23 Most Common Tourist Scams in UK

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Rich in tradition, complex in culture and endlessly diverse, the UK and London are one of the most visited countries and cities in the world. The amazing variety of gastronomic delights, iconic sights, rugged coastline, gold sand beaches, pretty small towns, fascinating history, heritage and many more are bound to delight.

However, having attracted so many tourists around the world, the number of tourist targeted scams and crime have risen as well. Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Mock auctions

This is commonly held at retail units around tourist attractions, where seemingly high value items, usually electronics, are auctioned off on the streets at a low price. This is perpetrated by a group of scammers to make it more convincing, where accomplices are in place to “win” items at a ridiculously good price.

Should you partake, you will most likely find yourself winning a low quality or spoilt item.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid.

 

2. Sob stories/beggars

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There are beggars almost everywhere in Europe. Do not give any money as you might tempt other beggars to hound you. Or you might open yourself up to a potential robbery by the beggar’s accomplice while you are distracted.

Then, there are the sob story beggars as well and the same ploy always plays out. It starts with a sob story such as being robbed, losing one’s way, wife giving birth soon, etc. The scammer then asks if you could give a small sum of money for them to take the transport to the police station/embassy/friend’s house or somewhere else for help.

Some will even offer to exchange contact details/address so that they can pay you back, which is nothing but a ruse. Watch out for these at the busy touristy areas, such as Tower Bridge and Westminster Bridge and also busy transport hubs such as Victoria coach station.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid giving.

 

3. Pickpocket

Like in many places in Europe, you will find pickpockets here. They operate in teams and strike when you are distracted. Stay alert at busy/touristy areas such as Oxford street, London Eye, Tower Bridge, etc.

One variation is of a scammer performing a show on the streets or simply being a motionless “human statue”. While you are distracted, the accomplice will move in for the steal.

Besides that, the tube is another favourite place of pickpockets. They operate not just in the tube, but also wait at the turnstile to strike while you enter. Or even at the escalator where a classic trick is for one to drop an item with the pickpocket behind ready to strike. Also watch out if you are close to the door, as there are pickpockets who strike just before the door closes.

Another favourite is the photo taking set-up. Scammer #1 might offer to help a tourist take a photo. In the process, scammer #2 comes along to steal the tourist’s valuables. But wait, it gets better. Should the tourist realize, scammer #1 will offer to help call the police and the bank, and ask the victim for his credit card details. Scammer #1 then calls the police, who is actually another accomplice..

For other ingenious methods used, such as laying a map over your valuables while asking for directions and then snatching them all away, check out Barcelona and Amsterdam as these are where the real pros are.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert especially in busy areas. Keep your valuables secure and with most of them safely locked up in your hotel’s safe. Carry a photocopy of your passport/ID instead of the real thing around.

Also, consider using a spare wallet/money belt.

 

4. Fake police

Fake police in the UK? Yes, that’s right. This is not just a problem in London, but in other parts of UK such as Scotland/Edinburgh as well. This is also common everywhere around the world (e.g. Morocco, Indonesia, etc).

One modus operandi is first, scammer #1 will approach a tourist to ask if he/she can help to take photos or to ask for directions. Next, scammers #2 and #3 will appear dressed as cops, asking for details of the tourist’s credit card and identification card. At this point, scammer #1 will oblige and also encourage the tourist to do so.

Another method is that scammer #1 will do the same approach to ask for help with something. Next, scammers #2 and #3 will appear and accuse you all of drug dealing, and then demand to search your belongings and bags. In the process, your valuables will be stolen.

One recently reported method in Scotland is that these fake police officers will brazenly walk up to their victims and demand to check their belongings. Thousands have been stolen this way. Incidents have been reported at the Grassmarket, Chambers Street, Castle Street, Calton Hill amongst others.

Rule of thumb:

Do not panic, but ask for the police officers’ licenses and badges.

Call the police number as well the verify their licenses. You can find the police number to call at the end of this article. Or demand to only settle any claims or cases at a police station.

 

5. Fake charity collectors

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You will find these charity collectors, usually students who go around asking for donations. In a typical set up, only a very, very minute amount actually goes to charities, if any charity exists at all. The rest of the donations goes to these collectors and the organization behind the scheme.

Also, they have a “foot in the door” persuasion trick. First, they give you a flower in exchange for 10 pounds. Should you buy that first one, they will take another one out to ask you for another 10 pounds.

Besides meeting these collectors on the streets, you might even find them going door to door. It is unlikely that tourists will face this at hotels, but will be one to watch out for for those who rent apartments.

Rule of thumb:

Give them a wide berth.

