30 People Warn Tourists About Common Scams In Their Countries
Exploring foreign territory is an extremely fulfilling and relaxing experience. But as much as we would like to drift into that easygoing mode and soak up our novel surroundings, we shouldn’t drop our guard. No one is immune to falling prey to a scheme, not even the most sophisticated and savvy travelers. Being unfamiliar with local people and their customs makes us liable to deception, and nothing ruins an adventure more than crooked opportunists robbing us of our money.
But the good news is that travel these days starts on the internet, so we can keep a sharp eye out for the usual gambits swindlers set at tourist destinations. And three users, Roh-Da-Pro, tenbatsu, justthatguyTy, decided to help us out in our mission and prepare us for our next trip. They asked members of the Ask Reddit community about the most common tourist scams that people should be aware of, and the answers kept flying in!
Below, we gathered some of the most practical and informative tips travelers should know before embarking on their summer vacation in another country. So continue scrolling, upvote the travel hoaxes you may not have known about, and be sure to share your own experiences with us in the comments!
I am from Nigeria, a common one is getting an email from an American Prince
Iceland: Don't buy the bottled water, unless you just need the bottle to fill it up as often as you like with all the wonderfully cold, safe and free water running from the taps.
In the Netherlands homeless shelters are free nowadays. The homeless people who tell you they need 80 cents for a place to sleep are lying. It used to cost a total of 4 euro per night, but it doesn't anymore. Those who tell you they can't get welfare because they don't have a permanent address are lying as well: they get welfare via an ingenious system of P.O.boxes set up by the state and cities.
I honestly don't mind people asking me for money, but I hate it when they lie about the reasons for doing so.
For tourists, there are a lot of subtle ways to be tricked. They are often seen as gullible and naive, basically an easy target for crooks, pickpockets, and con artists. But it also makes regular folk determined they can help boost their cash flow. So it leads to thieves stealing card details with ATM skimmers, cab drivers increasing their fares, shop clerks suddenly changing prices, or restaurant waiters offering specials that end up costing travelers an arm and a leg.
Tourist scams seem to be a global issue, almost like an integral part of our traveling experience. It begins to feel that wherever we go, we need to be on the lookout for crooked opportunists trying to lure out our hard-earned money. So we have to remain cautious and not overly trusting to protect ourselves and be sure we know what we’re paying for before handing over cash. And always, always count your change. Because if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
To learn more about travel traps and how to avoid our trusting vacationing selves from being taken advantage of, we reached out to the founders of a travel blog called Megan & Aram that’s all about visiting Scandinavia, the Eastern bloc, and beyond. The two friends, Megan Starr coming from Virginia, US, and Aram Vardanyan from Armenia, have a specific goal in mind — to share their passion for traveling through lesser-known destinations with like-minded enthusiasts.
In Switzerland we have this big scam called FIFA, where rich people pay each other money tax free. You support it by watching football.
Seriously though, I have never seen any scams in our major cities. If you wanna come visit, please excuse our uptightness and enjoy our country.
I've lived in China for 9 months. A scam that I've heard about in larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai is that a student-aged person will come up to you and ask to practice their English. The supposed English practice will end up in a real tea/coffee house, where they will ask you to pay for said tea/coffee because they are a poor student. The tea/coffee is invariably ridiculously overpriced, which a tourist wouldn't know about. "Student" and shop get a nice payout.
Someone tried this with me while I was in Beijing last month. After telling them I'd lived in China for awhile. I knew what was going on and had some fun. Played along until getting to the tea shop and looking at the menu, then said (in Chinese) "this tea is too expensive!!!" and walked away giggling.
Australia: everything you pay for might seem like a scam, it's not, everything here is just expensive.
"We do think that tourist traps are a problem and they vary depending on where you go in the world," the duo told Bored Panda. "But, we also think there is a big difference between what is truly a 'tourist' trap and what is a place youʻre 'more likely to be scammed'."
Megan and Aram explained that we have become conditioned to think that any place that attracts people from all over the world is a 'tourist trap.' "That is definitely not true! There is a reason that many people are visiting the Acropolis or Colosseum... but many refer to them as a 'tourist trap' simply because they are always crowded and have lines," they added.
