Avoiding Fraud, Travel, Travel Hacks

Travel Hacks: Avoiding fraud whilst travelling

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.

Fraud timeline

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.

The conclusion

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.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn

0 thoughts on “Travel Hacks: Avoiding fraud whilst travelling

  1. What a story! I can just try to imagine how frustrating it must have been, especially not knowing where or how it happened. We never ever check our finances while on the road – i.e. never log in into any bank account when traveling (but then we hardly ever travel for longer than a month). On one hand, it makes it impossible for someone to steal our login information, on the other hand we would never know if something like this were to happen. Somehow we always count on our credit card company warning us about strange transactions and usually they do – I get security warnings all the time for my own payments when abroad. 🙂 Once my card was blocked after someone charged 1USD on it and the bank immediately identified it as an illegal transaction, so maybe look for another card with better security measures next time you travel?
    Carrying at least two different cards is also a good idea. We always have at least 4: two for my husband and two for me, a Visa and Mastercard each.

  2. Cannot imagine how you guys must have felt! Glad that everything turned out alright eventually and you are reimbursed! I usually have 1 Visa and 1 MasterCard with me, just in case one doesn't work.

  3. The worst part was the bank sent letters to my boyfriends home address in London. Which was obviously no good for us and his mum wouldn't open his mail without our say so, t went unnoticed for way too long but it really really was an error on our part for being so disconnected. I think definitely have more security measures next time because this kinda thing could end any trip even if it was just a month long one. Yes I agree with the visa/MasterCard point. You defo don't know when an ATM will only take one or the other. Thanks for the advice xx

  4. OMG, what a story! Must've been so frustrating at the time you were experiencing all these things. I am glad you got your money back. I don't know what to do if it was me but that will definitely spoil the trip!

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