Popular Tourists Scams to Watch Out For

A man is sitting on the floor next to his bright yellow backpack

Let’s be real: the absolute majority of the people you will deal with on your vacation are honest people trying to make a living. But there is no denying that there are people out there whose intentions are less noble, and they would love to part you with your hard-earned cash if they get a chance.

But the good news is that most of the scams you can get into are well-known and are easy to prevent if you are cautious. So, let’s talk about what you can do to protect yourself from scammers on your tour to Europe.

Europe Travel Tips: Common Scams & How to Avoid Them

Nothing is Free

A close-up of a hand holding hand-made bracelets


Exploring the city center, you can easily encounter people in gorgeous historical costumes offering a free photo or a friendly guy with a lizard, pet pigeon, or any other cutie that he will try to get you to hold completely free of charge. Well, you do remember where to look for free cheese, right?

The same goes for any pushy vendors trying to get you to try a trinket on or ask to help with the demonstration of one. This particular trick is also known as the “European bracelet scam.” Quite often, what you end up wearing is hard to quickly take off, so the tourists end up paying for the ornament, and usually quite a hefty sum. So it’s safer to confidently decline and go hunt for souvenirs in some other place.

Always Keep an Eye on Your Money

A person paying with a card during their vacation to Europe


Whether you prefer to pay in cash or by card, you need to pay attention when making any payments. There are a lot of ways you can be scammed out of your money, so let’s go through the most popular traps tourists fall into. 

One of the most popular tricks in the books is the slow change count. If there is a large flow of tourists, most of whom are clearly in a rush, the vendor can do a nice extra on people who grab the money, no bothering to wait till they finish counting your change back. So they can deliberately take their time, keeping you long enough so you would start getting irritated and feel guilty for making the line wait and end up just taking whatever is in his hand just to get out of there.

If you pay with a large bill, some dishonest drivers and servers can try the following trick on you: they drop a banknote you just gave them but pretend to pick up a smaller one, hoping to shortchange you. As a preventative measure, you can state the amount you pay out loud, so the person you have a deal with knows you are paying attention. 

When paying with your card, be careful around cashiers who serve you while on their phones, as it makes it easy to take a sneaky picture of your card info. Also, it’s not a great idea to check your card balance using public Wi-Fi. If this information gets into the wrong hands, it can both make you a target and give the scammers another persuasion tool (aka knowing specific and private information about you) to work with.

And that’s about it. To sum things up, the basic rules are very easy to follow. All you need to keep in mind is to pay careful attention to the denomination of the bill you pay with, always count your change, and watch your card if it changes hands. And, overall, it might be a good idea to opt for paying with a mobile payment app if that’s an option. If you follow these easy precautions, scamming you will be quite a challenge. 

Friendly ATM Helper

A woman with a backpack is using an ATM on her tour to Europe

ATMs on vacation can be a nightmare in and of themselves, especially if you are a fan of second-city travel. Finding one in a place you don’t know can be tricky, but finding one with a commission that won’t make you wince in pain is almost always a challenge, even with the whole knowledge of humankind (aka the internet) at your disposal. Unfortunately, scammers are another thing you need to look out for. 

While the scenario by itself is nothing new (a person watches you enter your PIN and then creates a distraction, drops something at your feet and asks for help getting it, for example, and quickly switches your card with a dummy one of similar colors), in popular tourist destinations, not only seniors are common victims of this scum but also tourists of all age groups. If you approach an ATM and a friendly local offers to show you a better one for getting cash from non-local cards or to help you in any way with money withdrawal, it’s better to politely but firmly refuse and take your business to some other place.

And, of course, if you have suspicion that your card might be compromised, it’s better to cancel it as a security precaution. For your convenience, it’s a really great idea to have two cards issued by the same bank with you, so you can easily transfer the funds to your spare card if the need to cancel arises.

Taximeter is Your Friend

A close up of a taxi at night


Of course, not all drivers are out to get you, but even one is enough to sour the mood. Luckily, when Uber and Bolt are so widely available, getting a car for a fixed price is easier than ever, but it might happen that you need to go old-fashioned and catch the car on the street. In this case, here are a few things to keep in mind. 

It’s important to establish the price (or a rough estimation at least) up front to minimize the chances of unpleasant surprises upon payment. Next, make sure that your driver turns the taximeter on when getting in the taxi. And if you are paying in cash, stick to bills of lower denominations to avoid giving an opportunity for any major miscalculations. And overall, being cautious usually pays off, so if the driver makes you feel in any way uncomfortable, there is a good rule of thumb you should keep in mind: “When in doubt, get the hell out.”

Watch out For Beggars

A boy holding a hand-written sign "Family killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons"


One of the popular scams in Europe looks as unthreatening as possible: a single mother, usually with one or two small children, approaches people in the crowd and asks for a bit of money so she can feed her family tonight. It’s very possible that in reality, this woman is after your wallet, not a few pennies. Another variation of the same tune: a bunch of young kids with seemingly nothing on them but their disheveled clothes, sad eyes, and tragic story on well-worn cardboard. Don’t let their innocence fool you. The chances are that they are experienced and very skilled thieves who will quickly and efficiently check out your pockets and backpack if you catch their eye. And, trust us, they can sprint away much faster than you think.

Of course,we don’t say that all the vagrants you see are out to get your valuables, but the unfortunate truth is that a lot of them are scam artists, and it’s a very good idea to be cautious, not to keep anything valuable in easily reachable places, and to invest in a good money belt before the trip. 

Here, you are all set to enjoy your vacation. And even though all these tips might seem like a lot, most of the them are just basic common sense and the very same precautions you take at home. And even though being cautious does pay off, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you are risking shielding yourself from something wonderful. The world is your oyster, and getting to know the locals is one of the most amazing things you can treat yourself to when traveling Europe.

by Ksenia Zaiceva