Walking along the Seine last weekend I was approached multiple times — in just a few minutes — with the same attempted scam.

A guy walks up, ‘notices’ a ring on the ground. Calls for your attention. If you let it play out, he asks you if it’s yours. When you say no he plays up how great it is, how it’s his lucky day, but that he’s in need of cash quickly and can’t get to a jeweler. He’ll grudgingly sell this very expensive piece to you for just 50 euros. Of course it’s worth almost nothing. But people are greedy and get taken. The scam must work, since scammers are out around Paris doing this all day, every day.

The first two who tried it on me weren’t very good. The best would come up from behind and grab your attention, it’s possible that you dropped it then. These were approaching me from in front, the rings were in front of me, it’s not even plausible they ‘thought’ the ring might have been mine. One I even saw placing the ring on the ground in the first place.

But if you haven’t had this scam pulled on you in awhile, it’s possible to be thrown off guard. But having heard of it, it won’t trick you when it happens to you.

That’s the Paris ring scam but there are many more. I’ve been fortunate that last month in Malaysia was the first time anyone tried to pick my pocket. And it was in a temple, no less! I’ve gone pretty well unaccosted even along Las Ramblas in Barcelona. But I try to keep aware, and I’ve heard stories of so many scams that I at least hope they’ll resonate and be conjured when they’re tried on me.

Another famous one is the Chinese tea ceremony, this one is common in Shanghai and in Beijing. A young girl, or occasionally young guy, will approach you and try to connect. Perhaps you’ve come out of a store, they’ll mention they had just been inside. They notice you’re American and they’ve been studying English. They’d love to practice English with you! And in exchange they’d love to show you around the city.

Maybe you’re on guard a bit, especially if you go into some shops together, you think they might be trying to get you to buy things (they get a commission). But they’ll spend time building trust, and when you’re enjoying your time together they’ll suggest a tea ceremony. It’s usually short, just a few minutes, but enjoyable enough. The scam is you’ll be presented with a bill for hundreds of dollars.

If you’ve found yourself in this position — it’s easy to want to be friendly with locals, I tend not to be trusting of people but also realize that if I never engage people along my travels I’ll lose out on many experiences so I can imagine forcing myself to fall for something like this — then the correct approach is to throw down an appropriate amount of money and leave.

Your companion will feign ignorance and shock at the price. You might ask for the police, although depending on where you are the police could well be in on the scam (although they may just suggest settling for a smaller amount rather than trying to enforce the price).

I suppose paying by credit card is another option, even sign it ‘under duress’ but that may not be necessary considering how frequently this scam is run, how much-discussed it is online, you may win a dispute of the charges when you return home. In many ways I like this approach even better because the most important thing when in the midst of a scam is not to get hurt, not to be too confrontational, to end it and move on.

But avoiding scams in the first place is all about being aware and not being overly trusting. When you’re seated in a restaurant by a window, when a guy taps on the glass to get your attention and motions at his wrist as though to ask you the time, he might not actually need you to tell him the time. Just shrug, and be aware of everything going on around you, because he might just be trying to distract you while his partner is inside the restaurant taking your bags.

The one scam I always have a hard time avoiding is ‘this attraction is closed, but we can show you another one’ that’s so common in Thailand. Someone dressed in a uniform says you can’t visit the temple or site you’ve come to see, it’s closed ‘for a special religious holiday and only open to Thais today’ or ‘because of the Prince’s birthday’. Of course, he can help. He can direct you to another similar site that’s open, and his friend in a tuk tuk will take you there — cheap. Usually they’re just trying to get you into the tuk tuk so you can be taken to expensive gem shops in hopes of commission.

These touts are an annoyance, one of the reasons I sometimes like tour guides in new cities where I’m truly unfamiliar isn’t just for the efficiency of getting around but in some ways you’re hiring your own tout to keep away the rest of the touts, it can just lead to less stress and greater enjoyment.

WikiTravel has an extensive discussion of more common scams. Lucky was almost taken in by the shoe shine scam and the tuk tuk scam.

My own rough advice, though I hardly consider myself an expert in the area but rather just someone who does this a lot.

  • Don’t carry all your important papers with you. If you must carry your passport, consider carrying just a color photocopy (and always keep a copy ‘in the cloud’ such as by emailing it to yourself at a gmail account). If you must carry your real passport, leave a color copy behind.

  • Split up your money. Don’t carry it all with you. Don’t carry all of your credit cards with you. And the money you’re carrying, keep it in different places. Some of it may be in a wallet, other money in a pocket, so if it’s taken it’s not all taken. And so that you can claim to have less with you than you have, scammers might settle for what they can get from you quickly.

  • If I’m in a dangerous place I want to be there with a local that I trust. I also do have hiding places for money, a belt where a disguised interior can hold cash. But mostly it’s just about being alert, not going places especially alone and at night that your mother would warn against, and not attracting too much attention to yourself.

Now let’s be careful out there!

  1. Scott said,

    When I travel overseas I always bring my money belt. Inside the money belt goes my passport, credit card, debit card, driver’s license, and most my cash. I then carry a nominal amount of cash in my bag, maybe a hundred dollars or so. I then don’t worry about pick pockets. I think the best advice to avoid a scam is to be cautious about anything that seems or feels out of the ordinary. Trust your gut and wear a money belt.

  2. dhammer53 said,

    I’ll take it a step further. This happened to us in EZE last month. The scammers (a husband/wife type) squirt what looks like bird dung from what appears to be above. Then, they just so happen to want to help you clean off. They had tissues and water, and they kept spinning us around as they tried to help clean us. My wife and I were very aware and she held on to her purse zippers, and me, my hand was in my pocket holding my wallet. We won this round.

