22 Most Common Tourist Scams in Israel

Safety at Jerusalem, Akko, Beer Sheva, Eilat, Haifa, Nazareth, Rehovot, Safed, Tel Aviv, Tiberias
Note: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. World Nomads Travel Insurance, backed by Lonely Planet & National Geographic, is one we recommend. Check it out before your adventure.

 

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

 

For many travelers a visit to Israel in the Middle East is an once-in-a-lifetime spiritual opportunity.

History buffs and those here on a religious pilgrimage will find a huge amount to enjoy, particularly at sites such as mosques, churches and synagogues.

You can also get out into nature and spend time in places such as the Dead Sea, the majestic Negev desert region and the spectacular scenery in Galilee.

Violent crime and crime rates in Israel are also low. However, tourists may still face petty crime and low level scams.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Al Aqsa Mosque entry scam

Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque

 

How it works:

Unless you are a Muslim, it’s not possible to enter the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock.

However, you may encounter some young kids who claim to be able to bring you inside, as long you pay them a sum (e.g. 20 to 50 Shekels).

 

What to do:

Decline.

 

2. Shawl scam

Western Wall

Western Wall

 

How it works:

Like in Indonesia, You may encounter this at important religious sites such as the Western Wall or Temple Mount.

These sites require a modest dress code, meaning that your knees, shoulders, upper arms and chest should all be covered.

However, there are shawl / scarf sellers who tell you that your attire is not “modest” enough.

They then proceed to sell you a shawl / scarf to cover up at an inflated price.

 

What to do:

Ideally, cover up your legs and neck as well if you do not wish to be hassled.

Or simply, bring a shawl around.

 

3. Fake Rabbi scam

 

How it works:

Like in India, you may encounter this scam at the Western Wall.

A scammer who claims to be a rabbi approaches you and ties a string around your wrist.

He claims that this is a free blessing.

However, he then requests for a donation from you, to help the poor.

What really happens, is that any money you give will go towards his next apartment or car.

 

What to do:

Avoid.

 

4. Fraudulent tours

Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv

Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv

 

How it works:

Some tours of Israel can be set up as opportunities to scam you.

Lousy tour operators or taxi drivers will offer to give you a tour although they will not take you to any of the sights.

Instead they will only take you directly to shops, restaurants or cafes where they will receive a large commission when you buy something.

 

What to do:

Offline operators: ask – is the operator licensed? Is there a website, office and working phone number? Are there real online reviews? What does the price cover – is it too cheap?

Online platforms: GetYourGuide: best day tours platform in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – most popular tours:

 

 

Paying: avoid paying in full upfront (unless reputable operator) or off the (online) platform.

 

5. Unofficial tour guides

Manger Square

Manger Square. Source: Jean&Nathalie / Flickr

 

How it works:

These unofficial tour guides can be spotted around tourist attractions, such as at the Manger Square in Bethlehem.

They will tell you that they can secure you ‘express entry’ to attractions such as the Church of Nativity and will follow you and explain the history of the area.

They will then ask you for a large payment at the end of the tour and may become verbally aggressive if you refuse to pay them.

You may also encounter touts at Mount Zion in Jerusalem, who offer to bring you to the Tomb of David and claiming that an entry fee is needed when it is free to enter.

 

What to do:

There is no need to sign up for ‘express entry’ to any attractions and some sites such as the Tomb of David are free to enter.

As such if someone offers to give you a tour and help you with admission then firmly and politely refuse and then walk away as this is a scam.

And as mentioned earlier, if you decide to join a tour then make sure you book through a reputable tour company or get a licensed guide.

 

6. Photo taking scam

Baha'i Gardens, Haifa

Baha’i Gardens, Haifa

What to do:

At popular tourist attractions, you may be approached by a friendly local who offers to help you take a photo.

Once you do that however, a fee is demanded before your camera / phone will be returned to you.

