Four popular tourist scams in Europe

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It’s a safe bet to be wary of anyone randomly chatting you up in a highly populated area. Even if you’re not a tourist.

I’m from Northern IL, and this is how I act in Chicago for example.

ETA: Also worth a mention, I have been going to the Loop area 3-5 times a week for 5 years now. Still good advice.


Safer still if it’s a tourist city though. Barcelona, Rome etc. Really are chock full of thieves.


It may seem obvious, but reminding yourself that you are under no obligation to engage with strangers who accost you on the street (or on the phone) and being aware of your surroundings creates a subtle stance that keeps these bottom-feeders from trying to pull their short cons on you. I’ve seen grifters like these start to approach me in foreign cities, take one look, then veer off in another direction looking for an easier mark.


I say this to relatives all the time - especially while in transit, when it is more difficult to get away. People ask total strangers all manner of personal questions, rather than chat about general subjects. If pressed, I’ll just tell them a pack of lies about my name, where I live, where I’m going, where I’m staying, etc… At the end of the ride, I make sure they aren’t around to find out where I’m really going next.


Very sad, but likely true. I’m even wary of someone asking the time or directions because those can be ruses to get you to stop to be pick pocketed, or just outright assaulted.

In Spain, trying to hand you a sprig of some plant then demanding money is an industry. There’s an infrastructure for it, and you can watch the hustlers being re-supplied during the day by a runner with more sprigs.


While I have seen all these scams (except the bracelet one) in Europe, there’s a whiff of xenophobia here that I don’t like. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of scam artists working outside of Europe… I’ve seen them in NYC, I’ve seen them in Toronto.

Thing is, big cities attract scam artists. And scam artists prey on folks who are easy marks. And tourists tend to fit that category. There’s no need to frame this as something “European.”


Is there a whiff of racism if I say the time in Paris the ring scam was attempted on me, it was done by a Romani woman? But yeah, NYC is just as bad for these scams.


Scams vary by region though. The article isn’t saying “Europe is full of scammers”, it’s saying, “These are the most likely ones to be found in Europe, as opposed to all the other scams found in other places.” It is assumed that the reader already knows that the world is full of scammers, there is no need to clarify that.


A tactic I love for these sorts of scams (protect your wallet first) is to demand they pay you. Insist you are a very important American and that time is money. Tell them they owe you hundreds of dollars for engaging you and that you will get the police involved if they don’t pay you. No matter how they react, it’s free entertainment.


When I travel through a (usually foreign) touristy city seeing the sites, I always wear a money belt on the inside of my shirt with my credit card and maybe my passport. My wallet has no more currency than I would need to buy a beer. I just assume that I am going to lose my wallet at some point, and that if I do, it’s no big deal.

ETA: And another tactic I often use is to pretend that I don’t speak English (or whatever the local language is).


If you ever do this, please film it.


On a trip to Israel back in 2001, there was a guy trying to sell us postcards. He had his samples all attached to each other in a sort of accordion fold so he could open it up and shove it in your face.

I declined and he went to another person in our group, and I saw while he was hawking the cards, his other hand was reaching into her purse (obscured by the long folio of cards), so I shouted “Hey!” and he ran off.

The takeaway I got from this is to keep your distance in touristy areas, and if they insist on getting in your face assume they’re trying to pick your pocket.


I’m sure it’s worse for women, but even for men, if anyone approaches you on the street it’s probably a scam, and if you’re a man and the person approaching you is a woman, it’s almost certainly a scam of some kind.

I’ve seen radically different prevalence of street scams in different countries. In most of India and touristy areas in China, they’re ubiquitous. I’ve seen far more in Europe than in other developed countries. They exist in NYC but not to nearly the extent you see in major European cities. In Japan, on the other hand, unless you’re wandering through the red-light district, you’re very unlikely to find anyone trying to scam you on the street at all.


I can tell you where you got your shoes…


They are on Bourbon St.


I’ve been to Japan 7 times. One time was for 5 months. Even in Kabukicho no one ever tried to rip me off.


I fell for that same question, on Bourbon St., except the reply was “they on your feet!”
Then he’s shining your shoes “for free” but demands payment at the end “for the entertainment” (he was a funny guy).
After that I kept seeing the trick being played. Easy to fall for when you’re three hurricanes in!


I researched scams before traveling to Europe with my girlfriend, so these are all familiar. I didn’t see any of them during our trip, but when we visited the Trevi Fountain, there were these guys with HUGE cameras around their necks who very insistently kept offering to take our picture- for free, they insisted, and with their camera, not ours. It was obviously some kind of scam, but I never did figure out the specifics.


It only took a bit of time living in NYC to learn that you should almost never engage with strangers who approach you… This can be a very alienating experience however, because there are times when people are genuinely looking for help… I can’t explain how you can decipher who is for real, but context has a lot to do with it… And that’s barely possible in a culture that I’m used to. In a foreign country, it’s even harder to gauge who is being friendly vs. trying to scam you.


I had someone give me a bracelet as a token of friendship, and maybe I would give her money as a token of friendship too.

I was very moved by her expression of friendship, and felt that it would be disrespectful to her generosity for me to give her cash, but encouraged her to visit my country where I would be able to give her a present as she had done for me.