    Be aware. Be very aware in EZE.
    P.S. We managed in Paris and Barcelona,.

  3. Miles said,

    Keeping alert is the most important action you can take to protect against scams and pickpockets.

    We try to remain seemingly aloof from what is happening around us…if someone inexplicably falls, walk around them; if a stranger in the street wants to sell something or practice English, continue walking without speaking. We have probably missed some excellent experiences, but we’ve also never been taken by shysters.

    In risky areas I carry two wallets. The thin one in my front pants pocket is “real”, the cheap fat one (stuffed with misc papers and fake credit cards, and a small amount of the local currency) in the back pocket is for the pickpockets.

  4. farsighted99 said,

    I had that ring scam done to me in Paris. This woman (a gypsy) comes up to me with a ring; says something in broken english about finding this ring on the ground and puts it into my hand. It looks pretty nice, but it’s made of metal. Then she says its mine if I give her something. Of course I didn’t want it, though it’s pretty compelling so I can see why people fall for it, but I just gave it back and said NO. I was more worried about getting robbed or pick-pocketed once I took my very small wallet out.

    I hate this kind of stuff when I travel, but unfortunately it’s a part of the travel experience sometimes. Just have to be careful.

  5. robertw said,

    The baby scam was tried on me in London and Rome. In London I did not get close and walked away. In Rome I saw it coming and walked on the other side of the street. A woman or two want to show your baby. It might be even a young girl alone trying to show you her baby which is a doll wrapped up. If you look one of them picks your pocket or tries. Around the Eiffel towel or Versailles I have seen signs about watching for pick pockets and such.

  6. George said,

    We were in Rome just a few months ago. Twice we had a group of adolescents/young 20’s guys camp out at the subway station. Given the large amount of people, they crammed, two of them would push against us while the other started going for pockets/bags. The first time we had an empty backpack and it was completely unzipped but had nothing stolen (phew). Second time we just walked off. It’s so easy for them to do cause everyone is in a rush for the subway, and there are so many people.

    Look out!

  7. rich (arizona) said,

    Of the major European cities I have visited Paris was, by far, the worst with scams. We hadn’t even made it to our hotel before the ring one was tried.

    You didn’t mention all of the young girls around the Eiffel Tower asking if you spoke English and then wanted you to sign something and make a donation. (Not sure of the details because I’m the suspicious type and just nodded no to the English question).

    Sadly there are too many people here (US) and around the world who are constantly trying to make money by taking advantage of others.

  8. jfhscott said,

    I’ve had numerous attempts made on me over the years. In Beijing, I was approached – in 15 – minutes by three separate groups of “art students” wanting to show me their exhibitions. I had heard of the scam and it did not work, but the first group of art students was so persistent, wanting to know everything about me and practice English, that in subsequent encounters, I feigned inability to speak English and just responded in French.

    In Bangkok, I elected to walk one portion of the trip to the Royal Palace, and sure enough, I encountered several uniformed members of the “Tourism Police”, each of whom had the same badge number, inform me that the Palace was closed, or opening late, on account of the King’s birthday, and wouldn’t I prefer to get in a tuk tuk and see certain temples/get suits made/enjoy a morning at a brothel. Did not get sucked in.

    Basically, no one who approaches you has your interests in mind. As for me, and as described above, speaking some other language typically brings harassment to an end.

  9. Grant said,

    I’ve watched several shows (The Real Hustle and Scam City) and am pretty skeptical of people coming up to me. Trust no one is sometimes the best thing to do.

  10. choi said,

    thanks for posting this topic of dark side of traveling. when these things happened, it just takes the enthusiasm and mood away from a worldly experience. you want to go out to the world and explore and then the negative just hinders it. everyone falls for one of these once but better live and learn.

  11. BOShappyflyer said,

    I am aware and cautious when I travel (especially when I travel to places known for pickpocketing, i.e. Athens, Paris).

    Having said that, I tried not to be overly cynical and give most people the benefit of a doubt. There have been times when I or my traveling companions have gotten lost, and we do approach locals (and possibly tourists who we mistaken as locals) to ask for directions.

    I’m sure they’d have their guard up/suspicious, but I would hate to think they think I’m up to no good (it’s actually a bit sad when I think about it that – it’s come to a point when people have their guard up just to engage in conversation…) Granted, I’m sure folks have been scammed and learned from it and it’s not unwarranted to be more suspicious. Still, I think it’s a bit sad as it reflects on the state of society.

  12. David said,

    They tried the ring trick on us in Paris 3 times…

  13. Ryan E said,

    Good advice all around. Had the Paris ring scam attempted by an old gypsy lady who, also, wasn’t very good at it. The young gypsy girls around the Eiffel tower (also around the department stores in the Opera area sometimes) are a trip. They often have a sob story that they need money for their baby, to get home, etc. Practice saying “Non, merci” with the best French accent you can muster – they’ll know you’re faking but just roll their eyes and move on.

    Istanbul is bad with the re-direction scam, especially at the mosques around the daily prayer times. “Is closed for pray time, let me take you to the Hippodrome” then they throw a fit that you’re “typical rude American” when you politely decline. In Ephesus the fake Roman coin scam can be found, and some of the guys are very aggressive. Of course one should know even if it *were* real, it’s illegal to take it out of Turkey without a gov’t license to do so!

    Odd, but nice, thing about Japan is that there are so many people who honestly do want to talk to you, including kids and teens who actually are wanting to speak English with you. Still keep on your guard as it only takes one bad apple, but it is refreshing compared to most everywhere else, where it’s always a scam.