 

How it works:

It is better to solicit help than to receive unsolicited help, unless it’s clearly a fellow tourist.

 

7. Overcharging restaurant

Israel cuisine

Israel cuisine, Israel. Source: simpsongls / Flickr

 

How it works:

You may encounter this at restaurants in tourist areas.

Often you will be presented with a menu that only has pictures of the different dishes available and the prices.

When you get the bill however, it will be much larger than you were expecting.

The waiter will tell you that there are hidden extras that you need to pay that are written on the Hebrew / Arabic menus which you did not receive.

It could also be unordered food / drinks that were added to the bill.

Some past cases include:

  • 2017: a tourist from Australia was charged a whopping 36,000 Shekel (~USD 10k) for a meal at the Ash-Shawish restaurant in Old City of Jerusalem that should have been 1/10 of the real price.
  • 2016: a group of 8 Chinese tourists were charged a whopping 16,500 Shekel (~USD 4.6k) at the Abu Ghosh Restaurant – leading to a dispute between the restaurant and the tour operators’ association.

 

What to do:

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

If you do not speak Arabic or Hebrew then ask for an English menu that clearly states all the prices and ask if there is a service charge or any additional charges.

Also make sure to get an itemized bill at the end of a meal and check it carefully.

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

  • GetYourGuide: best day tours platform in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – most popular tours:
 

 

 

8. Inflated prices

Market in Old City, Jerusalem

Market in Old City, Jerusalem. Source: Benjamin Thompson / Flickr

 

How it works:

In the Old City of Jerusalem, everything is overpriced, and it can be up to 2-3x of what a fair price should be.

Some of the rogue operators will also quote you in Sheckels, but charge you in USD when it’s time to pay.

As you walk along the streets, you will be approached by shopkeepers and touts who claim that they have great deals at their shops.

Reasons given could be that they are going out of business, or that because they are situated in a low traffic area, they are willing to give discounts.

They will of course, also claim that there is no need to buy, and you can just look around.

Should you end up at such shops, you will be subject to high pressure sales tactics and will probably end up buying overpriced junk.

 

What to do:

Decline.

Or to find out what is a fair price to pay, you can do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff.

If you do not wish to bargain, alternative options are:

  • Fixed price shops: prices may be priced slightly higher than average but you won’t be ripped off. Some places to check out: Ben-Yahuda Street, Christian Quarter in Old City, Allenby Street, Nakhlat Binyamin Arts and Crafts Fair, etc.
  • Shopping tour through GetYourGuide: leading day tour platform – two such tours:
 

 

9. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Pick pocketing is rare in Israel although it can still happen in crowded areas, such as:

  • HaCarmel Market, Nachlat Binyamin market, Old City Market
  • Old and new central bus stations
  • Beach promenade
  • Mount of Olives
  • Jaffa Gate (map and postcard sellers), the flea market area

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelry / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they surround you and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another blocks, pushes or distracts you (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Further, make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Don’t look like an easy target: wallet in front pocket, small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in an anti-theft bag, most valuables in hotel safe.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) which covers theft.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Airport taxi scam

Ben Gurion Airport

Ben Gurion Airport. Source: Carine Chu / Flickr

 

How it works:

Taxis from Ben Gurion Airport are supposed to use a flat rate fare (which is a fixed price).

However, there are some who will try to inflate the price and charge you far more than the usual rate – ranging from double to 10x the real fare!

There are also taxis which have brought passengers to the airport but who do not wish to join the airline queue, and so go around “hunting” for tourists who look lost.

Should you take one of these, chances are you are going to be overcharged big time.

 

What to do:

It is best to check with a dispatcher or airport employee to find out what the latest flat rate fare is before you take a taxi either to or from the airport.

Next, join the official queue (just outside the airport, on the left).

When you get into a cab, do not accept a taxi that tries to charge you more than this price.

Also clarify the currency, that price is for everyone and not per pax, and that there are no hidden charges.