I was studying abroad in Switzerland and a few of my roommates and I took a weekend trip to Milan. One of the street vendors put one of those braided bracelets on my wrist while I wasn't looking. They were slick. I barely even felt it and didn't turn to see it until it was already tied and it was on there tight so I couldn't just pull it off on the spot. Of course he wanted me to pay him for his goods and services. Cue my male, Scandinavian (I'm female and American) roommates absolutely screaming at the dude in my defense before I could even get a bearing on what was going on. They were normally so mild mannered that I was completely taken aback by their sudden aggression. Made a point to always travel with these guys from that point forward.
If you ever fly in Bucharest and want a cab, demand from the driver to actually start the timer and pay attention to it's growth. If he snaps it(resets the timer to 0 without confirming the fare) when you reach the destination - don't pay. If he doesn't start it at all - don't pay or demand to start the timer. They will ask for a lot of money if they see you're a foreigner. Up to 10x the actual fare price.
Thailand. They put water soluble paint on the bottom of the jet skis the tourists hire. It looks fine when you pick it up but then the paint comes off when your using it revealingly a bunch of scratches on the hull. When you return it they point to all the scratches, say you must have run over something, and keep your deposit.
The bottom gets painted again and they wait for the next pasty white sucker.
While tourist swindles occur all over the world, in any country, to every kind of traveler, some places are more notorious for con artists to get their hands on our valuables. When asked about the vacation destinations where travelers should really try to have eyes in the back of their heads, the duo could name a few straight away.
"You will always find a lot of scams around popular tourist attractions (not necessarily tourist traps)," Megan said, adding that The Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and Milan Cathedral were a few where she was bombarded with what felt like scams. "I also had a man try to pickpocket me around the metro at the Eiffel Tower — so it is not only scams to beware of, but these types of things too!"
Don't mistake this for racism, please. In Japan, if you go to the Roppongi area of Tokyo then don't shake hands with the black guys who stand around trying to talk to people. Japan's society is so homogeneous (roughly 90% Japanese, 5% Chinese, 3% Korean) so you'll see them easily and almost every single black man who puts his hand out for you to shake is trying to get you to go to his really cool secret club that he knows about. The thing is, once you shake his hand he will not let go. He will grip you tightly and forcibly pull you into a bar while smiling and making nice so it doesn't draw any attention. Once you get in, you'll see a menu of affordable drinks and pay a not-too-bad "seating charge" which you'll think is the hidden charge. But no. The actual hidden charge is the "leaving fee". If you want to leave the club you'll need to hand over an extortionate amount of money, or they'll call the police who are not kind to foreigners in that particular area.
TL;DR beware of black men (usually Nigerian) in Roppongi, Tokyo. Also noracist.
Full moon parties in Thailand. Watch out for dealers who work with cops. They come up try and sell you stuff, cop comes out of nowhere. Asks for bribe or will arrest you. They then split money with dealer
Not a local type scam, but a traveling scam. I was in San Francisco, and checked in at a hotell, the front desk called and said there was a problem with my card, they just needed some info, asked for name and card number, then they asked for the three digits on the back. Noped and went down to the front desk, they had not called about the card.
Scammers and pickpockets may be watching your every move while you’re strolling around an unknown city. Larceny-theft cases are soaring in many different parts of the world, so it could seem that for the crooks, lifting phones and wallets with their sleight of hand movements is only getting easier. That’s why we need to stay on alert to prevent finding ourselves in situations that would leave a dark bruise on our holiday and our confidence.
When it comes to pickpocketing, Megan revealed a few precautions she takes when traveling. "I just swing my bag around front and am super diligent," she said. "And if someone comes up for a chat randomly, I just remain skeptical (which sucks but this seems to be how it often happens)!"
I don't know if this is exclusive to America, but I get calls all the time from "Microsoft" saying that they have detected a problem with your PC, and if you sign on for them they can help fix it. Don't know what they get from it because I've never given them control.
