Orbit's Travel Blog - 01.12.2021.

Tourist Scams in Europe: What all travellers need to know

Europe is an incredibly popular part of the world for tourists to visit due to its centuries of opulent architecture and interesting history. However, the continent is no stranger to scammers and disingenuous people who take advantage of unsuspecting tourists and visitors. It is natural for people to be less vigilant when on holiday, after all, they are on holiday! However, it is important to be vigilant to avoid pickpockets and ensure you don't fall for a tourist scam or a nasty trick.

Travel scams in Europe

Here we tell you about some of the most common travel scams in Europe and beyond. We start with general travel scams that occur in numerous countries and then go into some travel scams that occur mainly in European countries and destinations. An overview of the different scams you may encounter when travelling in Europe.


The group photo 'photographer ​

The group photo 'photographer' is a fairly simple scam. While you want to pose for a group photo with your friends at a popular tourist hotspot or landmark, a friendly person offers to take the photo for you. In return, however, he simply makes off with your smartphone/camera.

If you're looking for someone to take a group photo for you, be sure to ask them first. That way you can be sure you won't get ripped off! You could also ask other tourists to take the photo as a way of returning the favour. If all else fails, buy a selfie stick with long extensions!

 ​'Free' bracelets or similar trinkets

This is a common travel scam perpetrated by gipsies and other con artists, who often prey on young female travellers or drunken tourists. A man or woman who appears friendly will approach you and offer you a "free" bracelet or similar trinket out of the "goodness of their heart". Sometimes they put the bracelet around your wrist without your permission, which is intrusive, to say the least. Of course, this bracelet NOT is free; they want money for it. If you refuse to give them money for the bracelet, they often start making a scene, causing many travellers to give them money out of sheer embarrassment.

As obvious as it may seem, never let anyone pin anything on you or give you anything as a gift unless there is a good reason.

The group photographer scam

Fake police officers

There are usually several people involved in this scam. One person may approach you and offer drugs or something else illegal, which most people often refuse and/or don't go for. However, the "dealer" persists until a fake police officer shows up, flashing a fake police badge and demanding your passport and/or wallet.

It should go without saying, but you should never hand over your passport or wallet to anyone, even if it appears to be a police officer. Inform the officer that you will be calling the local police to verify his identity, and tell him that your passport is safely locked in your hotel safe.

Fake police scam

A "broken" taxi meter

Taxi drivers (especially near airports) have been known to trick naive tourists with this scam. They will tell you that their meter is broken, or that the ride is cheaper if the meter is not running. Think about it, why would they WANT to make less money if they don't use their meter? This can quickly lead to them trying to scam you by overcharging you for your ride.

Always negotiate the price before you start your ride, or at least make sure the meter is running and being used properly. This is especially common around airports, so be careful when driving from the airport to your hotel.

Tip: If you have mobile data, use maps on your phone to track the route that the taxi driver is going. This way you can spot if the driver is going in circles or taking longer routes.

'Clothing Stains'

You will feel something land on your shoulder: perhaps a drink, some bird poop, or gravy. A friendly passerby (perhaps the perpetrator) will then offer to wipe the stain off you, unobtrusively pulling your wallet out of your pants or pocket.

If for some reason you get a stain, go to a restroom and wipe it off yourself. It's better to be dirty than to have your wallet stolen.

​ATM 'help'

If you are at an ATM, a local person may approach you and tell you that they can help you avoid the bank charges associated with using your foreign card abroad. However, they have a card skimmer in their pocket and plan to scan your card and inconspicuously write down your PIN. That way, they can drain your bank account later.

Whether you are at home or abroad, never let anyone near you while using an ATM. Also, always cover your PIN code with your hand so no one can see your code, no matter how much you trust it.

