atm scam

10 business travel scams and currency tricks to avoid

Even seasoned business travellers are at risk of being taken in by scams and fraud that can cost them or their company money – sometimes before they have even left the office.

And it’s no small problem.

According to Action Fraud, run by the City of London Police, fraudsters stole £6.7 million from 4,700 unsuspecting UK travellers in 2017 with two key scams largely to blame.

It identified the most common scams as the sale of fake airline tickets (47%), and accommodation booking cons (38%), where fraudsters use fake websites, hack into legitimate accounts or post fake adverts online to lure in unsuspecting customers.

Pauline Smith, director of Action Fraud, explained: “We know that fraudsters are increasingly using more sophisticated ways to trick their victims, which is why it is important you do your research when making travel arrangements and if you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact Action Fraud.”

“It’s easy for busy business travellers to get taken in by scams”, says Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, which provides businesses with free advice on online security.

Tony offers the following advice for making bookings: “Be sure to research the company you are booking through; especially if it’s not someone you’ve heard of before. If you’re unsure, search to see if they are a member of a recognised travel authority that offers financial protection and a complaints service. ”

It’s not just illegal tricks that can catch travellers out though. Make sure your employees are also aware of the travel money tricks carried out at airport currency booths, ATMs and in shops and restaurants.

Common scams and rip-offs to avoid

If you are travelling abroad for work, or organising a trip for staff, then make sure you and your colleagues don’t fall foul of these increasingly common scams:

1. Fake WiFi hubs
Hackers will sometimes set up unsecured WiFi hotspots in public locations to lure in unsuspecting victims seeking internet access — the thief then gets access to your computer and personal information.

Top tip: When using WiFi in a public place, such as a cafe or hotel, ask a member of staff for the correct network. Send information only to sites that are fully encrypted and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information.

2. Taxi scams
These are often simple tricks, such as a driver saying their meter is broken and overcharging you. Or they may take you on a ‘detour’ to a hotel or shop, for example, and make a commission from what you spend there. Also, beware taxi drivers trying to give you back a lower denomination than you’re owed with your change.

Top tip: Before you go, research local taxi rates, and have an idea of how long the journey should take. Then try and find a licensed taxi – by looking for official signage and ID in the cab – and agree your rate before you leave.

3. Phishing

This is when fraudsters use deceptive emails and websites to try and access your personal information. According to a report last year from data security business Barracuda, business travellers have been targeted by a particular type of attack called ‘airline phishing attacks’. The attacker will impersonate a travel agency or even a colleague in HR or finance, by sending a legitimate-looking email, prepared specifically for the target. Once an attachment, such as a fake airline ticket or e-ticket, is opened the malicious software attacks their device.

Top tip: Companies should ensure employees are aware of this sophisticated threat and use trusted security software and set it to automatically update. Employees should be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, and never reply to unsolicited emails or phone calls from companies they don’t recognise.

4. Hotel con
Fraudsters con travellers by setting up fake websites offering hotel rooms, hacking into legitimate accounts and posting fake adverts on websites and social media.

Top tip: Be wary of fake travel booking sites. Also, when using a third party website to book a flight, hotel, trip, or even dinner, always check how, where, and why they’re storing your data. With non-EU websites, you aren’t protected by the European Data Protection law, so place these sites under even greater scrutiny.

5. Card fraud
You might let your payment card out of sight while paying for something, or a waiter or shopkeeper may pretend to use their phone while actually taking a photo of your card. Alternatively, a shopkeeper or waiter may claim a payment didn’t work the first time, and attempt to take the payment again – taking two payments.

Top tip: Regularly review card and bank statements to check for unauthorised charges. It can be hard to check your credit or debit card statement while travelling but sign up to mobile notifications and you may be able to capture any fraud early. The FairFX Business app allows you to easily check the spend on your FairFX Corporate Card on the go.

6. Fake airline tickets
You may believe you are booking a legitimate flight online but receive a fake ticket or pay for a ticket that never turns up. In 2017, fraudsters particularly targeted flights to Africa and the Indian sub-continent, according to Action Fraud.

Top tip: Check that the web address of the site you are using to book tickets is legitimate and has not been altered by slight changes to a domain name, such as going from to .org. You should make the effort to study terms and conditions and be very wary of any companies that don’t provide any at all.

7. Fake hotel wake-up call
You get a call, seemingly from hotel reception, asking you to confirm your card details, perhaps because there is an issue with your card, they claim. But it’s actually a scammer, potentially working in cahoots with a dishonest employee.

Top tip: Do not share your card details on the phone. Instead, go to the hotel reception to check.

Three dirty money tricks to watch out for

1. Airport exchange rates
Never leave currency until the last minute. Airport kiosks offer poor deals on currency exchange, with travellers paying out up to 35% over market rates at airport currency exchange outlets. The amount that adds up to is demonstrated by an investigation by FairFX.

Top tip: Use a FairFX Corporate Card to get market-leading exchange rates when you and your staff travel overseas for work. Use the integrated expense platform

2. Hidden fees at UK airport ATMs
Most UK airports have ATMs dispensing euros and dollars which should be a good thing if you have a euro or dollar prepaid card. However, most of them charge you in pounds instead of your euros or dollars, and then hit you with hidden conversion fees.

Top tip: Withdraw your cash when you arrive at your destination or get FairFX to deliver travel cash to your door before you go.

3. Currency conversion charges
When you use your card abroad at ATMs, or in shops and restaurants, you may be asked if you would prefer to pay in pounds or the local currency. If you choose to pay in pounds, the business carries out the conversion for you and can make money by giving you an unfavourable exchange rate.

Top tip: Always pay in the local currency of the country you are in and use your FairFX Corporate Card for market-leading exchange rates abroad.

Greater awareness

The good news is that companies are increasingly aware of the threat of fraud for business travellers, says Sandy Moring, director of education at the Institute of Travel Management. And they are taking action, at least when it comes to online security, by investing in training and providing employee support. “With cybercrime on the increase, travellers have to be more astute and aware of potential frauds and scams, hence companies are putting more emphasis on providing smarter technology processes to try to limit exposure,” she says.

As well as being aware of the scams targeting business travellers, it’s important to trust your instincts: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But at the same time, remember, not everyone is out to get you!


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Mariette Ferreira

Mariette Ferreira

Mariette heads up marketing at FairFX. She loves travelling, scuba diving and South Africa, but she's yet to combine all three in one.

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