19 Most Common Tourist Scams in Canada

Vancouver, Whistler, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Canmore, Kelowna, Niagara Falls, Cape Breton Island, Stratford, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Victoria, London, Hamilton, Richmond, Halifax, Surrey, Windsor, Saskatoon, Brampton, Laval, Gatineau, Burnaby, Regina, Markham, Kitchener, Kingston, Barrie, Mont Tremblant, St. John’s, Burlington

Besides the majestic Niagara Falls, Canada’s natural wonders of huge mountains, calm lakes, imposing glaciers, wild forests, diverse cities, gastronomic delights and cultural heritage are bound to delight.

However, in this beautiful land still lie many scammers ready to part tourists from their valuables through tricks and petty crime, read on to learn how to protect yourself!

 

a. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Black history month guys

The black history month is a month where important people and events of the African diaspora are celebrated. It happens in February in the US and Canada, and November in the UK. However, scammers exploit this every month of the year, especially in Canada in places such as St Lawrence’s market, Yonge-Dundas, Yonge and Eglinton, Path underground network and Union Station amongst others.

What these scammers do is they will try to shake your hand. Once you shake their hand, they will NOT let go until you take a piece of paper/pamphlet from them, which they claims are facts about the black history month.

Now, once you have taken the paper, payment will be aggressively demanded. Should you refuse, they will play the racism card on you, questioning you loudly if you are a racist and why you are not supporting them. Many are coerced into paying as they do not want to be seen as racist.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

2.  Sticker lady

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Otherwise known as Catherine Katie Herbert, the sticker lady is a fixture for decades on Yonge Street. She will first compliment your good looks, then offer you a smiley face sticker seemingly for free. However, once you accept it, payment will be demanded. Should you reject, she will come up with the usual spiel, that is for some sort of charity ranging from the homeless to the sick.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

3. Fake monks

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Fake monks are like a global enterprise, you can find them everywhere around the world (e.g. Hong Kong, Australia). What they do is they ask you for a donation in exchange for a golden amulet/beads/charm. Some can get very aggressive and follow/hound you until you pay.

These monks tend to roam around Chinatown – Spadina and Dundas, but don’t be surprised to find them at tourist attractions as well.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

4. Sob story scammer

Another very common scam around the world (e.g. Argentina, Mexico), a well dressed stranger will come up and explained that he has just been robbed, and if you would be so kind to give him some money to take the train to the nearest police station or embassy..

Or a guy who has forgotten to bring his wallet out, and is in a rush to see his sick wife/sister/mother in another city..

And even a guy who is around the College and Spadina area, who claims to have come to the city to get medicine or treatment, but need money to get back home, and then show you a bunch of receipts..

Or the Hamilton lady who is really infamous..

Areas you meet with this can really be everywhere, such as transport hubs (e.g. union station, st George subway station, etc), town areas (e.g. city hall, downtown core) and tourist attractions.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

5. Reese peanut butter cup/candy

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This is very similar to the black history month and sticker lady scam. So what these scammers do is try to pass you a package and make you think that it is a free sample. Once you have taken or even eaten it, they will demand payment from you aggressively.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

6. Chocolate bars for donation

Exactly the same as the reese peanut butter cup/candy scam, just this time chocolate bars instead.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

7. Sick kids/orphans fundraising scam

Again, very similar to all the fundraising scams out there, these scammers (can be anyone, like a girl or even a group of Filipino ladies was reported to be doing so) carry their clipboards and hound people to donate to pay for their supposed illnesses.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

8. I’m a girl fundraising scam

Again, very similar to all the fundraising scams out there, these female scammers carry their clipboards and hound people to donate to pay to support girls in the community.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid

 

9. Fake tourist attraction ticket online site

In 2015, it was reported that a website shop-groupon.com tried to exploit the seeming association with the discount site groupon.com and sold fake, discounted tickets online to tourist attractions such as to Ripley’s Aquarium.

Besides paying for fakes, victims also had their credit card information stolen. Eventually, this website was traced to Beijing, China.

Rule of thumb:

Buy from official sources, else, make sure that there are legitimate, positive reviews of whichever site you are using.

 

10. Restaurant’s today’s special

This is one usually pulled off by restaurant touts/promoters. Once they pull you in to their restaurant, you will be offered today’s special without a mention of the price. At the end of the meal however, you will be hit with a hefty bill.

