Four popular tourist scams in Europe

Born and raised in Brooklyn (half my life there), and same story there re strangers. The second half (and growing) is in SoCal where it’s pretty much okay (based on my own experience) to – for example – smile at a stranger as you’re passing them by and perhaps throw in a “hi”, or when sharing some conveyance, or when waiting in a queue. No big deal. Unfortunately… that modified my instincts and upbringing. Cut to Times Square (visiting relatives and friends in other parts of the city). I happened to flash a quick smile at a passerby in TS, which got me a “What the fuck are you looking at.” The thing is, I wasn’t bothered by that; there was nothing personal in it. It’s just part of the culture, a reminder of what it takes to warrant trust there… but once you gain that trust…! I understand fully why ‘outsiders’ would see it differently, though. And that’s okay too.


Trick I learned while traveling thru South America is to carry a decoy wallet. Get a cheapo wallet from the dime store and load it with expired gift cards, loyalty cards and worthless currency. Put a few real (small) bills in there too so you don’t have to dig into your money belt for simple purchases but basically dangle it out as bait for the inevitable pickpocket.

You can also add to the ruse by carrying a decoy cell phone - an old flip phone or burner android for example. If you get mugged you hand these over.


Is this sort of what they saw?



Because they’ve got all that social welfare and whatnot. Socialism totally ruins thieves.


Yeah, oversharing with a strange guy is how the women were targeted in the movie Taken.

Unfortunately, in some places they don’t even bother with a scam. A friend of mine was jumped on by a group of children, who pulled at her clothing and stole her money belt. This was in Europe, but off the beaten path in a touristy area. I don’t know if they tried this because of her clothing, or if this was something they did regularly because it worked.


I’m just guessing – and likely wrong – they wanted your picture to toss up on shady stock photography sites.

My girlfriend (now wife) and I were targeted by the “friendship” bracelet thing in Paris. I seem to remember a key thing being their initial insistence that it was a free thing and that we were not to worry, etc. etc.

As they were finishing up, numbers something like 40(?) Euros were bandied about, but 20 for us because we were “nice”.

I remember that being able to speak Japanese, to coordinate our response to this bewildering sequence of events, definitely helped us escape. I think we offered a token 1-2 Euros or something (without taking out a wallet) and were rudely and aggressively harangued after doing so. They refused such a small sum and we left.

Afterwards we noticed torn and discarded bits of string around the area.


Trevi Fountain reminds me of a minor grift the street vendors tried in Rome (while we were staying at the Hotel Trevi).

You buy a beer from a street vendor and pay with a twenty. He gives you your change up to ten and then pauses. A certain percentage of people will walk off here without realizing that they don’t have all of their change (especially if they’ve already had a beer or two), and the street vendor is certainly not going to say anything. If you keep your hand out, though, the vendor will eventually give you the rest of your change.

It’s low risk from the street vendor’s point of view. If you do walk off without your change, what are you going to do? Assuming you can even find them again, it’s your word against theirs.

It’s probably less common since I was last in Rome. (Although credit and debit card skimmers are common enough that I still pay cash for things like that in Europe.)


Unfortunately not a new thing. I remember a news magazine piece decades ago on Roma children being used to do this in Europe, with the reporter being mobbed by children and relieved of her wallet. Might have been Lesley Stahl, but I’m not sure.

That sort of mob-based pick pocket method is hard to stop and one reason I’m wary of light weight “money belts,” which often feature quick release tabs - anything you an access easily is something a determined pick pocket can also get their hands on. Hobo pockets are uglier, harder to use, and harder to steal from. A compromise is a pocket that attaches to your belt then tucks in to your pants.

This sort of pocket hangs deeper in your pants than a money belt, is harder to pull out, and is attached to your belt - unfortunately, the loop on your belt also gives away the fact you have one to muggers in the know. So sewn in hobo pockets are probably the safest.


I’ve had plenty of cashiers do that here in the US. It’s subtle and impossible to prove as deliberate without video that shows a trend.