Impaired" child beggars

Beggars come in many forms, whether they are deaf, blind, pregnant or young children. Many beggars who pretend to be impaired are perfectly healthy and able-bodied. Of course, many "pregnant" women feign baby bumps to elicit sympathy from tourists. Sometimes you see women with small babies, many of which are not even their own. These fake beggars take advantage of people's natural desire to be charitable and help young or needy people. The beggars may operate in groups to steal from you and collect money from you (that they don't need) while you are distracted by one of their fake sob stories.

This happens everywhere, so be careful. If you want to give beggars something, you should give them things they need, like food and clothes. They just can't tell the difference between who is legitimate and who is a fake beggar... it's a shame. 

Aggressive flirting ​

If you find  beautiful women (or men) suddenly flirting with you when you travel abroad, you may be falling for a long-haul scam. These flirters will often take you out to a bar or nightclub nearby, hoping you'll pay for all their drinks before suddenly dumping you. They may also try to get you very drunk and then steal from you, rob you or drug you.

If you suddenly find yourself a woman magnet abroad, you may simply have been the victim of a scam! Of course, you can't assume that everyone who flirts with you is looking for money, but those who aggressively flirt with you may have ulterior motives for doing so.

Hotel 'wake-up call'

If you're staying in a hotel, you'll be woken up early by the 'concierge' who wants to confirm your card details for payment. Of course, it's a scammer calling you; someone who has the phone number for your room at the hotel. After getting your card details, he will inevitably drain your bank account.

If there is a legitimate problem with your credit card payment, always go to the front desk of the hotel and sort it out in person with the concierge. A good hotel should expect you to settle financial matters face-to-face.


Popular tourist scams in European countries

There are several tourist scams in certain European countries and destinations, so stay alert. European scammers often target American tourists, who are particularly common in Europe. For this reason, we would advise you to try to blend in more with the European population, especially the people in the places you are travelling to.

Even the simplest things can give you away at first glance, such as baseball caps and fanny packs. You will very rarely see a European wearing these types of American-associated items, so avoid them if possible. It's probably not a good idea to wear your favourite NFL team's jersey either, nor your US university sweater!

Without further ado, here's a country-by-country breakdown of some of the most popular travel scams in Europe.

Tourist Scams in Paris

Louvre pickpockets

Pickpockets in Paris know that everyone goes to the Louver to see the Mona Lisa. This leads to huge crowds, which is an ideal environment for pickpockets and thieves! It has been reported that 56 purses were stolen in the Louver in a single day!

As with anywhere else, be vigilant in large crowds and make sure your belongings are safely tucked away in a money belt or jacket pocket.

Fake petitions

This often occurs near the Eiffel Tower and usually involves young girls trying to get you to sign a petition for their charitable cause. However, while you are signing the petition, your wallet is snatched by one of their accomplices.

Always be vigilant, especially in tourist areas where scammers are likely to be active. Sometimes scammers pretend to be deaf or dumb to gain sympathy, so don't fall for it!

Fake petition scams

Excessive prices in cafés and restaurants

France is famous for its cafes and restaurants, but be wary of the bad ones who may try to overcharge. For example, if you order a coffee or a drink, they may bring you the largest size to charge you extra. Some establishments also take advantage of foreigners' limited knowledge of French to charge them extra on the bill without realizing what they are being paid for.

Ask your hotel to recommend reputable restaurants and cafes, and make sure you understand what you are ordering and what you are paying for. French-language books and Google Translate can also help you better understand menus and bills.


Tourist Scams in Spain

Las Ramblas pickpockets

Las Ramblas street in Barcelona is the most notorious pickpocketing spot in the world, so be VERY vigilant with your belongings. The street is very crowded and full of distracting street performers and kiosks, making it an absolute paradise for pickpockets. Pickpocketing is particularly common in Barcelona, especially within popular landmarks such as Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

Always be vigilant in crowded places in Spain, including tourist hotspots, metro stations and crowded public transport.

