If You Enjoy Traveling Pay Attention For These Airport Scams

Many of us are familiar with travel scams — and sometimes, unfortunately, because of firsthand experience. There are the overpriced taxis and tuk-tuks, the overly friendly locals who're really just after your money and rigged ATMs that drain your bank account.

You might only watch for such deceitful ploys once you're out exploring the sights of your destination, but the reality is that scams can unfold even at the airport — including in your local hub. One surprisingly common scam is the fake airline reservation scam. A traveler books a flight online, often through a dodgy third-party website. In other cases, the passenger originally booked the flight through a legitimate airline website but later calls a customer service number to change the reservation, which turns out to be a fake number planted online by scammers. In either instance, the traveler shows up at the airport to discover that their seat doesn't exist or was never actually ticketed with the carrier.

If you're able to bypass these scams and arrive at the airport with your boarding pass in hand, you're not in the clear just yet. Scams are lurking all around, from the security lines to the taxi stands.

Distracted and deceived

Scammers are known to use distractions to dupe tourists, and that includes in airports. For example, let's say you're looking for your gate when someone walks up to you to ask where the restroom is. Even if you're unsure of the answer, you'd probably pause what you're doing to help them search. However, while you're busy scanning for restroom signs, the person's accomplice may have already snatched your bag or the phone in your pocket when you weren't paying attention.

Another version of this takes place in the security check, particularly in airports that use metal detectors. Once you've placed your items in the security bins, you walk over to the body scanner, only to find that the person in front of you keeps setting off the buzzer. While you're waiting for them to remove their belt and other metal items, their partner is already on the other side, stealing your laptop and other personal belongings from the conveyor belt.

Some distractions are more obvious, though they can still be highly effective, especially when used by expert scammers. Case in point: the bump-and-run pickpocket. This scam often occurs in baggage claim while you're waiting to retrieve your luggage. A stranger walks by, bumps you with their suitcase, and while you're focused on the run-in, they swipe your wallet or purse.

Not all airport taxis are trustworthy

If you've been flying for hours, you're probably desperate to finally head to your hotel once you get to your destination. Taxi drivers — or, sometimes, regular people who have cars that look like taxis — know this and might be eager to exploit your desperation. You've likely heard to watch out for sketchy operators and drivers who say their meter is broken, but even seasoned travelers can still miss these and other clues, especially when someone who appears to be trustworthy offers to help.

That's how one common scam begins. As you're rolling your luggage around, looking for a taxi to take you to your accommodation, someone with an airport lanyard approaches you and directs you to another taxi stand. You take the taxi they recommend, but later, you realize it's a fake cab, that person may have not been a real airport worker, and you're about to be overcharged for the trip. In some scenarios, the driver will even hold your luggage ransom unless you pay them a large sum of money.

Another iteration of this scam involves pre-arranged rides, the kind where the driver waits for you with a name placard. Your real driver is there as scheduled, but so is a scammer who simply copied your name from the other driver's sign. To avoid this trick, make sure to confirm your driver's identity before accepting a ride.

Watch for luggage scams

Many travelers' biggest fear when checking baggage is having the airline lose it en route. However, much worse can happen if sneaky scammers are working behind the scenes. In 2015, an extortion plot came to light in the Philippines after security agents at Manila International Airport were found to have been planting bullets in innocent passengers' bags. During the tactic, passengers found to be in possession of the bullets were forced to pay money before being freed.

Similar scams have occurred in other countries, though not always with ammunition. Drugs are sometimes smuggled in unsuspecting passengers' checked bags by airline workers hoping to pass them off to another worker at the destination city. If found by a drug-sniffing dog, however, the owner of the bag could get in trouble — not the airline staff. In a more sophisticated scam, baggage handlers swap drug-filled luggage for checked bags, even switching the luggage tags. If the drugs are found, the passenger whose name is on the tag is blamed, while the criminals get off scot-free. Two tourists in Germany were victims of the scam in 2023 and spent 24 hours in prison before officers confirmed the bags weren't theirs.

While it's hard to avoid such scams — especially when they're an inside job — locking and wrapping your bags could help make you less of a target. Consider taking a picture of your luggage at the baggage drop, too, in case they get swapped with fakes.