These are mostly for tourist areas, but:
In France, if someone asks you about signing a petition (especially in English!), mind your purse, don't make eye contact, don't respond, keep walking. Even just by signing your name, they could be pick pocketing you when you're not looking, or they can make a big scene saying you've pledged to make a donation, and yell at you till you give them money.
In the U.S., don't take f*****g pictures with fake mascots. They will freak out if you don't give them money after, even if you give them money and they don't think it's enough. Seriously. I have seen these people smack around children. Plus their costumes are terrible.
Egypt. If you visit the pyramids, prepare to meet a ton of souvenir sellers who will charge you 10x the price that they will demand from an Egyptian. The best idea is to go to an established souvenir shop (there are many big ones) instead of those guys near the tourist attractions.
Also, they can tell where you are from and will charge you accordingly. If you are White, you'll attract a ton of attention from them. Asians are usually completely ignored unless they approach the vendors.
"I experienced the most forward of scams in India and Southeast Asia, to be honest," she revealed. "It was the typical tuk-tuk driver taking me around to shops to buy stuff without my consent. I was prepared for this as it is quite common and it didnʻt bother me. I knew people were just trying to make an extra buck." However, Megan stressed how important it is to be on guard when traveling, although she has actually experienced more hoaxes at home than on the road. You never know when you can fall prey to dishonest types, so try to be polite but stay careful.
I live in France. Paris is a very touristic place, so if you plan to visit the city, you should be aware of the scams ! First of all, don't buy souvenirs from people in the street : they often sell key rings (such as Eiffel Towers), little gadgets, sunglasses, bracelets... On a carpet on the floor. Ignore them. If you seem interested they will insist until you buy something. It may be cheaper than the items in the shops, but in fact those are poor quality garbage. Plus, the money is given to some mafia. Also, there are many thiefs. Don't act as a tourist and keep your things close to you, especially on the subway or in very touristic places (Montmartre, le Trocadéro...). Don't let your phone on the table of a café, if you are outside. Even if you stay right there. When you go to the Eiffel Tower, you may encounter young girls who practilly don't speak french, claiming they are tourists and asking for water : don't even talk to them, they often distract you meanwhile another person steals your wallet, cellphone, etc... They are very good at it. Same as "lost" children in the subway, who don't know where to go and don't really speak french. If you're not sure about it, report it to the persons working there (RATP, or the Police Ferroviaire).
Hollywood, CA. On Hollywood blvd. in front of the Chinese theater, the main tourist drag, there are guys who will hand you a cd (some will actually put it in your hand). Dont take them, they arent free. Once you accept them they tell you that you owe them $20. When you say no thanks and try to hand them back they wont take them and they demand their money and will get aggressive. You try to give it back and they put their hands up saying its yours now, pay me. If they put it in your hand dont close your hand, just let it drop and walk away. They will yell that you broke their cd and demand money but if you ignore them and keep moving they cant do much. If you do take one and they wont take it back place it on the ground at their feet and get out of there. They will sometimes cuss at you but so what, just go.
We got approached in Paris for the “gold ring” scam. There are a few variations of it, but the general idea is that the scammer approaches a person with a “gold” ring they found. When you tell them it’s not yours, they ask if you want to buy it.
It’s obviously a worthless fake ring, so even giving them 5 Euro to go away is a “win” for them.
In our case, the woman approached us with a men’s gold wedding band. She asked if it was mine. It wasn’t (wasn’t married at the time).
She was insistent that she wanted me to keep it for “good luck”, so after like the fifth time, I said “OK”, took it and kept walking.
That was my mistake.
She flipped her s**t and caused a big scene...I didn’t give a f**k though, we knew about the scam. I wasn’t giving anyone any money for it.
Only there are usually more than one person involved in the scam. So we found ourselves surrounded by four or five people claiming we had stolen her ring.
I didn’t care. I told them we could all go to the police and sort it out, I wasn’t paying them s**t for “stealing” anything.
A French couple approached us and went off on the group of them - in French - and the group dispersed fairly quickly. I did give the ring back, I was going to throw it into the water, but the guy that intervened shook his head “no”, so I just gave it back to the woman and told her to f**k off.
The couple that chased them off never stopped afterward, so I don’t know what was said...or if they even spoke English.