The Trojan Horse scam

This scam is very common in many parts of Spain. It involves a small person (possibly a child) hiding in a large suitcase, which is then left in a hotel's luggage storage (for tourists planning to leave in the evening). After leaving it in the room, the thief opens the suitcase and steals it from the surrounding suitcases before returning it to the suitcase.

Always lock your suitcases when you are not around, and consider using hard-sided suitcases that cannot be easily broken into with a knife or scissors. 

The baby scam

Increasingly common in Spain and Italy, this scam involves a stranger unexpectedly thrusting a baby into your arms, only to have an accomplice rob you while you are distracted and forced to hold the baby.

This is very sneaky as you can't just drop a baby! Always stay alert and don't let anyone suddenly approach you, especially if they have a baby that they seem desperate to give to someone!


Tourist Scams in Italy 

Counterfeit luxury products

Fake luxury products are often sold in tourist hotspots in open spaces like the Spanish Steps in Rome. Although this scam is not unique to Italy, you can be fined $10,000 if you are caught with fake designer products!

Never buy fake luxury products from street vendors in Italy, even if you know they are fake and you are only buying them for their aesthetic value.

Rose scam

Scammers in Italy lure couples in under the pretence of selling roses. For example, the scammer may approach a couple and ask the husband to buy a cheap rose for the wife or simply accept one "for free". This scam often works because they ask for relatively little and make the husband feel guilty for appearing unromantic in front of his wife.

Never accept anything from anyone on the street. It's not free and it never will be!

Fake guidebooks

Fake tour guides are common in places like the Vatican, where there are often long lines at the entrance. A fake or unofficial guide will approach you and ask if you want to join a tour, claiming that you can skip the queue. However, he may charge you extortionate fees or plan to have an accomplice rob you during the "tour".

Avoid unofficial tour guides and stick to reputable companies.

Fake Guidebook scam

Scams in Germany 

Valued train tickets

Train tickets in Germany must be "stamped" by a machine before boarding the train so that the conductor can see that you have paid for your trip. However, people unfamiliar with the system may not be able to recognize the 'stamp' design of the ticket, and fraudsters will therefore sell them already validated tickets at a lower price.

If you are caught with a train ticket that has already been validated, you risk a hefty fine. Just buy your train tickets at the official ticket office.

Fake ticket inspectors

Ticket inspectors in Germany wear both official uniforms and civilian clothes - they practice this to catch unsuspecting fare evaders. But it also means that it's easy to pass yourself off as a German ticket inspector. If a ticket inspector finds a "problem" with your ticket and asks you to pay on the spot, you can be sure it's a fake. Real plainclothes ticket inspectors will print out a slip of paper for you to pay with later.

If you suspect a ticket inspector is a fake, threaten to call the railroad company to verify the inspector's authenticity. They might show you an ID card, but even that could be fake!


Scams in the UK

Fake auctions

Bogus auctions are common in London and Manchester and are used to trick you into paying large sums for low-value items. After gaining your trust through playful banter, you and your unsuspecting fellow bidders are sold "luxurious" items at a bargain price, only to find that the items are incredibly cheap and worthless.

Avoid these at all costs.

Pickpockets on the London Underground

Pickpocketing is common throughout Europe, but it is particularly common in busy London areas such as tourist hotspots and the London Underground.

Whenever you are in a busy place or on a crowded tube, be sure to secure your valuables with money belts or in inside jacket pockets. Many pickpockets strike just as you are boarding a train or entering/exiting an escalator, so stay alert.

ATM scams

ATM robberies are not uncommon in the UK, with thieves trying to distract you to steal your card or money. There are also reports of ATMs being equipped with cameras and other devices to scan your card and find out your PIN.

Always use ATMs at banks and other reputable establishments, and avoid using ATMs at night or in remote areas if possible.

We hope you learned something from this list because no one wants their vacation ruined by a scam! Have fun travelling in Europe, and remember to blend in, be smart, and stay alert!

Orbit's Travel Blog

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