21 Most Common Tourist Scams in the Netherlands

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Home to picturesque windmills, colourful tulips, famous painters, canals, clogs, flat lands, caramel filled stroopwafels and more, the Netherlands also boasts a wealth of cultural heritage and is home to one of the most interesting cities in Europe that is Amsterdam.

However, Netherlands is also home to a bunch of shady characters perpetrating a bunch of tourist targeted scams. So read on to find out how to protect yourself in this beautiful land!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Junkies

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There are a number of these scammers hanging around red light districts who try to sell drugs and anything that they have stolen (e.g. bikes) to tourists. It’s a really bad idea to buy anything for them for a multitude of reasons:

  • The ware they peddle is usually fake.
  • You might get trapped and scammed by a fake cop accomplice
  • You could get into real trouble with the law
  • Or worse, you could consume a drug that is not what it is advertised to be and is fatal.

In fact, there have been many cases of sheep dung/talcum powder/parsley being sold as drugs. Further, in 2014, there 3 deaths were reported with 17 hospitalized after the victims consumed white heroin which they thought was cocaine.

Rule of thumb:

Do not engage. If you really want drugs, there are controlled and regulated “coffee shops” which you can go to like the one below:

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2. Pickpockets and robberies

The pickpockets in Amsterdam are highly professional and usually work in gangs. They are so good they can rival those in Barcelona, the pickpocket capital of the world.

Let’s break this up into several parts as there have been different tactics used in different situations.

In Amsterdam, the areas where these lowlife hang out at are the crowded streets. These include Kalverstraat, The Red Light District, Dam Square, the Museum Quarter (Oud Zuid/Old South District), near the Centraal Station, on Damrak and the Waterlooplein Flea Market, etc.

Cities

At streets around transportation hubs, pickpockets hang out at the dark alleys around the stations. They wait for and target tourists who carry big backpacks/luggage as that makes them slower to react. In some situations, especially along dark alleys, they may be brazen enough to claim that they have a gun and demand that you hand over your wallet. Or they may claim that a friend nearby who is looking at you has one.

Another reported tactic which pickpockets use is to surround you with a group. However, when you think you will be assaulted, one of them actually shakes your hand, pulls you to him and then shakes your leg. What happens is that you will be distracted and the other accomplices will then steal your valuables.

Tourists stopping to watch street artists in action are also another favourite target for pickpockets. Do be wary at night as well as this is the time where incidents of crime are at the highest.

Red light districts

At red light districts, pickpockets can come in the form of beggars, ready to strike when you are distracted or drunk. Another tactic is for one of them to push you from behind into an accomplice in front who then steals your valuables.

Another very common trick is for a scammer to drop a pair of broken glasses right in front of you. Even if you have not stepped on it, he will claim that you did. In the ensuing chaos, an accomplice will steal your stuff from behind. Besides glasses, it can be anything else too, such as a pack of drugs or spilled marijuana.

Shopping areas

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Pickpockets love places like De Negen Straatjes and Kalverstraat, thus explaining the tons of signs warning tourists of pickpockets here.

Some camp at secluded ATMs, ready to steal your money once it is dispensed from the machine. Others camp alongside benches of shopping streets or execute the bump and steal scam in small shops as described earlier.

Tourist attractions

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At attractions such as the Anne Frank museum where there is usually a long queue, do be wary if someone pops up to ask you a few questions out of the blue. That is meant to distract you while an accomplice works on your belongings.

Restaurants

Again, this is somewhat common at restaurants. The scammers will try to distract you and they have many ways of doing so.

For instance, one could ask you for directions or ask a random question while the accomplice strikes. Or one could pretend to look for a friend to create distraction. There are even cases where someone comes in with a map and puts it over your valuables on the table (assuming you have left it there) and asks for directions. When they take the map up , they take your valuables with them.

Of course, there are also the plain simple ones. There are careless victims who leave their luggage behind their seats unattended or out of their line of sight.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert in these different places and keep your valuables secure. Keep most of your valuables in the hotel safe with your passport and ID card. Carry a photocopy of your passport or ID card instead.

Consider using a spare wallet or money belt as well.

 

3. Spilled liquid scam

This is an extremely common scam all over the world (e.g. Argentina, US, Thailand).

How this works is that a scammer will accidentally spill liquid that look like puke/mustard/bird poo/ketchup on you. Then, a few strangers will spring into action from nowhere and help you clean up.

