Who hasn’t looked forward to getting out and exploring since Covid 19 hit and the world turned on its head? The tourism industry was one of the worst, if not the worst industry impacted by the pandemic.
People have been itching to get out of their homes and travel extensively, but not every trip you have can be the ideal one. Tourists have fallen prey to scams repeatedly, while the scammers continue to get more innovative and intelligent with their schemes.
Recognise & Avoid Tourist Scams
Tourism is something that can be good or bad, depending on the destination. In some towns or regions, the arrival of visitors is admired and respected, enjoying the sympathy and courtesy of natives. But, sometimes, it is also an excuse for rogues and criminals in the area to try to scam the traveller.
Scammers in Europe are always looking for ways to defraud people, especially the naïve ones (read: tourists), searching for ways to make a few quick bucks. Since we don’t want to ruin your summer vacation, here is a short read detailing how and when someone could scam you in Europe.
Most Popular Scams
Though there must be a thousand ways for con artists to weasel your money, some of their tricks are so commonplace that we need to categorise them. Even though Europe is ordinarily safe and there’s not much violent crime, it also has its fair share of scammers.
Bank Card Fraud
- Bank Card Skimming: The ease with which a scammer can clone your credit card is astounding. It is also the most prominent form of bank card fraud today. All the person needs to clone your card is a small machine they’ve bought online. It instantly copies all the information from the magnetic stripe on your card. To avoid such a situation, always use your credit card or cash when making purchases anywhere. It’s easier to contest fraudulence on your credit card than on your debit card. It is also more convenient because you can’t withdraw cash if you call and block your debit card.
- Don’t use your credit card on a payphone. You could end up paying an excessive amount of money for a mere 2-minute call.
- ATMs: Not only do you need to hide your PIN while processing a transaction at any ATM, but you also need to be careful about skimming devices. Scammers can tinker with abandoned or out-of-the-way ATMs to scan information from your debit card. Be careful to use these machines in city and shopping centres.
People dread taxis all over the world. Taxi drivers may have something to do with this perception since they’ve been known time and again to charge more than what was deserved, especially in Eastern Europe. To avoid becoming a victim of their scams, here are a few tips:
- Use a service you can call or take advantage of using apps like Uber. Drivers you find on the street will more than likely be sketchy or looking for an opportunity to rip you off.
- Wait at a taxi stand because there are fewer chances of people pretending to be new taxi drivers. They might have a broken meter or try to change the fare when you reach your destination. It would help if you always asked the fare beforehand, so you know you’re not being taken for a joyride.
- Ask a third person what the fare should be. An unbiased party will likely give you an honest opinion, so before hailing your next taxi, stop for a minute and check how much it might cost.
- Please don’t give the driver a chance of taking your baggage hostage by putting it in the trunk. Keep it beside you on the seat.
- Carry change with you because some drivers will claim not to have any and end up giving you back less.
- Do not take recommendations from taxi drivers. They will likely receive a commission for bringing an unsuspecting tourist to their establishment.
The Free Gift Scam
We all know nothing in this world comes free. What you need to do is remember that adage because you will likely find many people being over-friendly and trying to win your trust. While the scam itself may take different forms, what it means is they’ll offer you something for apparently nothing.
It is one of the most common tricks in Europe, one that has targeted many unsuspecting tourists. It may sound cynical because Europeans are usually friendly, but this scam is too commonplace.
Most often, they will approach you with a cheap trinket of sorts, like a friendship bracelet. Acting overly friendly, they’ll manage to quickly put it on your wrist without your knowledge and the next thing you know, and they’re demanding payment. You can’t say no because you can’t take it off.
If you refuse payment, they’ll keep hounding and harassing you until you do pay them. The scammer will follow you as you walk. The con artist might even have friends who appear out of nowhere and intimidate you.
To avoid such a situation, say no. say it firmly and resolutely when someone approaches you like this and walk away.
The Petition Scam
The goal of these scammers is to force you into making a donation or stealing your wallet/phone. It would go something like this:
A woman approaches you, asking you to sign a petition. She’ll be deaf-mute and using sign language, so you already take pity on her. Once she has your signature on the pamphlet, she’ll start insisting you donate.
The thing is, she’s not deaf and dumb. She’s only pretending so she can guilt-trip you into making a significant donation. You might think you can quickly shake off a scam artist like this, but they’re good at their job and can be very persistent. They will follow you around and harass you, so you feel embarrassed until you finally give in.
In some cases, while you’re busy dealing with that person, someone will deftly remove your phone and wallet while you’re none the wiser.