Else, other options you can consider include:

  • Use a taxi booking app like Gett.
  • Take a train to Tel Aviv / Haifa, etc and then take a cab from there.
  • Avoid taking Flo Shuttle, which has been beset with tons of complaints
  • Pre-arrange private transfer via your hotel / hostel or day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (leading platform) – 8 transport options:
 

 

 

2. Fake sherut

Sherut in Israel

Sherut in Israel. Source: Eurovaran

 

How it works:

If you want to travel by a sherut (shared mini bus / van) from Damascus Gate in Jerusalem to the Allenby border crossing, watch out for the fake sheruts.

These drivers with unlicensed vans will convince you to load your luggage and to board their vehicles. Once their sherut is filled up, they will bring you over.

However, as the sherut is a fake one, it will never fill up.

As you start getting impatient, the scammer will offer to help you get a taxi instead and will help you negotiate with the driver.

Of course, whatever fare you get is an inflated one, due to the commission for the sherut driver, which can jack up your fare by almost 50%!

Unfortunately, these scammers run a cartel here, where they prevent real taxi drivers from approaching tourists.

 

What to do:

The safest approach is to look for a legit and licensed Sherut with the destination “Allenby-Jerusalem” clearly marked on them.

The company name, driver’s name, phone number and ID should also be found on a small plaque inside the vehicle.

You can also learn how to differentiate the real from the fake sheruts. The real ones should be in white, green and yellow color, while the fakes are in white.

 

3. Broken taxi meters

Taxi in Israel

Taxi in Israel. Source: rOOmUSh / Flickr

 

How it works:

Taxis in Israel are required by law to use a meter.

Many drivers however will try to tell you that the meter is broken and will charge you a flat rate fare instead.

This is almost always higher than the fare would have been if they had used the meter.

 

What to do:

Only take licensed taxis in Israel as the chance of being scammed is considerably lower.

The best thing to do if you find that a driver does not want to use the meter or tells you that it is broken is to simply find another taxi.

You can of course negotiate the fare if you know what a fair price is. Some ways you can find out include checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Gett.

Finally, take a photo of the car plate and also of the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

 

4. No change taxi drivers

Shekels

Shekels

 

How it works:

Taxi drivers in Israel may tell you that they do not have any change especially if you try to pay with a large note.

Often however this is a scam and they are hoping that you are not familiar with the currency and will tell them to keep the change.

 

What to do:

Always make sure to carry plenty of small bills that you can use to pay taxi drivers.

If you only have large bills then explain this to the driver before you even get in the taxi to make sure that they have change.

 

5. Long taxi routes

Ben Gurion Blvd

Ben Gurion Blvd

 

How it works:

If you get a taxi driver who is willing to use the meter they may try to inflate the fare by driving you all over town.

This will keep the meter ticking over and you will end up paying more for the journey.

 

What to do:

In the cab, be very clear when communicating the destination you are heading to. More prominent landmarks around your destination can be mentioned.

During the ride, check your phone’s GPS to make sure you are headed in the correct direction.

Sometimes, drivers do take detours to avoid traffic jams, but that should not detract from the correct general direction.

To tell if you have been taken for a ride, you can also estimate a fair price of any route by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Gett.

If you want to seek recourse, take a photo of the car plate number and of the driver’s license to report to the cab company.

 

6. Car rental scams

Jerusalem Road

Jerusalem Road

 

How it works:

Many visitors to Israel choose to rent a car.

This is usually not covered by your local insurance however or by credit card insurance.

As such the rental company will often try and sell you additional car insurance which can be extremely expensive.

 

What to do:

The cost of basic insurance for a hire car in Israel should be relatively cheap.

With this in mind do not get scammed into paying a high price for your insurance.

The best thing to do to make sure that you get a good price is to shop around and compare deals offered by different rental companies.

 

7. Gas station scam

Sonol station

Sonol Station. Source: israelmatzav.blogspot.com

 

How it works:

If you rent a car in Israel you may find that gas stations try to scam you.

