Carry a dummy credit card
I always carry a dummy credit card. You think you will never need it, but trust me you will. Let me explain.
I keep my credit cards in three places. I keep ones that I do not use often and are my backups in a hidden place. Credit cards that I use frequently I keep in the inside of my wallet in a place that cannot be seen even when its open, and I never keep more than 2 there. In the the part of my wallet that is visible when open I keep parking passes, my smart card, and one dummy credit card. It is important that the dummy is the only visible credit card.
Why the dummy?
Chances of being mugged are pretty slim if you are careful. Besides, muggers and pickpockets want cash, not credit cards. Even if they steal your credit card, you can just call your credit card company. But there are other situations that are less savory and if you travel, will happen to you. Let me list just three common scams that I know of. I have encountered some of these personally and friends has encountered others.
Some of these sound ridiculous, but a quick search of the internet will confirm these and other scams are common, and not just in poorer countries. Many of these I have heard of in western Europe, as well as in the US. Typically foreigners are targetted, especially ones who do not speak the local language.
High priced menus
This is a scam that is evidently quite common in Turkey, since then I've heard of it in other countries as well. I'll explain the simple version, they actaully get more complex and can inovlve up to a dozen people and they can lead you on for hours over dinner and more. While you are strolling around looking for a place to eat someone will approach you and "test" you out by asking you what the time is in English. A trick to note here is that you can respond in some other language you know, or just speak in some gibberish. They will go away assuming you do not speak English. Often though they will listen for English speakers in conversation first and target them.
After they have learned that you speak English they will say they are from out of town or so, and recommend some place to eat. They may or may not accompany you. If you go to the restaurant they recommend, the waiters are in on the scam too. Sometimes the scam happens here, sometimes they recommend a bar for a drink, or if you have been accompanied your "friend" will ask the waiter for a good place to grab a beer.
At the restaurant, or at the bar you have been lead to you will be conveniently kept away from a menu with prices. Your "friend" will do the ordering, or in the case of a bar you might even be alone and just ask for a simple beer. After all how much can a beer cost? How many times have you gone to a pub and just ordered a beer? NEVER do this without asking to see a menu first.
After you have had your fill, they will bring you the bill and the total will be from $500 to $4,000. They will tell you that its a very exclusive place and that drinks and food are very expensive. If you ask to see a menu, they will bring out a "special" menu with special prices. At this point it becomes fight or flight - but they will have several large men blocking the door. They will demand that you pay up, and refuse to call police if you insist. Never carrying a lot of cash in your wallet is the first step, but even if you are wise to that they will next go for credit cards. Here is your trump! Give them your dummy card, it will be declined. From there your job is to convince them you only have one credit card and that you have already given them all your cash. Be sure to beg for them to leave you at least some pocket change to take a taxi or they will know you have more.
A forced sale
Somehow you will end up in a store browsing. Maybe at the recommendation of a concierge (who is in on this BTW), a taxi driver, or someone you met on the street. The store will show you something or other to take home. Prices will be displayed, but they are negotiable, and often marked up 500x or more. The seller will begin to bargain to make you think you have a great deal on whatever it is, when in fact you can buy the same thing on the street still much cheaper. You'll have doubts and begin to leave, but somehow they will keep you in the store. They will not likely use force, but you need someway just to escape! Just saying no, even emphatically will not work in such places. Here is where the dummy card comes into play again. Find something, and try to buy it. When your credit card is declined, look very surprised and even offended. The seller will ask you for other credit cards or cash, but remember you have none. Now you have confused and stumped the seller and can leave. In many situations large body guards will appear and threaten to take you out back if you do not pay up. Think this only happens in far flung places? Here is an example in Rome from CNN.
The last thing - be careful that no one follows you back to your hotel. This is also a comon practice, to find a mark and learn where they are staying to target you with other scams.
This is very common in restaraunts where a waiter takes your card for payment to a back room where the terminal is. Here they copy your card and charge it later. A side tip - in the tip field NEVER leave it blank. Fill in an amount or 0, else the waiter can write in whatever they want later and charge your card for a huge tip.
Copying of cards is very difficult to detect. But sometimes there are signs. If you feel uncomfortable in a such a situation, this is where the dummy card comes into play again. Once its been declined, you have some bargaining room to excuse yourself to go obtain more cash, return to your hotel, etc.
How can I get a dummy?
Obtaining a dummy credit card is easy. Simply look through your credit cards now and find the one with the farthest expiration date. Now call your bank and tell them it was lost or stolen. They will send you a new one wtih a new number, and you now have a dummy credit card.
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