    For going through areas that I’d like more protection than just my own awareness/wits, I use a leg safe in addition to a PacSafe MetroSafe bag (I’m a guy and yeah, it’s borderline “mursey” but who cares!). It’s slashproof and has hard to open pockets which can also be secured with a small combo lock if you wish. However I still follow the usual tips about distributing cash, passports, etc even then.

  14. Mike said,

    I bought one of those belts you described from cabelas and use it whenever I travel overseas. I carry a good chunk of my money in there. I figure I have to loose my pants to loose my money.

    I’ve also taken a credit card/debit card and cut in half long ways to make it fit. If you re-tape the credit card, it’ll still works in an ATM.

  15. David said,

    And I forgot to mention the ATM scam we fell victim to in Termini Station in Rome over 10 years ago. The money did not come out and we never got the cash only to find out later at home that probably someone else played with the machine and took out the money after we left. I remember there was a woman waiting behind me for her turn so it must have been her.
    This was not covered by the bank… :(

  16. bluto said,

    In Italy there were kids selling newspapers but that was and excuse to surround and try to pickpocket you.

    I’ve also experienced one where a guy happens to be going where you’re going and offers you a lift. I don’t know for certain that was a scam but I didn’t want to find out.

    it’s not exclusive to foreign countries. In new york, I’ve been approached by a distressed young woman explaining her purse was stolen and asking if I could help her get some money for the subway.

    Lastly, by far the most common scam I’ve run into is the taxi the taxi run around. If they sense you’re a foreigner, they’ll take you on the scenic route. I’ve had cabs in south america go completely the opposite way to run up 3x the fare. the best defense is to follow along with a map on your iPhone. get out and pay what you think is fair. In greece, once when I got in the cab driver explained that the after 1pm the special surcharge rate applied. just get another cab in that case.

  17. John said,

    These are timeless scams. Have been around for ages. It used to be that travelers learned about these scams in their trip preparation because it was a once in a lifetime trip. Nowadays, it is so easy to hop on a plane to somewhere exotic due to the proliferation of points and DIY blogs, that travelers forget the basics, so this is a very useful post. That Bs As scam that dhammer53 mentioned happened to me 20 years ago, but it something I had read about before my trip and was ready for it. Sad to hear that it is still being used! There are variations to the tea house scam, so if a young girl comes up to you for no reason and suggests going to karaoke, it probably isn’t because you’re the best looking guy around :)

  18. Debra said,

    I do the female equivalent of the two wallet technique. I carry a cheap purse filled with nothing of value and carry cash and credit cards in my front pocket.Noone expects a female with a purse to have her valuables in her front pocket.

  19. Cd said,

    In Japan we had some fun with groups of middle school aged kids who wanted to chat for assignments at different temples. They were very sweet and genuine. We also chatted with monks in Thailand. These people were very nice and honest and just wanted to practice English so you always have to use your judgement and be aware of your surroundings.

  20. Mileage Update said,

    In Manila, Philippines I was distracted on a jeepeny with a misdirection and had my wallet picked. Luckily it was just cash and an easily cancelled card. I switched to an around the neck wallet. I also kept my passport locked in a safe in my room and carry only a copy. Thanks for this post, great reminder to be aware.

  21. Ram said,

    A unique one that happened to us in Athens: During day time as we entered the elevator from the bar at the top floor of the Hilton to come down to our floor, a feeble, well dressed old man (in his 70’s) also walked in. Within a few seconds he pulled his hand out of his coat pocket to show us blood on his fingers (jello), and asked me to see what was in his coat pocket that had caused this by putting my hand there. I refused. I guess the trick would be to get you to put your hand in there and then accuse you of pickpocketing and demand the money back.

    Something I have never understood is why do some people insist on carrying a wallet in their pockets in foreign lands, knowing fully well that it is an open invitation to every crook to try his craft on you?

    @Gary, evidently some elements get into temples (in Malaysia) thinking that it would be an easy place to try their luck on unsuspecting foreigners. It can’t be any regular worshipers. Crooks look for places where you will have your guard down.

  22. Christie said,

    We loved Paris!! Everything about it made us smile – and that includes watching the poor execution of the Gypsy scams. We had the ring scam pulled on us without success on Pont Neuf. Later that day, as we left Centre Pompidou, we looked out on the crowd only to see three men pulling the ring scam all in the same spot!

    My favorite scam was the petition that young girls asked us to sign to support the deaf and blind. Being fluent in French and American Sign Language (which is based on the French), I loved signing to them, thanking them for their dedication to the cause, knowing that they had no idea what the “petition” was even about!

    We only got caught (almost) once. Boarding the train to Paris from Versailles, a young girl clothes lined me while her mother opened my purse. They didn’t get anything, because I moved quickly, but I should have been more careful. My favorite use for a scarf in Paris was to tie it around the zipper pull on my purse and the strap. To open the zipper would require untying my double knotted scarf first! I’ll never travel without a scarf again!

  23. Mike S. said,

    good series on international scams

    http://www.travelandescape.ca/shows/scam-city/

  24. lu said,

    Train Stations in Paris, young kids try to make you sign something for donations… and in Beijing, “homeless” kids begs for money while the parents are 20 feet away.

  25. Mikey said,

    Google thailand and jet ski scam to see how dangerous scams can get.

    ( or just google thailand with the word scam in the search to see a whole list of ripoffs)

  26. christo said,

    Had the ring scam in Paris last august a block away from Park Hyatt Vendome. A firm “Non” without stopping is enough. Speaking any english is a give away. The best is to look like you know where you’re going. Had well dressed scam artist students approach us in Shanghai before being broken up by police. That saved us and for once I am thankful to China’s “no loitering” law.
    On a positive note, Japan is an exception, they run after you to give you back your change when you miscalculate or when you want to leave it as a tip. No one has ever wanted or kept a tip no matter what the service was….and in my case a total stranger handed us the camera I had left behind. Would like to know where else does such honesty exist in this world!

