Six Popular Scams in European Cities


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If you are planning a getaway to Europe, it’s important to be savvy about the potential travel scams that the unscrupulous locals might try on you. Many of the common scams and tricks are the same old ploys – so once you know about them you will be able to see them coming and avoid them. Let’s look at six of the most popular scams that are frequently used in major European cities:

1.      The “You Broke It, You Fix it” Scam

Broken camera lens

This common scam has been spotted around the grounds of Buckingham Palace in London but it has also been used in many other places. A stranger will approach you while you are looking around the palace and ask you to take a photo of them. After the photo is taken you will return the camera and the stranger will fumble as you hand it to them, causing you to drop it on the ground. The stranger will blame you for breaking their camera and force you into paying for the damages.

You could avoid this scam by declining to take photos of anyone who asks, but that would mean that you would miss out on a great opportunity for social interaction. Instead, when you are handling their camera you can wrap the strap over your wrist – so that you will be able to catch the camera just in case.

2.      The “Friendship Bracelet” Scam


This scam is often practiced in tourist spots in Paris such as at the Sacre Coeur, but it can crop up anywhere. You will be approached by someone who places a strand of ribbon or string around your wrist and begins to quickly weave a friendship bracelet. They will not let you go and if you attempt to pull away they will keep hold of your wrist.

Once the bracelet is completely it will be tied tightly to your wrist, impossible to pull off. The scammer will then guilt you into paying what he or she thinks the bracelet is worth. The scam often works because travellers are intimidated and want to avoid any conflict whatsoever.

You can avoid this scam by keeping your hands in your pockets and walking past quickly. If someone does get a hold of you, keep saying loudly that you are not interested and pull away. If they get the bracelet on you, offer a couple of Euros and if that isn’t enough – they can have the bracelet back.

3.      The “Shell Game” Scam


Otherwise known as the 3-Monte, the shell game might seem harmless but it has parted many travellers from their precious cash over the years. A man will be playing a game on the sidewalk with three cups and one ball. He will put the ball underneath one of the cups and then rotate them around in front of the crowd, moving the ball between the boxes. He stops and you will be able to place a bet on which cup the ball is underneath.

You will be tempted to play the game, because there will be people around you who will be winning large sums of money left and right and making the game look very easy. However, these people work with the scammer and have been planted in the audience. The truth is that you will never be able to guess correctly, because the scammer will use sleight of hand to move the ball to a different cup, so don’t even attempt to play.

4.      The “Catch The Baby” Scam


This scam often takes place in Rome as well as many other European cities. A woman carrying a “baby” will pretend to trip and will throw the baby at you to catch. The baby is really just a doll wrapped in blankets, but in the split second that the fake child is in the air you will react by catching it – who would be capable of letting a baby fall on the ground? While you are distracted by this, a group of pickpockets or a swarm of kids will surround you and steal your possessions.

The best thing to do is to keep your distance from any beggars with children or babies so that they will not be close enough to throw the baby at you. It is also a good idea to keep your passport and the bulk of your money under your clothing and to only keep small bills and coins in your pockets.

5.      The “Short Change” Scam

Young woman paying for the taxi

This scam is often used by European taxi drivers in many different cities, although it could happen anywhere. You will come to the end of the taxi drive and you will pay your taxi driver what you owe him based on the meter reader. When you hand over the money he will pocket the note and then put a smaller bill on the seat next to him. He will say, “Hey, you only gave me a 5 Euro note, not 20!”

You will be tricked into thinking you accidently gave him the wrong note and you will be expected to pay the difference. In order to avoid this, make sure that you announce out loud what you are giving them so that there is no confusion.

6.      The “Fake Police” Scam


During this scam you will be stopped by a couple of thieves in uniform who are pretending to be “Tourist Police”. They will stop you on the street, flash their badges and tell you that they need to check your wallet for drug money or counterfeit bills. Many tourists succumb to their authority because they are afraid of getting in trouble with the police, but these fake officers will steal the money right out of your wallet as they are “searching” it.

Never give your wallet to anyone. If someone claims to be police, ask them to take you to the police station so that you can be searched there – any legitimate cop would be able to fulfil this request.

Be aware of these six common scams, so that you can avoid getting ripped off during your travel adventures in Europe!


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About the Author: Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word. She and her English boyfriend Lee run, packed full with guides, stories and inspiration for those who dream of travel. They have been location independent and travelling the world digital-nomad style since 2011, with no address, no car and no fixed schedule.

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