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Travel Scams: Currency Conning

We all like to feel that we are good at spotting bargains, and not to mention a little resentful of the big banks and institutions that are constantly making money from us. So it's not surprising that the idea of somehow getting a better-than-usual rate on our currency exchange can leave us vulnerable to currency scams.

What's more, unless we travel often, the sheer act of juggling exchange rates is an unfamiliar one, which makes a great opportunity for scammers and con artists to prey on naive victims.

Here are some of the common currency scams to look out for:

'The bargain'

You really want to avoid people on the street who offer you a good exchange rate. This is the black market and you may end up with fake money - and there'll be nothing you can do about it. Another situation is that you may be offered one exchange rate, but then when it comes to it, find that you are being given another. Even if you befriend a local on your travels who tells you that someone they know can give you a much better exchange rate, it's always best to steer clear. Hotels will charge you more of course, so it's best to go to banks for the best rates.

Counting your change or currency

This can often happen in shops, so beware. Here you will be lulled into a false sense of security as you're actually watching someone counting out your change or currency right in front of you. The problem is that it's not a straightforward count. They may stop now and again or count it in a confusing way so that you leave without the whole amount, or palm away some of the money they are counting. The solution to this is to recount it right in front of them before you walk away. Also, take a look at the coins or notes. Are they the correct currency? It's easy to give unsuspecting strangers worthless notes instead of the ones they really want.

Wrong notes

This happens when you give a shop or cab driver a large note such as 50 euro. You'll be expecting them to collect your change, but they will actually pocket it and say that you only gave them a 20. If you're absolutely sure on this and feel reasonably safe, call their bluff and tell them that you will call the police. If you're somewhere you feel a little unsafe, cut your losses and leave. The best bet is to avoid paying with large notes as much as possible.

When it really goes wrong

While you may lose out on some money as a result of these cons, there is also a more serious side here. If you are found passing on counterfeit notes, even unwittingly, you may get into legal trouble - not something you really want to deal with on a holiday.

Tips to avoid being conned

* Get to know the currency: what it looks and feels like

* Find out if there are any coins or notes that have recently been taken out of circulation

* Always try to use small notes so that you are not expecting a lot of change

* Stay with legitimate exchange institutions - although do double-check your currency even in these.

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Paula Gardner

Paula Gardner is the Press Officer for Essential Travel. Paula is big Italophile and loves many things about the country: its rich red wines, strong cheeses, creamy gelato, passionate people and lyrical language. Paula has been learning Italian for four years but is still shy about speaking it. On a career break inn her 20s she travelled the world, visiting every continent, but travel now tends to be to European cities. Apart from just about anywhere in Italy, other favourites are Lisbon and Palma in Majorca. Sicily is top of the bucket list.