6 Obnoxious Tourist Scams From Around The Globe
Every tourist destination has scammers looking to separate the unwary from their money, be it Beijing's infamous tea house scam or the very existence of Winnipeg's tourism bureau. And so, because the typical Cracked reader is a debonair world traveler, we thought it best to tell you about some of the more common scams you might encounter, thereby allowing your globetrotting adventures and international super-spying to continue unabated. Be on the lookout ...
In Paris, Someone Will Try To Sell You A Gold Ring
Paris, best known as the Big Eclair, has no shortage of scammers looking to exact revenge on tourists who think that French is just English spoken slowly and with increasing volume. One of the most common tricks is the gold ring scam, whereby someone will "find" a gold ring at your feet, ask if it's yours, then offer to sell it to you when you say no. Usually there's an excuse for why they don't want it themselves, like a male scammer approaching a woman and claiming it's a woman's ring, but lucky for you they could use a bit of cash and will happily hand it over for 10-20 Euros. Or there might be a sob story. They would love to keep the ring, but what they would love even more is to feed their children. The ring, of course, is about as worthless as one from a cereal box.
It sounds moronic, but like with so many scams, it works because the crook is talkative and pushy. They can shove the ring into your hand and start badgering you for money before you've fully processed what's happening, and then you're the foreigner worried about being rude or making a scene in a strange city. But they usually give up when challenged, because scams like these are all about the raw number of targets. So you just have to stay calm and collect yourself.
Travel forums tend to be full of the latest sightings and strategies, and Parisian police have started to crack down by putting officers around major tourist hubs. Just be wary if a stranger is suddenly claiming to be an expert jeweler, especially if there's someone with them who might be stealing your wallet while you're distracted.
The scam is so ubiquitous in Paris that frequent visitors treat it like a rite of passage. In 2018, a variation was spotted in Northern California and western Canada wherein someone supposedly desperate for gas money will try to sell you their "gold" jewelry. Whatever you may encounter, you can pretend to not speak the language, or just keep saying no until they move on to another target. If they're unusually determined, maybe try spinning a story about how the last time you wore a gold ring, it led to a terrible war.
New York Has A Fake Statue Of Liberty Tour (Which Alec Baldwin Fell For)
The Statue of Liberty is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, which of course means that grifters are trying to milk all they can from the huddled masses of suckers checking it out. If you want to visit Liberty Island, there is only one official way to do so, and that's by taking an $18.50 ride with Statue Cruises, who have an exclusive government contract. But when you approach the harbor, aggressive touts will try to sell you on their own cruise.
And in their defense, you will be taken for a ride. It will just be twice as expensive, far longer, and on a boat that feels like it should have been decommissioned sometime around the end of the Korean War. Oh, and you have to go to New Jersey first. You'll be told that visiting Liberty Island is a cramped, unpleasant experience, but their roomy harbor cruise will give you an incredible view of Ol' Torchy from the water. If you give in to their insistent sales tactics, you'll be herded onto a bus, taken to New Jersey, and made to wait until enough victims have shown up. Then you'll be thrown on a shitty boat, offered marked-up Costco snacks, and putter around the water for a bit.
If you're lucky, the whole inane affair will "only" take about three hours and offer a few decent photo opportunities, but it's still an overpriced waste of your time. None of it is authorized, but hawkers ignore the rules, and crackdowns often just make them move their bus stops before they get right back to preying on unwitting tourists and, uh, longtime New Yorker Alec Baldwin, who you think would know better, but whose angry complaint did prompt a renewed effort to defend more likable visitors from the scam.
Rome Has Pushy Centurions And Sleazy Restaurants
Rome is full of famed historical sites, like the Colosseum and Caesar's Palace. But while you wander through the ages and recount the Total War campaigns that have basically made you a modern-day Augustus, someone dressed as a centurion may approach and offer to take a photo with you. If you accept, you'll be wading into a battle that's been raging for as long as some of Rome's more ancient struggles.
Hordes of roving warriors have garnered a reputation for harassing potential customers, overcharging, pickpocketing, and occasionally starting fights. They're not all bad, but for every passionate actor who consulted historians to ensure that their gladius is the proper length, there's some hungover grump in crocs who won't tell tourists that his services come with a fee until the photo's been taken and they feel trapped. Enough of them are causing problems that they were banned in 2015 ... then reinstated in 2017 ... then cracked down on again in 2019. Fines are the city's weapon of choice, but the swindling soldiers have to be caught first.
You can escape the madness in a nice Italian restaurant ... which might try to rip you off. In 2019, two Japanese tourists were charged 430 Euros for two plates of spaghetti and fish, along with the incredible extravagance of water. Other visitors came forward with similar stories, saying that the restaurant's waiters would suggest dishes that were billed with a modest-looking "per 100 grams" price, then bring out massive portions. Huge service fees and supposedly mandatory tips would be tacked on as well, and anyone who complained would be told that it was all in the fine print. One woman alone found herself with a bill for 476 Euros. The restaurant is still operating, but the online reviews are, shall we say, unkind.
A Venetian restaurant was accused of running a similar scam in 2017, and Italy has developed a general notoriety for being less than clear with hidden charges and unwanted dishes. No, you're not going to have to take out a second mortgage to eat there, but brush up on some tips. And keep your Mario impersonation private, no matter how hilarious you insist it is.
The Times Square Elmos Are Out Of Control
If you're visiting New York City and aren't very creative or adventurous, you'll eventually find yourself in Times Square. And amid the crowds of tourists looking to sample the exotic delights of Olive Garden or trying to score Hamilton tickets without having to sell more than one of their children, you'll see many a Spider-Man, Elmo, Olaf, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Fortnite, and whatever other characters are en vogue. Their shtick is to pose for photos with tourists in exchange for tips, except there's a reasonable chance that you might get an unwanted feel of Woody's Slinky Dog.
An Elmo was accused of groping a 14-year-old in 2019, and there are no shortage of complaints beyond that. In addition to the occasional molestation, characters will grab people's arms and insist on a photo, pressure unwilling tourists into generous tips, or maybe throw a punch and force parents to whip up an explanation for their crying child as to why Elsa has a mean right hook. This is another ongoing battle, as a 2016 effort to clean things up with designated "activity zones" soon led to encroachment, and for every noble Hulk on the street, there's a less-incredible sibling who will grab a kid and won't accept a "We don't want a photo, we've given up our Instagram feed for Lent" from their parents.
A poll found that 22% of New Yorkers and 15% of tourists have experienced "unwanted physical contact" from the mascot monsters, and 47% of locals have had a general "unpleasant interaction" with one. The worst offenders can be reported and fined, but too harsh of a crackdown runs into First Amendment issues, because people have fought and died so that American citizens can have the right to make a living as an aggressive panhandling Superman.
On the other coast, Los Angeles introduced regulations on Hollywood Boulevard's actors after Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck got in a fight, Mr. Incredible took a swing at Batgirl, and a sexy pirate refused to give a tourist change for their $100 bill. They now have to perform in the designated "Hollywood Entertainment Zone," where character overpopulation is a problem, and that's accidentally a perfect metaphor for modern movies.
There's An International Network Of Fake Buddhist Monks
According to our authoritative skim of Wikipedia's "Buddhism" page, being an asshole to strangers is not one of the religion's core tenets. But those without our expertise can be tricked by fake monks in New York City, London, Sydney, Vancouver, and other major tourist destinations.
The "monks" offer a worthless bracelet or medallion to passersby, then badger anyone who accepts one for money, making the target worry about looking like a jerk who's trying to shortchange a holy man. If the scammer is feeling bold, they'll slap the bracelet on your wrist without asking, and their grasp of the English language may fluctuate rapidly when the subject of money comes up. It's an obnoxious trick, but it would be unremarkable if not for the fact that the monks appear to be well-organized. The shit they hand out is identical worldwide, they divvy up territory, they've been spotted pooling their cash, and they ebb and flow out of major cities as awareness of the scheme builds before falling out of public consciousness again.
Where it gets confusing is in countries like Nepal, where the fake monks compete with actual monks for real estate. Real monks do solicit donations, but without getting into the finer points of the faith, they won't be pushy jackasses about it. Also, real monks are generally only looking for food, and they'll happily talk to you about their temples and beliefs, whereas the fakes usually can't answer basic questions about Buddhism, and clam up when asked for specifics about what your "donation" will be used for. Also, it's rare for actual monks to display an impressive range of profanities when denied worldly lucre.
Barcelona Has A Bird Shit Scam
If you visit Barcelona, you will be defecated on by birds, just as an ancient prophecy foretold. Luckily, a helpful stranger or two will spot your new accessory and offer to clean you up with the water and moist towelettes they conveniently happen to have on hand. Less luckily, that will only be a pretext to pickpocket you.
The feces are fake, bar perhaps the occasional purist grifter who insists on bottling real pigeon shit, and they'll be surreptitiously sprayed on you by the same people who insist on helping you with a fervor that implies they're officers of the local Pigeon Patrol. They'll aim for your backpack, purse, phone case ... anything that gives them an excuse to touch your valuables. Or they'll suggest that you take them off to make things easier to clean. In one report, the scammers were able to grab a woman's gold necklace, and it's common for emptied wallets to be slipped back so that victims won't notice anything until a $5,000 credit card charge has been racked up at whatever the Spanish equivalent of Best Buy is.
This trick is a staple of Barcelona's tourist attractions, but it's also common in Buenos Aires, Santiago, and other South American cities, and it's been spotted in other places in Europe as well. Sometimes they'll use mustard, as though there's an epidemic of messy hot dog eaters, and occasionally they'll just lie about there being something on you. The best defense is to simply ignore them and walk away, even if this means leaving your clothes drenched in some foul-smelling concoction until you get back to your hotel. Sure, you'll look stupid, but if scammers can already tell that you're a tourist, then how much worse could it really be?
For more, check out The 4 Ways We Travel In The Modern World (Are About To Suck):
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