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How to avoid the sunshine scam: from taxi scams, currency exchange scams and that NICE waiter you can’t trust, what to do when you’re on holiday

You may feel like it’s time to relax after booking your holiday, having successfully avoided the ever-increasing flood of fake online deals, rogue travel agencies and flight payment scams.

But once you’re there, you still need to be wary of all sorts of old-fashioned scams aimed at ripping you and your hard-earned money off.

I have visited 157 countries in the last 20 years and have encountered almost every travel problem that exists. I have even run into it a few times.

Below are some of the most common ones to look out for.

Airport taxi scam

Surprisingly, many major airports, such as Istanbul and Auckland, do not have direct train services to the city centre.

Taxi drivers know that you are tired and just want to get to your accommodation, and that chances are you don’t know the exchange rate yet. The result? Crazy rates.


  • Never lose sight of your credit/debit card as it can be copied.
  • Beware of fake holidays on social media. Instead, use companies that are affiliated with reputable groups such as ABTA and AITO, with an ATOL (Air Travel Organisers’ Licence), if flights are included.
  • Be wary of prices that seem low, but are not ridiculously low, and are sold through unknown websites.
  • Be careful when there is a lot of availability during peak times.
  • Avoid companies that require payment via bank transfer.
  • Never click through to a third-party website via email or SMS.
  • Be wary of online reviews. Be suspicious of a small number of glowing reviews.
  • When booking tickets for an attraction, always do so through the official website.


The solution: First, look up the exchange rate – check

Next, book your taxi in advance. This can now be easily done thanks to a new wave of companies – such as Welcome Pickups ( or Taxi2airport ( – two of the most reputable companies with reasonable rates. Drivers will meet you in the arrivals hall.

Restaurant extras

That nice waiter who waved you in from the street didn’t tell you about the cabaret show that would take place later in a far corner – and you’d have to pay for it. He also didn’t tell you that the ‘catch of the day’ would leave you with a staggering bill.

The solution: For live music, look for a venue, no matter how small, or if there are buskers nearby, because there is a chance they will come in, with a commission for the food venue. If in doubt, choose the smallest restaurant on the main street.

Never order the ‘catch of the day’ at fish restaurants before the waiter has told you the price and shown you the menu.

Useless guides

You paid for an “experience” that didn’t deliver what was promised – and maybe you even had to pay for entry to attractions you thought were included. Or your tour was little more than a series of awful souvenir shops.

The solution: Do your research by checking the reviews on Trustpilot and Tripadvisor. Make sure to scroll down a few pages, as the first few pages may have been posted by the owner.

If it’s too late and you’re already on a useless tour, never leave early because then a refund is very unlikely. Grit your teeth and complain immediately afterwards.

Beware of camera thieves

This one isn’t exactly sophisticated: a friendly local volunteers to take a photo for you or your group, only to have your new acquaintance run off with your phone/camera.

The solution: If someone offers to take your picture, politely decline. If you do want a photo, use your instincts to determine who to ask. It’s best to wait until a parent with a child who doesn’t seem too busy comes along.

Dubious car rental companies

You are being sued for causing damage to the vehicle, but it was already there when you rented the car. It is your word against theirs.

The solution: Never forget to walk around the rental car and take pictures of the interior and exterior before you drive away. This is your proof that, for example, the drink stain on the backseat was there before you got in.

Disadvantages of exchange rates

Everyone knows that hotel receptions have bad exchange rates. But surely a (seemingly) reliable airport exchange service can’t be that bad? Do the math after you’ve exchanged your holiday money and you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

The solution: If you use a cash machine once to withdraw holiday money, it probably won’t cost you more than four or five pounds – although charges in airport arrivals are almost always higher. Better still, exchange your money before you leave. You can usually get reasonable rates at the post office.

Safety on the street

Pickpockets or muggers use distraction techniques in busy tourist areas. Be wary if you are asked for change, the time, or directions to a place. Watch out for criminals who work in small groups – two distract you while another opens your backpack.

The solution: Don’t wear a backpack on your front instead of your back, it makes you more vulnerable and gives the impression that you’re carrying stuff that’s actually worth stealing. And if you’re going to be in shady places, always carry a fake wallet with just enough cash to satisfy a mugger. Give this instead of your real wallet, which should be in an inside pocket. If it’s t-shirt weather, don’t feel stupid putting money in your socks.

‘Can you sponsor me?’

Someone comes to you with a pen and paper to sign a sponsorship form and hand over money for a school, hospital or something similar.

The solution: Most such approaches are a scam. If a refusal results in persistence, ask where the school/hospital/whatever is so you can give money in person. This will usually scare them off.


RURAL CHINA: Discover the natural beauty and rich cultural history of Northern China on a 12-day tour, now from £744pp, departing 10 July. Visits include the Great Wall of China and Shanghai (

ITALIAN ROMANCE: Enjoy three nights B&B at the Hotel Nazionale in Rome, from £595pp for two. Includes flights and transfers from Gatwick, departing 10 January 2025 (

SPANISH BEAUTY: A week’s stay in Benalmadena costs from £1,487 for a sea-view villa with a large pool and five bedrooms for up to ten people, arriving 15 June (

ADRIATIC ADVENTURE: Ten days on the MS Oosterdam cruise from Rome with calls at Portofino, Naples, Dubrovnik and Piraeus starts from £749pp all-inclusive. Includes up to $150 (£118) to spend on board (

Laura Sharman

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