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Travel Scams in Europe

Europe has become an incredibly popular part of the world for tourists to travel to, given its centuries of opulent architecture and interesting history. However, the continent is no stranger to scammers and fraudsters, with disingenuous people preying on unsuspecting tourists and visitors. It’s natural for people to let their hair down and be less vigilant on vacation; after all, they’re on vacation! Nevertheless, it’s important to keep your guard up to avoid pickpockets and ensure that you don’t get caught out by a tourist scam or nasty trick.
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Travel Scams in Europe

Here, we inform you of some of the most common travel scams in Europe and beyond. We’ll start with general tourist scams that happen in numerous countries, and then we will proceed to look at some travel scams that occur mainly in European countries and destinations. An overview of all the different scams that you can encounter while traveling in Europe.

Travel scams in Europe Travel scam in specific European countries
The Group Photo Photographer Travel scam in Germany
Free Bracelets or Similar Trinkets Travel scam in Italy
Fake Police Officers Travel scam in the UK
A ‘Broken’ Taxi Meter Travel scam in France
Clothing stains Travel scam in Spain
ATM assistance  
Impaired Child Beggars  
Hotel Wake-up Call  
Aggressive flirting  

COMMON TRAVEL SCAMS ALL OVER THE WORLD

The Group Photo ‘Photographer’

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The Group Photo ‘Photographer’ is quite a simple scam. While looking to pose for a group photo with the rest of your friends at a popular tourist hotspot or landmark, a friendly person offers to take the photo for you. However, they in turn simply run off with your smartphone/camera.

If you’re looking for someone to take a group photo for you, be sure to ask them first. This will usually ensure that they aren’t going to scam you! You could also ask fellow tourists to take the photo and return the favor as well. If all else fails, buy a selfie stick with a long extension!

 ‘Free’ Bracelets or Similar Trinkets

This is a common travel scam carried out by gypsies and other con artists, who often prey on young female travelers or drunk tourists. A man or woman, who seems friendly, comes up to you and offers you a ‘free’ bracelet or similar trinket, out of ‘the goodness of their hearts’. They will sometimes put the bracelet on your wrist without your permission, which is invasive, to say the least. Of course, this bracelet is NOT free; they want money for it. If you refuse to give them money for the bracelet, they will often start to make a scene, which causes many travelers to give them money out of sheer embarrassment.

As obvious as it may seem, never allow someone to put something on your body or give you something for free unless there’s a good reason for it.

Fake Police Officers

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This scam usually involves multiple people. One person may come up to you and offer you drugs or something else that is illegal, which most people often decline and/or are unresponsive to. However, the ‘dealer’ will persist until a fake police officer arrives, flashing a fake police badge and demanding your passport and/or wallet.

It should go without saying, but you should never hand over your passport or wallet to anyone, even if they appear to be police officers. Inform the officer that you are going to call the local police in order to verify their identity, and inform them that your passport is safely locked away in your hotel safe.

A ‘Broken’ Taxi Meter

Taxi drivers (especially those near airports) are known to pull this scam on naïve tourists. They will tell you that their cab meter is broken, or that the journey will be cheaper without the meter running. Think about it, why would they WANT to earn less money by not using their meter? This can quickly lead to them trying to scam you by charging you extortionate amounts of money for your journey.

Always negotiate the price before you begin your journey, or at least ensure that the taxi meter is running and is being used as it should be. This is especially common around airports, so be wary when traveling to your hotel from the airport.

‘Clothing Stains’

You will feel something land on your shoulder: perhaps a drink, some bird poop, or a sauce. A friendly passerby (perhaps the perpetrator) will then offer to wipe the stain off of you, and will subtly pull your wallet from your pants or bag in the process.

On the off-chance that you do get a stain on you for whatever reason, go to a restroom and wipe it off yourself. It’s better to be dirty than to have your wallet pickpocketed.

 ATM ‘Assistance’

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While you’re at an ATM, a local person may approach you and tell you that they can help you avoid the bank fees associated with using your foreign card abroad. However, they carry card skimmer in their pockets and are planning to scan your card and subtly note your PIN number. This allows them to empty your bank account later on.

