Travel scams can play out in several ways but they all use one tactic -- distraction -- to take tourists for their money and belongings.
"The typical traveler goes, 'Oh, I know all the scams,'" says travel security consultant Kevin Coffey of www.corporatetravelsafety.com. "But if that were true, thousands of people would not be the victims of these every single day."
Here are some of the routine scams and how to avoid being a victim.
THE FAKE SPILL
How it works: You're walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, and a stranger "accidentally" spills a soda or ketchup on you. While "helping" to clean you up (usually roughly), he or she -- or another member of the team -- relieves you of your valuables.
How to avoid it: Be aware of your surroundings and the proximity of others.
If it happens: Deal with spills yourself, vehemently waving away all offers of help. Reassure any stranger who tries to get close to you that you have it covered. If the person persists, yell the word "police" in the native language.
THE PURSE SLASHING
How it works: A mugger with a pair of scissors cuts the purse right off your back and walks off with it. It can happen so quickly in a crowded place, such as a subway, that you might not even notice right away.
How to avoid it: Don't carry bags with thin straps, or use money belts or other hidden ways of hauling your money and credit cards.
If it happens: Call credit card companies immediately to cancel, which is why you should always have copies of the numbers secure in a safe deposit box or with someone back home, along with copies of your driver's license and passport.
THE TAXI SWITCHEROO
How it works: You and a friend get into what looks like a cab, except there seems to be no meter. The driver says it will be $10 to your destination. You agree, except that when you arrive, the driver says, Oh, he meant $10 each. Or, you wind up being taken "the long way" to inflate a metered fare.
How to avoid it: Never get into a cab without a meter or without negotiating every detail of the transaction first. It helps to find out from a hotel or restaurant where you've been conducting business -- or ask at the airport -- what a fare is likely to be.
If it happens: If you have some confidence to stand your ground, it can pay to fuss or threaten to call police. A lot of times, though, it's not worth the hassle.
THE GEM TRANSFER
How it works: This is a popular one in India, especially in and around Jaipur, where precious stones are currency. A friendly rickshaw driver or hotel employee will introduce you to a friend of theirs for a "traditional Indian meal" -- "they'll pay. They just like to meet people from other cultures." You meet for a meal. The friend is nice. He or she works in gems. And the person approaches you about moving some goods on your return trip home, where you'll be greeted with a large sum of money for your efforts -- but not before asking you for a deposit of a couple hundred dollars on the "very valuable" gems, which are actually worthless.
How to avoid it: The simplest way is to not take the meal. But even if you do, be emphatic about your lack of interest. The scammer will eventually lose interest in you.
If it happens: If you give someone a $200 deposit on worthless gems and fly back to the States with the colored glass, there's not a lot you can do. Be smarter next time.
THE TEAHOUSE LURE
How it works: This is popular in Beijing, but it's spreading. A friendly, lovely woman wants to practice English -- or talk cultural differences -- and invites you to tea. Instead of a casual cup you're greeted with an elaborate ceremony full of snacks and multiple tastings in a private room, and a bill of $200 to $300.
How to avoid it: Be open to meeting nice people. But go to a place of your choosing: Your hotel restaurant or the Starbucks on the corner.
If it happens: Be very stern about the person's dishonesty. Say you'll pay a fair price for the tea and snacks, lay the money on the table, and walk out. If the person threatens you, tell him or her you'll be back with a police officer.
THE HOTEL INSPECTORS
How it works: Someone claiming to be from the hotel knocks on your door and announces that the towels/honor bar/plumbing need to be inspected. The scammers often work in pairs so that as one explains in detail what's being examined, the other can case the joint for valuables, whisking them into their pockets or waiting until they can catch you away from your room.
How to avoid it: Put anything of value in your room safe or take it with you, and if something is very valuable, put it in the hotel's main safe.
If it happens: Report any visits beyond the regular maid cleaning to the hotel management. If something is missing, also report it immediately.
CREDIT CARD FRAUD
How it works: Someone from the hotel calls your room and says there's a problem with your credit card. Could you please recite the numbers so the hotel can run it again? You do, and a week later, several hundreds of dollars have been charged for something you never authorized.
How to avoid it: Tell the person you'll be right down to the front desk to watch the clerk run the card in person.
If it happens: If you do share your numbers and become a victim of credit card fraud, report it to your credit card company immediately.