Even if you are not pulled in by a restaurant tout/promoter, always check the price first before ordering

Rule of thumb:

Check the price first always; read reviews; firmly reject touts/promoters

11. Fake hotel front desk phone call

There have been reports of this where scammers using smuggled phones act as fake front desk personnel, calling guests in the wee hours of the night/morning requesting for credit card information, with the reason that the hotel’s computer system has crashed or that there is an error with the number, and this does catch a number of sleepy guests off guard.

Another convincing variation is that the scammer is calling just to verify your card details on record. He will provide the last 4 digits of your card, which is obviously wrong, and when you point out the error, he will act confused and ask you to read the entire number.

Other situations could be claiming that you have won a free night (exploiting greed) or even posing as the local authority investigating a fraud case (exploiting fear).

Rule of thumb:

Do not provide your credit card details over the phone no matter the occasion; cut the phone and report to the hotel’s staff

 

12. Italian designer

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Also found in other countries such as Italy, the scammer will introduce himself to you as an Italian designer or someone who works for Armani and the like who is here for a trade show. Next, he will ask you for directions to the airport.

To thank you for providing the directions, he will then offer you a discounted price on leather jackets which he has left over from his latest fashion show/trade show which he hopes not to bring them back home as it is too much of a hassle.

Some will add in time pressure by approaching you in a car and exclaiming, “Help! I am rushing to the airport but have lost my way, could you help me out?”

These are obviously, jackets of lousy quality.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid.

 

b. TRANSPORT

1. Taxi touts

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You will find many of these taxi touts around airports (e.g. Pearson airport) especially, as they exploit tired tourists who are unfamiliar with the local transport system. They will bug tourists persistently and should you yield, be prepared for a taxi ride without the meter on and an outrageous fee at the end of the trip.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid. Take official taxis only.

 

c. MISC

1. Could you help me cash my cheque

This could happen in many different contexts, one for instance is the situation below.

You might be approached by two men at a GO station who claim that their car has broken down. One will act calm, while the other will act very angry and frustrated as he curses and swears. The clam guy will explain that they have no cash on hand, and the only “credit” they have is a cheque at work. If you were to be able to help them cash the cheque, they would give you a cut of it.

Should you hesitate or reject, now the angry guy will shout at you to try to intimidate you.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid.

 

2. ATM skimming

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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 read 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.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas.

 

3. Dropped phone scam

This scam is simple, the scammer drops an already cracked phone in your path hoping you step onto it. Should you do so, he will then exclaim loudly and demand compensation

Rule of thumb:

Watch out in crowded areas and try not to walk to near to anyone in front

 

4. Fake apartment listing

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This is a pretty common scam everywhere around the world with the rise of online bookings (e.g. through Craigslist, Kijiji). What scammers do is simply copy a legitimate listing and pass it off as their own.

Look out for these red flags:

  • Are there verified and trustable reviews of this listing?
  • Is the price too good to be true?
  • Is the renter willing to meet in person or conveniently out of the country? Or meet your friend who can help you check the apartment?
  • Is payment being demanded through a wire transfer? (e.g. Western Union)
  • Are personal information being asked for which are not relevant for the rent?

Rule of thumb:

If you are suspicious, test the “owner” of the apartment if he or she is willing to meet your friend at the place for your friend to have a look around. It doesn’t have to be a real friend, as this is just a test of the “owner’s” reaction.

 

5. 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, which they are able to offer you at lower than retail prices if you are interested to buy.

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.

 

6. Fake cops

There was a bout of cases back in 2014, where Asian tourists were targeted.

What these fake cops do is they will suspect you of carrying illegal drugs or arms and ask to check your identification/bags/wallets/valuables. Once you reveal them, they might simply snatch and run, or one will distract you while the other steals the money in it.

The more sinister ones will have another accomplice who first acts as a fellow tourist and approaches the victim for directions. Next, the fake cops will appear to demand an identification check. At this point, the accomplice will up the pressure by encouraging the victim to oblige.

Rule of thumb:

These fake police have fake badges as well, so besides asking these scammers to provide identification, threaten to call 911 to verify their identification. If the issue is still not settled, demand to only settle any issue at a police station. However, do not let them take the lead and bring you to the nearest police. Instead, check with a passerby.

An alternative, is to simply hand over a cheap spare wallet you wouldn’t mind losing and spare yourself all that trouble.

 

d. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Emergency (police, fire, ambulance): 911
  • Non-emergency (in certain areas such as the main cities only): 311

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