  27. Mike S. said,

    ” Basically, no one who approaches you has your interests in mind. ”

    +1 sums it up perfectly

  28. George said,

    Indeed, my friend left his wallet x 2 in Japan, only to have 2 separate people running back after us to give us back the wallet… a good 50-100m away!

  29. MyTravels said,

    Not all the scams are on the streets:

    When a basket of pretzels is served with dinner in Germany/Deutschland you are typically only charged for the pretzels consumed. If the basket has 8 and five are eaten then you are only charged for five and the other three will be served to another table.

    It seems several restaurants in Italy has taken this to the next level. In multiple restaurants excess items were added to the table that were not ordered:
    *In one restaurant a plate of prosciutto and cheese is brought out with the bread for the table. We informed the waiter that we did not order any prosciutto, they said okay, but left it on the table. As you probably guessed, some people at the table ate a few pieces and when the bill came we were charged for the prosciutto and cheese plate
    *After learning from this we noticed several restaurants that we dined at added additional open bottles of wine and/or water than ordered. This is probably particularly effective with larger groups as the meal may end with three 3/4 full bottles of the same bottle of wine as people grabbed what’s near them rather (and conveniently already open) rather than what is already started.

  30. MileageUpdate said,

    I’ve seen the bus trick. Someone sits down next to you very close (like cheek to cheek) and then asks you to move over a little. If you carry a wallet they grab it as you move over. It slides out while you slide over. My tip it not to carry a wallet do a belt or some other way to secure your money.

  31. christo said,

    … that’s one of the main reasons I’m always happy to go back to Japan year after year

  32. Lively said,

    RyanE: We were in Ephesus a few months ago and my husband bought 10-15 of “old” coins along the way. Last anecdote: We were in Jerusalem several years ago and my husband stopped in a coin shop while I waited in the car. He comes back with a St Augustine coin that was so rare, it was the last one in the shop! I said yeah, I bet his son is around back making more!

  33. dale m said,

    + rural Ireland, had a young lady chase me out to the car to give me .20 change I had forgotten.

    – the ring scam in Paris – yup.

    As for the wallet, I try to maintain a layers approach – a button down pocket, then a fairly secured jacket over it, then my flimsy and cheap looking o.d.green canvas and stash shoulder bag positioned over the wallet.

  34. Scott said,

    Had taxi scams in a few places: difficult to argue with them after the trip though, without much local knowledge. In Istanbul with altered meters, resulting in 3x fares (he knew I knew it was a scam so we settled on 2x what it should have been), in Lisbon with an arbitrary (huge) addition to the metered fare for an extra passenger (in both cases they wouldn’t pull up right to the hotel door where the “real” fare could be checked with a hotel porter) … In Philippines we didn’t pay until we’d looped our local host upon arrival. Paid less than half what the driver was demanding…

  35. Robert Hanson said,

    I put all of my valuables in a travel pouch inside my clothing before I even leave home, keeping no more than $20 in my pocket. And since my CitiGold debit card has no ATM fees at all, I use it frequently, and so carry very little cash even in the pouch.

    The one scam I have tried on me time after time in Europe is a restaurant that tells me their credit card machine is “out of order”, and they need me to pay my bill with cash. Only mentioned after you have already eaten, of course.

    If you insist you have virtually no cash, and one of you can’t go to an ATM because you left your debit card in the hotel safe, they finally get their card card machine to work after all. The idea is to take the cash, and not make any record of it, so as to avoid not only the cc fee, but to not pay any taxes on the income.

    Sorry, but I want my miles/points, and am not going to walk several blocks to an ATM while my wife waits, just so they can avoid paying taxes. Not as bad as having your wallet stolen, of course, but still annoying to have pulled on you once you know what they are up to.

  36. Yango said,

    I love the Paris ring scam. I just yell, “YES! That *IS* my wedding ring! I have been looking for that! Oh, thank you so very much!” Then pocket the ring, give them a big smile, and walk away.

    What are they going to do – call the cops?

    Beware the “friendship bracelet” scam (often at Sacre Coeur in Paris): someone walks up to you and ties a string around your wrist, says it’s a “friendship bracelet” and then asks for a payment. Good luck untying that little knot.

  37. Tony said,

    As a general rule-of-thumb, the more “touristy” a place, the more you have to worry about these scams. I hate being cynical when traveling, but sometimes if you do not stay guarded you really will get taken advantage of. It’s really a shame because it can keep you from interacting with locals and immersing yourself in the local culture – but again, sometimes you do need to protect yourself. Financially and otherwise.

    On every trip I try to build into my itinerary travels off-the-beaten-path. I have had some of my most memorable travel experiences this way – being invited into people’s homes, sharing meals, etc. I even was invited to a wedding years after staying with a Vietnamese family while backpacking in SE Asia. That last example is atypical, but in many ways traveling can be more rewarding by going beyond places recommended in guidebooks and travel guides.

  38. Jethro said,

    Interesting post and comments. My question is what to do with your valuables when visiting/swimming at the beach?

  39. Joe said,

    I lived in Paris for a year in college and I have never heard or seen this ring trick. What a dumb idea.

  40. M said,

    I have had the Paris ring scam in front of Musee d’Orsay (the actual museum front and not the visitor entrance). Scammers must be attracted to the Seine somehow.

  41. eco mama said,

    Great post, and comments too. Years ago in Paris, a woman convinced my friend to buy her tickets to the Lourve, saying she had bought them and they were still good, but that she had to leave and couldn’t use them. As I recall the date was correct on the tickets, but I had a bad feeling about it. It’s like someone said, when someone approaches you, something is probably up. The tickets turned out to be invalid of course.

