7 Of The Worst Travel Scams For Canadians To Avoid On Vacation & How To Spot Them

From sweetheart schemes to phony job offers, don't let scammers steal your heart or money.

MTL Blog, Associate Editor
​Someone wears a giant shark costume in the street as people pass.

Someone wears a giant shark costume in the street as people pass.

Canada is advising travellers to pack street smarts, along with sunscreen, on their next overseas adventure — especially when it comes to romantic encounters. The government recently warned of "increasingly common and sophisticated scams" that can leave Canadians with financial loss, legal consequences, emotional trauma and little recourse.

"In many countries, con artists operate without consequences because local authorities often do not have the physical or financial resources needed," writes Travel Canada.

So while you're busy exploring new destinations and soaking up the sights, don't forget to keep your guard up against schemes that could leave you broke or broken-hearted. Here are some of the worst ones to watch out for:

Sweetheart Scam

What It Is: A scammer creates a fake profile on a dating site or social media platform and builds a relationship with a traveller. They may ask for money, claiming to need it for travel or medical expenses, or for a supposed emergency situation.

How To Avoid It: Travellers should be cautious of giving out personal and financial information to strangers online and avoid sending money to anyone not met in person. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre also advises researching and verifying the identity of potential partners before meeting in person and remaining wary of any requests (or guilt trips) for money or financial assistance.

Marriage Scheme

What It Is: A scammer may use a fake marriage proposal to trick a traveller into providing money or other resources, including "extortion by in-laws living abroad or being forced to sponsor a spouse who will abandon you after arriving in Canada." Once they have received what they want, they disappear.

How To Avoid It: Travellers should remain cautious of romantic advances from strangers they meet on a trip and avoid giving out personal or financial information to anyone they don't know well. Common red flags, include someone claiming to have fallen in love with you too quickly or requesting money for an urgent situation. If you are considering sponsoring someone for immigration purposes, make sure to do your research and seek advice from reputable sources, like a licensed immigration lawyer.

Escort Scam

What It Is: A scammer may pose as an escort or companion and request payment upfront for services, then disappear without providing any service.

How To Avoid It: Travellers should do their research before engaging an escort. Legitimate services typically have a professional website with detailed information about bookings, rates and policies. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of an escort service, it's best to err on the side of caution.

Drug Mule

What It Is: Drug traffickers may attempt to use unsuspecting travelers to transport drugs across borders, either by asking them to carry packages or hiding drugs in their luggage without their knowledge.

How To Avoid It: To minimize the risk of becoming a drug mule, travellers should keep a close eye on their belongings and never agree to carry anything for someone they do not know well. It's also a good idea to avoid carrying packages or bags for other people and to report any suspicious requests or activity.

Job Scam

What It Is: An offer of employment that requires the individual to pay a fee upfront. This can include fees for visas, work permits, or training materials. In many cases, the job itself may not even exist, or the promised wages may be far lower than initially advertised.

How To Avoid It: Be careful if you receive a job offer that seems too good to be true (unrealistic salary, paid vacations, extended holidays) or that requires you to pay for initial travel or required documents. Travelers should also be cautious of job offers that require them to provide personal information, such as a passport number or social insurance number, before the employer has been properly vetted.

Holiday Rental Scam

What It Is: Fake agencies trick travellers into booking a fake vacation rental property, typically through a fake online listing that uses photos and descriptions of a real property. Travellers are asked to pay a deposit or the full rental amount upfront. Once the payment is made, the traveler may find out that the property doesn't actually exist or that the listing was fraudulent. In some cases, the traveler may arrive at the rental property to find that it is not as advertised or that they are unable to access the property at all.

How To Avoid It: t's important to do thorough research on any rental property or listing service before making a booking. Travellers should also read reviews from previous renters and remain cautious of any listing that requires payment upfront or seems too good to be true.

Embassy Staff Scam

What It Is: Some con artists pretend to be Canadian embassy staff, including consular officers and even ambassadors.

How To Avoid It: If you are approached by someone claiming to work for a Canadian government office abroad, who suddenly offers to help you, you can verify their identity by contacting the embassy or consulate where they say they're employed.

Before you get going, check out our Responsible Travel Guide so you can be informed, be safe, be smart, and most of all, be respectful on your trip.

Sofia Misenheimer
MTL Blog, Associate Editor
Sofia Misenheimer is an award-winning writer, editor and former radio journalist with a passion for finding hidden gems in the city.
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