Road Warrior

Seven Summer Travel Scams to Avoid

Jayne Clark, USA Today

Will we never learn? Apparently, not.

Airplane Key
Photo: iStock

Travel scams haven't changed much over the years, but we still get stung by them. Even savvy travelers like Lonely Planet U.S. travel editor Robert Reid. He recently took a $15 cab ride in Baltimore, only to find out later he'd been charged twice the regular fare.

"Some meters are quicker than others," he says. "Clearly, there was something going on."

Other cities singled out by Lonely Planet contributors for questionable taxi fares: Las Vegas, New Orleans and Atlantic City. Reid's advice in any city: Ask the minimum fare before getting in, and keep an eye on the meter.

It's high travel season and that means it's time to be on high alert for operators trying to separate you from your vacation dollars. After being taken for that ride in Baltimore, Reid compiled six other travel scams to beware of this summer.

Timeshare and vacation club freebies. This one is in the eye of the beholder – some people are willing to endure a high-pressure sales pitch in exchange for a free hotel night or a free meal. "Some people don't see this as a scam, but given the number of complaints (200-plus a month to the Better Business Bureau) a lot of people think it is," Reid says.

Hidden fees. Airlines aren't the only ones raking in extra revenue with extra fees. For instance, watch for "resort fees" at some establishments that tack on mandatory fees for use of facilities.

Rental car insurance. Don't buy it if you don't need it. Check your own policy and with your credit card company to see if you're already covered.

Bootleg designer goods from street vendors. Your hunch is correct: That $20 bag isn't Prada.

Digital gimmicks. The biggest change in the scammer's world is the vast digital landscape on which to operate. Beware unsecured Wi-Fi connections and just say no to "friends" soliciting rescue money. And keep tabs on your cell phone. "I was in Youngstown, N.Y., near the Canadian border, when I noticed (my phone) was connected through Canada. I called my company and had the charges dropped," Reid says. "Good thing I noticed."

Evil Elmo imposters. Tip-seekers wearing garish fake fur oneseys are becoming ubiquitous around New York's Times Square (a la the palms-out superheroes on Hollywood Boulevard). "If you take the real Elmo's photo, we're pretty sure he wouldn't harangue you for a tip," Reid says.