  42. Christie said,

    Agree on Japan! Travelled there alone several years ago and never have I felt so safe!

  43. Sergey said,

    In Russia there are plenty of scams. The scam with ring reminds me scam with wallet – you are walking and notice that guy in front of you drops he wallet, didnt notice that and disappears. Another guy appears and “notices” a wallet and offers to split the money in this wallet, suggest to do it in the nearest quite place. If you go, they will split the money from your wallet.

  44. dubaych said,

    I have been off the beaten track in all of these places and more, and have had variations of these scams tried on me innumerable times — most consistently in Bangkok — but the only successful robber in 25 years of travel was a pickpocket in line for a roller coaster in Las Vegas. Doggone Americans! I do like their roller coasters, though!

  45. Travel Bear said,

    In AMS train station once, guy approached me speaking English, I answered in Spanish, he switched to Spanish! I just kept walking. I have witnessed many attempts by Gypsies in Spain and Italy on others who engaged them and I thought you just got mugged! I watched a group work the Trevi fountain one day, was interesting. I never saw the lifts, but I knew what they were up to. My partner almost got pulled into the shell game near the main train station in Rome once. I warned him not to go up to the group and/or keep his wallet handy. Nothing happened fortunately.

    I am usually very aware of my surrounding however I did drop my guard once in Costa Rica on a bus and my bag went missing. Fortunately I noticed it on the floor at the front of the bus before there was a stop to allow anyone off. Bag retrieved, nothing gone.

    Stay alert and don’t travel with valuables!

  46. robertw said,

    Ryan mentioned Japan and I thought I would mention my trip there 2 years ago. In Japan it is extremely safe, and clean and people will ask you if you need help. Usually these are older people. If you just look at a map or appear to be studying a subway map on or off the train a passenger will ask you if you need help. On the street 2 or three people may try to help you at one time. If one person has english issues, they call over another person and basically translate. I am not kidding. It caught me off guard several times. One cab driver dropped us a wrong address in Kyoto. It was a few doors off where we needed to be. The person at the wrong address actually walked outside with us to show us the exact location. To a certain degree is takes a little while to relax a bit there. In a hotel rather than tell us go to the end of a large hallway for the twain station a person fromt he hotel actually walked us to the end of the hall and point to the subway entrace. I dropped about 20.00 USD in my hotel and I got a tap on the shoulder from a Japanese person. BTW I really love Japan and will go back.

  47. robertw said,

    Christo, Christine, Ryan..we are all headed to Japan! Actually are there any other countries that are similar? I never had issues in London about safety but as always you have to try to be alert as possible in some situations.

  48. Grant said,

    Great stories. I’m kinda tempted to buy a bunch of fake rings from 99 cent store for my trip to Paris in 2 weeks and hand them out to the gypsies.

  49. DaveS said,

    An attractive young woman tried to get me to fall for the tea scam in Shanghai. She approached me as we were both emerging from a subway station on a rainy day and she wanted to practice her English. I walked with her for a bit, but the restaurant she signaled was an unmarked storefront with a “Welcome” sign in English on the inside. It looked shady. I told her, “I’m in the mood for McDonald’s” (which I saw down the street) and took off. I wasn’t aware of the scam, just thought the situation looked bad.

  50. slamb said,

    Sometimes I don’t know how they pick targets, as we were the shabbiest dressed tourists (among groups of stylish Japanese tourists) in a busy Vienna shop and we caught a hand in our bag. The other time someone’s trying to pickpocket my tissues in Sevilla and apologized for it.

    I heard many many stories about Barcelona and was on high alert the whole time when we visited. I walked off to take pictures, and then I saw a guy talking to my mother. Scam scene in mind I was shouting, running towards my mother, pulling her away and lecturing her not to talk to strangers. She then rather innocently said that the guy just wanted his picture taken. I was so embarrassed by my paranoia and took his picture apologetically LOL Who knows, maybe one day it would become a scam as this occupies both of your hands so beware fellow travelers.

  51. Ram said,

    Many people are having trouble figuring out why there are no tricksters in Japan? In Europe you have gypsies and many North African immigrants who pull most of the scams for a living. Neither of these two groups has made it to Japan yet. There is no grinding poverty or homelessness in Japan unlike in many other third world Asian countries. In the absence of any depravity, they don’t have any home grown ‘ring finders’. My visits to Japan have been the most pleasant ones. An additional feature of Japan is that there are no loud mouths talking on the cell phones in the subway cars. There is a self imposed code of silence, broken very infrequently with whispers into the phone, not protracted loud conversations.

  52. Ket said,

    We also encountered the gold ring scam in Paris last Nov. Having read about it, I just told my spouse not to touch the ring or respond and just walk away.

  53. Chris M. said,

    I fell for a scam in the metro in Paris. My credit card wouldn’t work at the automated ticket kiosk. So I went to stand in a long line for the staffed ticket booth. A guy came up and offered to sell me his ticket for a couple Euro discount. The ticket was real, but it was only valid local, not to the airport where I was headed. The ticket checkers gave me a 50 Euro fine when they checked my ticket. My explanation of the scam did not matter.

  54. Mister B said,

    Surprised there’s no mention of the Budapest Drinky Girls near/on Vací Ut: “I met you here last night. Do you remember me?” Um, no, I don’t. Walk away. They will take you to some pub where you will have a few drinks then be presented with an astounding bill in the hundreds of Euros by Lazslo the bodybuilder who will ensure you pay. In cash. Sounds like the Chinese tea party thing.

