16 Most Common Tourist Scams in Hungary

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Hungary

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Hungary is best known for its lively capital of Budapest which is covered in vibrant bars, traditional bathhouses, and ornate architecture. Besides this old fashioned charm, you can marvel at Hungary’s natural splendor as well. The country is bisected by the mighty Danube River, home to the majestic Great Hungarian Plains, the iconic Lake Balaton and many more!

Although Europe is generally safe, Hungary is one of the less affluent countries. As such, there are tourist targeted scams to be mindful of when visiting. Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

A. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS/ACTIVITIES

1. Drink spiking in strip clubs

Hungary drink

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This scam usually targets male patrons of strip clubs which operate widely in Hungary.

When you visit a strip club, you might fall victim to a drink spiked with a sedative before it is served to you. One of the dancers in the club sees that you are feeling unwell and offers to help you back to your hotel. When you finally knock out, she will steal any valuables that you have in your hotel room.

Rule of thumb:

If you want to visit a strip club in Hungary, it is best to do so as a group so that you have others who can watch your back.

Should you decide to visit alone then make sure to watch all your drinks being prepared. If possible try to stick to bottled drinks which are more difficult for staff to tamper with. Should you feel unwell, alert someone in authority such as a police officer as quickly as possible and seek medical treatment.

 

2. Extortionate bar bills

This is probably the most prevalent scam in Hungary and also targets male visitors mostly.

This scam usually operates in the fifth district of Budapest and is known to be used along Vaci Utca, an area with lots of bars and restaurants. You will be approached by several young women who will engage you by asking you for a light for a cigarette or by asking for directions.

They will start chatting with you and ask if you want to go with them for a drink in a nearby bar. After a few drinks you will ask for the bill which will be incredibly expensive. The women will claim that they don’t have enough money to pay their share. This is a scam and the women are working for the bar.

Rule of thumb:

If you are approached by young women who ask you to go to a bar with them, particularly around Vaci Utca then this is probably a scam. It is best to politely refuse and walk away saying that you have a prior appointment.

If you do want to go for a drink then only order from a menu that clearly states the prices on it. Also, when you order, make it clear that you want a separate bill that only covers the cost of your drinks.

3. Tourist menus

Hungary Vaci Utca

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This scam also takes place around Vaci Utca.

You will find street touts offering you a flyer to encourage you to visit a bar/restaurant. These places are almost never at street level and you will need to get an elevator inside a building to access them. Once inside, you will be pressured to order drinks from a menu without prices. At the end of the evening, you will be presented with a huge bill.

This scam can also happen in restaurants where you are given a tourist menu with higher prices compared to menus for locals.

Rule of thumb:

When picking a bar or restaurant try to choose one at street level that has a large number of patrons. Ask to see the menu upfront. Check the prices before you order to make sure that you feel comfortable paying the stated amounts.

 

4. Pickpocketing

Pickpocketing is an issue prevalent across Europe (check out Netherlands and Spain for the many creative methods used by the pros) and Hungary is no exception.

This usually takes place in crowded areas around tourist attractions or in local markets and on public transport. Thieves will stand as close to you as possible and will then take your wallet, phone, or other valuable possessions. Or they could distract you by blocking/pushing/talking to you.

Rule of thumb:

One of the best ways to protect yourself from being pick-pocketed is to only carry a small amount of cash with you. If your hotel has a safe then leave all valuables in the safe along with your passport. Only carry a photocopy of this with you as a form of identification.

Also, use a spare wallet or money belt if you have one.

 

5. Fake merchandise

Hungary central market hall

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There have reports of fake products at the Central Market Hall, and even reports of fake food in supermarkets in 2014!

And all those luxury products which you see sold on the streets, those are obviously cheap knock-offs as well.

Rule of thumb:

Generally, the price is a good signal of quality – if something is too cheap to be true, it usually is.

 

6. Three shell game scam

A common fixture around Europe (France, UK, Germany), this is also known as the shell game. This game involves the showing and then shuffling of three peas/balls/cards. You either guess which cup contains the ball or which card is the odd one out. Guess correctly and you can double your money.

The scam is perpetrated by a group of 6-8 scammers. One is the dealer, three to five act as the crowd, one plays the game and one acts as the lookout for police.

This game seems easy but it is a game where it is impossible to win.  This is because the dealer uses a sleight of hand trick to swap the ball/pea/card. If you see anyone winning, that is the accomplice, as they try tempt tourists into thinking that it is easy to win.

Watch out for those accomplices acting as onlookers, as they will pressure you into playing. Some may even steal your valuables when you are distracted.

Rule of thumb:

Walk away if you see this, as nothing good can come out of it.

 

7.  Disabled beggars

Do not be surprised if you find quite a number of beggars on the street. However, note that these are usually not Hungarians themselves, but gypsies. They are usually part of an organized crime syndicate and act disabled so as to get more pity.

Rule of thumb:

Do not donate, as you will only be encouraging these scammers to continue begging on the streets. Further, the money will go to the mafia, and not them.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Snatch theft

This is not just a problem in Asia (Sri Lanka, Cambodia), but a prevalent problem in Hungary in recent years as well. Gangs on motorbikes will drive along the street and snatch items off travellers such as bags, cameras, phones or jewellery.