I felt like an idiot though for that happening to us. Especially since we knew about it in the first place.
Megan and Aram agreed that sharing information about tourist hoaxes online helps people protect themselves and their cherished treasures, and it allows travelers to prepare for their upcoming trips. "But we also need to ensure it does not scare people away or discriminate against the local people and traditions," they added.
"We think there is a large difference between someone trying a widely accepted scam (like the tuk-tuk drivers throwing in a souvenir shop for commission) to make a little extra money versus someone pickpocketing or screwing people out of thousands of dollars," the bloggers noted.
"Donʻt let the threat of scams scare you away from traveling! We have scams every day in our own societies... we just accept them as the norm!"
I'm from New York City.
Taxi drivers here are HUGE con artists. HUGE.
They will deliberately take the longest and most complicated route to get to the location. They will deliberately drive into the worst traffic and worst road construction in the city. The longer the ride, the more they get paid.
My advice: Look at a map before you get into the cab. Figure out how to get there. Know the shortest route. As soon as you get in, tell him EXACTLY how you want to get there. If he tells you "Oh, this other way is faster", don't believe him. He is probably a big fat liar. Give him exact directions and don't let him give you any "suggestions."
If he drives you into traffic, immediately get out and find another taxi, if possible.
America here, specifically North Carolina, but I've seen it in Texas, too.
People will come up to you in the parking lot of a grocery store with a sob story about running out of gas on their way back home to a town >50 miles away and ask for money. They may also have a wife and kids who are very hungry. For some reason, they get upset if you ask to see their driver's license so you can see if their permanent address is actually in that town.
I've only witnessed this one once, a dude was trying to trade a gift card to the grocery store we were in for it's cash value, even offering to let me check online/over the phone that the card was valid. Not sure what the end-game is, maybe hoping people won't actually check?
UK. If you ever visit London via heathrow, don't take the "heathrow express". It's a massive rip off: the normal tube (underground), which also runs to the airport is about 1/10th of the price, and only a couple minutes slower. In fact, it's faster if you're going to central / east London.
If you visit Chicago, beware of the scammers on the CTA trains that go around collecting money for their basketball team. Actual youth sports teams raise money through fundraisers like selling chocolates, not walking around the trains with a flyer. Plus most of the "kids" look like they are 20 and are never able to give believable information when asked about their team.
Not my country, but if you go to Shanghai be careful about "Tea Scams". Basically, if you're in an tourist area like The Bund overlooking Pudong, a group of friendly looking people might come up to you and start engaging in polite conversation. They'll say they're from rural China or a different city, that they're tourists as well and they'll invite you for tea.
Once they get you into the tea shop they work for, they'll sit you in the back room and have some burly, Triads-looking m**o block the door. Next they'll get you to sample a bunch of expensive teas and won't let you leave until you buy at least one bag. On the bright side, the tea itself is good and you can get away with only spending $10-20 or so, it's just the being lied to and trapped part that sucks.
Now you see why the noun Shanghai is also a verb.
In restaurants in Prague, Czech Republic if you speak English and require an English menu, be prepared to pay at least double the normal amount.
US: If you're in a major city, stay away from street performers and people with instruments who are selling their cd's, some will be very pushy and aggressive.
Edit: the best way to avoid scams like this is to walk like you are late to something and look pissed off. Don't even acknowledge them.
In Mexico they can arrest you for no reason and then demand money to be let go. They will ask you to call relatives and have them wire money for your freedom...
In the US, could be more, there is malware that can get put onto iPhones. It puts a message on safari whenever you try and access the internet that says "iOS has crashed, call this number" where they want to charge you $60 to "fix" your phone. Just clear out your safari history and you are solid.
We don't have many beggars in Finland, but for last few years we've had a lot of ~~Romanians~~ Romanian gypsies show up begging for money, and most of that goes to Romanian mafia.
India has kids hanging around tourist sites who want to sell you carved sandalwood or 10 postcards in an envelope. You will get a piece of pine or an envelope with 2 battered old postcards inside, and the knowledge that a small Indian child can outwit an adult tourist.
Edit: I thank the Hindu pantheon that nobody sold me black henna.