Thanks! I’d probably try this on the belt loop and wear something long enough to cover it up to avoid that problem.

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I had a guy come up to me, then put shoe polish on my shoe, and then tried to shine it.

No thanks buddy.


The Shacke pocket worked for me, but I wear fairly loose pants, which gives me room not only for the pocket in use, but also makes it easier to tug out and access (you flip it all the way out of your pants to get into it). The pocket easily holds a passport and more, so it is not small and a number of reviewers on amazon, especially women, found it too bulky not to show when it was tucked in their pants. So it’s utility depends on your wardrobe. :slight_smile:

Some reviewers said it was inconvenient. I think that is the idea. If you could get into it easily so could a pickpocket.


in 2009 my wife and i took an overnight trip to paris as part of a longer stay in england. while we were there we were approached by women who started off asking “do you speak english” and if we responded they stuck out a note to read explaining that their relatives were trapped in serbia and they needed donations to get them out. this happened at the train station, the eiffel tower, and outside the louvre. at one point i heard them ask a couple “sprechen sie deutsch?” and at another point i heard them ask someone “parli italiano?” at the end of our 24 hours we were sitting at an outdoor cafe across from the train station waiting for our return train to london. while we were sitting we saw a group of women come up along the street, greet the women who had been asking for donations, and take over for them while the original women headed down the street. my wife said–“five o’clock, shift change.”


Been to NOLA many times, it’s the best place for us to visit when the weather turns cool. NEVER fell for this one, but still always paid a little for the entertainment. In New Orleans, my experience is that tourists don’t get scammed. You WILL be approached by folks trying to make a buck off ya, my advice is to roll with it if you are having fun and pay a buck. Most of the time, it is worth your buck. “Veteran” tourists like me and my fam tend to be approached more than others, because we don’t give out the dead eye look, and like to engage. That said, if you brush people off, they know the game and won’t hassle you any further.

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I got scammed by a very pleasant man who chatted with me at the bus stop, then, when the commuter bus came, pretended to talk to the Golden Gate Transit driver only to discover he was short a few dollars. I gave him some money and then he held back and never got on the bus. The bus driver was annoyed, having seen the scammer before. Good scammer though, rolled really high marks for charisma so that I didn’t feel bad about giving him money even when I found out I’d been had. The man was a genuine con artist - not someone following a rote extortion formula like the scams in the OP.


Very common street robbery technique. Any time someone approaches and puts something in between your eyes and your pockets or bag, get away fast. If it’s a group of people waving stuff in your face, start shoving. Get clear immediately. Another common variation is in a cafe, when you set a phone/purse/camera on a table. Someone approaches to sell you something, sketches, postcards, some kind of book, holding it just above the item. 10 seconds after they leave you realize your phone is gone.


a really elaborate scam I’ve heard of in both latin america and asia involves a very well dressed professional american or european guy who approaches backpacker tourists with a sob story about getting robbed of everything in a taxi. he asks for help making a phone call to his wife back home. after you’re in that far, he pretends to talk to his wife and then needs help picking up money from western union, since his id was stolen. his wife supposedly wires the money to you and then you take a taxi with him to western union to pick it up. when you get there, the western union is closed and he starts freaking out. at that point, since they already sent you the money, you go to the atm and withdrawl the cash for him. of course, there was no western union transfer. there’s an american guy who’s been doing this scam in mexico city for years. conned dozens of travelers out of thousands of dollars. you can google the stories.

the psychology of the scam is interesting. if a stranger asked you for money right away, you’d say no. but after you’ve done him several small friendly favors and gone on a taxi ride with him, you’re much more likely to do him the bigger favor of lending him cash rather than walk away and repudiate your friendship with him. also, since he ‘trusted’ you with his money, you feel the obligation of trusting him back.


Nobody’s trying to scam you on the street there, but there are some aggressive touts, and I’ve heard that a lot of them are running various kinds of scams. If you’ve got better sense than to follow sketchy yakuza touts into back alley clubs I don’t think you’d have anything to worry about, though.


That’s better than the one where they throw shit on your shoe before offering to clean it.