While you are flustered and distracted, that is when they steal your valuables.

Rule of thumb:

Keep an eye out for anyone tailing or keeping too close for comfort to you. If caught in such a situation, stand your ground and push anyone who tries to help you away.

4. May I help you scam

Similar to the one in Morocco, you will find an over friendly stranger who offers to help you. However, his real intention is actually to rob/steal from you.

Some may even throw misinformation, such as claiming that a place is closed (like in IndiaThailand, etc), and offer to bring you somewhere else. That somewhere else is either somewhere they get kickbacks or where they can rob you.

Rule of thumb:

Never engage an overly friendly stranger on the streets.

 

5. Spiked cookies/drinks

It could be anyone who offer you some free cookies, be it a girl, young boy, old grandmother and what have you. Consume those cookies, and you will find yourself knocked out soon after. When you arouse from your slumber, your valuables would have disappeared.

Same goes for spiked drinks in nightclubs or bars.

Rule of thumb:

Reject anything free from a stranger.

 

6. Food museum

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In Amsterdam, you will find many food places with the word “museum” added to them (e.g. cheese museum). These are simply tourist traps trying to masquerade themselves as a place of heritage so as to charge higher prices

Rule of thumb:

Avoid. Do some research online to find the real reputable ones.

 

7. Fake counterfeit bill machine and switcheroo

This is a scam perpetrated by shady shops. When you pay at these shops, the shopowner will claim that your bill is fake and run it through a special machine which beeps in response. However, when he runs a bill from the cash register, the machine would not beep.

If you decide not to buy, he will pass you back your “fake” note. However, through sleight of hand, he has actually swapped it with the real counterfeit bill from the cash register.

Rule of thumb:

If ever in such a situation, watch carefully to make sure your note is not swapped. Also, learn how to spot a fake bill and check your bill when the shopowner returns it.

 

8. Fake police

There are a couple of morally corrupt scammers who pass themselves off as fake cops. They show a badge and try to catch tourists out for possessing drugs or counterfeit currency.

Even if you don’t, they win. This is because when you show your real bills, they can easily swap it with counterfeit ones.

Rule of thumb:

Ask for an ID (badges are fake) before you accede to any request they have.

If you still have doubts (e.g. the ID looks fake/their request is weird), threaten to call the police hotline to verify their identities. Or demand to have whatever checks they want at a proper police station. You can find the police contact at the end of this article.

 

9. Tulip stands

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Tulip stands operate all year round, however, tulip bulbs can only be planted and grown in the Autumn. Don’t fall for the wild claims made by some vendors that these can grow anytime of the year.

Rule of thumb:

If you want to buy to grow it, only buy it in the autumn

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging taxis

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Rogue cab drivers in Netherlands will make up their own charges when the official taxi police is out of sight. This is  because they feel unfairly repressed by the strict regulations of the industry.

There are also some who claim that at night, there is a minimum charge of EUR 10, which is nonsense. There has even been one case where a tourist was charged EUR 980 for a trip from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam!

Rule of thumb:

Take public transport instead which is pretty well developed, or take taxis from Taxi Electric which is one of the most reliable taxi companies.

Also if you feel cheated, take note of the number on the roof of the car and report them to taxiklacht.nl.

 

2. Forgot to turn on the meter

This is an easy scam on unsuspecting tourists, especially those tired after a long flight.

As the title suggests, the driver can simply choose not to turn the meter on unless he is caught, where he can just pretend to have forgotten about it and there is no loss to him.

Rule of thumb:

Always check that the meter is turned on. During the trip, check to see if the meter is rigged or jumping too quickly.

 

3. Taxi hustlers

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There have been reports of drivers of unofficial taxis/lookalike taxis who wait in/outside airports and who pressure tourists to take their vehicles. Many of them will also brandish an official looking taxi licenses which is fake, or offer a rate cheaper than the official airport taxis.

What happens next varies. You could be driven in an old, beaten up car; you could be taken on a longer route than usual; or you could even be driven to a secluded place and coerced to pay a higher sum. The unlucky ones simply get robbed!

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging. If you do because you are in a rush, take a photo of the car number and driver license number, especially if you feel uneasy.

 

4. Longhauling taxi drivers

Taxi drivers in Amsterdam are infamous for taking the longer route just to squeeze more of your fare.

