As you’re staring in wide-eyed wonder at all the beautiful sights in Europe, don’t be too quick to let your guard down. While there are a fair share of kind-hearted and helpful strangers, I’ve also encountered a handful who are more concerned about your valuables than your wellbeing.
Here are five common scams I spotted when I was in Europe and how to avoid falling prey to them:
1. A Flower For The Pretty Lady?
A street merchant carrying a bunch of roses walks up to you. “For you, beautiful,” he says with a smile, offering a rose to you. “No thanks,” you reject, shaking your head. “It’s free,” he persists, trying to push the flower in your hand.
However, the moment your fingers close around the stem, he’ll change his mind and ask for a tip.
If the lady is accompanied by a male companion, the crafty merchant will offer the flower to the woman and ask the man for tips. He starts off with a wink and an easygoing demeanour but should you refuse to pay up, things will turn ugly — he’ll never leave you alone.
This scam plays on a woman’s gullibility and vanity and a man’s chivalry. Commonly seen around Venice and Rome, these merchants are usually found strolling around touristy areas.
To avoid falling prey to these sly merchants, never accept any free gifts from strangers. If you would like some flowers, find a legitimate stall where prices have been clearly labelled.
2. Free Friendship Bracelet For You, Sir!
Witnessed in Paris near the Sacré-Cœur, this scam is often carried out by a small group of three to five people. Their modus operandi is to tie a friendship bracelet around an unsuspecting tourist’s wrist and claim that it’s a token of friendship.
Again, they’ll say that “it’s free”.
These opportunists will then take advantage of the victim’s confusion to do away with his/her valuables. As their prey is trying to shake the bracelet off, a quick arm snakes into his bag or pocket and lifts out his wallet and phone.
One time, my dad was the unfortunate victim of this scam. Luckily he was clear-headed enough to keep a hand wrapped around his wallet and foiled the group’s attempts.
If this happens to you, keep your cool. Protect your valuables immediately and excuse yourself firmly. Push your way out of the circle and don’t turn back.
3. These Gladiators Are (Not) Here To Defend Your Honour.
While the gladiators are mostly seen in Rome, this scam happens all over Europe. Essentially, be cautious of anyone dressed in costumes or who are demonstrating special tricks such as floating in mid-air or masquerading as a statue.
Marvel at these performers all you want but avoid snapping a photo of them. Definitely don’t snap a photo with them.
Some of these characters may be harmless but there are a handful who are out to seek some quick cash. Once you’ve taken a photo with them, they’ll demand payment in the form of tips. Things can turn ugly if you refuse, even if you offer to delete the photos.
4. Feed The Hungry Pigeons & Take A Photo?
Can someone please explain to me what the appeal in being attacked by pigeons is?
I witnessed this scam in Milan, where a guy was selling bread crumbs as pigeon feed to tourists. He’ll then help to take a photo as the pigeons swarm the tourist.
Sure, it’s a good photo opportunity and the shot may turn out looking fantastic but really, aren’t pigeons everywhere? Do you really need them in your shot? Don’t forget that these are wild pigeons and just think of how filthy and unhygienic it is to have them land on you.
Besides, having been nearly swiped in the face by an overly enthusiastic pigeon rushing to reach the food, I can say that the poor souls who happen to be standing too close won’t be pleased.
5. A Taxi Ride That Comes With An Insane Price Tag.
This is perhaps the most expensive scam one can fall for.
If you’re unlucky, certain unscrupulous taxi drivers may take advantage of a foreigner’s ignorance to turn off the meter and demand an exorbitant amount upon reaching the destination.
While I didn’t experience this personally, my Airbnb host in Paris warned us about a previous tenant who was charged over a hundred euros to get from the airport to his place. Keeping this in mind, we took an Uber and paid less than half for the same distance.
Perhaps when you’re overseas, opt to take Ubers since the fare is fixed and drivers can’t overcharge you. Otherwise, stay alert and check that the meter is on.
Rest assured, not all friendly strangers you encounter overseas have ill intentions and in fact, some may be really kind and helpful.
I’ve been so lucky to have come across some who are sincerely concerned, offering a genuine “Alright there, love?” whenever I was lost. But, it doesn’t hurt to be a little bit more wary so your trip isn’t ruined by an avoidable incident!