22 Most Common Tourist Scams in Greece

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With extensive coastlines and islands in the Aegean, Ionian, and Mediterranean Seas; an ancient culture which has had a significant influence on Western society; being the birthplace of the Platonic ideals, the Socratic Method and the Olympics, Greece is indeed a place of marvel.

However, there are a number of crooks in the country carrying out petty crime and scams against tourists. Read on further to learn how to protect yourself in the Hellenic Republic!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. What time is it?

If you are asked what time it is in Greece, be very careful. Should you take your phone out to check, it will be snatched immediately.

Rule of thumb:

Feign ignorance and walk off.

 

2. Pickpockets

Beware in crowded places especially in subways and at the train stations. There are gangs working around here and they usually use the same tricks. They steal from you just when the door is about to close. Or they have an accomplice who suddenly stop/block you in front with another stealing from you behind. Or some simply cut your bag if you leave it exposed behind you.

Also be alert and careful for anyone who stumbles into you, as that is when they strike. The smarter ones will make you stumble into them, by having three well-dressed men block the metro door or luggage rack for instance. Thus, to get out or to get your luggage, you have to push your way past them.

Another common situation is when should you leave your valuables on a table/flat surface. A stranger comes by. lays a map over your valuables and asks for directions. When he takes the map, your valuables will be taken along as well. Some of these thieves also camp at restaurant tables – a big red flag should appear if there haven’t been any food/orders on their table for some time.

For more tricks, check out how the pickpockets in the Netherlands and Spain operate – they are the real experts. Or check out this video below:

Rule of thumb:

Keep valuables secure and be wary when someone tries to distract you.

Also lock your valuables and passport in the hotel safe and bring around photocopies of your passport for identification purposes instead. Do not flaunt your valuables.

Finally, consider use a money belt or spare wallet.

 

3. Ferry tickets scam

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It works like this. You may be approached by a stranger on the street, who makes small talk with you to try to gain your trust. (e.g. where are you from, oh I know someone/something there as well!). Once trust is built up, he will recommend a friend’s/family member’s tourist agency where they are running a promotion on exclusive ferry tickets to a quiet island.

Should you accept, upon getting to the agency, you will find that the tickets were in such great demand that unfortunately, they have been sold out already. As such, the scammer will now recommend an expensive cruise package or fancy hotel stay instead..

Rule of thumb:

Beware of friendly strangers and such kinds of offers on the streets (common all around the world, e.g. Morocco, Philippines, etc). If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

 

4. Would you like to get a drink?

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You might be approached on the street by a friendly stranger who offers to bring you to a bar full of beautiful ladies (quite common at Syntagma). There are many ways this scam can play out.

First, the drink might be outrageously priced. Next, you might get swamped by the working girls who will order outrageously priced lady drinks on your tab. Finally, drinks that they get you might also be spiked and you will be robbed when you are unconscious.

Based on reports, it seems like Hollywood Bar in Athens is THE bar where scammers like to bring their victims to.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject, or test them by offering to bring them to your hotel bar instead

 

5. Photo taking scam

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There are scammers who hang around looking for tourists and offering to help you take a photo. Should you accept, they will help you a photo and then demand a ridiculous sum of money.

Rule of thumb:

Reject such offers – you can simply ask a fellow tourist/another stranger to help you take a photo for free.

 

6. Ring scam

This is a scam popular in France/Paris, but one you can find in Greece as well. A gypsy will coincidentally find a gold ring on the floor, point at the “18k” hallmark on the ring and offer it to you. Trust me, there ARE people who take it. It can be very convincing. It goes something like this:

Scammer: “Sir, did you drop this ring?”
You: “No, I did not”
Scammer: “Well, you can give it to your wife (phrased in a way that means no harm for you to take it, and you can even benefit from it). Why not? It will make her happy. They might also insist that their religion (or use some cock and bull reason) prevents them from keeping the ring.

If you do, the gypsy will demand your money in return. She can simply say:

Scammer: “Sir, I am hungry, could you give me some money/change for a croissant?”

