Dishonest individuals often target tourists, travellers and backpackers and they can potentially ruin your holiday. Here are some known common tourist scams from around the world.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced traveller, every now and then, even the most vigilant of us becomes a target and/or a victim of a scam. Scams range from fake police officers to people pretending to be lost tourists or a fellow traveller. Here is our travel guide listing common tourist scams.

pickpocket by Paris 16

Beware of Pickpockets! (Image by Paris 16, Wikimedia)

1) “You have a stain on your clothes”

This scam seems to be more common in continental Europe. A stranger would approach you and mention that they spotted stains on your clothing. They will then offer to wipe it clean for you and while you’re distracted, they will take your wallet or your phone. If there really is a stain, do not let them clean it for you and just carry on with your business.

2) The ‘friendly’ stranger at the ticket or ATM machine

A ‘friendly’ stranger usually hangs around the ticket machine or the ATM machine and offer assistance. They will either charge you for their assistance or they will pickpocket you. Note that the ‘friendly’ stranger may not work alone and probably have a colleague somewhere on the lookout for officers. Alternatively, the ‘friendly’ stranger’s colleague may be the customer waiting in line behind you, sifting through your pockets while you are distracted.

3) The dancing drunken stranger

These types typically operate at night. The drunken stranger operates by acting drunk and jovial, approaches you and then proceeds to dance around you. While you are distracted, their swift hands may already be on your valuables.

4) Fake tickets

A fake ticket salesperson goes around selling tickets for public transport, sometimes at a discount. Avoid them and always buy tickets from official ticket machines or actual employees. The fine for having a fake ticket may cost you more!

5) Fake charity petitions

These scammers operate by asking you to sign a petition about some charitable cause. While distracted, a concealed hand might just slip in your pocket and take your valuables.

6) Bump, grab and flee

This is a common tourist scam particularly in crowded places such as public transport. A stranger bumps into you and use that as a diversion to take away your precious wallet.

7) Fake officials

Fake officials come in the form of fake employees, fake police officers or fake immigration officers. These fake officials often ask the traveller for a valuable document such as a passport. They will then ask for a bribe to get the valuable document back. If you sense something is off, avoid giving your documents, demand that you be taken to a station or say something along the lines of “I want my lawyer to be present”.

8) The lost tourist

These people pretend to be a lost tourist or a broke backpacker. Their objective is to let your guard down, earn your trust and then they proceed to rob you. The best thing to do is to ignore them or tell them you’re not a local either and direct them to a tourist information desk.

9) Using children

Some dishonest adults have resorted to using a children as a means to carry out scams. The children may simply beg for money or worst case scenario, steal your valuables!

10) “Hey, I know you!”

This common tourist scam also operates by trying to let an unsuspecting traveller to let their guard down. A ‘friendly’ stranger may pretend to know you from somewhere in the hopes of distracting you while they rob you. Alternatively, they may want to lure you to a dark place. Ignore the ‘friendly’ stranger.

11) Fake designer products

Unless you are someone who is extremely knowledgeable about designer products and pay great attention to detail, ordinary folks tend to struggle to distinguish between good fakes and the real stuff. Fake designer products, which are often made from poor materials, are often sold at street stalls. If you’re the type who travels on a budget, you may be tempted by the lower prices. Buy only from reputable or official shops!

12) “I will show you where that is.”

If you want to go to X, Y or Z but you are lost, a friendly stranger may offer to show you where X, Y or Z is. Politely refuse their offer as you may find yourself in a situation where you are led to a dark alley and you may have to surrender your belongings. You are better off asking real police officers.

13) The performer

While there are genuine street performers who want to make an honest living, some dishonest people pretend to be performers. While the spectators are distracted, the fake performer’s colleague picks the spectators’ pockets. Also be aware that sometimes pickpockets use a genuine performer’s performance as a distraction to nick an unsuspecting spectator’s valuables.

14) ‘Extra’ food at restaurants

We are all foodies here at TravelNGrub so we have to add a food-related tip. While at restaurants, a waiter may provide you with something you didn’t ask for, typically something like bread or olives (common in continental Europe). Do not touch it and immediately confirm with the waiting staff if it is free of charge. If they answer yes, then by all means bon appétit!

15) The eager photographer

Us travellers generally love to document our travels in the form of photos and videos. A stranger, typically a local, may offer to take photos for you. They will then charge you when they’re done. Sometimes, the eager photographer may simply want to grab your dear phone or expensive camera and then run away so be vigilant!

16) The attractive local

Do you see that handsome stranger eyeing you at the bar? Or the beautiful lady who wants to chat? They may be more interested in your valuables than in you. Exercise caution and let someone know your whereabouts on a regular basis.

17) The generous stranger scam

If you are in a situation like one where you are standing in awe, appreciating the beauty of an old town square, a stranger may hand you a bracelet or a rose. They will then demand money from you. Politely return their ‘generous’ offering and move away from them.

18) Taxi scam

This is a common tourist scam but the advent of taxi and rideshare apps have somewhat diminished their occurrence. If you do not look like a local, taxi drivers who are dishonest may take the longer route or pretend that the meter is broken and charge you higher for the journey. Opt for the local popular taxi app or use ridesharing apps as it will be easier to track your journey and report any issues. If you don’t have a smartphone, consider ringing a trustworthy local taxi company.

While there are locals who genuinely want to help travellers, it does not hurt to be extra cautious and be made aware of common tourist scams. We hope that you found this travel guide useful. Have a safe trip!