Last Updated on March 13, 2020 by Bryony Clapperton
Travel fraud and holiday fraud are real. I know this because I’ve experienced it first hand during a 6 month backpacking trip to Central and South America.
As travel tales go, something that initially started out as a nightmare has turned into my favourite travel story to tell.
Every year millions of holidaymakers and travellers are conned out of their cash through various scams around the globe.
Although completely uncertain of where my travel fraud happened, I’m hoping my story can help someone else avoid fraud when travelling.
Travel related fraud
Fraud is not something you want to think about when you’re travelling. It’s something that is so decapitating and can instantly end your trip!
When travelling for a long period of time, being robbed of your own money sounds like something that only happens to a friend of a friend in a hostel and something you never expect to happen to you.
As these things usually go, I never expected it to happen to me. But here’s my travel fraud story and how to hopefully avoid travel related fraud.
My story – Avoiding fraud
We left the UK to go travelling on the 16th September 2015. We were filled with excitement, anticipation and a wanderlust so big we were bursting.
I won’t lie, of course, I was nervous. We both where. We’d done so much research on every possible way to handle our money. I never even considered fraud as an option, we were too sensible.
I’d read every article on card cloning and ATM fraud in Latin America. I knew all the signs and how to properly check the machine.
We had taken precautions to ensure we’d very rarely have to put our personal bank cards into a machine. I was sure we’d be safe.
The first leg of our journey
With a months worth of budget pre-loaded onto our travel card we left London for Havana, Cuba.
We spent two whole weeks in Cuba during the first part of our journey. At this time, we were unable to access wifi – a common annoyance to travellers heading to Cuba.
After two weeks off the grid we arrived in Mexico, the utopia of wifi. The novelty of being off the grid in Cuba wore off and belong we were online and ‘checking’ our pre-paid account balance.
As if by some miracle and despite the mojitos we were somehow on plan with our spending, we’d check it again in 3 weeks time.
Running out of cash in Puerto Escondido
A couple of weeks later, we arrive in the coastal town of Puerto Escondido. At this point we’d used the whole of our monthly budget and we’re looking for the nearest hostel to check in and top up our travel card.
It all happened quite quickly, but between checking into a hostel, trying to get wifi, logging into our online banking we realised something was wrong.
As a couple travelling we’d opted to keep our money in two separate bank accounts as a precautionary measure. This turned out to be one of the brightest ideas I’d ever had.
After several failed attempts to top up our travel card from Jamie’s account we soon realised something was up. A quick stop at an ATM confirmed out suspicions. Account empty.
This is where our travel fraud story really begins.
After a few weeks on the road, we’d been caught short. Exactly half of our 6 month travel budget had been stolen from Jamie’s account and we had actually no idea how or why.
Our downfall became relying too heavily on our travel card whilst ignoring the other cards we were travelling with. However, I’m. not convinced we were conned in Cuba or Mexico.
16th Sep – We left the UK for Cuba
1st October – Flew from Cuba to Cancun, Mexico to spend 5 weeks in Mexico
Mid-October – First top up attempt and realising we’d had one of our accounts emptied
15th Sep – The date the fraudulent transactions started
Slow and steady
So, as you can see from the timeline, the fraudulent transactions began the day before we left for our 6 month trip.
The transactions started small £7 here and there. They then became more frequent some twice or three times a day for weeks.
Because we had ignored those smaller transactions on the 1st October they slowly increased to £30, £50 and £80 transactions.
Shopping from ASOS, Urban Outfitters, an entire weeks worth of food shopping purchased at an online supermarket in Beijing.
There are two real concerning things that happened in our fraud story, first of all my AirBnb account was hacked during this time, which I originally thought was the origin of the fraud. However, the timelines didn’t quite add up.
The next one, is that the transactions of our travel fraud seemed to begin the day before our trip began, meaning our so called travel fraud actually happened in London some time before we left.
Fortunately in our case HSBC was great and we were able to get all of our money back through providing evidence that we could not have made the transactions.
However, our experience did not go without tears and arguments; especially considering we thought we may have to cut our trip short. In any case, it’s worth following the below top tips for avoiding holiday fraud or travel related fraud.
Top tips for avoiding travel fraud
- Be on top of your finances, know your account so you can spot any unusual or unsuspected transactions.
- Make sure wifi networks are secure. Try to always use password protected networks and don’t disclose any important details on an open or public network.
- Don’t send or receive important documents on a public network or public computer.
- Always check your surroundings and make sure no one is watching what you are doing online, in a bank or at an ATM.
- Swot up on local scams in the country you are visiting.
- Don’t save your passwords or pin numbers.
- Always check ATM’s for card cloning devices and always cover your pin.
- Have a spare bank card for emergencies – don’t put all your eggs in one bank account.
- Stay calm, being flustered and overwhelmed will get you nowhere in a similar situation. Think clearly, be level headed.
Moral of the story is, no matter where you are and how safe you think your cash is; check your online banking.
Be vigilant of any strange transactions. To be a savvy travel hacker is to be cautious, to think ahead and to question any strange situations.
Holiday fraud can happen anywhere, even at home when you least expect it but if it does happen on the road. Don’t be caught out by travel related fraud and scams.