When you’re on the road for work, you’re in a particularly unique and vulnerable situation. You’re not on your home turf. You’re in unfamiliar surroundings, and you’re there because your employer wants you to accomplish some task or another.
Business travelers make great targets for scam artists. Some of those scammers even specifically target business travelers rather than those traveling for personal reasons; they justify themselves by thinking they’re going after corporate “deep pockets,” even though many business travelers work for small family businesses.
When you’re in that unfamiliar environment, there are some business travel scams for which you need to be on the lookout:
Exchange rate scams:
If you’re traveling out of the country, you need to watch out for this one. You might hand your U.S. credit card to a merchant in Europe to make a purchase. The merchant hands you a credit card receipt to sign, and the amount is in U.S. dollars. This might seem to be innocent enough, but the fact is that the exchange rate is going to favor the merchant.
Here’s how this works: the exchange rate is calculated by technology partners of the merchant’s bank. It happens dynamically, at the point of sale, and your bank plays no part in the exchange rate. You can lose as much as 7% through a single credit card purchase.
This one is particularly common in Western Europe and Spain.
This scam assumes you’re traveling in a foreign country, and that it’s one where you don’t necessarily recognize the currency as readily as you would U.S. currency. A vendor might replace one of your notes with a note of lesser value, and then claim you’ve underpaid. Simply giving incorrect change is another currency scam that’s all too common.
In some parts of the world (and even some parts of this country) taxi drivers have been known to employ a number of scams. Some of the most common include:
- Offering to take you to a different hotel than the one you ask for, as the driver gets a commission for getting you to check in there.
- Having a broken meter, and being charged an arbitrary (and usually large) sum of money.
- Taking you out of the way to get to your destination.
The best way to avoid taxi scams is to start by negotiating your rates ahead of time. Research the route that you should take from the airport to the hotel ahead of time, before you get into the cab. Consider using a GPS device (or GPS app on your smartphone) to verify the route.
There are a few different types of hotel scams to watch out for, too.
One of the most common is a bait-and-switch. The hotel simply doesn’t meet the specifications that are advertised. For example, a hotel with “beach” in the name isn’t necessarily on a beach. A hotel with “Airport” in the name might simply be the closest hotel that the particular hotel chain has to the airport. For example, the Hampton Suites LAX is 18 miles south of LAX – more than an hour drive in busy traffic.
Another potential hotel scam is the valet. There are a number of risks with the valet service. One dramatic one, of course, is that the person you hand your keys to isn’t actually a valet, but a car thief. The other possibility is theft of belongings from inside the vehicle.
Hotels are also one of the most common venues for credit card and identity theft. Be sure you reserve a hotel run by a trusted and reputable company, or you could face huge problems.
Avoiding travel scams altogether
The business traveler can do a few things to keep from falling prey to these scams. Here are some of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Work with a travel agent. A reputable travel agent will help you choose the right travel options, and know about some of the major scams to avoid.
- Know what your money is worth. Take the time to study the currency in your destination country, and have a good idea of what exchange rates ought to be, as well.
- Be skeptical. If something doesn’t seem right, question it. It’s probably not.
Your business trip can be safe and productive. Watch out for these four kinds of travel scams to avoid getting ripped off – or worse.