  55. Michael T said,

    So what scams are practiced in the US on tourists visiting us from abroad? There must be some, but I seem to be unaware of them…

  56. Paige said,

    I was in Nashville on business and had a cab driver take me completely out of the way. I didn’t realize it until we were so far off the route that it made sense to just keep going. Called the cab company the next day and told them the route he had taken, and they refunded the entire thing. All’s well that ends well I suppose.

    Now I’m paranoid whenever I’m in a cab in any city, always watching on google maps.

  57. gavinmac said,

    Bucharest. Fake police. I was walking down the street and an unmarked car pulled up with two shabby looking guys inside. They asked me a question in Romanian; I told them I didn’t understand. Then one of the guys switches to English and says “Police. Come.” and he motions me to the car. I said “no” and kept walking.

  58. Adam said,

    Wow. Well, I can certainly concur with others here re: Japan. Just traveled there by myself for a couple weeks in October and was stunned by folks’ kindness and by the safe feeling I had. I dread the day that that ever changes :\

    And, in comparison, it sadly makes me less apt to want to visit other places that tend to have more scamming going on :(. Maybe the answer is to just avoid big cities / common tourist spots (outside of Japan).

    Actually, I should note that I also felt very safe and welcomed in Taiwan. :)

  59. MYRflyer said,

    Las Vegas: Long Haul taxi drivers around the strip. Right down there information posted, then threaten to call the taxi authority, problem solved.

    Bangkok: Royal Palace closed scam, had my guard up after leaving the river boat walking down crowded sidewalks, but I could see where others would fall for it.

  60. Gary72 said,

    Safest and friendliest place, without a doubt, Japan. If you just even look kind of confused, someone will come over to assist you. Most surprisingly dishonest scam was in Copenhagen when the cabbie claimed there was a train strike and tried to get us to take the cab all the way to the airport rather than the trains station…

  61. chemist661 said,

    I had some scams attempted.
    1. Madrid @ flea market: tried to burn me with cigarette: gave him an elbow nudge where it hurt him!
    2. Rio: Pickpocket tries to steal wallet with $5 meal money in 1997. Grabbed my wallet in my front pants pocket–would not let go and all of over 300 lbs (at the time) fell on top of him. Then my companion tackles him to the ground. Didn’t get my meal $.
    3. Paris: various scams like above. Unsuccessful.
    4. Rome: Pickpocket & other scams. Unsuccessful.
    5. Lisbon & Rome: Excess food items placed on table. Got me for a few extra (<$5) in Lisbon, unsuccessful in Rome.
    6. Thailand: Various tut tut scams. Unsuccessful. Did OK with Taxis. Even found tricks to save $ like going to departures and save the taxi fees. Very inexpensive vacation in Thailand thanks to fellow FTers.

    Like the above comments, very honest in Japan. Also no problems in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.

  62. Joan said,

    Thanks for the good post. It’s always important to keeps our wits about us…

    However, I’m kind of sad about all of the paranoia &/or hysteria…Yes, I’ve been “victimized” by the ring scam in Paris…as soon as she held it up we responded with a firm Non! I’ve had people try to sell me fake metro tix. I just said No! I don’t carry anything of value in my pack. I expect most commotions to be diversions for thieves…think of it as theatre…I don’t know…

    I don’t let it stop me from talking to locals. I’ve had rich interactions with folks, from Lombok to Liguria. I’m sure I’ll be scammed @ some point. As long as I’m not physically injured, I’ll take it with a grain of salt, as part of the experience. I’m sure the good moments far mitigate the “bad.”

    Happy Travels!

  63. Carl said,

    Yep, Budapest has their version of the tea party scam, we avoided it, but that was years ago. Japan is just wonderful in every way, i love how the bicycles on the street are left unchained.

  64. flyer708 said,

    On my trip to Paris 4 years ago, while taking photos at the Louvre, , this shady african guy came up to me, put a string on my finger and said: make a wish, and started weaving. I immediately told him, I will not pay you anything, and if you have a problem, those policemen will take care of you as I just had a word with them (pointing at 3 police officers around the corner who were looking over this direction). I’ve never seen a rat run away so fast. Funny actually.

  65. larry said,

    most city folk would just shoo them away, suspecting a con. usually, it’s the rubes from hicksville that get suckered. hey, don’t shoot the messenger, it’s the durn truth, tell you what.

  66. Roaddog said,

    At Sacré Coeur, I was approached with a variation on the rig scam (gold chain). The perp spoke English, I responded in Italian, and he and several friends nearly chased after me as I walked off repeating “no” to his increasingly frustrated and angry attempts to get me to participate. I was shocked as I’ve generaly found one “no” sufficient to dissuade scammers. I am 6’2″, a lifelong martial artist and look the part, so I’m rarely picked as a mark, but this situation had me thinking I might be in for some real trouble. Luckily, I recalled seeing a police car parked down the hill, so I went that way and my pursuers quickly vanished. I don’t like to fight (outside the dojo, anyhow), and didn’t like the odds or the possibility of finding myself under arrest in a foreign land.

  67. Tubbs said,

    One scam that’s very popular here in NYC is the broken glasses scam. The scammer gets bumped into (by you) on the street by moving into your path, drops his glasses, then asks you to pay for them when they appear broken. Had this tried on me downtown by a guy who followed me into a store to ask for the money. Told him “tough sh&t, be more careful with your stuff” and he left to find easier pickings. I was wearing a backpack so I imagine he did not realize I was a local.

  68. Philipp said,

    Wife and I were in Moscow train station to take the Red Arrow to St Petersburg. We were kind of lost and a man approached us with excellent english, offering help. He showed us our way and offered to buy us some coffee as we still had 40 minutes until departure.

