5 Common Hotel Scams You May Encounter While Abroad

Don't let any of these scams ruin your happy vacation!

Updated on October 12, 2017 15:10 pm

Common Hotel Scams You May Encounter While Abroad

One advantage of “big name” hotels is that you always know what to expect. Unfortunately, not all of us have big budgets and can afford a $300-per-night stay. That often means using smaller hotels, which can be hit-or-miss affairs. The worst ones, however, like to pull scams such as these:

1. Credit card theft

This remains one of the most common forms of theft in hotels. This scam often targets guests who have just arrived, or who look especially tired from their flight. The scammers will want to pick people who are too exhausted to think straight. Shortly after you get to your room, you will get a phone call from someone claiming to be the front desk. They’ll inform you that your credit card has been declined, and that they need to verify some details. They may also offer to compensate you for the inconvenience, such as by giving you a complimentary breakfast, or a discount on your final bill.

If you reveal your credit card numbers over the phone, it will then be added to a list of stolen card numbers. This list is sold to other criminals, who will use your card to make purchases. This means that, even if it really is the front desk scamming you, it’s difficult to pin the identity theft on them. It could be another thief, in a whole other country, who actually uses your credit card. Sometimes the front desk isn’t involved at all; it could be scammers who are calling from outside the hotel, and are just impersonating the staff.

How to deal with it:

First, recognise that such calls are almost always fake. If your credit card has "problems," why wouldn’t it have been declined when they first used it at the counter? If a credit card will be declined, it will happen at the point of purchase—not 20 or 30 minutes later. Second, if the caller is insistent, then walk downstairs yourself to meet them. Take note of the names and faces involved. Scammers are counting on you being too tired to bother doing this. In any situation, do not reveal your credit card number over the phone.

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2. "Room inspection" theft

Good hotels generally don’t do room inspections while the guests are in. If someone knocks on your door asking to check on the toilet, heater, television, and so forth—and you didn’t call them—ask them to come back when you’re out.

The most common version of this scam involves a pair of individuals, who claim to be from maintenance. While one talks to you and distracts you, the other either steals or takes note of where your valuables are kept. Don’t leave your valuables outside of the hotel room safe. Even with access to the safe, avoid bringing jewellery or large amounts of cash—remember that the hotel staff do have the means to open the safe.

3. "Friendly stranger" scams

Beware of whom you speak to in hotel lobbies and bars, and of what you reveal. Thieves often “scout” potential targets this way. They will cosy up to you and ask where you’re from, what you do, and feign interest if they’re of the opposite sex. If they decide you’re well-off, they may make an appointment to meet you elsewhere, such as on a dinner date, or on the pretense of taking you sight-seeing. They will keep you out for most of the day, and their accomplices will have a lot of time to break into your room and steal your belongings.

To avoid these scams, don’t look wealthy when travelling abroad. Wear simple clothes, and avoid flashing designer handbags or jewellery. When speaking to strangers, avoid saying things that might make them think you’re wealthy.

4. Trying to hike the bill at the last minute

This scam often happens during peak periods such as December, when the hotel knows you’ll struggle to find other accommodation. You arrive at the hotel, and are told your room isn’t available for some reason. Perhaps they are overbooked, or your online booking "didn’t go through," or there was a mix-up and they thought you were cancelling. The front desk may feign panic or frustration, and keep you waiting for a few minutes while they "figure out what to do." After a while, when you’re good and nervous, they’ll tell you they managed to find a room at the last minute. However, you’ll need to pay a higher fee than was advertised in their listing.

This is a scam to panic you into paying more. Don’t give in right away. Insist on seeing a manager, and call your hotel booking site if you have to. If you assert yourself enough, the scammers sometimes give in and let you have the room at the correct rate.

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5. Luggage room scam

Most hotels have a luggage room, where you can store your bags for a while. This is normally done on the last day of your trip, after you’ve booked out but still have several hours before your flight. If you choose to use this service, it’s advisable not to put valuables in your luggage. It’s a simple matter for someone to break into the bag, remove the valuables, and then re-seal it.

Most travellers don’t check the inside of their luggage, before picking it up and heading straight to the airport; you’ll be home before you realise your things are missing. If you have the time, check the inside of your bags immediately after retrieving them from the luggage room.

Get the right insurance plan to protect yourself

Whether it’s theft of your goods, trip cancellations, or illness and injury, a comprehensive travel insurance policy can see you through all of it. With Travel Protect360 from Hong Leong Assurance Singapore, you can get coverage of up to $7,000 for lost belongings, and unlimited coverage for medical evacuation back to Singapore. Remember to get a police report if the loss items are due to robbery or theft.


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Cover photo courtesy of The Online Citizen

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