I am in south east Sicily driving back to my hotel after spotting flamingos in a nature reserve and as I drive along the Contrada Vendicari a car is parked on the right side of the road with the trunk open, the driver digging in the back.
It’s a narrow street, so I keep left and just as I pass his vehicle, there’s a rumble on the side of my car. In the rearview mirror, I see the guy jump in his car and pull out.
Seconds later he’s behind me and motions for me to stop.
I drive another hundred yards to a driveway and he pulls up next to me. We have a problem.
The driver points to his side mirror, which is hanging loose and is only attached to the car with the cables.
On the side of my car, near the gas cap, there is a 50 cm long strip of black sticky rubber that the helpful guy is now rubbing off with a cloth. It comes off easily and leaves nothing behind.
But there is no damage to my vehicle. Not a scratch on the side, not a dent in my right-hand mirror, but his—he sighs, shrugs, pantomiming my car slamming into his with a bang.
It’s clear who’s to blame, isn’t it?
“Police,” he says. “Insurance”.
He is calm and looks like a man to do business with.
“How much?” I ask and he immediately tells me – 180 euros.
I look in my wallet. I’m 65. I hold it out to him, he looks disappointed, but he shrugs, takes it, gets in his car and drives off, the dangling mirror swinging, and realization slowly dawns. I was cheated on.
Nothing that just happened makes sense. The black sticky goo, the hanging mirror without a scratch on my vehicle, the immediate mention of a price, the willingness to accept a far smaller sum.
My car never touched his. I should have telephoned immediately, called the police, taken photos of the damage – but a foreign country, a different language that is not spoken perfectly, an unfairly treated driver who wants to put a bad afternoon behind him – reason is on vacation.
Scammers are back at work. They are awesome, they are fast and as a tourist you are vulnerable. You’re probably distracted and unprepared, you probably don’t speak enough language to argue, you don’t know how to contact the police — and that makes you a soft target.
The ring thing
This happened to me on a side street near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. As he passed, another pedestrian picked something up off the sidewalk and asked, “Did you drop that?”
It’s a heavy ring and even to my untrained eye it looks like brass. But if you look interested, your eagle-eyed friend will tell you it’s gold and even show you a hallmark to indicate authenticity. If you fall for it and claim ownership, he will demand a reward.
The fraud is based on greed and naivety. It may look like gold, but it isn’t and is worth a few shillings at most.
The unprepared moment
You’re sitting at a café table, a local comes up and asks a question – it can be a light for his cigarette or the way to the next subway station. You look up and reply, he thanks you and you watch as he wanders off.
Your phone that was just lying on the table has grown legs, or the bag that was slung over the back of your chair has just made a run.
All that distracts you is potential profit for street magicians looking to make your wallet or phone disappear. It could be a street performer. As you watch the performance, an accomplice circles behind the crowd checking back pockets.
The faithful stranger who just wants to help
“If you buy gems here, you can sell them back in your country for a high price.”
This is a classic backpacker scam that relies on the toxic trifecta of greed, trust, and ignorance.
Those “diamonds” might turn out to be cubic zirconia or even glass, that pretty “aquamarine” a much less valuable blue topaz – but you probably won’t know that until you try to sell your jewels to someone who knows what What is.
Another variant of this scam, you are friends with a local who knows a lot about his city. You talk, sit down, he buys you coffee and after a while the conversation turns to money. He will tell you that he can get you a much better bang for your buck.
“Just give me your money and wait here. No no you can’t come with me, the guy works in secret and he doesn’t trust anyone he doesn’t know.” And that’s the last you’ll see of him.
Protect your cards
Recent data breaches at Optus and Medicare have resulted in a data deluge of customer information falling into the hands of rogues, and that should be a wake-up call for travelers.
Debit cards are vulnerable. When you use a debit card or travel money card, you can limit the damage if the card falls into the wrong hands by limiting the balance available on the card.
Rather than carrying a debit or travel money card with thousands of dollars on it, keep your balance in a safe account and load the card with smaller amounts — but beware of the top-up fees associated with some travel money cards.
If you need to enter your PIN to authorize a transaction, cover the keypad with your hand.
Payments with Apple Pay or Google Pay are more secure than using a physical card. Both require Face ID or Touch ID authentication to make a payment. While a card number is linked to financial information that could be misused, payments made with a digital wallet use tokenization that creates a unique code at the point of purchase without revealing the buyer’s primary account number. A stolen card can be used to pay for goods and services, but a thief would have a hard time with a stolen smartphone or payable wearable device.
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