It's every fan's nightmare: Find an amazing deal on tickets to a hot concert or big game, spend big bucks to travel to the show -- and then get turned away at the door because the tickets are phony.
Entertainment and sports events are a natural attraction for scam artists. Anyone is a potential victim, but out-of-towners are especially vulnerable. Each year brings fresh tales of people travelling thousands of miles to attend an event, only to discover that their package tour didn't include tickets, or that the tickets they paid for by sending cash or money orders never really existed.
Sadly, these kinds of travel scams are all too common. But it's not hard to protect yourself from getting ripped off -- just be prepared, careful and aware of the most frequently used tricks.
Once upon a time, the Super Bowl was the holy grail of scammers. Unscrupulous travel agents had no qualms about accepting thousands of dollars for packages that included flights and hotels but no tickets to the event. The U.S. Department of Transportation came down hard on Super Bowl scammers with new regulations and tough enforcement. But the specter of getting ripped off still looms.
Counterfeit merchandise is another huge travel scam, especially for anyone traveling to 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 -- specifically fake medications -- can be downright deadly.
Nobody's going to get killed by a counterfeit handbag. But consumers are at risk of buying counterfeit products that pose a real danger, like knockoff pharmaceuticals cut with everything from harmless filler to motor oil, highway paint and glue. Other dangers include bogus electronics with faulty wiring or potentially hazardous batteries, as well as shampoo and perfumes (with fake luxury branding) that contain harmful amounts of bacteria.
Another frequent scam is the hotel that doesn't live up to what's advertised. Beach hotels that are nowhere near the sand is one of the more common tricks. But one that's often overlooked -- much to the detriment of air travellers -- are "airport hotels" that are nowhere near the actual airport.
Every city has them, but some examples are more egregious than others. The Ramada Inn Miami Airport North is actually 16 km from Miami International. The Country Inn & Suites at Denver International Airport over 14 km from the field. The Hampton Suites LAX Van Nuys is near an airport all right -- a general aviation field in the San Fernando Valley with the code VNY. The real LAX is 29 km due south, a drive that often takes more than an hour in freeway traffic.
Hotel parking valets are another menace, especially those tempted to steal valuables from cars in their charge. You also have to be careful about where they park your car. Drivers automatically assume their vehicles will be moved into the hotel lot. But in the case of smaller hotels, they may not even have lots. Your car could get parked on the street. And if the meter runs out or the vehicle gets towed from a red zone, the owner is stuck with the ticket, not the valet or hotel.
When traveling abroad, 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.
"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."