Whether you’re at home or abroad, never let anyone near you while you’re using an ATM. You should always cover your PIN code with your hand as well so as to ensure that no one can see your code, no matter how much you trust them.

‘Impaired’ Child Beggars

Beggars come in many forms, be it as deaf people, blind people, pregnant women, or small children. Many beggars who claim to be impaired are completely healthy and able-bodied. Of course, many ‘pregnant’ women fake baby bumps in order to inspire sympathy from the tourists. Sometimes, you will also see women with small babies, many of whom are not even theirs. These fake beggars prey on people’s natural desire to be charitable and help the young or the needy. The beggars may operate in groups to pickpocket you and collect money from you (that they don’t need) as you’re distracted by one of their fake sob stories.
This happens all over, so be wary. If you’re going to give something to the beggars, consider giving them things that they actually need, such as food and clothes. You simply cannot distinguish between who is legitimate and who is a fake beggar… it’s a shame really.

Aggressive Flirting

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If you find that beautiful women (or men) are suddenly flirting with you when you travel abroad, you may be in for a long-haul scam. These flirters will often take you out to a bar or nightclub nearby, hoping to have you pay for all of their drinks before they suddenly ditch you. They may also try to get you very intoxicated in order to steal from you, pickpocket you, or drug you.

If you’re suddenly a babe magnet when you’re abroad, you may simply be the subject of a scam I’m afraid! Of course, you can’t assume that everyone who flirts with you is looking for money, but those who flirt with you aggressively may have ulterior motives for doing so.

Hotel ‘Wake-up Call’

While staying at a hotel, you receive an early wakeup call from the ‘concierge’ who wants to confirm your card details for payment purposes. Of course, it’s actually a scammer calling you; someone who has the phone number for your room in the hotel. After receiving your card details, they will inevitably drain your bank account.

If there is a legitimate problem with your credit card payment, always go down to the hotel’s front desk and sort it out in person with the concierge. A good hotel should expect you to conduct financial matters face to face.

POPULAR TOURIST SCAMS IN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES

There are a number of tourist scams in particular European countries and destinations, so be sure to remain vigilant. European scammers often prey on American tourists, who are especially common in Europe. For this reason, we would advise you to try and ‘blend in’ more with the European people, especially with those in the places you’re traveling to.
Even the simplest things can give you away at a glance, such as baseball caps and fanny packs. You will very rarely see a European wearing these sorts of American-associated items, so be sure to avoid them if possible. It’s probably not a good idea to wear your favorite NFL team’s shirt either, as well as your US university sweater!

Without further ado, here’s a country-by-country rundown of some of Europe’s most popular travel scams!

France travel scam

Louvre pickpockets

Pickpockets in Paris know that everyone is going to the Louvre in order to see the Mona Lisa. This results in huge crowds, which are great circumstances for pickpockets and thieves to operate in! There have been reports of 56 wallets being snatched in the Louvre within a single day!

As with anywhere else, remain vigilant when it large crowds and ensure that your belongings are safely tucked away in a money belt or inside a jacket pocket.

Fake petitions

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This often occurs near the Eiffel Tower, and usually involves young girls trying to get you to sign a petition for their charitable cause. As you sign the petition, however, your wallet it snatched by an accomplice of theirs.

Always remain vigilant of distractions, especially in tourist areas where scammers are likely to operate. Sometimes, scammers will pretend to be deaf or mute in order to inspire sympathy, so don’t fall for it!

Overcharging cafes and restaurants

France is famous for its cafes and restaurants, but be wary of the bad ones, which may try to overcharge. For example, if you order a coffee or a drink, they may bring you the largest size in order to charge you extra. Some establishments also rely on a foreigner’s limited grasp of French in order to charge them extra on a bill without them realizing what they’re being charged for.

Ask your hotel to recommend reputable restaurants and cafes to you, and ensure that you understand what you’re ordering and being charged for. French language books and Google Translate can also help you understand menus and bills more effectively.

Spain

Las Ramblas pickpockets

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Las Ramblas street in Barcelona is the world’s most notorious pickpocketing site, so be VERY vigilant with your belongings. The street is very crowded and full of distracting street performers and kiosks, which makes it an absolute haven for pickpockets. Pickpocketing is particularly prevalent in Barcelona, especially within popular attractions such as Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

Always remain vigilant in crowded places in Spain including tourist hotspots, metro stations, and crowded public transport areas.

