17 Most Common Tourist Scams in UAE

Safety at Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Al Ain, Dubai, Fujairah, Hatta, Khor Fakkan, Sharjah, Umm al Quwain
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.

 

Image source: internations.org

 

UAE has seven emirates that include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al-Qaiwain, and Fujairah.

With pristine sandy beaches, blue seas and palm trees, Dubai is an ideal tourist destination in Asia.

Although the nation follows Islamic traditions, it’s a multi-cultural melting pot and this makes it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

However, there are a number of traveller targeting crooks roaming the country. So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Fraudulent tour operators

 

How it works:

Like in any country, there are black sheep within the tour operator industry, where low prices are advertised for tours where promises are not fulfilled.

Common complaints include:

  • Bringing you to a random patch of sand which they claim is the advertised desert safari.
  • Sending you to an “art museum”, which is actually just a shop where they pressure you into buying prices with inflated price tags.
  • Not bringing you to the advertised places or only going for an extremely limited amount of time.
  • Abandoning you midway through a multi-day tour.
  • Collecting payments even when the operator has shut down.
  • Rude guides / unknowledgeable guides / guides who can’t speak your language.
  • Scrimping on safety costs such as poorly maintained vehicles / dangerous driving.
  • Late pick-ups, early drop-offs.
  • Food / meals not as advertised.
  • Overcrowded tours.

A quick check on TripAdvisor shows up companies like North Tours, Universal Travel Tourism, Arabian Desert Tours Day Tours and many more to avoid.

 

What to do:

Engage a licensed, reputable tour operator which you can find via:

  • TourRadar: all the best multi-day tours by established names like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Trafalgar, etc can be found here with best price guarantee.
  • Viator: largest platform of day tours globally and in UAE with low price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tours: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

If you prefer to engage a tour operator offline, ask these questions:

  • Is the operator licensed and is there a professional website, physical office, business email and working telephone number?
  • Are there online reviews? Do they sound legitimate?
  • Is the price too low to be true? What does it cover (vehicles, guides, safety, insurance, hidden fees, etc)?

When paying:

  • Avoid paying in full upfront unless through a reputable platform / operator.
  • If using an online platform, do not make payment off the platform.

 

2. Spilled liquid / spit scam

Dubai harbour

Dubai harbour

 

How it works:

This is a scam found around the world (e.g. Argentina, UK, Thailand, etc).

A common trick these scammers use is to spit on tourists’ clothes as they pass by. Then, on the pretext of helping them clean the spit, they will steal your wallet or purse.

The pickpockets look to target people who are carrying bags / wallets in their hands. This makes it easier for them to spit on their clothes and then approach to help.

When tourists find that someone has spit on their clothes they tend to get annoyed and pickpockets make use of this annoyance to steal your wallet.

The other method used by these crooks is to spill a chemical / liquid on tourist clothes and then come forward to help. When the attention of the tourist is diverted they steal their valuables.

These thieves usually operate as a gang and are so fast that tourists are generally unable to react in time.

 

What to do:

Stay alert in crowded areas, especially if you feel somewhere getting too close to you.

If you find liquid spilled on you, move immediately to somewhere spacious and push away anyone who tries to help you.

We recommend using a money belt or a hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely and a lockable anti-theft bag to prevent your items from being stolen.

Further, do get a good travel insurance (e.g. World Nomads, trusted by Lonely Planet and National Geographic – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

3. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, tourist attractions, hotels, nightspots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

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 around a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most 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 – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

4. Female beggar with sick child

Image source: gulfnews.com

 

How it works:

This street scam intends to tug at a mother’s heart strings. The victim is usually a single woman sightseeing or shopping on the streets of Dubai.

You are usually approached by a woman in a burka (outer garment worn by woman in Islamic countries) and they will tell you that their child is hospitalized and they need money for the medical bills.

They promise to pay you back and get your phone number but never call back.

 

What to do:

Walk away. If they are persistent you can threaten to call the police. Begging is illegal in Dubai.

 

5. Travelling salesman scam

Dubai street

Dubai skyline

 

How it works:

This is a scam that occurs in many other countries as well, such as Thailand, USA, Italy, etc.

You are approached on the streets or in a car park by men who claim that they had just finished exhibiting Italian designer suits in a fashion show.

However, they don’t intend to take them back to their country and are willing to sell at a discount. To gain your trust, they will show you pieces of good suits.

