16 Most Common Tourist Scams in UAE

Safety at Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Al Ain, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Dibba Al Fujarah, Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeirah, Hatta, Ajman, Yas Island, Saadiyat Island,

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. Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Spilled liquid / spit scam

 

How it works:

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

A common trick they 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.

Ideally, you should already be armed with 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.

 

2. 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 / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene
  • Another will push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it)
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and passes it on
  • The last will hide it under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

 

What to do:

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

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

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • 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 securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

 

3. 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.

 

4. Travelling salesman scam

 

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.

 

5. 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.

 

6. Ran out of petrol

Image source: Wikimedia user 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.

 

7. Fake goods / jewellery

 

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.

 

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 they are 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, etc
  • Abu Dhabi: Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, GiftLand, Dirham Plaza, Green House, etc

 

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 have been driven to somewhere secluded and robbed.

Besides airports, you might 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:

Take taxis only from authorised taxi stands. Ensure that it has a taxi sign on the roof and the meter is working properly.

 

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 (e.g. using an online taxi fare estimator, or check with your hotel), you can negotiate a fair flat fee to pay.

 

3. Tampered meters

 

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:

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:

Should you be approached, always ask to check their identification and threaten to call the police hotline to check (hotline at the end of this article).

Remember also to never give up your passport if asked. Instead, show only a photocopy of your passport.

If they insist on a fine, demand to only pay at a police station. Check with a local or use Google Maps if you have mobile data to find out the nearest police station.

In such cases, it is also useful to have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside just sufficient for daily transactions, while the rest of your valuables are hidden securely in your money belt or hidden pouch.

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

Even if not, you can simply give up that wallet or the cash in it with minimal loss to yourself and save a ton of trouble.

 

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 safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools such as a safe lock or door jammer.

 

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. 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!

Get protected!

2 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

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares