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Paul Wilson from the Real Hustle talks travel scams and tips

Paul Wilson is a world-renowned expert on scams, cons and cheating. He has studied sleight of hand and conjuring since the age of eight after his grandfather taught him how to cheat at Gin. He has since managed to con thousands of real people from all over the world without taking a single penny from his victims.

Paul Wilson

Paul Wilson - Source

Paul is currently co writer and director of the BBC Three series, The Real Hustle, a spin-off documentary of the BBC drama series Hustle. The hidden camera show highlights the many ways in which money can be scammed, with a view to educating the viewer in how to avoid becoming a victim. Paul works alongside the “Sexy Swindler” Jessica-Jane Clement and trickster Alex Conran to perform confidence and magic tricks, distraction scams and proposition bets on members of the unsuspecting public.

The Real Hustle

The Real Hustle - Source

Who better to get advice from when travelling abroad than the number one expert on scamming, Paul Wilson.

Here he tells Simonseeks readers what to look out for while travelling and reveals the scams that catch out unwitting tourists. He also reveals ways to be a more savvy traveller and, if all else fails, offers advice on what to do if you do find yourself the victim of a real hustle.

1. Can you tell me a bit more about your TV series ‘Real Hustle on Holiday ’?

This is series seven of The Real Hustle. When we travel abroad, the risk of being scammed is greatly increased. We wanted to dedicate a series to all of the issues that affect travellers, from street scams to complex con games and even home security.

2. What are the main scams that catch tourists and travellers out?

There are thousands of potential scams out there. Many of them are based on similar ideas and concepts but the details change to fit the times or simply adapt according to the environment. As old scams become better known, hustlers might throw in a new twist - just enough to make it "new again" and not be recognised by their victims. Let me list the most common types of scam you might encounter.

Taxi scam - the most obvious is being grossly overcharged and everyone who's travelled has fallen victim to this at least once. There are other scams taxi drivers might attempt such as dropping you in the wrong location so that another driver can "rescue you" for one hell of a fee. In some countries, taxi drivers will actually take you to the wrong hotel - one that will try to take you in and fleece you for large sums of money. I was in China recently and there were bogus taxis in Beijing that looked exactly like the real thing until you got inside and found there was no meter in the car! This happened to us once - I stopped the car and ordered everyone out. When the Taxi driver caused a scene I told him to call the police and offered to wait! Needless to say, he hit the road.

Currency scams - from short change scams to counterfeit money, hustlers target tourists because they are unfamiliar with local money. In Madrid , I ran into a lottery seller who offered tourists rolls of foreign currency in exchange for a fair amount of the local money. He would then switch the cash for a different amount or even a different currency altogether. When the victims complained, a local shopkeeper warned them that the hustler might have friends nearby and scared them off. Needless to say they were both in cahoots! I've seen counterfeit money being passed in every conceivable situation - even at a reputable bureau de change in Paris . Half of the money they tried to pass to me was scratch - when I complained they exchanged it without question. It was clear to me that the person behind the window was trying to pass bad money while keeping the good money in the till. The company was legitimate but their employee was a crook. These rogue clerks might also try shorting you on the exchange rate. Check their figures and be wary of anyone attempting to exchange money without offering the proper receipt from the companies' till.

Theft - pick pocketing tourists can be all too easy. Unlike locals, they usually carry a lot of money and items of value. Everywhere you go, pickpockets will be looking to spot someone out of their element and carrying more than the average person. Secure your hotel room as much as you can. Hotel safes are a good idea but room safes can easily be compromised so try and avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. Many countries ask you to carry your passport with you - this is very risky so make sure you carry it somewhere difficult for you to get to - if it's not easy for you, it's almost impossible for a pickpocket. Take my word for it - there are thousands of ways to separate someone from their belongings just don't make it easy and most thieves will wait for a better mark.

Timeshare etc - Timeshare scams used to be more common but these days it's become a very tough hustle. Legitimate Timeshare businesses surely find it very difficult to attract buyers so there's less action for hustlers to take advantage of but the foreign property market is always going to be a minefield. So long as people are spending money, con artists will try and get a piece of the pie. Beware of getting into any kind of deal, timeshare, buying a villa - anything that will tie you to a serious investment - while on holiday. First of all, you're out of your element and you cannot fully understand the market you're getting into. Secondly, you're bound to be more optimistic and easier to convince while enjoying your holiday - wait till you get back home and can properly assess your situation and do some research. This is true for any kind of investment.

Tourist Traps - everywhere we go there are certain activities that will attract us. In Beijing, for example, the Tea Ceremony was very popular with tourists and, sure-enough, there were plenty of scams preying on the unwary. Someone would approach English-speaking tourists "to practice their English" and, during the conversation, reveal the best and most authentic tea ceremony. Naturally, this turned out to be a very poor affair with a shocking price tag. When the victims complained, all ability to speak English was forgotten other than "pay now or we call the police". Wherever you go, be wary of accepting advice from strangers. Some people ARE genuinely trying to help but my advice is to politely decline. "Clip Joints" is a term we use for a business or establishment that deliberately sets out to separate its clients from their money by unfair, though often legal, means. Tourists are perfect victims for this kind of scam.

3. What is the scale of the problem – how much do UK travellers get cheated out of each year on holiday?

Tourist Scams exist everywhere to varying degrees and they target tourists from anywhere. I can't give you any figures for how many of us get caught out each year but I can say that, if you travel, you are a potential victim simply because you're out of your element. No matter how smart you are, you can easily be misled if you don't have the knowledge required to spot a scam. The real problem, in my opinion, is that people simply do not take steps to protect themselves. I travel often and I wish I had a pound for every passport I've seen sticking out of a shirt pocket or halfway out of someone's jeans. A child could steal it (and in some countries children often do). A little knowledge and a few precautions can make all the difference.

4. What is the worst holiday scam that you’ve ever heard of?

There are some awful scams out there. Some steal people's belongings, others steal their money but it can be more serious than that. Smugglers have conned people into carrying items through customs, without realising that they are unwitting mules for drugs, diamonds or worse. In some countries they can be imprisoned - in others they could be executed. Often, pleas of innocence are completely ignored while the perpetrators find another victim and try again. People have lost their life savings on crooked property deals, ruining lives. Just when I think I've heard it all, another con game surfaces as the scammers reach a new low.

5. Where are you most likely to get scammed? What places would you avoid?

I wouldn't avoid anywhere, personally but always pick your destination carefully, according to what type of holiday you're looking for. Naples has a dreadful reputation for cons and scams but I would still consider going there - after learning all I can about what and where to avoid and how best to protect myself.

6. What should you do if you get hustled on holiday – should you go straight to the police?

Definitely. Make sure you get a copy of the report number so you can send it to your insurance company but don't expect the police to catch the crooks or recover your property. Once it's gone, it's usually gone for good - just be sure you can make a claim. If you travel without insurance you're taking one risk to many, in my opinion.

7. Have you ever personally been ripped off or mislead in some way on holiday?

I travel all year and am regularly exposed to potential scams. Most I recognise right away, some I have to figure out as I go. I've been ripped off by taxi drivers many times but I usually get the price down by either arguing or calling in someone to help me. If a taxi takes you to a hotel for a larger than expected amount - ask the concierge to intervene. In New York , I asked a passing cop and, luckily, he agreed to help - my cab was free that day.

8. Tell us your top 5 tips for being a savvy traveller?

1. Protect your tickets and your passport. Buy a moneybelt or necklace wallet to keep the essentials safe and away from quick fingers.
2. Use travellers cheques and credit cards that can be quickly replaced and offer good cover for if they are used fraudulently.
3. Research your destination - have all the addresses you need with you when you travel and any important phone numbers. Search the internet for your destination and look for any scams mentioned by previous visitors.
4. Enjoy yourself but keep your wits about you. Be suspicious of someone approaching you for any reason but remain friendly.
5. Insure yourself properly. If the worst happens you're covered.

9. What is the best preparation you can do before going on holiday to make sure you are protected while you are away?

Research and Insure!

10. On a completely separate note - do you have a favourite holiday destination or somewhere that you are passionate about?

I adore Japan . It's a beautiful, fascinating country and one of the very safest I've ever encountered when it comes to cons and scams - they exist but, for the most part, if it is very safe.

Thanks to Paul for all the helpful advice and tips, if anyone else has any useful tips or scams that they been the victim of please let us know below in the comments.

Other suggestions of  holiday scams to watch out are tourist trip scams, when you get sold tickets for a trip or event and it turns out the tickets are fake. The advice from Travel-Rants is always buy your tickets from the official outlets, not from touts outside! 

Community comments (5)

One of the reasons why people fall victim to scams is because they take for granted the importance of being organized especially with all their personal documents. When they travel, they might leave their receipts or billings and fraudulent people unfortunately get a hold of them. This is why it is important to constantly monitor all transactions that you engage in and if you are to throw your mail or receipts in the trash, have them shredded by a
shredding company (for example) first.

Hi Charlie, interesting article on scams, I remember being ripped-off in
Rome years ago,when it was the Lira currency.I had just bought two baggles from a road-side vendor.I had given him a large denomination note,think it was 20,000 lira.Him gave me a lot of notes in change,and it was,nt until I checked the notes later that I found he had short changed me about 5,000 lira.I won,t fall for that one again,I try and pay in smaller notes now.

Perhaps not just specific to scams, but a general `watch out for...` data base, with an `any questions?` bit maybe.

Could be part of the promised Simoseeks Forum which I have every confidence will be with us, ohhh, any day now...

Very useful stuff. Is there a website dedicated to scams people have encountered/been caught by? And if not, anyone interested in getting one going?

Hi Jon, i've not found one specific to scams, would be good site to start as would get a lot of traffic i reckon!