 

6. Fake (designer) products

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There are fake products everywhere you go in the world, but in London, you will many of these fake designer products. Particularly at Oxford Street and Marble Arch, you will see fake designer bags, clothes, perfumes and the like.

The fake bags and clothes are somewhat apparent to the eye. However, for perfumes, the tester perfumes which they let you try are authentic ones. However, the ones in the box are not, so don’t fall for it.

Rule of thumb:

Do not get tempted by the cheap prices. If it is too good to be true, it is.

 

7. Shell game

Also known as the shell game (e.g. HungaryGermany), this game involves the showing and then shuffling of three cards (e.g. 2 black, 1 red). You then have to guess which card is the odd one out. Guess correctly and you can double your money.

The scam is perpetrated by a group of scammers. There will be one dealer, two to three in the crowd acting as onlookers, one playing the game and one on the lookout for the police.

This game seems easy but it is a game where it is impossible to win, because the dealer uses a sleight of hand trick to swap the card. If you were to see anyone winning, that is likely the accomplice, to 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 or intimidating you into staying. Some may even steal your valuables when you are distracted.

If you’re interested, here’s a video exposing how the scam is done:

Rule of thumb:

Give this set up a wide berth – it’s impossible to win.

 

8. Fake transport/theatre tickets

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There have been reports of scammers at Trafalgar Square who sell tickets for a sightseeing bus. The tickets might look legitimate but they are in reality not tagged to any company or vehicle.

Also, you might find ticket touts outside theatres such as the West End theatres or concert grounds, but these are usually lower value tickets than advertised or even fake ones. For instance, one common trick is for scammers to print multiple copies of one e-ticket and to sell to unknowing victims.

If you are lucky to be the first to use that ticket, you can gain entry into the theatre. Else, you will be flagged and blocked at the entrance.

Rule of thumb:

Buy only at the official spots.

 

9. Fake vouchers

There have been reports of tourists buying a book of vouchers that offer half price/1 for 1 at West End restaurants. Try using them at these restaurants however and you will find that no such voucher existed.

Rule of thumb:

Buy only at the official place if there is one

 

10. Bird poo/spilled liquid scam

A common scam globally (e.g. Argentina, US), this is where a scammer will spill something on you that looks like bird poo/mustard/food sauce. It can be anything as long as it makes you shocked and distracted.

He will rush to help you, and an accomplice will suddenly appear out of nowhere as well and pretend to help. However, he is actually trying to steal your valuables without you realizing.

Rule of thumb:

Get out of there as soon as possible if met with such a situation. Stand your ground and push anyone who tries to help you forcefully away.

 

11. Fake monk

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These fake monks go around pushing a gold token/amulet/wooden braclet into your hand and then demand a donation aggressively. Some will push a clipboard in your face and ask you to write a donation number and to donate. There are also others who will ask for money in exchange for blessings of peace.

It’s easy to identify these as fakes, as real monks do not go around soliciting for money on the streets. You will find these fakes around the usual tourist attractions such as Tower of London, Tower Bridge, etc.

This seems to be a trending scam, with sightings around the world in places such as the Hong Kong, Australia reported.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. The falling lady

The falling lady scam works just like the pickpocket scam, but is so infamous it deserves an entry on it own. As the name suggests, a female scammer, usually an elderly looking one, will fall/stumble somewhere crowded and make a huge commotion while doing so.

In the process, many will be distracted, That’s when the group of pickpockets comes in and begin grabbing as much valuables as they possibly could.

Rule of thumb:

When you find yourself in such a situation, keep your valuables securely fastened and get out there as soon as possible.

Also keep most of your valuables safely locked up in your hotel’s safe. Carry around a photocopy of your passport/ID instead of the real thing for identification purposes.

Finally, consider using a spare wallet or money belt.

 

2. Used London day travel cards

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You will find many touts selling (used) travel cards at the end of the day. However, they are unlikely to work. They might even be fake tickets, as described in another scam.

Rule of thumb:

Buy from the official counter/outlets.

 

3. Overcharging taxis

Taxi drivers in the UK are an honest bunch, and unlikely to cheat tourists. Meters are tamper proof as well.

However, some reported tricks have been longhauling (taking a longer route than needed) and also selecting the pricier “night and weekend” rate on the meter on a weekday.

That said, note that there are always a number of road closures due to road works. So don’t be surprised if your driver takes a detour or a longer than expected trip.

Rule of thumb:

For long distances, research the route and price it will cost. You could find this online or by simply checking with your hotel staff. You could also use your phone’s GPS along the route if you have one.