When you show your interest in buying, they take you to a car or other place and sell you fake copies of the original suits that you had been shown.

The crooks will try to rush you through the process giving you little time to touch and check whether the suit sold is original or fake.

Most of the time you are given a cheap piece of clothing that is not worth even a few Dirhams.

Besides suits, many other things could be peddled as well, such as electronics, some branded products, etc.

 

What to do:

Always remember that designer suits / branded products / high end electronics are almost never sold on streets.

 

6. Injured beggar

Image source: thenational.ae

 

How it works:

This is a common scam where a man with a gaping wound on his arm or leg approaches you and asks money for treatment.

These people will never be willing to accompany you to a hospital to get their wounds treated, as the wound and the blood are not real.

Over the years beggars have become more creative and have started using makeup and props to show injuries and blood.

 

What to do:

Keep walking and avoid making eye contact.

In most cases they stop following you after a few steps. However, if they are persistent, threaten to call the police.

 

7. Ran out of petrol

Image source: Wikimedia – Paul Wilhelm

 

How it works:

These crooks are usually stationed nearby a shopping mall or a petrol bunk.

When you walk past a car with a family in it, the driver may ask you for money as they have run out of petrol and need money to get home.

They may also pretend that they haven’t eaten anything since morning. As such, the money will enable them to buy petrol and food for the family.

The women and children in the car are part of the act and they may shed a few tears to tug at your heart strings.

Most tourists tend to fall for this and these people make a good sum of money each day.

 

What to do:

Walk away and don’t fall prey to tears and innocent looking eyes.

 

8. Fake goods / jewelry

 

How it works:

Most of the things that are sold in the local market are cheap goods / fakes sold at a hefty price to tourists.

One such place to watch out for is the Meena Bazaar in Dubai, where you will be approached by many touts to check out their wares with claims that are too good to be true.

 

What to do:

If you think you have been charged more, you can always choose to complain. The shop keeper loses his / her license if found guilty.

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on where to buy specific items.

Bargaining may nab you items at a cheaper price, but if you do not want to bargain, places with reasonable fixed prices for souvenirs include:

  • Dubai: the Al Jaber Gallery, Gallery One, The Camel Company, Jumbo.
  • Abu Dhabi: Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, GiftLand, Dirham Plaza, Green House

If you do not want to go through the hassle of bargaining and researching, other options available include:

  • Using local connections: get a local to bring you around.
  • Shopping tour through Viator: (largest platform of day tours globally and in UAE): get a professional guide to bring you around.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Unofficial taxis

uae illegal taxis

Image source: thenational.ae

 

How it works:

When you exit the Dubai international airport and arrive near the taxi stand, you are pulled aside and asked whether you need a taxi.

If you say yes, you will be taken from a side entrance to a parking lot where a car is parked. You will not find a taxi sign on the roof but it may have a meter inside.

The meter may seem to work properly but when you approach your destination, it may suddenly add 50 – 100 dirhams to the total.

If you find yourself in this situation, you are actually lucky. If you are unlucky, you would be driven somewhere secluded and robbed.

Besides airports, you may find these unofficial cabs at tourist attractions or transport hubs as well.

Some reported places are Muroor Road, in front of LifeLine Hospital opposite the city’s main bus terminal; near the Etisalat tower, off Electra Street; on 17th Street, near St ­Joseph’s Cathedral, etc

 

What to do:

If you do not wish to be hassled, options you can consider include:

  • Get a cab from the official queue / authorized taxi stands. Ensure that the cab has a taxi sign on the roof and the meter is working.
  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or day tour platforms like Viator (largest globally and in UAE).
  • Book a rental car through AutoEurope – over 60 years of operations, super reliable with best price guarantee.
  • Use a taxi booking app like Uber, Careem, Dubai Taxi, etc.

 

2. No taxi meters

abu dhabi taxi

Image source: emirates247.com

 

How it works:

You will find these tax drivers near shopping malls. They approach you as soon as you exit the mall and ask if you are looking for a taxi.

You sit in the cab and immediately notice that there are no meters. When you get down at the hotel you are charged more than the normal fare.

 

What to do:

Ideally, avoid taxis that have no meters or do not use meters.

However, if you have done your research to find out how much certain routes should cost, you can negotiate a fair fare to pay

You can do by checking:

  • With your hotel / hostel staff.
  • An online taxi fare estimator / online travel forums.
  • Taxi booking apps like Uber, Careem, Dubai Taxi, etc.