When you give, they will ask for more. Most people tend to give as they have accepted/taken something from the scammer. Reciprocity is a very powerful thing. Sometimes, the scammer might walk away and reappear 5 minutes later to demand your money. Whatever it is, they will stop at nothing to get money from you.

Do note that besides a gold ring, it can be anything else that looks valuable or expensive.

A more scheming gypsy will pretend that she found “your” gold ring and is “helping” you get it back. This is to build up trust between her and you. By the time you protest that it is not your ring, the gypsy will have pestered you for money for all sorts of things, such as transport or even their starving children.

The most scheming ones will have an accomplice steal from you while you are protesting. So don’t even engage them. If it is not yours, don’t’ take it. Keep a lookout for suspicious people and gold stuff on the ground! It is mere useless polished brass.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and be on your way.

 

7. Free flowers

Another variation of common scams in Europe such as the friendship band scam in Italy, you might find a lady approach you offering free flowers. Despite your insistence not to accept it, she will hound you persistently to say it is free.

To keep her away, you decide to accept it but once you do, payment will be demanded.

Rule of thumb:

Reject firmly.

 

8. Fake (luxury) products

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A scam everywhere around the world, you will find these peddled by Africans around the Plaka and Monastiraki areas. You might also find street touts pushing these products such as fake perfumes, iPhones and iPads around tourist attractions.

If you wish to buy, bargain, because the prices are not worth it.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid buying.

 

9. Unpriced food and beverage items

At certain cafes or restaurants, you might find unpriced menus and that should be a big red flag. When the bill arrives, you will be in for a shock.

Rule of thumb:

Dine only at places with clearly displayed prices. Also, check out online reviews for reputable places to have a meal.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Faulty motorbike/ATV rentals and insurance scam

Similar to the scam in Thailand or Vietnam, there are rogue shop operators who rent out faulty motorbikes/ATVs. When you return the vehicle, they will demand that you pay a repair fee. Or you may have gotten into an accident due to the vehicle being faulty in the first place, causing further damage to the vehicle and being asked for a larger repair fee.

The even more unscrupulous ones will try to disguise a basic insurance plan as a full insurance coverage plan. However, should you get into an accident, the insurance would not cover that and you would have to pay any exorbitant amounts which they demand.

Rule of thumb:

Inspect the vehicle and test drive it before signing the contract. Also read through the insurance contract and terms and conditions carefully.

Take a photo of the vehicle before use as well, taking note of potentially problematic spots like existing scratches. Do not rent it if your gut feels uncomfortable – better be safe than sorry.

 

2. No taxi meter

A common and fast one to pull off, there are taxi drivers who claim that their meter is down. Then, they charge you an outrageous price at the end of the trip.

Rule of thumb:

Board the legal taxis which are yellow, have lights on their roofs and use a meter, unless you know the price well and are able to haggle and agree on a price at the start of the trip.

You could do some research online to have a rough idea how much a route costs or simply ask your hotel staff.

 

3. Airport taxi touts

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You will find airport touts, who offer you a ride on their unofficial taxi without having to queue. This happens everywhere around the world and in Europe (e.g. Turkey, Hungary, etc).

Don’t fall for the persistent demands of these guys, who target those tired and in a rush. They will rush you to their car, get you to your destination and then demand an exorbitant fee.

The scarier ones might even drive you somewhere secluded and then proceed to rob you.

Rule of thumb:

Board the official taxis at the official line.

 

4. Rigged meters

Sometimes, taking a cab with the meter running is not necessarily the most reliable bet, as there have been reports of taxis with rigged meters.

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Tampered/missing meter seal
  • Only fare is displayed (without distance and waiting time)
  • Not being able to find taxi name, taxi operator number, taxi car plate number inside the cab
  • Driver clicking something, probably a hidden switch
  • If driver drives slowly at a high speed area to prevent the meter from jumping too wildly

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert on the ride. If you suspect something amiss, note the taxi name and car plate number.

Also, ask for a receipt as based on Greek legislation, a receipt containing the fare, taxi registration number and driver’s name is supposed to be given out at the end of the trip.

 

5. Sleight of hand

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Always be careful when handing over notes (big ones especially) to taxi drivers.

