advises that the average taxi fare from the airport to a Strip hotel is $US11 and also points to popular airport shuttle services as alternative means of transportation.

Perhaps, if you have a smart phone, activate your GPS mapping Ap and follow the route - let the driver know.

Nobody wants your timeshare
Despite the allure of free steak knives, the timeshare industry's imploded in recent years, leaving a market ripe with sellers and devoid of buyers. Which made easy pickings for one slimeball who grossed $30 million swindling 22,000 timeshare owners out of "closing costs" on fake sales she arranged with non-existent buyers.

Paris pickpockets
Much like overcharging tourists for cabs, pickpocketing travelers has been going on since, well, the advent of the pocket. But things got so bad in Paris last year that employees at the Louvre walked off the job, in protest of the notorious levels of crime inside the museum. By August, French authorities nabbed a gang of camera-toting Eastern Europeans who were fleecing Mona Lisa-entranced Asian tourists for upwards of $2,500/day.

Fake Red Cross credentials in Vietnam
While donating to charity on the street is, admittedly, a bit of a gamble, three locals in Hanoi successfully convinced well-intentioned tourists to open their wallets by posing as official Red Cross volunteers, complete with bogus membership cards. All in all, records recovered by police indicated they cleared over five grand.

California vacation home rental scams
Taking advantage of newer rental sites like HomeAway and Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), two scammers in Palm Springs were tried on 15 counts of embezzlement after allegedly taking home owners (and renters) for over $50k. The con: Serving as the middle man, they'd book vacation properties on behalf of the owners, and, after renters wired the deposit, the scammers'd cancel the reservation. 

Shonky moneychangers exposed - February 2012

Those too-good-to-be-true exchange deals you are offered by the backstreet moneychangers in Bali will probably be just that…a rip-off. The state news agency Antara reports that 40% of the moneychangers operating in Bali do not hold the required permits issued by Bank Indonesia and as such are illegal. Unlicensed money changers, often down a side street or operating from the back of a shop, are the cause of frequent complaints from tourists who claim they get short-changed by the illegals traders.
Bali Update ( recommends that visitors exchange money at banks or moneychangers displaying the membership logo of the APVA.


Reported by
Derek Guille from ABC radio Australia
It seems the latest scam is for a young woman to appear to pick up a gold wedding ring from just behind you and ask if you dropped it. After that ice-breaker of an intro the sob story comes out. It's rather funny when the second attempt comes about five minutes after the first. I presume the gold-plated rings are bought in bulk because they attempt to gain your trust by giving the ring to you.

Scams at Mexico's Airports – and maybe others??

(By Nelson Alcantara) JAMES Walker was departing from Acapulco International Airport when his unused batteries were confiscated by airport security personnel citing the batteries as security threat.  He was puzzled as they had never heard of batteries being a security threat and so were his travel partners. What Walker founds astonishing was that already installed were not taken and were allowed to pass.  "Batteries installed in cameras or other devices were allowed to pass, but NEW batteries (spares, many still in their shrink-wrap packaging) were taken from us," Walker said. New batteries (especially Lithium batteries and Metal Nickel Hydride batteries) can be costly ranging from $15 to $20 or more.  Aware of this Walker started asking around and repeatedly asked security screeners in other airports, from San Diego to Amsterdam, whether new batteries are classified as security threats.  At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam he was told: "You were nicked!  They have a battery resale business on the side to enhance their income!"  Walker has since complained to the Mexican Tourist Office and the Acapulco Convention and Visitors' Bureau, but has yet to hear from them.  He wrote awhile back. The same scheme has reportedly happened in Puerto Vallarta. 

Beware of ATM Scam. Look out, travelers. Here's the latest bank card scam. It's called the Lebanese Loop, according to police warnings on the Internet. A couple of friends from Ann Arbor recently discovered it in Menton, France, near Nice. Unfortunately, they discovered it the hard way. The couple, who declined to be identified, had been in France for a few days and had run short of cash. So they stopped at an ATM at a Credit Agricole bank. It was a Sunday morning. No one was around. The man plugged his new, never-been-used credit card into the ATM. The machine requested the PIN. But when he punched it in, the ATM did not respond. The man pushed more buttons. And more buttons. But the machine gave no answer. And worse, it never gave back the card. As they struggled with the machine, two young men approached. They explained in English that the bank was closed and the couple should return on Monday to retrieve the card. What followed was a Kafkaesque series of events for the couple.

