October 2, 2017

7 ways to stop travel fraudsters ruining your holiday

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When you’ve scrimped and saved for a dream holiday, the last thing you want is to have your trip cut short by cons. Frequent travellers and financial experts share their tips on how not to be taken in by tricksters.

1. Mix it up

The old adage of “don’t keep all your eggs in one basket” is wise advice, according to Ian Barrable, American Express Director for Global Payment Options in South Africa.

Having some local currency for the country you’re travelling to is convenient when it comes to avoiding long queues, exorbitant commissions or language barriers. However, carrying a wad of cash is by no means safe, or replaceable in the event it’s stolen or lost.

Barrable recommends a “mixed wallet approach”: carrying a diverse range of payment options, such as cash and prepaid travel cards like the American Express Global Travel Card. The card operates very much like a debit card and can be used at directly at merchants and ATMs by keying in a personal identification number. The card is offered in three major currencies and is re-loadable should you need to top it up. Another bonus is that you can “lock in” an exchange rate before departure so your budget won’t be affected by the strength (or weakness) of the rand.

If you want to take the mixed wallet approach one step further, carry a decoy wallet with spare change and expired cards in case you’re mugged.

2. Stay clear of the ‘helpful’ stranger

It’s a travellers’ worst nightmare: you try to withdraw cash after banking hours but the ATM swallows your card, leaving you penniless in a foreign country and no chance of getting your card back till morning. Suddenly, a helpful local appears and says the same thing happened to him. He was able to get his card back by retyping his PIN.

Little do you know your card is being held by a trapping device and fraudsters are simply capturing what numbers you key-in for your pin. “Once you become frustrated and leave the ATM, they remove the device and your card from the card slot and then proceed to make withdrawals from your account, as they now have your card and PIN,” explains Lucas Venter, Nedbank’s Senior Manager of Analytics and Forensics.

Venter always advises travellers to know what their ATM looks like so they can immediately detect if a foreign object has been attached. And don’t be bamboozled by other ATM hoaxes, he adds, like a message telling you that entering your PIN backwards will notify the police or bank that you need assistance.


3. Stay vigilant

The golden rule, according to Sure Travel’s CEO Vanya Lessing, is never leave your belongings unattended, anywhere. She says airport coffees shops and hotel reception areas are sometimes targeted by thieves waiting for you to leave your bags unattended for a minute while collect your coffee or check in.

And don’t let your guard drop while you’re on the plane either, she adds. “Never leave your documents, wallets or any other important items in the seat pouch,” she stresses. “There have been cases where passengers have done so, just for a few minutes, only to arrive at their destination with no passport.”


4. Know what to pay

While it’s not technically fraud, being ripped off by overcharging train, bus or taxi drivers can also take a knock out of your travel budget. So before you step off the plane, train or bus in a foreign city, look up the costs of transport and decide on a safe and affordable option, advises Cape Town-based business traveller Farren Botha, 42, who has spent much of her working life on the road. “I always make sure I know where I’m going long before I reach a destination,” she says. “It saves my company and we don’t end up going around in circles.”

5. Don’t use the same password

We get it; remembering several passwords can be difficult. But using the same password across multiple accounts, including your frequent flyer loyalty accounts, is really not advisable. Just ask United and American Airlines customers: in 2016 thieves stole the login information for about 35 travellers from a third-party website and tested their victims’ passwords across a multitude of platforms. Those who used the same password for the airlines’ sites were robbed of more than 10 000 bonus frequent flier miles. The hackers were eventually detected, but only after they tried using the stolen passwords to book trips and travel upgrades.


6. Be careful who you book with

Barely a month goes by when the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (Asata) doesn’t get a complaint of someone scammed by a pseudo travel company. Like any industry, the travel industry is a target for fraudsters. Make sure you do your background checks to ensure the travel agent, website or tour operator you are buying your travel products from is legitimate. All Asata member travel agencies and tour operators are vetted and are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct, so booking via an Asata accredited travel supplier is always a good place to start. All Sure Travel agencies are Asata accredited.

7. Arm yourself with knowledge

While there’s no way you can be prepared for every evolving scam targeting travellers, there are a number of great websites you can check to avoid the latest rackets. Fraud.org, scam-detector.com and profit.uk.com are some of the best, offering travel industry-specific news on recent scams, and fraud prevention tips for consumers and businesses.

Need more expert advice from a travel pro? Speak to your nearest Sure Travel agent. 

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