In all gas stations in Israel, an attendant will pump your gas for you.

Often they will also offer to check your oil and radiator fluid at the same time.

Once they do this they will tell you that both are low and replace them. They will also mislead you with false claims that your rental car company will reimburse this.

You will then be handed a large bill for this service.

 

What to do:

Make sure that you check the oil and radiator fluid levels of your car before you leave the hire car rental office.

You will then not need to check them for the rest of your trip and can avoid being scammed at a gas station.

 

8. Car break-ins

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

 

How it works:

This is reportedly common at public beach areas, national parks, and other tourist sites.

For skilled thieves, 10 seconds are really all they need to break into your car.

 

What to do:

Ideally, park your car in a paid lot that has security cameras instead of in open car parks.

Also, back your car into the parking lot to make opening the trunk difficult.

Next, do not leave any valuables exposed in the car:

  • Hide small valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Large valuables should be in an anti-theft bag with you / locked down in the boot (do this before driving / somewhere else, not when you are at your parking lot).

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Fake ATM at Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate. Source: Andrey Bogdanov / Flickr

 

How it works:

At the Jaffa Gate, you will find that the ATM located at the Currency Exchange Office is not functional.

The shop staff will then helpfully offer to process a transaction using a hand–held machine, based on whatever amount you want to withdraw and he claims to only charge you a few dollars as commission.

Should you agree, he will ask you to enter your PIN, though you will not be able to see any amount on the machine.

Even when the receipt is passed to you, there will not be any amount on there.

However, if you were to go online or check with your bank, you will find that you have actually paid  at least 20% more than if you simply headed to a functional ATM which you can find further down Jaffa Gate.

 

What to do:

Do not use this ATM.

Also, avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

 

2. Rigged ATMs

Signs of a rigged ATM

Signs of a rigged ATM

 

How it works:

Generally, ATMs can be rigged in two ways.

First, the card skimmer and pinhole camera / keypad overlay set up:

  • A card skimmer is installed over the card slot to capture your card details.
  • The pinhole camera / keypad overlay is used to capture your PIN.

Second, the card trap:

  • The card slot can be rigged with cheap tools to trap your card.
  • When your card is stuck, someone will come over and tell you that if you retype your PIN, your card will be unblocked.
  • Obviously, your card will still be stuck, but the scammer will now have seen your PIN.
  • Should you head into the bank / somewhere to seek help, the scammer will unblock your card and escape.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, look out for red flags of a rigged ATM and cover your PIN when typing it in.

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet.

That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

3. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

Snatch theft is not particularly widespread in Israel although it can occur in some places around Old Town Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other measures:

  • Leave valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – our review) to cover loss of valuables.

 

4. Rental apartment scam

Eilat, Israel

Eilat, Israel

 

How it works:

Be it in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, there are fake rental apartment listings going around on online classified ads sites (e.g. Craigslist, Gumtree).

Do be wary of these red flags:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions because they copy and paste without any edits.
  • Dodgy sounding reviews.
  • Difference in photos provided and pictures seen with Google Street View.
  • Payment only by bank transfer off the booking platform (note: they will use names that include the original booking platform to make it seem like you are still dealing with the platform).
  • Or payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union / MoneyGram (sure sign of a scam as transfers are irreversible).
  • Owner is overseas, insists on only using English in emails and emails are worded in poor English.
  • If the “owner” refuses to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place.

 

What to do:

First, only book via legitimate accommodation platforms such as:

  • Booking.com: Frommer’s tests have found the site to offer the best selection and rates amongst competing sites most of the time.
  • Homestay: if you are up for gaining genuine insights of Israel by staying with a local host!