 

3. Tampered meters

Road in Dubai

Road in Dubai

 

How it works:

Even though taxi meters are difficult to tamper in Dubai, crooks use new and innovative methods to tamper them.

If you find the meter moving quicker than usual, you can be certain that it has been tampered.

 

What to do:

Be familiar with the right taxi fare for different distances as described earlier.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Knocking on the door scam

 

How it works:

You may find a woman with a baby knocking on the door. Usually a team of 2 – 3 women target a tower block on weekends or on public holidays.

If you make the mistake of opening your door, they will beg for help. They can be persistent and ring the bell again and again.

 

What to do:

First, only book an apartment in a safe area using legitimate sites 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 getting genuine insights of UAE by staying with a local host!

Next, if you encounter such a situation, look through the peephole and avoid opening the door.

If they are persistent, warn them that you will call the police.

 

2. Won a lottery scam

 

How it works:

You receive a phone call from a local number saying that you have won a lottery.

They may claim that you are the lucky winner from hundreds of shoppers and that you need to provide your bank details to claim the prize.

All that they want is to get your financial information so that they can steal from your account.

 

What to do:

Avoid sharing bank or any other financial information with anyone.

 

3. Fake police

 

How it works:

Another common scam around the world, you can find fake police in places as diverse as Poland, Morocco, Malaysia etc.

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.

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

 

What to do:

If you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” approaches you.

Three steps you can use to shake them off:

  • Verify badges and identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (end of this article).
  • Never give your passport if asked. Show only a photocopy of it.
  • If they want to fine you or check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find it or check with a local) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Next, you should have hidden your valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This way, the scammers may simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash.

 

4. Fake iPhone scam

 

How it works:

You might find yourself approached by a stranger on the street waving a new iPhone at you with a receipt.

He asks if you can buy it from him for DH 1,000 so he can pay his rent or explain using some other sob story.

 

What to do:

Do not buy as the phone offered is a cheap fake.

 

5. Spiked drinks

drinks

Image source: worldnomads.com

 

How it works:

With the influx of tourists, there is now a big clubbing scene in UAE.

However, cases of drink spiking have also increased as warned by the British Embassy in UAE in 2011.

Both males and females are targeted, with some being robbed, while others are sexually assaulted.

 

What to do:

Simply do not accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended. Watch how your drink is being made.

If possible, buy only canned or bottled drinks which are more difficult to tamper with.

And if you were to come to such locations, do not flaunt your valuables.

Instead, leave most of them locked up in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

6. Assault on females

 

How it works:

Not a scam per se, but one important to highlight. For females, it is essential to protect yourself from assault in UAE due to the legal system.

There have been a number of cases where female rape / assault victims have been arrested and charged with extramarital sex when they report the crime to the authorities!

For instance, an Australian woman was detained in jail for 8 months in 2008 and a Norwegian woman was sentenced to 16 months in prison in 2013 despite both being victims!

Explanations for this include the cultural perception that by drinking alcohol you are asking for it; negative racial stereotypes towards Western women; the large number of fake rape claims, etc.

 

What to do:

Be wary of drink spiking. Also try to travel with a companion and avoid hanging out late at night around secluded areas.

If ever detained, seek help first from your country’s embassy or from organizations such as Detained in Dubai for assistance.

You can also arm yourself with certain tools such as a personal safety alarm in hopes of alerting someone in the vicinity if you are assaulted.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not 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, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Image source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: those targeted against foreigners are rare.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: rebel groups in Yemen have launched missiles into Saudi Arabia but which have mostly been intercepted and destroyed.
  • Terrorism: a threat, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, and affiliated organizations have stated their intention to attack western interests in the area.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations rarely occur.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, 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.

 

2. Medical care

Image source: sainternational.us

 

How it works:

Medical standards are good in the principal cities, but may not be so elsewhere.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: leishmaniasis, filariasis.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, Brucellosis.
  • Animal borne diseases: avian influenza, rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, 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, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, rabies (outdoor activities, or working around animals).

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.

Activities:

  • Avoid swimming in freshwater sources (lakes, rivers, ponds).

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Rainy season: October to March, potential flash floods in dry river canyons.
  • High temperatures: June to September.

 

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 and weather forecasts.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Unfortunately, UAE has one of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world, due to:

  • Driving at high speeds, especially on inter-city highways.
  • Unmarked speed bumps.
  • Drifting sand.

