15 Scams Locals Try On Tourists You Need To Be Aware Of

August 08, 2019

Traveling abroad, while enriching, can be incredibly stressful. Airports and hotels and keeping track of luggage can prove challenging, especially when everything is in a foreign language. On top of all the expected traveling stressors, though, many locals know how to scam tourists out of cash. In major cities, scammers know how to spot visitors and have developed some pretty unique ways to swindle them out of money.

Whether it’s offering and then busting tourists for drugs or providing them a seemingly free service then asking for money, these local residents of major cities know how to run tourist scams. There are some specific things you should look out for, such as magic tricks and peanut bowls. Be aware of what you’re offered, and make sure the employees at whatever attraction you’re visiting actually work there.

Some of these scams seem outlandish and dangerous, but that’s sort of what makes these tourist scams work. Keep your wallet close, and don’t put your valuables in danger. If you stay informed and keep a close eye out while abroad, you can avoid falling victim to these crazy stunts. Make that backpacking trip across Europe an enjoyable one, and don’t trust strangers, even if it seems like they’re trying to help you.

1. Hot Potato, Hot Potato

Forget the bath water — don’t throw the baby, period.

One of the scarier tourist scams locals try is to give their baby to a passerby—this one is prevalent at the Vatican. While the passerby is surprised and distracted by the sudden offering, an accomplice pickpockets the victim. If someone pushes their baby on you, consider quickly spinning around to catch the thief by surprise.

2. Say No To Drugs

And be aware of what the police force looks like in whatever county you’re visiting.

Taxi drivers or tuk-tuk drivers abroad might offer you drugs if they notice you’re going out for the night. Once you take the substance, accomplices dressed as police officers drive by and spot the illegal transaction. The “cops” then force the rider to pay a massive fine to avoid severe punishment. This particular trick is common in Thailand and China.

3. My Mixtape Is Fire, Tho

Hopefully “Check out my Soundcloud,” is destroying this particular scamming market.

If you’re visiting New York City, you likely know to be on the lookout for mixtape scammers — the ones who seemingly offer their mixtape for free, telling their victim that just by taking it and playing it for friends you’d be doing them a favor. After the victim takes the mixtape, be it in CD or flashdrive form, the artist demands payment and may potentially harass the victim.

4. A Local Offers To Help You At The Bank

He might quip, “I’m always saying it’s an ATM, not an ATM machine!”

If you’re at a bank looking to exchange currency and someone who speaks your language but doesn’t work there offers to help, politely decline. They’re likely trying to memorize your PIN number for when they pickpocket you later. Or possibly worse. Depending on your financial situation, they could just run off with your cash.

5. Don’t Touch Those Peanuts

Might be worth it though if you get to throw the peanut shells wherever you want, like at a Roadhouse Grill.

If you’re seated at an outdoor table, beware: a man may approach you and give you a bowl of presumably free appetizer peanuts. But as soon as you eat one, he’ll demand payment for his services. So think twice before you touch what might be expensive peanuts, and what’s more, make sure the guy refilling your nut bowl actually works at the restaurant.

6. Don’t Give Anyone Your Credit Card Number In The Middle Of The Night

The extra slumber might not be worth it.

A scammer may call up the hotel where you’re staying and pretend to be from the front desk. They’ll request that you verify your credit card due to an alleged issue with billing. Scammers typically perform this move at night, seeing as hotel patrons are less likely to go to the front desk to sort things out when it’s late.

7. Fake Menus May Lead To Credit Card Debt

Just go through Postmates.

Scammers in the US sometimes slip fake menus under the hotel doors of tourists in the hopes they’ll order takeout one night when they’re tired. But the food never arrives, and the scammers simply make a copy of the victim’s credit card and disappear. So remember to check Yelp the next time someone gifts you a menu.

8. The Flowers Aren’t Free, Either

No matter how sweet the person giving the flower seems.

Couples who like to travel: listen up. If a local approaches with a rose and hands it to one partner, just don’t take it. Make an excuse like, “I have enough roses at home, but thank you.” Because after one of the victims accepts the local’s gift, the scammer turns on the couple and makes the person without a flower feel embarrassed that they won’t pay a high price to buy their partner a rose. This is one of the more popular tourist scams in Italy, namely Florence, Rome, and Venice.

9. Tada! I Made Your Wallet Disappear

But the sense of child-like wonder? Priceless.

If someone is performing street tricks, such as magic tricks, stand on the outskirts of the group — some members of the audience may be accomplices to the trickster. They’ll pickpocket you while you’re watching the magician say, “Was your card a 7 of spades?” You’ll say, “Oh my god, how did you do that?!” But little do you know, you’ll never see your wallet again.

10. If You Don’t Give Me Money, A Curse On Your Home

A sprig of rosemary is the first warning sign.

Common in Madrid and New Dehli, a woman may offer you one sprig of rosemary as a sign of friendship. Then, she’ll offer to read your fortune. But what she won’t tell you is that just a few minutes into the future, she’ll request money for the services she provided. If the tourists refuses to pay her, the woman will begin placing a curse on the tourist’s family.

11. If someone spills something on you, it may be a ploy.

Best to just wash your jacket in a washing machine.

Some locals will spill a substance on your jacket — it could be anything from ketchup to fake bird poop. They’ll then apologize and offer to help clean it. But it’s best to wait until you can get to a laundromat — as soon as the tourist takes off their jacket, the local will steal whatever’s in the pockets.

12. Don’t Check For You Wallet In Public

This psychological trick leads to tourists being pickpocketed.

If you’re traveling abroad, particularly in Rome and Ukraine, and you spot a wallet on the ground, don’t immediately go to check for your wallet. Someone may have placed the wallet to prompt you to pat or look at whatever spot you’ve placed your own. The thief will take note of where you check and pickpocket you in the future. Some of these tourist scams are all about the long game.

13. There’s No Fast Pass Line To Get Into The Louvre

If someone offers you a ticket, don’t accept it.

When you’re a tourist, you’ll likely spend some time waiting in line to see various attractions. In Paris and London, especially, someone dressed as an official employee of wherever you’re visiting may offer you a ticket that allegedly allows you to bypass the rest of the line. Don’t accept it — they’re not an employee, and the ticket won’t work.

14. A Scammer Might Help You Scam

But your insurance company already knows this trick.

A “doctor” may approach a tourist and offer to provide a letter to the victim’s insurance company, stating they had to visit a medical facility while abroad. The scammer will tell the tourist the for the small price of buying the doctor’s note, they can submit it to their insurance company and receive a much larger sum. But beware — the insurance company already knows about this trick.

15. Pull Up Google Maps When You’re In A Taxi

Your driver may be taking the long — and more expensive — route.

Across the globe, taxi drivers may take advantage of tourists lack of knowledge of an area. They’ll rack up the miles on the meter by taking a much longer route then necessary. Fortunately, new technologies are likely putting an end to this practice. But be careful, and don’t be afraid to speak out if something doesn’t feel quite right.

Have you ever been caught in one of these tourist scams?