Common Travel Scams in Cancún


February 1, 2019

Even though, Cancún is a much safer place to travel than even some places in the United States, travel scams still happen. Travel scams are always in the back of every avid traveler’s mind. Unfortunately, most people tend to fall into the mindset of “It’ll never happen to me.”

So what do you do when it does happen to you? What will your next step be when your identity or credit card information is stolen?

Instead of worrying about the what-ifs, it’s important to be aware of the risks of traveling and prepare for them in advance. It’s always easier to be preventative than to clean up the mess after it’s already happened.

Before you get on that plane, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Take steps to protect yourself from falling victim to these Cancún travel scams.

Be Aware of Common Travel Scams in Cancún

Credit-Card Swap

One of the most widely known types of travel scams are credit-card scams. Currently, in Cancún, scammers are using a technique called card swapping or the credit-card switch in order to steal your credit card information without you noticing.

A waiter at a restaurant or a cashier at a store will take your card to run a transaction, and in a split second will swap it for another stolen card that looks very similar to yours. Any time you pay with a credit card in Cancún, make sure you take an extra few seconds to make sure the card you’re walking away with is really yours.

If you catch this scam and ask for your own card back, they’ll probably say it was a complete accident and return your card. Don’t be fooled by this exchange though; it only takes seconds for a scammer to secure your credit card information.

Watch your account closely for any discrepancies, and if any concerns arise, notify your bank immediately.

“The Internet is Down” Scam

Another way scammers steal credit card information from tourists is by claiming that the internet went out while trying to process your transaction and the card didn’t go through. After this, they’ll usually ask you to pay again in cash and you’ll discover later that the transaction was successful. The cashier double charged you wrongfully.

While Cancún is a seemingly perfect option for spring break, there are also valid concerns about safety while traveling. However, if you are properly prepared and make sure to choose the right hotel when booking your trip, you can rest easy.

In this situation, say you don’t have enough cash to cover the bill and ask them to retry the transaction. If they still insist you pay with cash, make sure to record all of the dates and times so your bank can work with you on refunding your money in case you do end up being double charged.

“Quick-Change” or “Change-Raising” Scams

Credit-card scams aren’t the only way travel scammers can steal money from you. Another popular deception is the “quick-change” or “change-raising” scams – it involves swapping bills and giving back incorrect change at shops and restaurants.

Bill swapping occurs mostly when paying with large bills such as the 500-peso bill. You give the cashier a 500-peso bill and while you are distracted or not looking they will swap it for a smaller one, like a 50-peso and claim that you didn’t give them enough to cover the cost of your bill. Keep an eye on what you’re giving when paying for things and if you see this scam happening, speak up. The scammer will more than likely deny it, but it’s better to have tried than to simply let the matter go.

Be Wary of Timeshare Scams

Some of the most time consuming and annoying scams to get sucked into are timeshare scams. Timeshare salesmen have lots of tricks up their sleeves, and it’s best to be acquainted with them so you know what to watch out for.

If someone in Cancún claims that they would like to sell you premium memberships or VIP clubs but that they are NOT a timeshare salesman, they’re probably lying.

They don’t want you to know that they sell timeshares so that they can trick you into attending a lengthy presentation. Then they’ll pressure you to buy packages and things that you don’t want.

These salesmen know what they are doing and know how to get you to crack. Try to stay away from them as much as possible. Another trick they like to pull is offering free or extremely discounted vacations, tours and excursions without telling you outright that you will be required to sit through one of these presentations at the end. The money you’ll save on these “tours” is not worth the time and money you will lose from sitting through their timeshare presentation.

Taking all of these precautions when choosing a hotel may seem intimidating or unnecessary, but taking a little due diligence now to check around for important features will save you the trouble of having to worry later about safety during your trip.

Car-Rental Scams

Here’s one you might not expect: you can actually be scammed while renting a car in Cancún and many other places as well. By renting through places that are just cheap and not reliable, you fall victim to a variety of different issues.

While these rental car companies do have customer service available in case something goes wrong with your car, it’s not a guarantee that all of the customer service representatives will speak English. Even if your representative does speak English, they may not speak it fluently enough to understand exactly what issue you are having.

Here are some scams to watch out for:

  • Some rental car companies will remove tire jack from your rental car, forcing you to purchase roadside assistance coverage that you may have been able to avoid otherwise.
  • When you call, you’re offered a really great deal on the car. When you arrive, those cars will be sold out.
  • They may coerce you to buy added insurance.
  • They’ll claim that vehicle damage occurred during your rental.
  • You’ll get charged a crazy fee if you return the car with less than a full tank of gas.
  • You’ll discover their hidden charges over and above the “unlimited mileage” they promised.

The best and safest way to rent a car and avoid these problems arising is to rent your car through your hotel. By renting through your hotel, your hotel concierge will advocate for you and help you navigate any issues that may come up while working with a rental car company.

You’ll have adequate customer service and peace of mind knowing there will be someone helping you throughout the process.

Hotel-Room Scams

When making your reservation at a hotel, ask if there are going to be any “extra resort fees or mandatory charges” than the stated price of the room. Also ask again what the refund and cancellation policies are so you understand before you book your room.

There are other ways you can avoid being involved in a travel scam.

  • Use toll roads when possible and avoid driving alone or at night. In many states, police presence and emergency services are extremely limited outside the state capital or major cities.
  • Exercise increased caution when visiting local bars, nightclubs, and casinos.
  • Don’t show off wealth, such as wearing expensive watches or jewelry.
  • Be extra vigilant when visiting banks or ATMs.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Mexico.
  • S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Staying diligent and alert while in Cancún is extremely important to lower your risk of becoming a victim of travel scams. Do your research, be prepared, and keep a watchful eye at all times.

Taking all of these precautions when choosing a hotel may seem intimidating or unnecessary, but taking a little due diligence now to check around for important features will save you the trouble of having to worry later about safety during your trip.

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About The Author

Dave Husler

Dave Husler has over 20 years of military and civilian experience in international security. He developed a love of languages and foreign cultures as a linguist in the US Army and gained a strong foundation of analytic skills while earning a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University in Bethesda, Maryland. He has enjoyed adventures in over 20 countries. His passion is traveling with his family, experiencing different cultures, and helping others to have adventures of their own.