There have been reports where the driver might pretend that you have given a smaller note by swapping your notes with a smaller note which he has.  He then asks you to top up.

Rule of thumb:

Count aloud the notes while passing it over to the driver slowly. Watch as the driver counts and stay focused as he may try to distract you.

 

6. Long-hauling cab driver

For scammers, this is an easy one to pull off. This is because many tourists do not know their bearings well in a foreign city, so rouge drivers can simply take a longer route to your destination. Once caught in such a scam, it is difficult to get out as the driver can simply insist that the route is the correct one.

What is worse if you get a driver who stops at multiple other locations instead of the one you requested, suggesting you purchase something as these are places where he gets a kickback.

Rule of thumb:

For longer routes especially, it’s a good idea to read the maps/use GPS to get a sense of your bearings. Do some research to find how long and what route the driver should take, or you could simply ask your hotel staff about this.

Firmly reject any suggestions to stop by certain places.

 

7. Car theft

Should you rent a car, do park at bright areas or closed/guarded car parks. This is because there have been reports of thefts of car radios which will resold at the Monastiraki flea market.

Rule of thumb:

Park at bright or guarded areas.

 

8. Your hotel isn’t safe

A variation on the place is closed scam (e.g. in Brazil, Sri Lanka, etc), you might find taxi drivers who tell you that the hotel you are staying at isn’t safe and that they know somewhere else which is better.

That is of course, a place where he gets a commission.

Rule of thumb:

Reject the offer.

 

9. Your restaurant is closed/isn’t good

One more commonly perpetuated by cab drivers than by a tout on the street, the driver may claim that the restaurant you are going is either closed or no longer good.

However, he knows a place by the sea which is cheap and good… The place is of course, one where he gets a kickback.

Rule of thumb:

Insist on your original location, especially if you have already done your research, don’t let it go to waste.

 

C. MISC

1. Fake police

Do not be surprised/keep your cool should you be approached by police officers. Fake police will flash their police badges, and then proceed to ask to check your money and ID. One excuse they use is that they claim that there are many counterfeit notes around.

Do not pass them any, as they will simply steal some of your money or swap your real bills with fake ones.

Some of them work in groups as well, where one will pose as a fellow tourist or local and chat you up first to lower your guard. Once your guard is lowered, the fake police officers will appear, accuse you of a crime and demand to check your money and identification. At this point, the scammer who is posing as a fellow tourist/local will pressure you to follow their instructions so as not to fall foul of the law.

Rule of thumb:

Ask to check their badges, identification, and which police station they come from. Remember the police hotline (end of this article) and threaten to call this number, or to settle the case at the police station.

 

2. ATM theft

There have been reports of robberies at ATMs in Omonia, Metaxourgio, Monastiraki and Syntagma.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid using ATMs in secluded, dark areas. Instead, try to use the ones in banks or in crowded areas.

Also, scan your environment for any suspicious characters before withdrawing your cash.

 

3. Fake apartment listings

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Fake apartment listers and fake sites are some of the worst scums in the world. It is easy – just copy and paste the photos and description associated with the listing and pass it off as one’s own.

Do be wary of the red flags such as prices that seem too good to be true. Or illogical descriptions because they simply copy and paste without any edits and reviews that sound dodgy. Also, payment only by bank transfer is almost sure sign of a scam as transfers are non-transferable. Another to watch out for is if the “owner” refuses to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place.

Rule of thumb:

Book only though legitimate listing sites.

Next, check out reviews of the place which you are booking. Then, you can test the owner by requesting for a visit before booking even if you don’t actually intend to do so.

 

4. Robbery

Not exactly a scam per se, but still one to watch out for.

Reported robbery shot spots are the Athens districts of Monastiraki or Omonia (red light district) and near the railway stations of Larissa and Peloponissos.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid these places especially at night. Keep your valuables and important documents in the hotel safe, carry around a photocopy of these documents instead.

Also consider using a spare wallet or money belt.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Emergency: 112
  • Ambulance: 166
  • Fire Department: 199
  • Police: 100
  • Tourist Police: 171
  • General Telephone Information: 11888

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