This can be very dangerous if the bag doesn’t break as you may get pulled along the road by the strap.

Rule of thumb:

Choose a bag you can fit across your body rather than over just one shoulder and keep it close at all times. Avoid carrying all valuables with you at one time. Also avoid holding items in your hand that can be easily snatched (e.g. cameras, mobile phones).

It is also a good idea to always walk with your bag on the side of your body away from the road.

2. Taxi meter problems

hungary taxis

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A common scam that you may encounter in Hungary is a taxi that has a problem with its meter. All licensed taxis in Hungary should have a meter. However, many will tell you that it is broken to charge you a more expensive flat rate.

If they do use the meter, then this is sometimes rigged so that it displays a much higher fare than normal.

Rule of thumb:

When you hail a taxi, make clear to the driver that you want to use the meter.

If you feel that the price is abnormally high at the end of your journey, take down the details of the taxi driver according to their official identification papers. These details should be displayed in the taxi and you can make a complaint to the local police station.

 

3. Longhauling taxi

If a taxi in Hungary does use a meter, they may try to get a more expensive fare from you by going on a longer route. This scam is often used against tourists as the driver assumes that you are not familiar with the city.

Rule of thumb:

You could consult the hotel staff how long a trip should take or simply do some online research. Make the driver aware that you know where you are going and will not be easily fooled.

Also, if you have your mobile phone with you then look up the route using GPS. Follow it so that you know you are going the right way. Alert the driver if he seems to be taking a longer and less direct route.

 

4. Short-changing taxi drivers

Another scam perpetuated by taxi drivers relies on visitors not being able to identify the local currency correctly. In Hungary, the Hungarian Forint is used.

Often a taxi driver will simply short change a customer or they may hand you notes which are no longer valid. You will not be able to use these as legal tender and they will be effectively useless.

Rule of thumb:

Try to familiarize yourself with the currency of Hungary when you arrive. Always take the time to check your change and count it thoroughly before you get out of a taxi.

 

C. MISC

1. Rigged ATMs

rigged ATM

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A big problem in Europe and in Hungary is ATM fraud. Some ATM machines may be rigged as in the above picture so that they steal your card details.

Rule of thumb:

Try to only use ATMs in reputable places such as banks and high end hotels. If possible, do not use ATMs located in places such as bars and restaurants as these have a reputation for being fraudulent. Also avoid using them at night or along secluded streets.

 

2. Sprigs of rosemary

Rosemary

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This scam is common in all parts of Europe including Hungary. The scammer is usually an older woman who will walk up to you and offer you a sprig of rosemary. She tells you this is for ‘friendship’ or ‘good luck’.

When you take the rosemary however she will ask you for money. If you refuse, she will often become insistent and extremely pushy.

Instead of rosemary, other items such as a friendship bracelet or an amulet (e.g. in France, Italy) are used as well.

Rule of thumb:

Never take anything that you do not want to pay for. If anyone offers you something in the street it is unlikely that it is free. Expect them to ask for money.

 

3. Unscrupulous money changers

Money changers in Hungary have a reputation for scamming customers who are changing currency.

One of their main tricks is to give you old bank notes which are no longer legal tender in Hungary. This means that you won’t be able to use them.

Another trick is for money changers to use sleight of hand when counting your money or to give you a very bad rate of exchange.

Rule of thumb:

Make sure to count all your money when you use a money changer. Don’t feel rushed into leaving until you are satisfied that all the money is correct.

If possible count the notes several times and don’t let the money changer do it for you. Also scrutinize all coins and notes to make sure you haven’t been handed any old currency.

 

4. Fake iPhone/electronics

As shown in the video, you might be approached by a tout on the streets selling an iPhone at a really cheap price. He could claim that he won it and thus, has no use for it. Or that he needs to sell if off as his child has just fallen sick and needs the money for surgery.

From the video, you can see the scammer offering the item for EUR 300 initially but dropped it to EUR 100 when the guy was going to leave. This is because it is an obvious fake. You can tell should you try using the phone as well. The graphics, the speed, the feel should all feel “off”.

Note that it is not just iPhones, but any expensive electronics products can be used.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and walk away. Buy only from authorized dealers.

 

5. Fake police

Another common scam all around the world, you can find fake police in PolandMoroccoMalaysiaBrazil and many more!

You are approached by police officers flashing their badges. They ask for your passport and other travel documents. They usually operate in a group and when you are distracted, one member of the group may steal your valuables. Or should you pass your wallet over, they might take your credit card or cash out while the other accomplices distract you.

Another variation is a scammer, posing as a local will approach you and ask for directions. At this point, the fake police officers steps in, accusing both of you of doing something illegal. They ask to check your wallets, which the scammer posing as a local will immediately hand over. This makes the act more believable and tempts tourists to hand theirs over as well.

The more aggressive ones will simply threaten you with deportation or imprisonment, unless you hand over cash or your ATM pin number.

Rule of Thumb:

Should you be approached, always ask to check their identification.

After getting their identification details, threaten to call the police hotline to check (end of this article). Or threaten to head to the police station to settle the case. At this point, the scammers should have been scared off.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • European Emergency Number: 112
  • Police Emergency Hotline:  107
  • Ambulance Service: 104
  • Fire Brigade: 105

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