    After taking the coffee (I insisted to pay, and paid our part) and talking to this nice “gentlemen” he offered to exchange some rubles. We did not need, and I had only USD30 on wallet, and decided as a token of appreciation to exchange USD30 to RUB150. Sure enought the next day I found out trying to pay for a museum entrance that the RUB150 was fake money that is easily sold on streets.

    Taxi drivers are bad almost everywhere. When I lived in Lisbon, two busienss people who had a meeting with me, arrived from London, they took a cab who took them through 2 big bridges and the bill was EUR70. Is like asking in JFK that you want to go to Battery Park and the taxi taking you to CT and back. In Lisbon take the taxi at departures, avoid at all costs the crooks at arrivals.

  69. Pete Freans said,

    Thank you Gary for a very informative post. And thank you to the commentators for sharing their experiences.

    My story takes place in Italy a few years ago when I was walking along the Tiber River. Full disclosure: I am fluent in Italian and well familiar with the streets of Rome. So along comes an automobile that is pacing along side of me until he drives ahead and stops. An Italian gentleman holding a tourist maps on his steering wheel asks me in English where Vatican City was. The Vatican was 1 KM west of us and any Italian, tourist or otherwise, would have known that. So immediately my BS meter went off and I told him to make a quick right and he was right there. He then proceeded to tell me that he was a fashion buyer from Milan visiting Rome and asked if I was enjoying Rome, asked if I was from the U.S., etc… I said yes, and bid him goodbye. His last pitch was that he had designer clothing in his trunk and wondered whether I was interested in buying couture at a substantial discount.

    It is at this point that I began speaking Italian and told him politely in Italian that I don’t buy clothing from the trunk of a car. I also stated that I was surprised that an Italian fashion buyer wouldn’t frequent Rome and would not know where the Vatican was. He said a few nice pleasantries about how well I spoke Italian, what I was doing in Italy, etc…at this point I noticed a Roman dialect so I asked him if he was from Rome because of his dialect.

    He bid me farewell, wished me a nice trip, and drove away…

  70. Ram said,

    Taking taxis from the departure area is something I had never thought about. Thank you folks for letting me know about that trick in Bangkok and Lisbon and everywhere else to avoid the extra charges and not to have to deal with crooks.

  71. msp2anywhere said,

    I paid my Gypsy dues a decade ago with the ‘making change’ trick in Germany (can’t remember which city). Teen approaches with open hand full of coins, says that they need smaller change for the phone. As I open my hand full of coins, she puts a few in and takes a few, and I realized the exchange rate wasn’t in my favor (I think she moonlights at Travelex).

    Lost about 2 Euros, best and quickest tuition I’d spent in a while.

  72. Conned: how to avoid common tourist scams | Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog said,

    [...] like they’re walking ATM machines. Here’s a great post off The View from the Wing blog: Common tourist scams and how to avoid them. Also read the comments by the street-smart readers. For more, you can check out this extensive [...]

  73. nycman said,

    Re: Japan, while overall a pleasure, there are a few blocks around Roppongi or Shinjuku where the touts bother every single foreign guy walking around, trying to get them into a strip club. The touts are easily identifiable from a block away, literally. Those that have been know what I’m talking about. It is a pain in the ass when you just want to walk around and explore, but one easy tactic is to keep walking. The touts don’t want to stray too far from the area they’re working. I once strung along a tout for a few blocks, using up maybe half an hour of his time, while continuing to explore the neighborhood. He just gave up. Totally ignoring them can sometimes be entertaining too, as they start to hoot and holler a bit, trying to get you to react. Of course you are surrounded by people, so they won’t do anything physical.

  74. Mikey said,

    another sneaky method pick pockets use is to post “danger, pick pockets in the area” signs, and just sit back and wait for persons to check to see their wallet is in place, and thus the criminals know where too “pick”

  75. Jim L said,

    Had the “Palace is closed” scam done to me in Bangkok several years ago. they were pretty aggressive and I did not want to be too confrontational. Since I had time I went on the tuk tuk ride and saw some interesting temples, cooled off in the stores without buying anything, and eventually made it into the palace. I tried to overpay the tuk tuk driver to get him to skip the jewelry/clothing stores to no avail. He has to come back with the gas coupons. This year I was ready for the scam and leading some friends in. We were going to march on through, but a large tour group was entering at the same time, so we just mingled in with them.

    As for pickpockets, I have not had any encounters, but I am always careful to keep lots of space between me and others.

  76. Grado said,

    Great warnings. A single man in our tour group got hit by two lovely ladies in Beiging for the tea ceremony. I also have a money belt but on a trip to Paris, one in our group basically got felt up but a gang of 3 guys who jumped on the metro, felt his chest, his waist and even his ankle for hidden money. They jumped off immediately at next stop and timed it perfectly. But, they didnt check his shoes….

  77. Boraxo said,

    Appreciate the link to WikiTravel, surprised to find no discussion of the Kiev money drop so I have added it.

  78. The Montane Vole said,

    @Robert Hanson: Thanks for explaining the “credit card not working” scam, which I had happen twice in Athens at the same restaurant (a VERY prominent one, near the Acropolis). Fortunately, I had enough cash in the neck pouch I always wear instead of any wallet, plus more if needed in a leather money belt.

    I had the ring scam attempted on me three times in a single day in Paris–once at the Eiffel Tower (by a young child, probably around 6 yrs old), once by a woman in her 20’s, and once by a man in his 50’s. The 3rd time, I said (in French) “It rains gold rings all over Paris! It’s the third time today!” and he skulked away in embarrassment!

  79. Dan said,

    @Yango — the bracelet scam guys harassed us more than usual this past week at Montmartre/sacre couer. We walked up a bit and watched for a few minutes.

