Common Tourist Scams: What to Watch Out for Abroad

Posted on August 31, 2011


Most tourist scams aren't this cute.

Preparedness is the best way to ensure that you’re safe while studying abroad. Many students might have heard rumors about tourist scams, but aren’t sure how to avoid them or what to watch for. The best way to avoid tourist scams is to know what to look out for. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst — and keep in mind these tips about keeping your money and valuables safe.




By Kelly Bisbee

The important part about avoiding scams is to be educated about the most common types and to always remain vigilant of your surroundings and belongings. Scammers are always scheming up devious new ways to trick tourists. There are the “classic” tactics being used, (e.g. bumping into you while sniping your wallet from your pocket) but also some clever ones you’ll never expect.

Here are a few scams to look out for:

  • Street Stripper: You may come across a woman arguing with a vendor only to start removing her clothes to prove her innocence of the accusation. Be aware that this is most likely a “show” to distract you as a third person attempts to pick pocket those watching the scene with disbelief. Whenever you see something outlandish occurring on the street, feel free to watch but keep a hand on your back pocket.
  • The Not-So-Friendly Gladiators: I can’t count the number of tourists I’ve seen fall into this trap. Around the Colosseum in Rome, men dressed like gladiators will pull unsuspecting tourists into a pose for a picture. The gladiator will then demand payment of up to 100 Euros for the photo. It’s necessary to negotiate a price before you take a photo with anyone who is dressed in such a ridiculous way.
  • Friendship Bracelets: Vendors will often grab unsuspecting tourists and begin weaving a “friendship bracelet” directly on their wrist, offering wishes of luck and health in the process. When finished, they will demand money for the bracelet, and most tourists will struggle to escape without giving up something. Best to remember nothing is free, and you should politely refuse someone trying to give you something on the street.
  • Slow Counting: This may not be the newest scam, but it is still as popular as ever. Cashiers or waiters have been known to count back change to Americans very slowly, as they hope the Americans always in a constant rush will grab the change and hurry out before all the change is counted out.
  • Drink Cards at Clubs: At some clubs throughout Europe, you will be given a drink card when you enter. That card can be used to purchase drinks instead of cash, allowing you to pay when you leave. If you lose your card after a long night of dancing, you will be forced to pay a 50 Euro charge. Remember to keep any cards given to you upon entrance and pay for all drinks with cash.
  • Tricky Taxi Drivers: Be especially aware of taxi drivers scamming you on your way home after a night out. They will easily try and boost their prices up or try and rip you off by substituting your bill with a smaller one and demanding more money. Use caution and never take a black market or unmarked taxi — use a marked and licensed cab, and request that they charge you according to the meter, or agree upon a sum before you depart.
  • Drive by Snatch: Someone on a scooter drives by and snatches your purse from your hands and drives off. To avoid this all-too-common scam, make sure your purse is kept securely in front of you while walking down the street.
  • The “Helpful” Local: Be wary of locals who offer their assistance without you asking. Many will notice that you are a lost American and see it as an opportunity to make some easy money off of you. If someone tries to offer to help you use the ATM, earnestly decline and let them walk away before continuing your transaction, they are after your PIN! (Hint: ATMs are just the same, just change the language!)
    Note: Not all locals are out to scam you. In fact, we encourage that you ask for directions from a local if you find yourself uncertain or lost. Use your best judgment and trust your gut.
  • Fake Police: Be on the lookout for fake police officers, who call themselves “Tourist Police,” who demand to search your wallet for fake money or drug money. Never let anyone search your wallet, might as well just hand the money over if you’re going to let someone look through it!
  • Room or Apartment “Inspectors”: This is something I was constantly advised and warned about while abroad, fake inspectors who knock on the door, claiming to be there to inspect the apartment or the water heater and then wipe your apartment clean. There are no inspectors in Italy! Don’t let them fool you into thinking they are legitimate!
  • The Overpriced Flirt: This scam can be tough to notice before it is too late. The common scenario is that a man will invite you into his bar or pub for a drink and you pass a huge bouncer on your way in. Once inside, a girl comes to sit with you, begins flirting, and you offer her a drink. Much to your demise, that one beer could cost you about 80 euro and the huge bouncer you saw before? He will be the one making sure you pay up.
  • The Lost and Found Ring: Watch out for someone coming right in front of you to pick a “lost” ring on ground and then try selling it to you. They will have dropped the ring, only to then pick it up, point out a fake marking claiming the ring is real gold, and then try to sell it to you at an “good deal” which is far overpriced in reality.

This is not a comprehensive list of scams, but it covers the most common. To avoid falling victim, don’t let your guard down and always stay aware of your surroundings. Keep your belongings in your site and don’t keep expensive items visible.

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