They came back the next day and tried without success to convince the bank to look for the card. They struggled to reach the credit card company by phone. And they made two long visits to the local police station to file their report. No one spoke English at the bank or the police station or the hotel. So all this explaining had to be done in fractured French. In the meantime, the couple did manage to get cash with a different card. They were not sure a crime had been committed until they got back to Michigan. BankOne of Ann Arbor showed three ATM withdrawals in Marseilles for a total of $775, plus, insultingly enough, $1.50 for each transaction. Also the record showed three credit card charges totaling $1,900. Fortunately, the credit card company protected their losses. But how did the crooks do it? It was not until later that the couple's son discovered the scam on the Internet.

Here's how it works. The thieves put a thin, clear, rigid plastic sleeve into the ATM slot. The machine cannot read the card, so it keeps asking you to register the PIN. Meanwhile someone watches to learn the PIN as the mark vainly attempts to get the ATM to respond. When the sucker finally gives up and walks off, the thieves return. In seconds, they pull out the plastic sleeve with the card and drain the account. It's nasty. But you can foil this scam. Before putting your card into an ATM, run your finger over the slot. The sleeve usually has a couple of prongs, so the thieves can get it out. You should be able to feel them. (By Gerry Volgenau, Detroit Free Press)

All over

Here is a great article

By |

How to avoid resort fees, ID theft and more

Writers like to think they’re immune to the scams that plague ordinary travelers. But wandering scribes are just as susceptible to stings and swindles anyone else. During a trip to England several years ago, I spied an advertisement in one of the London papers promoting a hotel-and-meals package in Yorkshire that looked too good to be true.

Arriving in the old medieval town of York a few days later, I checked into a wonderful city center lodge full of bygone ambience and good cheer. At dinner that evening I promptly announced to the waiter that I was there on the special package and asked how that worked with the meals. With an absolutely straight face he told me I could choose from either side of the menu. Given that the dishes on the right side looked a lot more appetizing than those on the left, I spent the next three days merrily making my way down that side of the meal card.

Then at checkout, I was presented with an enormous (and unexpected) restaurant bill. Turns out the meals on the right side of the menu where not part of my too-good-to-be-true package. And the hotel refused to swallow the charges or admit it was their error. I had fallen victim to the old bait-and-switch, one of the oldest travel scams in the business. Months later—after letters to my credit card company, the British and Yorkshire tourist boards, and the Phoenix-based Best Western organization that marketed the hotel that had ripped me off—I was still without recompense.

Bait-and-switch is one of numerous scams that make travelers wish they had never left home. And the ubiquity of instant communication has made it easier for con artists and dubious travel agents to prey upon those of us who like to move around. Some scams are incredibly sophisticated.

The California Department of Justice recently announced the arrest of Orange County travel agent Ralph Rendon. “The suspect allegedly ripped off dozens of senior citizens who wanted to travel to Cuba for religious and cultural purposes,” says California Attorney General Jerry Brown. The scam targeted Jewish and Greek Orthodox seniors trying to congregate with people of their own faith on the Caribbean island. After the 34 victims forked out five-figure deposits, Rendon announced their trips were being blocked by the Treasury Department and refused to refund their money. According to state investigators, he used the money to lease a brand new Mercedes, pay his rent and hire a divorce attorney.

Selling counterfeit merchandise is another huge travel scam, especially for anyone visiting Asia, the source of so many bogus goods. There was a day in the not-too-distant past when a fake Rolex was the height of Third World travel chic. But nowadays the knockoffs can be downright deadly.

“Sunglasses, handbags, DVDs—every product in every industry is liable to be knocked off these days,” says Caroline Joiner, executive director of the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “I often tell people that if your product isn’t being counterfeited, then you probably have a brand that isn’t worth much.”

Nobody’s going to get killed by a counterfeit handbag, adds Joiner. “But consumers are at risk of buying counterfeit products that pose a real danger.” At the top of her list are knockoff pharmaceuticals cut with everything from harmless filler to motor oil, highway paint and glue. She also cites bogus electronics with faulty wiring or potentially hazardous batteries, as well as shampoo and perfumes that contain harmful amounts of bacteria. “I’ve seen things like fake diabetic testing strips, surgical mesh for repaired abdominal walls during surgery and even an entire Ferrari that was counterfeit.”

There are all kinds of money scams, from hotels that charge exorbitant commissions to change currency to money changers passing you bills or coins that are no longer in circulation. As a young backpacker doing the Eurail tango, I often changed money on the street trying to get a slightly higher exchange rate. During one of those black-market transactions, the fellow who ducked away “for a minute” to convert my dollars into local currency never came back. Needless to say, I started changing in kiosks and banks.