    The best was when they all got together just as dark was really setting in. It looked like a “staff sales meeting” in any US retail company. Maybe dividing the territory or giving out the evening ‘strategy’ or ‘goals’?

  80. Roaddog said,

    @Dan They were in one of those meetings when I got harassed!

  81. larry said,

    also, in china, watch out for everybody (kids to senior citizens), including (or especially) anyone from the police or the dirty politicians. a commoner will only rip you off, but those people will F you royally.

  82. larry said,

    In Japan, the only people who will try to directly rip you off are the foreigners (mostly black touts) in tokyo around the red light district and of course the politicians (but you will most likely not have any dealings with them)

  83. Zulfikar Ahmed said,

    Few months ago I visited Thailand. In a supermarket a black person approached with his a lady and started to talk in English and wanted to know where she can get pretty dresses for women. I knew the way so I pin pointed the direction as well as the name of the shop. During discussion the lady told that this is the first time she and her husband are abroad and she has never seen 100 US$ note. I was not suspicious, so I showed 100 dollar bill. When I reached my hotel I noticed that all 100 dollar bills were taken from my wallet. Only some local Thailand currency was left. PLEASE DO NOT SHOW MONEY TO ANY STRANGER. THIS IS A NEW KIND OF SCAM.

  84. Bits ‘n Pieces for July 22, 2013 - View from the Wing said,

    [...] How to Spot Pickpockets in Paris — as it happens it was my last Paris trip that prompted me to write Common Tourist Scams and How to Avoid Them. [...]

  85. Gail said,

    We were in Rome last year. I left my purse in a restaurant near where we were staying; went back the next day and it was returned to me. Not everywhere is a scam! Just wanted to add a little positive to all the warnings.
    But thanks for the warnings too.

  86. Alex said,

    Shanghai, China –
    I was fooled by the Shanghai tea shop scam 2 days ago. I even asked them to tell me the price before the tea ceremony started but of course this figure five-folded when the bill came and they gave a crap explanation. I didn’t know my rights so I just paid to get out of there. I’m very angry about it and that I let my guard down but I got off relatively lightly compared to what others have reported online (650RMB – 1000RMB+). I’m hoping the police can help me get it back as my bank say they cannot cancel the payment (even though I paid under duress). Basically avoid anyone in Beijing and Shanghai who is friendly and speaks English. Not worth it.

    Paris – I have been there twice and to all the touristy areas. Had no trouble and saw no scams.

  87. How to Protect Yourself From Tourist Scams - View from the Wing - View from the Wing said,

    […] A year ago I wrote Common Tourist Scams and How to Avoid Them. […]

  88. Amy A. said,

    Re: Peter Fraens, #69- Though not fluent in Italian, I consider myself a seasoned traveler. My husband and I just (4/30/14) experienced the same scam but before we knew it, we were scammed. Tourist map, designer representative (Versace), wanted directions to French Embassy, needed gas and was out of money, “I love the US. Blah, blah, blah.” “How tall are you? I represent models (shows photo album – quickly). Husband reaches in pocket and pulls a 10€note to give “the unfortunate fellow” along with other € notes. Scammer takes a twenty and a fifty € right out of his hand, motions toward a petrol station where he will supposedly reimburse us (how?). Off he drove, leaving us stunned, embarrassed, stupid, and scammed. He was dressed in jacket and tie, had very badly stained teeth, kept shaking our hands and pulling us closer to the car. I wanted to tell two Carabinieri a half a block away, but the husband thought it would be futile.

  89. Hotel Charges Man $127 for Water (Travel Can Be Very. Expensive. So Know What You're Getting Into) - View from the Wing - View from the Wing said,

    […] On the other hand, though, in a way this does remind of the Chinese tea ceremony scam. […]

  90. Kai said,

    I was in Tanzania, and was told to always agree on the price for a tuk-tuk ride before getting on. One early morning while walking to the bus terminal in Dar es Salaam to take a bus to Moshi, there was a tuk-tuk that went by. I tried to flag it, before realizing it was occupied. It then turned back, and the man riding inside who was well dressed asked where I wanted to go. After learning that, he told me he could ‘give me a ride’. I naively stepped on, and was later told that the ride would be a few times more than what I’d bargain for. I didn’t argue because 1) the tuk tuk was moving, 2) I was in a confined space. Lesson learnt.

  91. Avoid Getting Taken! Plus What's Killing Prepaid Financial Products? - View from the Wing - View from the Wing said,

    […] overview of Southeast Asia scams you’ll likely run into as a tourist. A good companion to my Common Tourist Scams and How to Avoid Them The taxi industry outspends Uber and Lyft on lobbying 3500:1 Hipster scarf saves an American […]

  92. Max Pallas said,

    Driving my French registered rental car in Barcelona, stopped at traffic lights, I hear a rush of air followed by a tap on the window. Rider on motor cycle motions to rear near side tyre – its flat. I drive to side of the road, and investigate. Tyre has a hole in the side wall, could be a defective tyre, I think at the time. Motor cycle rider follows me and says in French, which i do not understand, something about the tyre. I start to get jack and tools from trunk, he motions that my wife should get out of the car so its easier to jack it up, seems reasonable. My 6yrs old grandson is already “helping” me. It takes 30 minutes to change the wheel, meanwhile I thank motorcyclist, who has been in my sight all the time, and he rides off. When we get back into the car. my wife finds her handbag is missing together with iPhone, and some credit cards. Back at the hotel, I’m told its a common scam, rider punctures tyre, feigns assistance, while his accomplice sneaks into car and grabs what he can. Lucky, iPhone is insured, and instantly remotely erasable, credit cards are cancelled before any illegal use. Passport is in hotel safe. Main loss is quality leather bag and Avis excess for damaged tyre.

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