Lonely Planet Writer

Warning: a new social network scam

Scams abroad are a well documented topic. From taxi drivers getting lost (and charging you more money for the privilege), to waiters short-changing you, scams are a common theme of conversation on our Thorn Tree community.

Sometimes we're contacted directly with new types of scams. This one sounded serious enough to pass on to travellers.

Here's how the version we've been told about works:

The traveller in question had his email, Skype and Facebook accounts hacked into and messages sent from them to his family claiming that he had been a robbery victim, had lost everything, was hurt and needed money for a doctor. His account may have been hacked by someone simply looking over his shoulder at his password in an internet cafe, or by more complex methods.

The scammer, posing as the traveller, initiated a time to speak with the traveller's family via Skype, but when the pre-arranged time came he claimed that there was a problem with the sound (not uncommon when using limited wifi abroad) so he spoke to the family via instant messaging instead.

His messages asked for cash to be sent via a money wire transfer system to a friendly man called Chris Davidson, who was helping him out. Without even considering that it might be someone other than their son who they were speaking to, the family sent the requested money right away.

What's striking about the reports we've heard about is that they seem to be coming from the same scammer going under the name of Christopher Davidson, or variants of. Keep this name in mind next time you receive an email from abroad asking for help, but also be aware that the scam might not be limited to this fraudster.

Travel scams are constantly evolving, and can be hard to keep track of. While many scams are relatively painless and may cost you just a few pennies in tips, this scam is more sophisticated and could be used to elicit thousands of pounds from worried families.

Our advice is to limit your social network activity to times when you're able to check back into it frequently to see what's going on. Never give or let anyone else see your passwords, be aware of abnormalities when using public computers and change your passwords often. Don't publicise online the specific dates when you'll be out of contact, instead tell family or friends these details over the phone.

While scams shouldn't alter your travel plans, they are worth being aware of. The topic has been covered by Lonely Planet staff in this 10 common travel scams article, and is well discussed by our Thorn Tree community.