Other transport concerns:

  • When travelling in the desert, only do so in a properly equipped 4 x 4 vehicle.
  • Tourist boats may be overcrowded or do not comply to strict safety standards.

 

What to do:

Make sure your travel insurance (e.g. World Nomadsour review) covers travel accidents.

Driving:

  • Book through a legitimate platform (e.g. AutoEurope – over 60 years of operations, super reliable with best price guarantee).
  • Check latest media reports and weather forecast.
  • Stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

UAE Police

Image source: emirates247.com

 

  • Police: 999 (emergency) 901 (non-emergency)
  • Ambulance: 998 / 999
  • Fire department: 997
  • Coast guard: 996
  • Emergency services: 04-2232323

Join the community!

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9 Comments

  1. Naveed

    Beware of Tourism company – ARABIAN TIMES TRAVEL & TOURISM (SCAM – SCAM – SCAM)

    Its true. there is a contradiction in verbal and written contract. Secondly, they assure you to call back if approach customer service but nobody take cares. No results at all. All commitments are being proved false one by one.Its disappointing. Therefore, I have lodged a complaint @ Consumer Rights and Business Protection Contact Center
    6005455555

    Reply
  2. Abi

    Arabian Falcon Holidays….run for your life. …its a scam….they are selling shares not flats or houses.They have an office in City bank building they lure you from the baggage area at the airport,do not accept any free tickets or tourism from anybody….they will lie with the Dubai government’s name…..its a scammers!!!

    Reply
  3. NELSON I LANTAKA

    Dear sir,

    Have a good day,

    I would to ask if any body here can explain and tell me if the travel agency below are scam or not?

    I need the reply as soon as possible..

    thank you.

    IMPORTANT NOTE:
    FOR UAE TRAVELING DOCUMENTS PROCESSING
    Our official travelling Consultant is SKYE EAST TRAVEL & TOURISM LLC and they will be handling your travel needs, including UAE Health Insurance Plan, Resident Permit papers procurement and you will be responsible for your travel expenses, and OXY OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM United Arab Emirates will refund only travel expenses made through our travel Migrant agency. This reason is to have a confirmation of your availability and as a proof of your seriousness and commitment to join our working team.
    Contact Mr. NAPOLENON ANDERSON of SKYE EAST TRAVEL & TOURISM LLC, With the below office address through email, who shall be responsible for the processing of his or her Valid UAE travelling documents including HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN /WORK PERMIT and then should forward it to the HR DEPARTMENT of OXY OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM UNITED ARAB EMIRATES for Verification and authenticity confirmation.

    CONTACT BELOW TRAVELING AGENT, FOR YOUR DOCUMENTS PROCESSING.
    ATTN: MR. NAPOLENON ANDERSON/ Head of Operation
    SKYE EAST TRAVEL & TOURISM LLC
    City Pharmacy Building Port Saeed Road,
    Deira P.O.Box: 118241 Dubai, UAE
    Telephone: +971 588194732
    Email: wecare-skye@outlook.com
    Website: www dot skyeastravels dot com
    Please carefully review this four (4) years offer agreement between you and our organization, this offer is governed by the laws of United Arab Emirates and OXY OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM United Arab Emirates. Kindly sign and send back to us the last page of the offer letter by email, as a confirmation of acceptance; also send the last page signed copy to: SKYE EAST TRAVEL & TOURISM LLC
    We look forward to welcoming you to the OXY OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM United Arab Emirates team and wish you a successful and rewarding career with us.
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    PELASSE PRINT, FILL, SIGNAND AND SEND BACK THIS LAST PAGE TO SKYE EAST TRAVEL & TOURISM LLC VIA EMAIL wecare-skye@outlook.com and send a copy to us by Attachement.
    The Employee confirms that these conditions have been explained to him/her and that he/she understands the contents hereof. The Employee acknowledges having received a copy of this contract.

    Reply
    • dfahar

      I received the same email. and would like to verify if its legit or scam.
      offer is too good to be true.

      Reply
      • Mustapha

        Hi I did receive the same email can you tell me if is scam or not,thanks

        Reply
        • Mazen Elzamzamy

          its a scam

          Reply
    • Mazen Elzamzamy

      its a scam

      Reply
    • eman abdelaziz hassan

      did u sure its scam or not ??

      Reply
  4. EHAB

    i have received the same, Regarding OXY Occidental petroleum UAE

    Reply

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