To avoid a situation like this, ignore someone when they approach you similarly and avoid eye contact. If they’re too persistent, let them know you know what they’re up to and that you’ll call the police.
If you haven’t been a victim of pickpocketing in Europe, you’ve likely experienced it at least once before. Pickpockets choose crowded places to target their victims, such as metro stations and popular tourist spots.
European pickpockets, however, are known for their creativity. They operate in groups. While one becomes a lookout, the rest either divert your attention from your phone and wallet, rattle you, or block your view.
They have a range of options to choose from when targeting their next victims. Someone would suddenly pass out right in front of you, and while your attention is towards the commotion, they’ve already robbed you.
They could also “accidentally” squirt mustard or ketchup or something similar on your shirt. And while you’re busy with the mess, someone is cleaning you out. It could even be in the form of a heated argument between two people. They divert your attention while someone smoothly removes your valuables.
To avoid these situations, never let your valuables out of your sight. Your back pocket is a dangerous place from where pickpockets can easily remove items. Even your bag must always be in front of you with your hand on the opening. That way, you’ll be reminded not to remove your hand from there if something happens.
If something frightens the living daylights out of anyone, it is the prospect of being locked up abroad. Scammers that pose as fake police officers take advantage of this fact to steal cards and cash under the guise of inspections.
It might go something like this. Someone walks up to you for a short chat and walks away. Immediately, a couple of police officers approach you and state that the person you were talking to is a suspect in an ongoing investigation. They will then ask for your wallet to check for hidden money or drugs. While you’re not looking, they quickly remove your bank cards and cash while you’re none the wiser.
Who can blame you? You’re panicked but confident you did nothing wrong. They might even attempt to stop you at train stations and ask for your ticket. While your ticket is being “validated”, it turns out you need to pay a fine!
If you want to avoid such situations, remember that no police officer will ask for your wallet. They will ask for an ID, and you can provide your passport. Do not hand your wallet over.
The Helpful Local
This scam is a favourite for targeting unaccompanied men. The helpful local is almost always an attractive woman who will convince you that she knows a trendier, newer, or cheaper place where you could go instead.
When the food and drinks are over, they’ll suddenly present you with a hefty bill and a rough-looking man you can’t refuse. Sometimes, they might even rob you.
It can be challenging to avoid this one because you can’t go without talking to locals while travelling. But to protect yourself, don’t go to a place someone recommended with them, especially if you’re unaccompanied.
Some even pretend to be helpful by buying you a train ticket. The scammer has bought you a child seat and pocketed the rest of the money.
Poster Stepping Scam
The poster stepping scam is indeed up there on the list of creative ones. While you’re walking casually through the streets, someone comes up to you and starts demanding payment for their ruined poster.
They’ve probably placed it on a pathway, or an entrance/exit, a place with a high volume of foot traffic, and you’ve just unwittingly stepped on or brushed against one. Suddenly, you have this angry-looking person in your face demanding a ridiculous amount of money for the poster you just touched.
It has happened to many people before. If you wish to avoid something similar, watch where you’re going. If the person is harassing you, tell them you’re calling the police. That’s how the locals get rid of these frauds.
Pigeon Feeding Scam
Imagine you’re walking along the River Thames, and you spot a flock of pigeons flapping their wings. They’re not looking to poop on you; they want a little dinner. Suddenly, a stranger appears with some grains in their hand.
You take them and throw them to the birds. You’ve made their day because they won’t go on an empty stomach tonight. But why is the stranger holding his hand out? Oh, you need to pay 5 euros for those grains you just fed the pigeons.
You thought the stranger was giving them to you. Just remember, nothing in this world comes free. Not gifts, not bird food.
Some restaurants are duplicitous enough to keep two menus. They keep one for when you’re ordering and one for when they overcharge on the bill, and you ask to see the menu. Also, it would be best if you were careful when the prices aren’t listed next to the food items. They will rip you off.
Some restaurants even have commissions. An attractive local will lure you saying it’s cheaper and trendier, when, in fact, that person gets a commission for bringing you to that place, where broad smiles greet you that disappear the moment you ask for the bill.
Go to places recommended by others online. One can be wrong, but thousands? Likely not.
While it may seem like everyone in Europe is just out to get your money, that’s not the case. You can think of it as your own country. While you may trust and get along with most people that you meet, you’re always aware if someone is trying to scam you. While travelling, you let your guard down.
If you want to have a hassle-free and trauma-free travelling experience, be wary and constantly second-guess what others are telling you. You don’t know this stranger, so you must act accordingly.