“I was back in Moscow a few years ago and saw with nostalgia they were still trying to pull the ‘wad of money’ trick in Red Square,” says veteran travel scribe Robert Reid, author of the Lonely Planet guides to the Trans-Siberian Railway, Central America and Myanmar. “Some goon rushes by you and drops a wad of dollars—could be more than a thousand—and another goon steps in and picks it up, offering to share it with you. If you take the offer, the other goon will track you down and demand all of the money. I kinda find it cute that they think it can still work—sadly it probably does.”

Another scam I’ve been stung by is the hotel that isn’t quite what it advertised—and sometimes nowhere close. I’ve booked rooms at beach hotels that were nowhere near the beach and airport hotels that were miles away from the terminals. “My advice is, do your research,” says Brooke Ferencsik, senior manager of media relations for the popular Trip Advisor website. “The more educated you are about a given hotel, the better off you’re going to be.”

The flipside of that coin, says Ferencsik, is choosing a hotel on the basis of a great location or a snazzy website without reading reviews that may paint a much darker picture. Unsuspecting travelers can get scammed into rooms only a few notches above a pig sty, places like the Hotel Carter in New York, which recently topped TripAdvisor’s list of the Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels in America. A manager at the Hotel Carter—who requested anonymity—said, “We know about the list. We’re doing OK. We’re still busy,” adding, “But we get many emails saying that it's not fair or not true or something like that.” Then there’s the centrally located Park Hotel in London, which one TripAdvisor reviewer dubbed a “typhoid cubicle.” (The general manager of the hotel could not be reached for comment.)

Despite the phenomenal growth of airport security over the last seven years, getting scammed at the TSA checkpoint is still a distinct possibility. Often it’s just a crime of opportunity—somebody who decides on the spur of the moment to snatch your iPod or cellphone from one of those ubiquitous plastic bins. But there are thieves, working solo or in tandem, who make a living off airports. They stand behind you in the TSA line and snatch items from your carry-on as you're passing through the metal detector. Or, they may be in front—one member of the team takes forever passing through the scanner while his or her partner walks away with your laptop that's already gone through the X-ray machine.

There have been several well-publicized cases over the past year in which victims were able to remotely activate the camera on their stolen laptops and identify the culprits. But you can’t rely on stupid crooks.

Steve Lott, head of North American communications for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggests several ways to keep from getting ripped off at airports. “I always recommend keeping an eye on your handbags and carry-ons at all times,” he says. “Don’t go through the metal detector before your bag does. If you require secondary screening, always ask a TSA agent to get your bag from the belt and bring it with you to the screening area. Be vigilant and avoid distraction. And before you leave the TSA screening area, always double-check that your valuables are in place.”

Expensive electronics aren’t the only thing that thieves are after. They can also pocket your identity without you even knowing that it’s been taken. Sifting through items that many travelers leave lying around their hotel rooms—driver’s license, airline tickets, address book, diaries, expense reports or anything else that may contain sensitive personal information—hotel workers and anyone else who gains access to your room can successfully hijack your persona for financial or other means. The simple solution is securing everything with personal information in the room safe or a lockable piece of luggage.

Identity theft also proliferates online. Be wary of using cybercafés or even hotel business centers for commercial transactions involving credit cards, and if you communicate personal financial information via email on a public computer, always verify that you have signed out of your email program before leaving the computer.

One of the least financially damaging scams is one of the most irritating—the infamous resort fee—that extra charge (normally $20 to $30) that some luxury hotels add for the privilege of using things that should be free or that we are unlikely to use. Although no one is sure who invented the resort fee, it’s often associated with Hawaii and its ritzy beach hotels.

“It’s an easy way for hotels to capture extra revenue from a captive audience,” says Alex Salkever, founder and editor of the Hawaiirama travel news and reviews website. “Once you get to the front desk, it’s not like you can turn around and leave.” The problem, says Salkever, is hotels that don’t disclose their resort fees ahead during the reservation process. “A few are good deals,” he adds. “One resort offers kids meals for free as part of the resort fee and that strikes me as a bargain. Most, however, are rip-offs.”

Cyberspace is rife with travel scams. Just this past winter, San Diego college students—planning a summer volunteer trip to teach English to orphans in West Africa—bought their tickets online from a discount airfare website based in Delaware. They paid online using their credit cards, but never received an e-ticket or electronic itinerary. By the time they got around to asking for a refund, the website had completely disappeared and nobody was responding at the travel agency’s telephone number.

“I don’t understand how someone can do something like this to other people,” one of the students lamented to a local television station, especially when the agency knew they were going to be doing volunteer work “and we didn’t have money to throw away.”

Maybe they can no longer fool all of the people all of the time, but savvy scammers know there are still plenty of travelers out there who they can trip up at least part of the time.