Valetta, Malta
Valetta, Malta

Scams, Rip-offs, Thefts and the Gringo effect

The above title reads as the definition of a casino but it’s actually referring to all the bads and evils tourists face when travelling and dealing with less than honest locals or what appear to be locals. Of course 99% of locals are genuine and most of the times friendly and helpful towards foreigners and yet it’s the 1% that may put a wedge on a country’s reputation.

The scams we’re facing when travelling abroad are scarier than the ones we face on our home turf, because we don’t have local knowledge, don’t speak the local language/dialect and even our body language or most often our looks, makes us a potential target for people who make a living on the back of naïve tourists. There are emergency numbers you can call if you’re victim of a scam. In Canada and US, 911 in Europe 112. In the United Kingdom, the numbers 999 and 112 both connect to the same service, and there is no priority or charge for either of them. Callers dialing 911, the USA’s emergency number, may be transferred to the 999 call system if the call is made within the United Kingdom from a mobile phone. Of course these numbers should be used only in emergencies, not when someone sells you a bottle of water with $5….All major European cities are haunted by scammers, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Lisbon, Bucharest and even Stockholm to name a few.

The list of scams is relatively impossible to compile, given that the scammers come up with new tricks every season but some are a staple of their diet and here comes a list of issues we encountered, read about, heard of and noticed:

  • Street games. You will be entertained by tricks ad invited to bet on it after a few free rounds.
  • The rose for your girlfriend/wife/daughter/sister. A seller will offer a rose to your co-traveller and will ask you a hefty price for the flower.
  • The fake taxi. This is a very common one. Even in the era of Uber, Lyft and others there are still people hanging around the airport trying to drive you to the city and charge you a lot of money. If you haven’t booked an Uber, get an official taxi with a working meter.
  • The souvenir seller. In all major tourist landmarks, you will be harassed by various people trying to sell you souvenirs mostly fake and overpriced.
  • The antique and artifact seller. This may not be so common but you will be tempted in buying antique precious stuff typically in a hidden alley. Even if the artifact would be real, you may end up fined or even in jail. This is illegal in all countries.
  • The amazing deal or brand name items. Watches, sunglasses, leather jackets, mobile phones all fake will be offered for sale at an amazing price.
  • Taxis and Ubers taking you the long way. Knowing the language may not save you from this one. The local accent may differ than yours and you will pay for that taxi ride double than a local would.
  • Restaurants in the tourist areas are way over priced and the food has in general nothing to do with the local cuisine. Restaurants with images on the menu and in different languages are in general a tourist trap.
  • The beggar. In many major cities the beggars are gathered in the tourist areas and with signs in English. Some may be insistent and will follow you for a few minutes. Just say “police” to get rid of them.
  • The photographer. Be careful when asking someone to take a picture of you. They may ask for money or run away with your phone or camera.
  • The map seller. Someone will try to sell you a map or a brochure while his accomplices will pickpocket you when you’re distracted.
  • The friendship bracelet. Someone will offer you (and even put it on) a bracelet and then ask you for a hefty price for a bracelet
  • The overly helpful local. A person will approach you offering to be your guide or suggesting places to visit. This person is easy to spot since he/she is always around in the tourist areas, seemingly just hanging out. You will be tricked into going to restaurants, shops etc. less than legit which this person has connections with.
  • The flirt. This is similar to the one above. Someone flirting with you with the only goal to take you to expensive places where you will foot the bill.
  • The charity donation. Someone will approach you with a list for donation for some charity with a sobbing inducing name. The charity doesn’t exist or if it does the person is not working for them.
  • The fake tickets. Someone will see you lining up for entrance tickets at some landmark and will offer you discreetly a discounted ticket.
  • The “stranded tourist”. You will be approached by someone pretending she/he’s been robbed, car breakdown, child sick or similar, and he/she needs some money to fix the “problem” and get home.

The Gringo effect is based on your looks. A blonde tourist will stand out in many southern European countries and will get the Gringo price on pretty much anything. The price would be at least double. The opposite may be also true. If you don’t look like a local, always question the price when buying anything from a market or private. If you do look like a local, try not to say anything that would blow off your true nationality until the deal is done.

Well, let’s hear it folks! What scams did you see while travelling? Leave a comment below!

Valetta, Malta
Scams, Rip-offs, Thefts and the Gringo effect
Reader Rating602 Votes
  1. excellent article and great advice! every season though there are new scams and tricks. Despite the abundance of scammers I think you should try to enjoy the attractions in every city/country you visit and just bring your common sense with you when you travel!

  2. Brilliant advice and very good article. Here in the UK, scammers are only in big cities, people in the countryside are genuine and nice.

  3. One trick I’ve seen is someone comes to your table at a café/restaurant with a magazine in hand. they ask you a question while they put the newspaper-magazine on your phone and then they leave with your phone-wallet wrapped in the newspaper-magazine.

  4. Good article! Many tourists from civilized countries are not even aware that the world is not always a nice place.

  5. Everyone who travels should know that there are areas in every city that are no tourist friendly and to try not to stand out. Unless you’re American then you will stand out anyway…

  6. Scammers are everywhere. Even in the US. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just have your common sense with you when you travel to other places.

  7. Not a scam but good to know beforehand: in London, England don’t take the black cab, they’re double the price than regular taxis.

  8. There are a lot of beggars on the streets in Brussels. Most of them East European gypsies. They are not aggressive but the risk of pickpocketing while you give them some coins is high.

  9. In Rome, some guy from Nigeria kept talking to me asking where I’m from and offered me a leather bracelet as a friendship token. I said no and he went to someone else. I heard him saying he wants 10 euros for that bracelet.

  10. When we were in Marrakesh, a local vendor decided it was a great idea to forcefully pull my wife’s hand while we were passing by, and attempt to draw henna on her hand. We refused and started walking faster, only to have the lady follow us a bit and demand money. Another couple on our tour group was tricked by locals into thinking that there is a festival of some sort, only to be led into some distant alley and be bullied into paying a certain fee! We will never visit Marrakesh again

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