 

4. Rickshaw/pedicab/tuk-tuk drivers

There have been multiple reports of rogue drivers of rickshaw/pedicab/tuktuk or whatever you call them fleecing tourists for hundreds of pounds for a ride that lasts only a few minutes. This happens in almost every country where you find them, such as Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

You can see one such example in the video above. These “vehicles” are seen as unregulated outlaws and are best avoided.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid engaging. Do not believe anything they say.

 

C. MISC

1. Fake apartment listings

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With the rise of online booking, we have seen fake apartment listings everywhere around the world (e.g. Greece, Dominican Republic) today.

The usual case is that property in prime areas are advertised at below market rents. So in a moment of greed and the need to act fast, many tourists are willing to provide deposits or full payment upfront.

Some suspicious signs to watch out for: no listings, requests to transfer money via Western Union (as Western Union doesn’t require address verification), money transferred hasn’t been received, demands for more money than advertised, etc

Rule of thumb:

Check for reviews. If suspicious, get in contact with the apartment owner and request if a friend of yours could check the apartment. You do not necessarily need a friend to check as this is more of a test.

Also if something is too good to be true, it likely is.

 

2. Fake waiter credit card scam

If you were to sit outside a restaurant, you might be approached by a waiter asking you to pass him your credit card first. Pass it to him and you will never see it again.

Rule of thumb:

Pay only at the end of the meal and make sure that the waiter is an official one.

 

3. Spiked drinks

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Happens everywhere around the world (e.g. Turkey, Philippines, Mexico, etc), there have been cases of spiked drinks in the UK as well, so be wary of accepting free drinks from strangers.

Single male tourists are commonly targeted by pretty bar hostesses. Once you are knocked out, your valuables will be stolen.

Rule of thumb:

Reject such offers.

 

4. Would you like a drink

Single guys are usually targeted, where they are approached by a pretty female on the streets asking if you would like to hang out over a drink.

Should you agree, you will find yourself in a deserted bar. However, once you enter and get a seat, you will find yourself surrounded by scantily clad girls who order a round of drinks, while your new friend disappears.

When you try to leave, you will be hit with the extortionate bill. At that stage, even the police is unable to help much.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject such offers. If you really want a drink, offer to go to another place as well.

If you are caught in such a situation, one way to salvage the situation is to pay with a credit card. Then, get out of there quickly, call the credit card company immediately to cancel the card and to dispute the charge.

 

5. Do you have spare change for parking

This is similar to the sob story scam, where the scammer will approach you to ask if you have change for the parking meter, as he is about to get a parking ticket. Most people fall for it as they are put under time pressure and it only concerns a small amount.

Rule of thumb:

Refuse to help.

 

6. Windscreen washing scam

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This is a pretty ingenious one. You might find a windscreen washing lady who washes your windscreen for 10 seconds. Next, you tip her with a coin, but she drops the coin accidentally in your car. As it’s too troublesome to scour the floor in a tight space, you give her another coin.

When you finally find the coin on the floor which the lady has dropped in your car, you will find that it is a fake!

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject the “service”.

 

7. White van scam

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This is a really old scam that still exists, targeting both locals and tourists. The scammers, working in groups of around 3, will be wearing a company uniform and driving their van around. They would approach you and explain that due to some corporate error (e.g. over-order by client; system error, etc), they are now left with many speakers which they need to clear soon. As such, they are able to offer you at lower than retail prices.

Should you reject the offer, that’s when the high pressure sales tactics will come in. They will bombard you with fancy looking marketing collateral, technical jargon, hound you if you try to leave and finally, lower the price significantly.

Besides speakers, other things such as designer clothes or luxury bags can be sold as well. A common one is selling jackets claiming that these are leftover samples which the seller needs to get rid of fast.

Rule of thumb:

Reject such offers – these are poor quality speakers/items.

 

8. Rigged ATMs/physical theft

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Be especially careful at ATMs, as these are ripe spots for easy thefts by criminals. Also, cover your pin while typing it in, because there might have been cameras set up to capture your PIN and a card reader to swipe your card.

There have also been reports where a scammer can distract you by tapping you as are withdrawing money to claim that you have dropped a $10 note behind you. Most people would turn, and at this point, an accomplice will appear out of nowhere to steal your card. And if you haven’t realize, scammer #1 would have already seen and memorized your PIN if you hadn’t bother to cover it up.

Here’s a video of a ATM robbery on Green Lane, Dagenham, as distributed by the police.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas and at night. Use ATMs found in the banks.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Ambulance: 999 or 112.
  • Fire: 999 or 112.
  • Police: 999 or 112.
  • Gas emergency: 0800 111 999.
  • NHS Direct (24 hour health helpline): 0845 4647

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