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 in Western society; the birthplace of the Platonic ideals, the Socratic Method and the Olympics, Greece is indeed a sight to behold.
However, there are a number of crooks in the country carrying out petty crime with tourists as their main cash cow. 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, as should you take your phone out to check, it will be snatched immediately.
Rule of thumb: feign ignorance and walk off
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: stealing from you just when the door is about to close; having an accomplice suddenly stop/block you in front with another stealing from you behind; or simply cutting your bag if you leave it exposed behind.
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, so that to get out or to get your luggage, you have to push your way past them.
Another common trick is where should you leave your valuables on a table/flat surface, a stranger may come back, either laying a map over it asking for directions or some ware to sell, and then take it back but this time with your valuables as well. Some of these 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.
Rule of thumb: keep valuables securely when in crowded places and be wary when someone tries to distract you. Also have photocopies of your important documents, don’t bring out more valuables than needed, and use a money belt or spare wallet.
3. Ferry tickets scam
It works like this – you may be approached by a stranger on the street, who make 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 agencies 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. However, the scammer will now recommend an expensive cruise package or fancy hotel stay instead.
Rule of thumb: beware of friendly strangers and of such kinds of offers, especially if it sounds too good to be true
4. Would you like to get a drink?
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) and there 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 drugged and you will be robbed of your valuables. Based on reports, it seems like Hollywood Bar in Athens is THE bar where scammers like to bring their victims to.
Rule of thumb: reject, or test them by offering to bring them to your hotel bar instead
5. Photo taking scam
There are scammers who hang around looking for tourists and offering if they would like their photo taking. Should you say yes, 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 stranger to take your photo for free
6. Ring scam
This is 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 he found “your” gold ring and is “helping” you get it back. This is to build up trust between him and you. By the time you protest that it is not your ring, the gypsy will be pestering you for money for all sorts of things, such as transport or even their starving children.
The most scheming ones will have an accomplice pickpocket 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
A scam everywhere around the world, you will find these peddled by Africans around the Plaka and Monastiraki areas. You might find street touts pushing these products such as fake perfumes, iPhones and iPads around tourist attractions too.
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 there should be a big red flag. When the bill arrives, you will be in for a shock.
Rule of thumb: dine at only places with clearly displayed prices, also, check out online reviews before going
1. Faulty motorbike/ATV rentals and insurance scam
Similar to the scam in Thailand, these scammers rent out faulty motorbikes/ATVs, and then either demand that you pay up when you return the vehicle or demand repair payments should you get into an accident due to the vehicle being fault in the first place.
The even more unscrupulous ones will try to disguise a basic insurance plan as a full insurance coverage plan, but should you get into an accident, insurance would not cover that and you would have to pay any exorbitant amounts which they claim
Rule of thumb: inspect the vehicle and test drive it before signing, 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 and 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.
3. Airport taxi touts
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.
Rule of thumb: board the official taxis
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, receipts 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
Always be careful when handing over notes, big ones especially, over to taxi drivers. There have been reports where the driver might pretend that you have given a smaller note which is less than the fare by swapping with a smaller note which he has and then asking you to top up.
Rule of thumb: count aloud the notes while passing it over to the driver slowly
6. Long-hauling cab driver
For scammers, this is an easy one to pull off, as 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 from there 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. 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, as there have been reports of thefts of car radios which end up 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 Thailand, Morocco, 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 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
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, as they claim that there are many counterfeit notes around.
Do not pass them any, as they will simply steal some of your money or swop your real bills with fake ones. Instead, ask to check their badge again and ask them which police station they come from and what are their names. Save the police hotline (end of this article) and threaten to call this number.
Some of them work in groups as well, where one will pose as a fellow tourist and chat you up first to lower your guard. Once your guard is lowered, these 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 scammer will pressure you to follow their instructions so as not to fall foul of the law.
Rule of thumb: keep your cool and know the police hotline to call
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
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, illogical descriptions because they simply copy and paste, reviews that sound dodgy, payment only by bank transfer as that is non-transferable, refusal to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place, etc.
Rule of thumb: first, book only legit listing sites. Next, check out reviews of the place which you are booking. Further, you could test the owner by requesting for a visit first before booking.
Not exactly a scam per se, but 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
D. GETTING HELP
1. Emergency numbers to call
- Emergency: 112
- Ambulance: 166
- Fire Department: 199
- Police: 100
- Anti-drug Police: 109
- Coast Guard: 108
- Tourist Police: 171
- Pharmacies: 107
- Hospitals: 106
- Traffic Police: 10400
- International Phone Assistance: 139
- General Telephone Information: 11888
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