The Trojan Horse scam

This has become very common in many parts of Spain. It involves a small person (possibly a child) hiding inside a large suitcase, which is then stored in a hotel’s luggage storage area (for tourists who will be leaving that evening). After it is put in the room, the thief unzips the suitcase and steals from the surrounding suitcases before going back into the suitcase again.

Always lock your suitcases when you’re not around, and consider using hard-shell suitcases that cannot be easily broken into with a knife or scissors.

The baby scam

Increasingly common in Spain and Italy, this scam involves a stranger shoving a baby into your arms unexpectedly, only to have an accomplice pickpocket you while you are distracted and forced to hold the baby.

This is cunning, as you can’t simply drop a baby! Always remain vigilant and do not allow anyone to suddenly approach you, especially if they have a baby that they seem keen to give to someone!

Italy

Fake luxury products

Fake luxury products are often sold at tourist hotspots in open spaces such as Rome’s Spanish steps. Though this scam isn’t unique to Italy, you can be fined $10,000 if found with fake designer products!

Never buy fake luxury products from street sellers in Italy, even if you know they are fake and are simply buying them for their aesthetic value.

Rose scams

Scammers in Italy will prey on couples under the disguise of selling them roses. The scammer may, for example, approach a couple and ask the husband to buy a cheap rose for the wife, or simply accept one for ‘free’. This scam often works because they ask for relatively little, and make the husband feel guilty for looking unromantic in front of their wife.

Never accept anything from anyone on the street. It is not free and never will be!

Fake tour guides

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Fake tour guides are common in places such as the Vatican, which often have long queues at their entrance. A fake or unofficial tour guide comes up to you and asks if you want to go on a tour, claiming that you’ll be able to skip the queue. However, they may charge you extortionate fees or plan to have an accomplice pickpocket you on the ‘tour’.

Always avoid unofficial tour guides and stick to reputable companies.

Scams in Germany

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Validated train tickets

Train tickets in Germany are supposed to be ‘stamped’ by a machine before you board the train, which allows the train conductor to see that you’ve paid for your journey. However, people who are unfamiliar with the system may not be able to identify the ‘stamp’ design of the ticket, and scammers will, therefore, sell them already-validated train tickets at a discounted price.

If caught with an already-validated train ticket, you risk a hefty fine. Simply buy your train tickets at the official counter.

Fake train ticket inspectors

Train ticket inspectors in Germany wear both official uniforms and plain clothes – they practice this in order to catch any unsuspecting fare dodgers. However, it also means that people can easily fake being a German ticket inspector. If a ticket inspector finds a ‘problem’ with your ticket and demands that you pay on the spot, you can be sure that they’re a fake. Real plain-clothes ticket inspectors will print out a notice that you can use to pay later on.

If you suspect that a ticket inspector is fake, threaten to call the train company in order to validate their authenticity. They may show you a badge, but that could be fake too!

Scams in the UK

Mock auctions

Common in parts of London and Manchester, mock auctions are street-based auctions that are designed to trick you into paying large amounts of money for low-valued items. After gaining your trust through playful banter, ‘luxurious’ items will be sold to you and your unsuspecting fellow bidders at a bargain price, only to find out that the items are incredibly cheap and worthless.

Avoid these at all costs.

London Tube pickpockets

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Pickpockets are common all over Europe, though they are especially common in busy London areas such as the tourist hotspots and the London underground.

Whenever you are in a crowded place or on a crowded underground train, be sure to keep your valuables secure using money belts or inside jacket pockets. Many pickpockets strike just as you board a train or get on/off an escalator, so remain vigilant.

ATM scams

ATM robberies are common in the UK, with thieves aiming to distract you in order to steal your card or money. There are also reports of ATMs being rigged with cameras and other equipment in order to scan your card and uncover your PIN number.

Always use ATMs inside banks and other reputable places, and avoid using ATMs at night or in secluded areas if possible.

We hope you have learned something from this list as no one wants their vacation to be ruined by a scam! Have fun traveling in Europe, and remember to blend in, be wise, and remain vigilant!

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