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Scams to watch out for while traveling in any large city in Europe, or anywhere.

The police are present all over Rome, but petty theft still happens
The police are present all over Rome, but petty theft still happens

Scammers are almost everywhere in the world (except maybe Japan) lol. Over my years of traveling, I have seen my fair share and heard stories of unsuspecting tourists being caught up in a scam. The below list is the most common I have seen or heard of in Europe, but I have also witnessed some of them in larger cities in the United States. I will focus more on Rome because it was the place, I spent more time in recently, but as you can tell from my list several cities are mentioned, even in the United States. It pays to do your research before traveling and I hope this helps remind you to be mindful in any large city you are in.


While European cities are beautiful, and overall, very safe cities, it is important to be aware of potential scams that can occur. Summer is coming, and as we approach this prime season, many visitors take their European vacations. Scammers will take advantage of the crowds. The best way to avoid being scammed is to be aware of the common tricks and things to watch so you can know how to protect yourself, avoid and walk away. Here is my list of the most common scams to avoid.


Cruise Critic

Scam: Bracelets or Roses “as a gift” while traveling in Europe

Crowded City Street in Barcelona perfect for a scam
Crowded City Street in Barcelona perfect for a scam

You may encounter street vendors while traveling in Europe, especially around popular tourist attractions, offering various items like souvenirs, flowers, or bracelets. I myself have been scammed in Paris with the bracelet gimmick 8 years ago. While walking Rome a few weeks ago I noticed these scammers doing the same thing at the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Be cautious, as some of these vendors can be persistent or even aggressive in their sales tactics.


When I was in Paris a few years ago, one of the bracelet scammers got me near the Basilica of Sacré Coeur de Montmartre. Before I realized he had the bracelet wrapped around my wrist and wanted money. Of course, I got it off my wrist really quick, tossed it back at him and walked away, but he was very demanding of me to keep the bracelet, almost screaming. So, if you see these guys just don't look at them or talk to them and keep moving.


These scammers may try to place items in your hands or offer you a good luck rose and insist it is a present, then demand payment. Don’t allow any street vendors to place anything in your hands, or to put bracelets around your wrist. It is best to give a polite but firm “no" and hand the fake gift back. If they will not accept it back, leave it on the ground to be clear that you are not going to engage in the scam.


Scam: Fake Tickets and Unauthorized Tour Guides while traveling in Europe:

Viator

In the United States we see this all the time. People are trying to sell tickets outside a concert venue or sports arena that are fake. Or trying to sell them online to scam you out of money. When visiting popular attractions such as the Colosseum or the Vatican while traveling in Europe, be aware of ‘gathers’ who will invite you to join a tour when tickets are sold out. In all likelihood, you will be joining a real tour, but you are going to overpay by quite a bit and be in a group of 40-50 people being ushered through the venue.


Doing a proper tour, you have investigated, is the best way to avoid being price gouged by a scammer. I tend to look at the attractions website or Viator to help me pick a tour if I decide to buy one. Planning your stops at major landmarks is the best way to avoid overpriced tickets.


Always verify the credentials of a guide before hiring their services, when you arrive after buying online, guides always wear an ID around their neck with the Lazio region’s logo (Lazio is a region in Europe that Rome is located in.) Also, the use of digital tickets on your cell phone from the websites are reassuring if you are worried about waiting too long and tickets sell out. Personally, I buy early and use Viator, and I can help you get discounts on any tour listed on Viator, so give me a yell if you like. Other reputable vendors are Tiqets or GetYourGuide. They will also deliver tickets digitally to your phone, almost instantly. I have never run into a scam from these websites.

Ticketmaster

Taxi scams

Taxi picture from the Netherlands
Taxi picture from the Netherlands

There are certainly more honest taxi drivers than not in the world, but I do tend to find once that I call "get ya's". I have had every taxi scam pulled on me or attempted to be pulled on me while I travel in Europe. So, take my advice on this one. Let's go over the list of taxi scams that have happened or almost happened to me.




  • Shortchange on cash-New York City I had a taxi driver swap out my 20 for a 10 and insist I still owed him money, so from now on as soon as I get in the taxi I ask if they accept cards. If they don't I get out. Plus, if you are not familiar with paying in Euros in Europe, it makes sense to pay with a card especially if it is not charging you to convert to US dollars. Check with your credit card and banks before you leave for your trip.

See the meter and the map in the taxi, always a good sign
See the meter and the map in the taxi, always a good sign
  • Asked to Follow a Taxi driver- Rome Italy. This was really odd and sent my "Spidey Senses" on edge. I was standing waiting for a Rome's version of an Uber called FREE NOW, I was looking at my phone and saw he was 3 minutes away. When this guy came up to me and said his taxi was just over there and to follow him because he couldn't park here. NOPE. I said no and started to walk in the opposite direction, and when I saw that he was starting to walk the other way I saw my real FREE NOW rental pulling up to take me back to the hotel. Just never follow anyone that claims they are a driver and couldn't park at the place you want picked up at.

