How Many Tourist Scams Have You Fallen For?

Filed Under: Travel

Just The Flight has an awesome infographic with 40 tourist scams to avoid this summer. Part of what makes it so awesome is that I’ve fallen for at least half of them.

Check them out:


The found ring, street games, the dropped wallet, the shoe shiner, the expensive taxi driver, the drop and swap, the amazing jewelry deal, the overly helpful local, the map seller, the beggar, the eager English student, the gypsy kids, etc. I’ve seen, and as much as it kills me to admit it, fallen, for just about all of them.

Which of these scams have you fallen for?

  1. I had a guy work on the friendship bracelet once in Paris. I insisted several times I wasn’t interested and wasn’t going to pay for it. He kind of snuck up on me, was my first time in Paris, and before I even realized it was happening he was working on it. I managed to get away from him finally. I had a tuk tuk driver try to take me to a different hotel in Cambodia. So, 2 of those scams for me. All resolved without incident or cash exchanged (or taken).

  2. I’ve run into many but have not fallen for any (at least that I’m aware of). I’ve also from time to time made a table-turning game out of some of the scam attempts. For example, in Paris my wife and were very bemused by the number of “found ring” attempts we encountered. So one time I “found” a ring when we were walking next to the Seine, picked it up, and made a pitching motion out towards the river. A woman comes rolling up and claims I had just thrown her wedding ring into the river. In reality, I had palmed it and substituted a small pebble in the throw. When she claimed I had thrown her ring in the river, I proceeded to give her the ring and then asked for a 20 euro reward for having found her ring. As I and my wife smirked at her, she just glared and turned away. In Barcelona I placed a cheap plastic wallet in my back pocket and deliberately let myself get picked. In the wallet were color photocopies of the obverse of various euro notes while on the blank reverse of each note was a hand-written solicitation for the holder to have sexual intercourse with themselves. I’ve also been tempted to do the same thing using demonetized foreign currency like Brazilian reals from the hyper inflation periods. They won’t know it’s worthless until they try and exchange it.

    Still working on how to toy with the Nigerian email scammers………….

  3. I’ve seen a few of these, but never fell for any of them. And they do love that English-student scam in Shanghai. Back in December, I was approached 3 times in People’s Square by these students, usually in mixed gender groups of 2 or 3. They were almost as annoying as the Nanjing Road barkers trying to sell me fake watches, fake wallets, fake purses for my wife, young Asian girls, and lastly young Asian boys when I turned down everything else.

    One of the tricks I’ve learned for avoiding the scamsters in Asia is to begin yelling back at them in a language they aren’t likely to understand. While most of them speak and understand just enough English to be dangerous, most aren’t as readily familiar with other European languages. My fluent Spanish, and just enough Italian or French to be either polite or rude, depending on the circumstances, was always enough to get them to walk away and move on to their next mark. (When I would say “no” or “not interested” in English, they would follow me and continue pestering.)

    Lucky, maybe next time you should try a little German on one of these scam artists…

  4. And Shanghai was far worse than any other city I’ve ever been in as far as attempted tourist scams…

  5. Last week after we had left the Louvre a smiling fellow suddenly appeared and asked if he could have our used tickets to skip the line. When I declined he swore and I swore back. He walked away swearing more and this confirms my suspicion this was part of a scam or ticket scalper. I don’t whether one can even re-enter the Louvre using our online “skip the queue” tickets.

  6. @KahunnaTravel Check out the website for those Nigerian scammers. As for the scams above, I’ve been on the receiving end of the Shanghai English, free massage (In India), the worldwide taxi, overly helpful local and peanut scam, but didn’t end up paying for anything cause I generally fight back and like @Neal says, I start screaming at them in another language. Works like a charm.

  7. It’s an interesting post, but is it really fair for you to steal the entire content of it and republish it on your site?

  8. Never had a problem overseas with any of these, only in the US. Twice I have had cabbies take advantage by charging more than the normal cost for taking me to the airport (Dallas and DC). In fact, in Bangkok, I was turned down twice by honest cab drivers who didn’t know how to get to the place I wanted to go and didn’t want to overcharge me. Otherwise, I haven’t seen any of these scams.

  9. I had the ring in Paris thing happen, but I was completely guileless about the hole thing. There was a guy who asked if I had dropped it and gave me the impression that he was trying to give it to me.

    I got really upset about the idea that someone was visiting Paris and had lost their wedding ring; and insisted that we hand it in to a local cafe. The guy quickly hurried away in disgust.

  10. Not fallen for too many of these, although was party to a stain on jacket incident involving my dad in Madrid when I was 12. I’ve definitely paid too much for a cab on more than one occasion and I believe I was drugged by a Delhi carpet seller with some interesting tea, although still managed to avoid buying a carpet, my companion didn’t.

    Not so much a scam but but once, whilst backpacking around India, I had just got off a train at Varanasi. I wasn’t in particularly good mood having got up at the crack of dawn to get the train and only been able to find space to stand with one leg resting, bent on my rucksack, in a very crowded hot carriage. I was walking across the footbridge to the entrance and this guy punches me in the balls and starts going through my pockets. There wasn’t much in them, only a few small notes and coins, probably not more than a couple of dollars worth. I am far from being a violent or aggressive person but something flipped and I picked up the guy and threw him away from me, before hurrying out of the station and into what was probably an overpriced cab.

  11. As a New Yorker, proud to say I’ve never fallen for a single one. The closest I got was in Barcelona where seemingly every minute someone is trying to distract or engage you in conversation to pick your pocket. But I always keep my wallet in my front pocket with one hand on it when riding trains or waiting to cross the street so no dice crooks.

    Now, not arguing a 32 euro bill for two slices of pizza and two sodas on Via del Corso in Rome? That’s my one mistake. Sure felt like a scam to me.

  12. The Bill Switch~

    As an avid traveling i fell for this one way too many times.

    Santiago Chile – I took a taxi with a friend (an expat living in Santiago from Brazil) who speaks good Spanish, when it comes time to pay, I hand a $20USD equivalent to the driver. Driver then switches the bill and said “not enough, this is a $5” Well, even though I was not too familiar with the bills there, I am sure I handed over a $20 equivalent. too late. its my words against his words. So every time I take a taxi in an unfamiliar country, I will sure to have him turn on the light and say out loud while showing him what I am handing over.

    Marrakesh, Morocco – ALWAYS COUNT YOUR BILLS in front of anyone collecting them. I was embarking on a small van for a desert camel safari in Morrocco,. Again I was in a hurry to hand over a stack of cash ($400 USD?) so I can get on the van. BIG MISTAKE for letting the recipient count it! I swear I gave him more than enough (and why would I do that? I don’t know, I figured he’d count it and give it back to me), but of course after he counted it, it came up short. I was short quite a few bills. I know for sure coz he basically took all the money I had left….

    English students – follow traveler (American female) was duped by 3 young university students and went to tea with them. Only to end spending all her travel budget ($600 USD) paying for tea before they released her.

  13. The cup game got me. I wasn’t pick-pocketed but I thought I knew which cup the ball was under. Was taken for ā‚¬50. It was under cup #3 I know it was there. I saw it, but no it wasn’t upon it being flipped over.

    I’ve been to Paris before, I have no excuse just stupidity took over. The make it appear that you can win the game as his accomplices keep winning, and you’re like oh I got this, but lo’ and behold no you will get taken for all you got.

  14. So what is the best way some of you all protect yourself? Like do you ignore everyone who approaches you to ask you a question and blow them off?

    I’m sure there are some genuine people who are lost and need help, and I would love to help them but if there is no way to know if they are going to scam you, I would rather ignore them and move on.


  15. Been taken in Buenos Aires. A women walked up to me and asked me something in Spanish. I replied in English and she knew then that I was a tourist and unlikely to come back to BA to prosecute, even if they were caught. One of them squirted what looked like bird poop on me and my wife. A man and women offered to clean it off, picked my pocket & took a gold chain off my neck without me even realizing it! They were smooth and good. Rode off in a taxi and he was the driver! The rest of that trip NO ONE laid a hand on me and lived! šŸ™‚

  16. I grew up in NYC. And have worked there for decades. One day arriving at LGA I hopped in a cab and asked to go to W57 St. The cabbie was in the left lane approaching the split for The Bronx/Manhattan on the Triboro Bridge (head right for Manhattan). When I questioned him, he said, “Short cut! I take Bear Mountain Bridge!” I replied, “I have your hack number and I work for the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Which way are you going”? SCREECH!

  17. If weather permits, I always keep my wallet and phone in inside jacket pockets with buttons. If it’s too warm then a buttoned pocket near my knees where I can feel them knocking against my leg when I walk so I never actually have to move my hand there to check.

  18. @wxguy Bear Mountain? wow.

    At DEL the official taxi desks will attempt to scam anyone who looks like they’re not a local. They quote you the fixed fare, you pay them in cash, then they do a sleight of hand and hold up less cash than you gave them. They then say you underpaid and you owe them more.
    Staring them down and threatening to call the police will get you past.

  19. While straight-up ignoring is by far the best way to avoid this stuff, IMO, I have to agree with @KahunnaTravel that flipping the tables and messing with scammers is one of my favorite parts about traveling. I’m all about putting my arm around the person, calling them “my friend,” and then trying to sell them something that I’m holding or wearing.

    I’ve noticed many times you’ll be approached by a “my friend, where are you from?” type of thing. I always ask them “where do you think I’m from” and try to make them guess. Once they do, I demand payment for guessing.

    Somewhat related, my wife and I still have hanging on a wall in our house a piece of Chinese calligraphy that a “student” in Beijing told us would be a “gift” before inviting us inside to paint it. We knew exactly what the game was, but I have no problem taking a “gift” and walking away afterwards, so we played. Actually a nice piece of art. I’m sure our “student” is still up to the same tricks, but at least with us, he got what you usually get when you tell someone you’re giving them a gift – nothing but a thank you.

  20. I made $20 on street games (turtle shell game) in NYC. I saw the setup from a mile away. kept my hand on my wallet the whole time. I watched as others kept winning (his friends) and some lost (suckers). They kept asking if I wanted to play, I kept saying no.
    Finally, he said he’d put a $20 down, and let me keep it if I guessed right. I guessed right (he wanted me to keep playing, so he ‘let me win’, I didn’t keep playing). I picked up the 20 and walked around the corner to the nearest cop and made idle chit chat about how busy it was on Wall Street at lunchtime.
    fun times.

  21. A few months ago, I got to see the guy standing next to me lose his wallet to train pickpockets. The RER B light rail/metro line from central Paris out to CDG is notorious for its petty crime, especially at the crowded Gare du Nord station. (North of the city but before the airport, the line passes near some of the worst no-go neighborhoods in all of France.) Our incident happened at the almost-as-crowded preceding stop, Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame. A young man, perhaps from one of these neighborhoods, pushed hard against us while shoving himself really strongly into the jam-packed morning train, but we were on our guard and lost nothing. We shuffled down ten or fifteen feet towards the next doorway where it was slightly less crowded. The same guy then did the same thing, and this time was more successful: the tourist next to me suddenly shouted, in English, “Hey, that guy just got my wallet!” I’ve lived in both New York and (briefly) Paris and have never seen such hard shoving, even at rush hour, and I guess that should’ve been the tip-off.

  22. Well, where should I start…first time Marrakech, I didn’t have any local money, just Euro notes, I walk past one of the guys holding a monkey, he let the monkey climb on me *by accident*, my wife takes a picture…I ended up paying 5ā‚¬. Rookie mistake.
    I live in Firenze so I was used to the bracelet “scam”, I got one of those but ended up not paying anything.
    Taxi scams…well let me think, China (the driver threatened to drive away with our bags if I’d not pay like 30$, I settled it with 10$), Vietnam and Greece (they pressed some button and the fare was multiplied by ten times, never paid more than the regular fare, even if I have to get confrontational), Turkey (pretend I gave 5 instead of 50).
    Nightclub scam in Amsterdam: it should have been 5ā‚¬ for entrance plus a “shot”, it turns out a shot is a micro bottle of some unidentified liquor, and not a shot of tequila you just ordered. I had to pay 15ā‚¬ for a shot while we were threatened by the bouncers, then went to the police on the nearby street to report it and have the officers go and figure it out.
    I have run into a lot of other scams (especially in Thailand, Cambodia) but never got pick pocked.

  23. I don’t know that I’ve fallen for any, more like I’ve endured a few. Always in Thailand.

    Oh sir, that temple is closed – can I take you to a jewelry store instead?

    Oh sir, there’s very bad traffic in that direction – can I take you to a jewelry store instead?

    I find that throwing money at the problem is a quick solution. 200 baht – not very much when you’re used to NYC prices – usually gets the cab miraculously going the way you asked it to.

  24. thank you for this. we’re traveling to Europe in less than two weeks and this will help tremendously.

  25. On my honeymoon in India, a taxi driver charged us 500 rupees for a 10 minute trip – easily more than 10 times the normal rate. We had been staying with my wife’s relatives and they never let us pay for anything, so when we finally struck out on our own, we didn’t know how to prevent this sort of scam. Although we quickly got over the incident (it was only $10, after all), we still remember it — and now, veteran travelers, we’ve figured out how to avoid this sort of scam entirely (step 1: know whether using the taxi meter or pre-negotiating the fare is the standard in the place you’re visiting. step 2: insist on the standard practice, and take another cab if the driver refuses). In years of travel we’ve never had a similar problem.

    Indeed, aside from that one taxi scam, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen for any other scam in that long list. Mostly, when people come up to you in a tourist area wanting to be friendly for no reason, you can be fairly certain they’re up to something. I love to chat with locals, but I don’t do that in places that are overrun with tourists. Fishermen cast their nets where the fish are, right? So if you go to places where tourists don’t tend to go, you’re far less likely to be taken advantage of.

  26. The most noxious scam I have run into was in Siem Reap. A young girl around 7 was carrying an infant in her arms claiming to be her big sister and grabbed us insisting on buying baby powder for her starving baby sister. We were right in front of a local convenience store. My fiancee and I obliged and went into the store. The girl brought us straight to the back where there were shelves of baby powder marked at ridiculous prices.Another tourist couple saw the situation and ran in to warn us of an impending scam.

    I balked at the price and told her we would be happy to get them fresh milk from the fridge, but that the baby powder was too expensive. The girl exploded and started crying, grabbing onto my fiancee and refusing to let go. After I raised my voice and threatened to call the police, she let go and started swearing and calling us liars and thieves.

    Turns out, this scam is common in Siem Reap, and is a deal between a local streetlord and the shop keeper. Once the tourist buys the baby powder, the girls would hand it over to the streetlord who sells it back to the shop keeper at a discount, splitting the profits. The girls would never see the money or the milk.

    Siem Reap is a wonderful place and we definitely want to go back. There is some serious income inequality there and a lot of child poverty, though there are some NGOs doing good work. (And a lot wasting money)

  27. My parents were on the metro in Paris, standing near the door, when a pickpocket took my dad’s wallet and ran off the train just before the door closed. Dad realizes what happened and yells “son-of-a-b** took my wallet!”. Instantly a woman near them hits the emergency stop button. When the door opens a young man next to my dad jumps off the train and runs down the platform. My parents disembarked, not sure what to do next, figured the wallet gone and the young man probably just an accomplice. A short time later the young man returns with the wallet and all its contents intact. He and other witnesses on the platform apologize to my parents on behalf of the City of Paris. Hard to believe, but there are a few good people in this world.

  28. I hate to admit it, but I’ve been fleeced by more than one taxi driver, usually upon arrival at a destination that’s new to me. Now I use Google Maps and follow where they’re taking me or suggest a particular route. I hate to admit it but a taxi driver in Hanoi got shouted down and shamed right in the street when he had the temerity to ask me for a tip after he’d taken the most circuitous route from the airport. Even DC taxi drivers are out to get you if you’re not careful. I simply don’t trust the lot of them.

  29. I have a pickpocket story that no one has mentioned. I was actually standing outside of an ATM “room” at noon on a main street in San Jose, Costa Rica waiting for the person in front of me to finish. A woman got out of a taxi right in front of me, walked up to me and said “f…ky, f….ky??” She then grabbed my right hand with her right hand and pushed it into her crotch. While I was trying to extricate myself from the situation, with one motion she put her left hand into my right side jeans pocket and grabbed the cash in there and ran down the street. I was so completely stunned that I could only stand there. Because I hadn’t yet gotten to the ATM, she only got a few dollars. But, it was worth every penny to see the chutzpah and skill with which she pulled this off!!

  30. best way to respond to Nigerian e mailers;
    Respond to them and just tell them to please send funds to your address( I use my business address)
    They end up having to open dozens of emails and their whole ploy is to try to get the one person who will fall for thema nd not have to open up dozens of emails.
    If every one responded they would be inundated by millions of emails.
    In fact they phrase their email in such a fashion that the average person says ” this is stupid, who would respond” and this is exactly what they want. If they had a real professional email then more would be opened and then eventually discarded once the viewer sees its stupidity.
    I think its brilliant marketing by the Nigerians. They are culling out any intelligent responses and are only getting those that may be ready for a scam

  31. Lucky must be unlucky, or something, to have fallen for most of these. I have been traveling for 25 years and have fallen for exactly zero of the scams on this list. I did get plundered by gypsy children in Rome, but I was not “falling for” anything. Ten of them swarmed me, three holding onto each arm, two standing in front of me with a newspaper, and two going into my pockets and zippers. The only way to avoid it would have been to kick the shit out of these small children, which is not something the average person is prepared to do.

    I travel alone and often get half lost, having to ask for directions. Other tourists who treat me like the plague piss me off with their stupidity and policy of “ignoring everyone.” I have been approached by many of the types on this list, and it is SO EASY to tell the difference between a legit tourist and/or innocent person and these scamming pieces of human garbage. If you have no sixth sense, no perception, you should stay home. I even make sure I give people lots of space, and have my hands out in the open

  32. I had a weird thing happen when we went to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem a few years ago. We are Jewish and my teenage son thought it would be appropriate to put a note in the wall–so he went to the men’s side and I stayed on the women’s side. He was approached by a religious man in Hasidic garb and asked if he wanted to put on tefillin, the Jewish prayer box and black straps that men wear when they pray. He said he did not know how to do it exactly and the guy said he would help, which he did.
    People are supposed to give a donation to the organization that does this for a “mitzvah” or good deed, by putting some coins the the very obvious charity box located there. But the man told my son that he would take the donation. When my son looked through his pockets, he saw he only had 100 sheckel note, and the man told him he would change it for smaller notes, because my son told him he would give him 10 sheckels. The man took the whole thing and then started in with a story about how he needs to feed his children, etc, and he has no change. By this time, I showed up and started yelling at him in Hebrew and told him I would call the police if he didn’t give back the entire amount and that he was shaming the efforts of the righteous people who are trying to pray here, etc. He wouldn’t do it, but he looked frightened. He said he had no money, and then he said he never even got the money from my son, and we were going around in circles until I walked over to a guard booth and he gave my son 20 shekels and walked away fast.
    It was not a huge amount of money, but we were completely floored that he was taken at such a holy place and told everyone about it but not one person had ever heard of a scam there before. Sometimes we still talk about it!

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