Sixteen Of The Most Common Tourist Scams And How To Avoid Them

August 20, 2015

First off relax. It’s easy to get paranoid reading an article like this to the extent you end up sat in your cabin, clutching your wallet, phone and passport whilst rocking backwards and forwards mumbling “no it’s mine, you can’t have it” to yourself.

Which obviously isn’t the reaction we’re looking for. That being said crime does exist everywhere and whilst we don’t want to make you so hyper paranoid when you dis-embark your cruise ship you can’t enjoy your time in port the team do want you to be aware of some of the more common tourist scams out there and the best way to avoid them.

Check with the Foreign Office first

Before going anywhere it’s always best to check the advice available on the foreign office’s website. If there’s anything specific that you need to know, that’s where the information will be.

The standard advice they give to all tourists is:

  • Find out about local customs and laws for any destination you’re visiting
  • Make sure your passport is valid and you have all the necessary visas.
  • Make sure you have comprehensive insurance and you’ve checked all the fine print in the policy

Pick Pockets

Pick pockets are a nuisance in most major cities and the advice to avoiding them when you’re abroad is much the same as when you’re at home. Keep your wallet and phone hidden, don’t let people see which pocket you keep it in (never use your back pocket!), keep your bag zipped up and keep some emergency money elsewhere. A lot of sites recommend you wear a money belt however as it’s no longer 1990 and they practically scream tourist we’ll leave that decision up to you!

There are several pickpocket ‘scams’ however that are quite common in some foreign cities that you should probably keep an eye out for.

  • One popular (and potentially upsetting) scam is to target a tourist with a lot of shopping bags or luggage. Someone will walk up and throw a baby in your arms before running off. You’ll obviously try to catch it, dropping your luggage or shopping only to find you’ve caught a doll.

Scary doll

  • Meanwhile the person’s accomplice will have grabbed your dropped bags and ran away.
  • A common (and arguably clever) scam in many European cities is for an bystander to warn you you’re pocket has just been picked (it hasn’t at this point). Human nature is to pat your pockets to check though, instantly letting the persons accomplice know where your valubles are. Top Tip: If this happens to you walk away and make sure you change where you’re valuables are.
  • A common pickpocket scam in Paris at the moment is for tourists to be approached by children doing ‘research’ for a charity. As you fill in the questionnaire/petition on their clipboard they’ll be busy exploring your bags and pockets with their hands out of site underneath it.

Ninja pickpocket

Tourist Scams

Pick pockets are an ever present problem in most major cities but with a few careful steps can easily be avoided. The thing travellers need to be most wary about when exploring foreign climes is some of the scams that criminals have thought up to solely target tourists….

  • A common tactic is to approach a tourist (especially a couple) in front of a famous monument or attraction and offer to take their photo. Worst case scenario they’ll then simply run away with your camera or if not will instantly (and loudly) demand payment for their ‘service’. Top Tip: Never fear – modern technology has nearly made this scam obsolete – Just buy yourself a selfie stick before you head abroad – Simple!

Selfie Stick

  • We’d hope none of you could fall victim to this scam but we’ll include it anyway ‘just in case’. In some cities a taxi driver taking you to a popular night spot might offer you cheap drugs for the evening. As you buy them a policeman will conveniently turn up, confiscate the drugs and charge you an exorbitant fine.
  • We’ve heard reports from Barcelona of some shop clerks serving people whilst talking on their phone. They’re not really talking though – instead they’re secretly taking a picture of your credit card. Top Tip: Wait till they finish before using your card or ask them to hang up – It might be a little awkward but much better than having your card details stolen!
  • Another scam we’ve heard a lot about in Barcelona is shop clerks counting out you’re change ridiculously, insanely slowly with the idea being you get fed up and say something like that’ll do and leave them a generous tip. We’re afraid there’s not much you can do about this one except be aware of it and be patient if you don’t want to leave all your change behind!
  • We almost shouldn’t have to say this but in the interests of being complete…. Never, never, NEVER but tickets for shows, tours, museums or excursions anywhere except on the companies official website or at the correct ticket booths. Scalpers are everywhere selling fake tickets and if a deal sounds too good to be true it probably is!

Ticket scalper

  • Another common scam that’s been around for years but stills traps thousand s of tourists is fake goods. Everyone loves the idea of a bargain, especially when they’re on holiday and in a great mood already but we’re sorry to break this to you – That nice man really isn’t selling a genuine Rolex and that women in distress doesn’t really need to part with a diamond ring that’s been in her family for generations. Top Tip: You’re being scammed!
  • Recently we’ve heard about a scam being run in New York airports where people can come and go within the denature area. As you place your laptop on the security scanner the person in front of you sets off the metal detector and very (very) slowly starts to take off his belt, empty his pockets of coins etc. Meanwhile your laptop has already passed through security but by the time you get through to collect it its gone! Top Tip: Never put valuables through the x-ray machine before you’re ready to collect them on the other side.
  • They say you can’t con an honest man. The team aren’t so sure about that but it is a lot easier to con a dishonest one. A popular scam in India is for a doctor to sell you a fake injury report for you to claim back on your insurance when you get home – Don’t bother insurance companies are wise to this scam and are unlikely to pay out for the claim.


  • It’s been known in some countries for a passer-by to bump into you and drop something (almost always worthless) and then demand a ridiculous price for it. Top Tip: If this happens to you keep calm no matter how loud the person gets and remember it’s almost certainly a scam – explain you’ll be happy to resolve the situation but insist you do it a big hotel’s reception or even better the local Police station – the scammer will soon disappear!
  • If you’re stopping in a hotel before or after your cruise be careful of late night calls. Some scammers will ring direct through to your hotel room claiming to be the reception desk and pretending there’s a problem with your card. They’ll ask you to confirm them over the phone. Top Tip: Never do this! It’s annoying (especially in the middle of the night) but ask yourself what kind of hotel would call at that time anyway? Instead offer to head down in the morning and politely hang up.

As we said at the start of this guide – these are all extreme examples and you shouldn’t worry.

Just remember to be vigilant, use a little bit of common sense and if the worst comes to the worst make sure you have access to an emergency fund.

Have you ever came across any of these tourist scams when abroad?

Have you ever been caught out whilst abroad? What happened to you and how did you react?

Let us know in the comments below….