  • Being told a flat rate without the meter on- Florence Italy. I was at the overlook above Florence (Michelangelo Park) when I decided to leave and spotted a taxi. I asked to be taken to the bus station, which I knew was a distance away since especially with all the traffic. As I asked, he reached over and turned his meter off and started complaining about traffic and how far it was and asked for 100 Euro. this was a big nope, I just turned around and walked away and ordered an Uber for 15 bucks. He thought I was an unsuspecting tourist.


Rentalcars.com

Pickpocketing and Bag Snatching

Over the shoulder purse could easily be snatched
Over the shoulder purse could easily be snatched

Rome, like many crowded European cities, has some very experienced pickpockets. Be on high alert in crowded areas, public transportation areas or even on the metro (the 64 bus is notorious for this). Tourist hotspots where thieves may operate. Trevi Fountain, outside the Pantheon and Spanish Steps just to name a few. Keep your belongings secure – never leave your phone on your table or place your bag under the table or on your chair. It should be around your knee/touching you at all times. People mention to me all the time how safe Japan is, and they could leave their phones on the table, or the purse could be hung off the side of the chair, this is not the case in Rome. Now I am not saying be paranoid, most likely you will not have any issue, but be smart. I have talked to some visitors who are so used to being pick pocketed, they will leave a fake wallet in their back pocket to avoid the scammer getting the real wallet. For me that is just overthinking, but I do understand why they do it.


Pickpockets will also often use a distraction, like a partner who will make scene or use a baby, to keep your attention elsewhere while they grab your stuff. The best thing to do is stay focused on yourself/your things and to limit the number of valuables you carry with you. I have never had an issue, but I'm always prepared when traveling. As for valuables, one thing I will never understand is why people with travel with so much jewelry. I love jewelry as much as the next, but don't bring your great grandmothers pearls on vacation. The sentimental part makes them irreplaceable, and jewelry is an easy grab.


Me with a Gelato
Me with a Gelato

A Cross body bag is what I use, and if it's cold outside I zip my jacket over top of bag. Another thing you should do is never keep all credit cards and cash on you. Split it up. I carry 1 card and limited cash when out, with my other cards and cash safely put away at the hotel. Do not walk around Rome with 500 bucks and 4 credit cards in your back pocket wallet or over the shoulder purse. You are asking for trouble. If you look closely at my picture, you can see the blue of my crossbody bag under my jacket. Sure, it makes me look chunky, but I am a chunky girl anyway, and not dressed to impress. I am dressed to stay warm in December and protect my money and cell phone.


Also, in Barcelona I saw a pickpocket in action near the Sagrada Familia. That is a very crowded area, so they pick busy areas for sure. I yelled at him just as he was slowly reaching for the purse of a lady, who was too busy taking pictures to notice his hand on her purse.

airalo

Buying from illegal vendors

Barcelona Street Vendors
Barcelona street vendors

In Barcelona I saw the blankets on strings laid out in the street with items for sale on top of blankets. They have their blankets on strings so they can scoop up blankets quickly and make a run for it when the police come by because these are illegal vendors. This is also common in New York City but in Barcelona I actually saw 5 of them pick up and run which was a first for me. Always be careful buying from these people. Honestly. I would just avoid it. Usually, the ones in New York have knock off brand names. Which is great if you want to pay $20 for a look that costs $200 if it was real. Still, it is probably best to avoid buying from these types of vendors.




Hilton Honors

Restaurant Scam

The best Carbonara I have ever eaten, $11 near Termini Train Station
The best Carbonara I have ever eaten, $11 near Termini Train Station

Some restaurants in tourist areas may try to scam or take advantage of unsuspecting visitors by overcharging or adding hidden fees to the bill. These tourist traps are usually near the most popular landmarks. Before entering a restaurant, Google it, look at reviews, check prices on the menus online and compare when you look at the menu inside the restaurant. You could also look and see if the restaurant has their own website, some do. Keep in mind that a “coperto” or cover charge is pretty standard these days at higher end restaurants. But tipping is up to you. There are many gourmets and high-end restaurants in Rome but there are also plenty of cheap eats that are great. I found that prices were generally cheaper than in the United States. There are excellent food choices in the food court at Termini Train Station with decent prices. and an Italian restaurant across the street from my hotel (UnaHotels Deco Roma) was excellent and affordable. Of course, I say this because this is away from the major tourist stops, so in my opinion it was less likely to scam you.


While I was visiting Rome, I talked to a couple who paid 112 Euros for lunch near the Vatican. WAY TOO MUCH!!!! Remember to trust your instincts and be cautious when dealing with unfamiliar situations.


Traveling anywhere in the world can have its challenges but, in the end, it is so worth it. I hope this will help you learn a few things on safety while traveling, especially in large European cities. Please don't let this deter you or scare you. Just remember I am doing this trip as a solo traveler, so if I can do it as a solo anyone can do a trip to Europe too. So, get out there and explore the world, just do it safely.


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