Take note if your driver asks if you would like to take the highway, as the distance covered is longer. Although this really depends on where you are headed to.

Rule of thumb:

Research the routes, especially those longer ones and roughly how much it would cost. You could do some research online or simply check with your hotel. E.g. a ride from Schipol Airport to the centre of Amsterdam should cost around EUR 50 – 60.

 

5. Used public transport tickets

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There have been reports of scammers picking up thrown used tickets (tram/bus/train) or simply asking commuters for them.

Then, they tempt tourists to buy these by offering a discounted price for these worthless tickets which cannot be used at all.

Rule of thumb:

Only get your tickets from the official sources (i.e. the official ticket counter).

 

C. MISC

1. Hotel runners

There are a number of these hotel runners who target tourists who look lost and who have not booked their accommodation. It is not unthinkable as Amsterdam, with its legalized drugs, do tend to attract some of these youngsters who act on the spur of the moment.

Do not believe their unfounded spiel, as the rates they offer are usually made up on the spot. Once you are there, you will be subject to high pressure sales tactics to book a room. Prices may be more expensive and the room is usually of poor quality and in an overcrowded place. It may even be an illegal place (i.e subletting)!

Rule of thumb:

Do not take up recommendations from an unknown stranger or from street touts. Instead, do your research and stay at a reputable/legitimate place.

 

2. Fake apartment listing

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Scammers pull in unsuspecting tourists by pricing these listings at extremely low prices so as to exploit human greed.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid booking listings without reviews or those which look shady. Also sites are craigslist, marktplaats, FB ads aren’t the most reliable.

If you are unsure, simply mention that you would like to arrange for a local friend (even if you do not have one) to check the apartment. This is just to test the apartment’s owner.

 

3. Street money changer

These scammers work by approaching tourists and offering a very attractive exchange rate. Should you get greedy and hand them your money, they will simply run away with it.

Another situation is where a scammer ask if you have smaller notes for him to change notes with. Once you take your cash out, he will grab them and run away with it.

Rule of thumb:

Only change your money at official sources (e.g. Grens Wissel Kantoor, banks, etc).

 

4. White van scam

This is a variation of a scam that is pretty common worldwide (a similar variant is the Italian suit scam in Italy, US). You will find a white van approach you, and someone in the van will introduce themselves as working for Bose/some electronics company and ask you for directions.

If you help them, and even if you are unable to help, they will offer a discounted box of products to thank you. Should you buy them without checking, you will realize that they are actually empty boxes.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging.

 

5. Prostitute scam

Not technically a scam, but many tourists who feel cheated are those who did not pay attention or clarify the details of services provided.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid but if you engage, check the terms and conditions carefully

 

6. Counterfeit bills

In 2004, there was a flood of fake EUR 100 bills in the country which are still in circulation today. Some tips on how to spot a fake note:

  • The fake bill itself feels hard and stiff as it is made of 100% cotton. It is not flimsy like the actual note
  • Best way to deal with fake currencies (e.g. like in Argentina, Turkey, etc) is to hold it against a light source. If you fancy, you could get a small battery operated UV light torch before the trip.
  • For the EUR 100 bill, look for the whole denomination number on all corners and on both sides of the bill. Also look out for a dark security strip across the bill
  • When shone under a light, the hologram image changes from the number to a window/door symbol, the signature and flag turn green and stars turn orange
  • Or, check out this app that will help you do everything above!

Rule of thumb:

Educate yourself on how to differentiate fake Euros and be careful especially around large notes.

 

7. ATM card skimming

Card skimmers can record your card details, your PIN code and send all these information wirelessly (text message/Bluetooth). It’s a real threat to be aware of!

Some telltale signs are a glue residue around card reader, loose parts of the machine or if some suspicious items are placed on the machine which could be used to house a camera. Also, if you see something protruding or not fixed tightly, that should be a clear red flag.

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Also, there have even reports of robbery at these machines, so do stay on the lookout.

Rule of thumb:

Use ATM machines inside banks, and avoid those in dark streets and at tourist attractions. Also avoid using at night.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Police, Ambulance, Fire: 112
  • National Police (non-emergency): 0900 8844
  • Telephone: 0800 0407
  • Sea Rescue / Coast Guard (Kustwacht): 0900 0111
  • Tourist Medical Service (ATAS): 020 592 3355

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