It can be a bit off-putting when you are planning your travels and as you do a bit of research on the places you visit, you find that you are reading less about the fun stuff and more about the rampant scams. You may feel a pang as a solo traveler, or you might dismiss them altogether. The best possible way to approach the topic of tourist scamming is to remain somewhere in the middle. Don’t become so cynical or afraid that you aren’t able to enjoy yourself or the many inevitable social interactions with both locals and other travellers alike, but don’t be so quick to dismiss some sage advice either.
A lot of countries in Europe have been facing economic downturn since the end of 2009. It has placed an immense burden on the 28 countries that make up the European Union. This doesn’t mean that every person is out to get you, but it does mean you that you should exercise an extra bit of caution and listen to your gut instincts.
In many cases, those who are out to scam tourists won’t cause you harm, they just want your stuff and/or your money. As you become more aware of common scams that are trending you can be more astute the next time you’re approached and continue along unscathed.
The best way to counteract any stranger who has approached you uninvited is really to not engage at all. That’s right, not even a polite no thank you is required. Just say nothing at all and watch how quickly they move onto the next.
25 Friendship Bracelets
It's a bird! It's a plane! No - it's a total stranger strapping a useless friendship bracelet to your arm in 24 seconds flat without your knowledge (or often permission) and then asking you for money! If you just think about the term friendship bracelet, it should make you a bit skeptical that a total stranger has decided to share one with you. At best, this stranger is going to ruthlessly annoy you until you give them some cash for this 'service'. At worst they are marking you as a trusting and friendly tourist for a much more expensive inconvenience at a later time. If you like bracelets, go pick one out at the many, many, shops available to you. Don't be fooled or polite about it, this is anything but an act of friendship.
24 Slow Counting
As North Americans, we have an international reputation for moving quickly, acting with impulse, and splashing cash. While it may not be true for all of us (I'm quite frugal myself), it is a somewhat accurate stereotype that perpetuates this particular scam. Our no time to waste attitude means that when you pay with a larger bill, the vendor will take their sweet time counting out your change or, as has been done to me, pretend not to have correct change.
Their frustrating scramble is intentional (especially if they sense you are in a rush) because they expect you to just wave them off, scoop up what's on the table, leaving behind what can be upwards of 5-10 euros.
It's quite an arrogant trick, that basically banks on your impatience. Don't fall for it.
23 Wrong Change
Always, ALWAYS count your change in front of your vendor. Even if it's a simple mistake (it's usually not) it can be hard to contest after the fact and vendors can accuse you of pulling a fast one. This is true of almost anywhere but especially in outdoor markets or anywhere you are making a quick purchase. Look at your change and count it out before you stick it in your wallet. Getting familiar with what EU coins and bills look like is important also because a vendor can sneak in less valuable coins in its place that look identical. For example Lira in Italy or Zloty in Poland.
22 Well-Dressed Stranger In Distress
This is a popular and perhaps the most convincing con of all. A well-dressed stranger stops you in their car to ask for directions to (usually) a well-known landmark. They speak perfect english which give you the impression that they are educated and perhaps an international salesman of leather goods, luxury watches, some specific European designer that you've never heard of (but sounds fancy!). It's weird because you have so much in common! You're from Boston? They also have family there. What a small world! That's when they offer you a form of gift either because they ran out of money, or their 'international credit card' isn't working, or just as a thank you. It can seem all very natural, after all these are professional con artists.
A good rule of thumb is to (as awful as it sounds) play dumb. Don't offer advice and definitely don't offer personal details to strangers - no matter how charming they appear to be.
21 Last Minute Exchange
Dealing in new currency can be very confusing. Some countries have money that looks really different from what you're used to and with a lot of added zeros. Luckily enough, Euros aren't so different from USD. The exchange is nearly on par at the moment but it can be extra helpful to have a conversion app like XE converter stored in your phone if there's ever any doubt because it changes quite literally by the minute.
Some vendors will make it seem like they're doing you this big favour by accepting USD instead of EU currency. But depending on the day, you could be at a significant loss.
20 Exorbitant Exchange
The last currency con is the one where you go to exchange your money and get taxed an extraordinary 'service fee' that was otherwise unadvertised prior to your request. Absolutely never exchange currency in the streets, and on the other end of the spectrum, at airports. Those Travelex booths are highway robbery compared to the rates you would get at an official bank or post office. It may seem convenient but as long as you have a bit of cash, it's best to wait. Most places and taxis should accept cards so it's simply not worth it to exchange for convenience sake. The best bet is to find an affiliate bank with yours back home and simply use the ATM to get your converted cash at the official rates.
19 Invitation to A Venue
If you are a single male travelling across Europe you've officially been warned. This scam involves a beautiful stranger who either plays to be a friendly local or another 'curious traveler' just like you! They offer you the opportunity to get to know each other better over some drinks at a nearby bar. How lovely!
Except when the bill comes for your two simple beverages, it's upwards of 500 euros. They must have made a mistake! Except when you go to clarify the 'accidentally' added zeros, a bunch of scary looking dudes emerge demanding that you pay that 500 euro tab. Don't have 500 euros cash on you? Don't worry because they'll escort you to the nearest ATM.
When you go to find your new friend, she's oddly disappeared? Maybe you're clued up by now but it's too late.
Don't accept friendly invitations from randoms who seem to urgently point you to specific place.
If you're unsure about a human's intentions, pick a nearby cafe instead to make sure there's no strings attached.
18 The Toss Something At You
This is not a 'fun carnival' game like ring toss or plinko. This is a very real (outdated) way that no good scammers will distract you so that they can grab your wallet and anything else that's easily accessibly.
It works like this: You, innocently travelling along with your fish out of water vibes. All of the sudden a BABY is hurling toward you in mid-air? Of course, anyone who hasn't read this article and isn't a total wacko would think I better catch that small person that is flying in the air at me! And then you realize it's not real - it's a doll wrapped in blankets and that you've been had. As in, your wallet has been had by the group of scammers who threw the doll at you. If someone throws something at you, give yourself a moment to pause and downplay your impulses. Not your baby (doll), not your problem.
17 Saucy Spills While Reaching for Your Bills
Crowds in Europe are breeding ground for bad behaviour and greedy conmen. If you find yourself in a crowd or at a major tourist landmark it's your cue to turn up your antenna to any odd behaviour because they are good at what they do. This scam involves an 'innocent' accident of pouring some annoying substance on you, could be mustard, ketchup or even fake bird poo squeezed from a bottle. Then a group of 'concerned locals' (red flag) will begin to apologize profusely and dab the stain off of your clothing while they feel around in your pockets for treasure. Getting swarmed gives you every bit of reason to lose your cool and scream your head off causing other people to pay attention to what's happening. You will alert the other tourists and at the very least let off a bit of steam, at best you will shake the scammers off you before it's too late.
16 Tacks on The Tires
Truly a deviant act as it can really be quite dangerous, a common scheme is for someone to lay the road with tacks so that it bursts your tires and then the 'magically helpful local' emerges (who just so happens to have a spare tire or be a mechanic!) and then after all their niceties have been exchanged they have their hand out asking for cold hard cash for the replacement.
It's not so nice a feeling, especially when you're on the way to the ATM wondering how all of these things could have happened so quickly. Other renditions include, full out slashing the tyres of your parked car and then when the 'friendly stranger' approaches to help and you've unlocked the doors, they've made off with all of your stuff.
15 Rigged Receipts
In places like Italy and Portugal, charges like coperto as a small charge for bread is normal so don't flip your lid when they appear on the bill (one time), simply ask for where it's advertised on the menu (or avoid this by looking for it to begin with). What can be odd is when a casual coffee and cornetto comes out to 30 euros or if items aren't labelled properly or there are strange add-ons.
Don't be shy to clarify the receipted items before forking over the cash! They are banking on you being relaxed and not checking.
But once you inquire, it should get sorted out quite quickly.
14 Train Stations.
There is a period after this title because legit every inch of the train is potential for scamming tourists. Sure, it can be frustrating to try and use the kiosks at first but often they have language settings to help you - don't accept help from random people because they will either take your money or purchase you children's tickets and pocket the rest. When the conductor comes to check your ticket you could be laid with a pretty significant fine for not having the right ticket and it could be easy to miss to the untrained (ha) eye. When panhandlers come aboard to tell you a sob story, just avoid eye contact. Don't even explain why the answer is no or what the answer is. Put everything you care about in front of your nose to protect it from pick pockets. If you're lost, ask someone who works for the train station, otherwise you can expect a request for a tip.
13 Car Rental Scams
Photograph every inch of the car before you leave the lot. If you have any doubts about a dent or scratch or the radio that doesn't work, alert them immediately because they can easily fault you for it when you go to drop it off. This is true of any Car Rental company, it doesn't matter it's a well-known brand.
They make cash from your lack of attention so do yourself a favour and spend the extra 10 minutes archiving every little dent so you aren't out an extra 100+ euros.
Hidden fees and mandatory insurances are also common scams, make sure to check the paperwork (in your mother tongue!) and check under the staple for sneaky details.
12 Fake Petition for Charity
Clipboard - check. Eager and keen stranger - check! Worthy cause that most people who have any decency care about - check, check! Very common in France (particularly around the Eiffel tower when you're just trying to relax with your butter and baguette sandwich) is the 'support the cause' scam.
If the petition is English, it is your first red flag. If you are at a famous landmark, it is your second. Please just say no.
If you want to feel good about supporting charity while you indulge yourself, do so with a well-researched and respected charity online. These nosy no-good scammers are pocketing cash and/or pick pocketing you while you sign on the dotted line. It's a lose-lose and there are very real causes worth your support with a bit of diligence, you can feel truly good about it.
11 Pretend Police
Official seeming Police officers scouring the streets for badly behaving tourists is low hanging fruit for conmen since they know most visitors want to abide by local laws. They will stop you to insist a peak into your wallet for drug money (?) or counter-fit cash when really they are either swapping out your bills or straight up taking them while you're too panicked to notice.
If they ask for your passport just straight up run away or make a scene Consider your Passport your MOST valuable object, and one which you should not be handing over to ANYONE (outside of the airport or perhaps at check-in for a quick scan at your hotel), I don't care if they have a very convincing costume of the Pope - just say (or scream at the top of your lungs to make a scene) 'no!'.
10 Knock at the door
Did you order room service? Then there's no need to answer the door at all. Any one claiming to be an inspector or member of the staff from the hotel could be a common thief in a convincing costume. Call down to the front desk to clarify before opening your door and notify them that there is someone at the door claiming to be staff. Usually any maintenance will be posted on bulletin boards or in elevators. Often when you let someone into the room they can come in like a flash, scoop up your valuables and be gone without you even noticing until later. Don't fall for it.
9 Take Our Picture
This can seem very normal since it's such a commonplace ask - which is why it is also sadly the perfect scam. A stranger approaches you asking if you can take their photo and then either the camera isn't functioning (you're distracted and focused while someone ruffles through your bag) OR upon returning the camera they let it smash on the ground and demand you cover the cost angrily. This is 100% a scam. You don't owe someone money when they drop their camera no matter how confrontational they are about it- flatly refuse and get on with your day knowing that you avoided a petty scam.
8 The model
I'm told this is a famous one in Eastern Europe where a 'shopkeeper' is causing a scene accusing a model-like woman of shoplifting from their store. As she peels away layer after layer shouting in denial, several heads are turning. What is this theatrical display? Why is she getting into her skivvies in the street? By the time you have answered these two questions you'll likely be asking the all-powerfully upsetting question of wait, where's my wallet?
If something seems like a grandiose performance or unusually puzzling but you feel compelled to watch out of human curiosity, just be sure to hold your wallet tight.
7 Gladi - hators
Not as predominate as some of the other scams since they've been officially banned by authorities, these male 'performers' will lurk around the Coliseum in Rome with all the theatrical pleasantries of a Disneyland mascot. Once you've engaged them in a photo and some cheeky banter however, you best be ready to pay up and it's not a cheap snap either. If you are interested in spending 10 euros on a silly photo, by all means engage with these folk. If you'd rather put that cash towards a world-class plate of pasta, you best keep walking on.
6 Transit Thieves
It can be worth it to watch a documentary or two on the inner-working of pick pocket networks like Pickpocket King so you can see firsthand how easy it is for them to get your goods. Slight of hand doesn't even begin to explain it! There are normally two or more seemingly unrelated pickpockets who work as a team to distract you either with bumping into you, a confrontation, asking you to pick something up for them, or otherwise. If you can, try to take a refresher course prior to your trip not to make you paranoid but so you can react from a position of power on public transportation.
5 Fake Fashion (& A 10K Fine)
A seemingly victimless crime, right? We've all seen the knock offs on table tops in big cities and they have become quite good! It can be tempting to toss a 20 at a new Fendi purse and be on your way feeling good about the deal you just scored.
If you should get caught with a copy, just know that you could be slapped with a 10,000 euro fine.
Beyond that, know that these trades often fund illegal activity. While you may think it wise to impulse purchase a cute copy, it helps to be educated on what it means on a broader scale.
4 Fish per the pound
This is quite popular in uber touristy regions of Italy like Venice. Having lived in a small coastal town where fresh fish is on the menu, I can't say I've ever seen it offered up by the pound. However, when the tourists are around , they are happy to write (/lb) on the menu so that they can charge you whatever you like. Even 20 euros for some mussels is ludicrous, never mind 50 or 100. If you didn't ask in advance, that astronomical bill can be the push you need to remember to always clarify.
Another way to avoid this would be to read reviews, because if someone has felt ripped off on holiday, you best believe it's going to be broadcast on Trip Advisor for all to see.
Here's one review from Trattoria Casanova in Venice:
They charged 128euros for two salads and a grilled fish plate!! They advertise one price and then bring it out and charged 9xthe amount put on the menu!So misleading and big time scam artists. Stay away!!!!
3 Gold Rings
If someone finds a gold ring, it's quite unlikely they would flash it around to one person to see if it's theirs. This is a certified scam where someone will drop a real gold ring into a crowd and then approach you to see if it's yours. Once they determine that you are willing to talk to them, they will then go on to see if you would like to purchase it from them for a very good price. It's probably tempting but just say no. One man's trash is not always another man's treasure.
2 Baggage Help
Anyone who offers to carry anything for you is expecting payment.
I remember I once had a severe sunburn and a 'helpful local' offered to carry my backpack for me. I was naive then and allowed it and then I was berated when the tip I offered him wasn't enough. Luckily we were on a boat and he got the boot, but it's best to just say no, especially if you have valuables in your bag. The worst outcome could be that they make off with your items if you don't pay them what they were expecting, it's simply not worth the risk.
1 Taxed by Your taxi
Rampant in most European cities and especially in Eastern Europe is the unlicensed cab scam. These are people you don't want to deal with on your lovely holiday. From meter hikes to unusual fees at the last minute, you can be forced to pay them since you are in a vulnerable position. Hailing a cab triples your risk so it can be best to call a reputable agency, rent your own car, or just take the public transit!
Unfortunately if you haven't asked the fee in advance you are indefinitely at the will of your driver who can ask you for whatever they want at the end of your journey.