Next, some due diligence to be done on individual listings:

  • Search online reviews and Google the names of the owner.
  • Call the phone number provided on the listing.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions, such as room dimensions or something unique as seen in the photos.
  • You can even pretend something exists in the online photos and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.
  • Search if the property has another online presence or contact number and engage that to see if they are consistent.
  • Test the owner by requesting for a visit from a local friend – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the owner’s receptiveness.
  • Finally, do not pay in full upfront and do not make payment off the platform.

 

5. Credit card skimming

 

How it works:

In Jerusalem, an employee in a Segway rental business was caught for stealing credit card details of customers.

How this was done was that he had a device which could capture your card details.

Once captured, these details were transferred / sold to others to make purchases with.

 

What to do:

This can pretty much happen anyway, so if possible, avoid paying with your credit card.

Should you pay with one however, make sure to never let it out of your sight.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not meant to be a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

 

1. Violent crime and terrorism

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Israel

Map of safe and unsafe regions in Israel. Source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: rare, though watch out for petty crime.
  • Hazards:
    • Border with Lebanon heavily mined (e.g. Ghajar, Kfar Shouba Hills and Shebaa Farms).
    • Rockets potentially fired from Gaza Strip, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria.
  • Hotspots:
    • Parts of East Jerusalem (clashes between Palestinians and Israeli authorities).
    • West Bank (clashes between security forces, Palestinians and Israeli authorities).
    • Gaza strip (although there is a ceasefire with Hamas, violent demonstrations and shootings still occur).
    • Border with Syria (militant activity close to Israeli barrier in Golan Heights)
    • Border with Egypt (highway 10 and 12)
  • Terrorism: threat exists due to with retaliation from Gaza rocket attacks into Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations in East Jerusalem and parts of Old City are frequent, especially after Friday prayers.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, hotspots, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Avoid these areas:

  • Gaza strip and borders.
  • West Bank (excluding Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem).
  • Parts of Golan Heights that border Syria that is east of Highway 98 (excluding Buq’ata, Majdal Shams and Mas’ada).
  • Within 5km of border with Egypt (excluding Eilat).
  • Within 500m of border with Lebanon.

 

2. Medical care

Sheba Medical Center

Sheba Medical Center. Source: bookimed.com

 

How it works:

Medical standards are high in Israel but low in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: dengue, chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, leishmaniasis, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis, cholera.
  • Animal borne disease: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne disease: HIV.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads – our review), you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, rabies (if traveling outdoors or working with animals), typhoid (if going West Bank or Gaza).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass.

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:                                          

A brief summary:

  • Earthquakes: in an active seismic zone.
  • Flash floods: April to September, mainly affects Judean Hills and Negev desert.
  • Sand storm: July to August.

 

What to do:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) that covers natural disasters.

Check the latest media reports, weather forecasts and sources such as:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.
  • Sand / dust storm:
    • On foot: wear a mask (or use shirt sleeve), cover eyes, seek shelter (building / landform / camel), high ground (if no lightning), don’t move through the storm.
    • In vehicle: if no visibility, pull off road, turn headlines, brake lights and turn signals off. If can’t pull off, keep lights on, move slowly and sound horn periodically.

 

4. Transport safety

How it works:

Driving here can be difficult, due to these factors:

  • Crowded roads
  • Aggressive driving (not maintaining a safe distance, overtaking at high speeds even on undivided two lane roads), not adhering to traffic rules (e.g. not signaling)
  • Driving without lights.

As for public transportation:

  • Security concerns with public buses, inter-city buses and settlement buses (this only in the West Bank), except East Jerusalem Palestinian bus system and the Jerusalem Light Rail Train.

 

What to do:

Note that if you are involved in an accident with a local, you as a foreigner will be deemed to be at fault regardless of what happened.

Driving:

  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

Public transportation:

  • Only use licensed taxis.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Police in Jerusalem

Police in Israel. Source: israelpolice / Facebook

 

  • Emergency hotline: 1221
  • Police: 100
  • Fire brigade: 102
  • Ambulance: 101

Join the community!

Get protected!

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares