13 Most Common Tourist Scams in Austria

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Image source: moveabroadnow.com

 

Home to the mighty Eastern Alps and the gorgeous vistas of Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria is the place for anyone who wants to take in some beautiful alpine scenery.

The country is studded with delightful medieval towns where you can learn about Austria’s incredible history, or you can uncover larger cities like Vienna and Salzburg where you will get to see some of the most iconic landmarks including Mozart’s former home and opulent palaces.

Compared to many other countries in Europe, Austria is a very safe place to visit and violent crime is rare.

However some scammers do operate here, especially in the main tourist areas of the country. Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Fake event tickets

Image source: thespaces.com

 

How it works:

Austria is the music capital of the world. Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner and Mahler all hailed from here.

This means that operas and musicals are a “must do” here, and this is something which scammers exploit.

Scammers will approach you on the streets and offer to sell you a cheaper ticket to an opera or event. They will use any kind of reason to justify the cheap price.

For instance, they may claim to be unable to make it or that they managed to get a discount through a friend.

Do not fall for it as the ticket is most likely a fake.

 

What to do:

Buy tickets only from the official sources.

 

2. Street touts of poor quality events

Image source: Flickr – carlos_jimenez_ruiz

 

How it works:

This is not technically a scam per se – the scam lies in how you are sold on the event.

On the streets, you will find salesmen dressed as Mozart touting low quality concert tickets at inflated prices, or saleswomen dressed in long velvet capes.

These “conmen” are extremely charming and persuasive, and they make claims such as watching a world class orchestra playing at a world class location.

However, the concert is usually performed by mediocre performers in a normal or even lousy setting.

 

What to do:

Check out reviews (e.g. TripAdvisor, blogs, hotel / hostel reception etc) before purchasing tickets to any event.

It is unlikely for you to go wrong if were to watch at the two main concert halls (the Musikverein; the Konzerthaus), the two main opera houses (the State Opera; the Volksoper) or the concert halls (e.g. Konzerthaus).

 

3. Pickpocketing

Image source: Wikimedia – Gugerell

 

How it works:

Pickpocketing hotspots in Austria include:

  • Tourist attractions:
    • Vienna: 1st District (city’s historic landmarks), 4th District (Karlsplatz / Karlskirche area, haven for drug addicts at night).
  • Shopping malls:
    • Vienna: 6th District, (the shopping strip Mariahilferstrasse), Flohmarkt (on Saturday).
    • Salzburg: Getreidegasse (shopping strip where Mozart’s house is located).
  •  Crowded public transport interchanges:
    • Three largest train stations: Westbahnhof, Hauptbahnhof, Meidling.
    • Trains and buses along busy routes: 13A.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to mark targets. Once they spot one, they will surround you and work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and blocks passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another pushesdistracts the target (e.g. drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third steals your valuable / slashes your bag and passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / items and escapes.

There are also well-dressed girls who hide their hands behind a shopping bag, waiting for the moment to strike.

 

What to do:

In crowded spaces, stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters.

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

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

 

4. Fake charity petition scam

Image source: parisinsights.com

 

How it works:

A scam that is common across Europe (e.g. France, Germany), this occurs in the main tourist areas in the 1st District (“Innere Stadt”) of Vienna and involves a scammer asking you to sign a charity petition.

The form will probably be in a language which you do not understand.

Once you do, the scammer will ask for a donation to the charity which does not exist.

If you refuse, they will become extremely pushy and aggressive.

As this ensues, an accomplice will take the opportunity to pick your pocket while you are distracted.

 

What to do:

Firmly refuse and walk away.

And as mentioned earlier, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch so that these thieves cannot steal from you.

 

5. The dropped wallet

 

How it works:

This scam starts when a scammer drops a wallet or a large amount of money on the ground.

Their accomplice will pick this up, asks if it belongs to you and will then suggest splitting the money.

As both of you are discussing, the first scammer will reappear and accuse you of stealing.

Now that you are caught up in this commotion, the accomplice will use the opportunity to pick your pocket.

Another variation (e.g. in Hong Kong) is that when the first scammer reappears, he will search through your belongings forcefully. Once he has grabbed something valuable, both will run away.

 

What to do:

This is a common scam. If someone approaches you and asks about a dropped wallet / money, first identify if your wallet is still intact.

If your wallet is still with you, simply walk off and not partake in any further discussions.

 

6. Spilled liquid scam

 

How it works:

This is a common scam everywhere around the world (e.g. Brazil, Thailand, etc).

A helpful bystander will stop you on the streets and claim that you have a stain on your clothing. The trick is that they will have put this there themselves.

For instance, they could spill liquid or squirt stuff on you from your blind side. The liquid / stuff will be made to look like white bird droppings.

They will then offer to help you clean it up. As they are doing so, they will steal your valuables when you are distracted.

 

What to do:

Stay alert on the streets if you find someone getting close to you. If someone tries to help you, push them away and get to somewhere with more space.

Note that sometimes, some scammers may just be trying their luck and there may not even be a stain.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch so that these thieves cannot steal from you.

 

7. Fake police officers

 

How it works:

There are many creative variations of this scam globally (e.g. Indonesia, Morocco, UAE etc).

In the 1st District in Vienna particularly, you may be approached by scammers who claim to be ‘plainclothes police officers’.

They will usually ask you for your passport. Once you hand it over, they will accuse you of a minor crime.

They then claim this can be cleared up on the spot if you pay a small fine. If you do not pay, you will not get your passport back.

Another variation is that of the scammers demanding to check your belongings. Should you allow them to do so, your valuables will be stolen.

 

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.

 

8. Sprigs of rosemary

Image source: sunshineandsiestas.com

 

How it works:

Austria has seen an influx of Eastern Europeans including gypsies from neighboring countries like Romania and Bulgaria. This happened when these countries joined the EU in 2006.

One of the common scams associated with the gypsy community in Austria involves sprigs of rosemary. Or it could be other items like an amulet or medallion.

The scammer approaches a visitor and hands them the rosemary and says that it is a blessing for them. They then expect some money in return, even though you did not solicit the rosemary and blessing yourself.

If you refuse they often threaten to curse you and cause a commotion in the street.

The aim of this is to distract you so that one of their accomplices can steal your wallet or other valuables.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject and walk away.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Luggage slashing

Image source: railway-technology.com

 

How it works:

There have been reports of bag slashing on the train from Prague to Vienna.

Many passengers sleep on the train. However, when they do so, thieves will slash their bags / luggage to steal their valuables.

A twist on this scam is thieves who distract you on a train by causing a commotion. Their accomplice will then come in to steal your luggage.

 

What to do:

When using a check-in luggage, there are four key steps to protecting your property:

 

2. Fake train station helpers

Image source: Wikimedia – Werckmeister

 

How it works:

Scammers posing as unofficial “staff” or as a helpful local have been spotted at train stations carrying train timetables in German.

They will approach lost tourists and show them the timetable and pretend to help.

As tourists are unlikely to know German, this will usually spark off a more intense discussion.

At this point, the accomplice will strike, either by accidentally bumping or simply stealing from the tourist stealthily.

 

What to do:

It is safer to solicit help than to accept unsolicited help.

Again, using a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant to conceal your valuables securely will keep you protected and save you a lot of trouble.

 

3. Indirect taxi routes

 

How it works:

Taxi / cab drivers in Austria are usually much more reliable than drivers in other parts of the world.

Most will abide by the rules and also to use a meter instead of charging a flat fare.

That said, there are bad eggs who deliberately drive you through a longer route to jack up the price.

Another trick they use is to drive you through busy areas. This will inflate the fare as you are stuck in traffic.

 

What to do:

For longer routes, it is best to plan your route in advance so that you know where you are going.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to monitor the route on your phone using a GPS system.

That way you will know if your taxi driver is taking you on a different route and will be able to ask them to change course immediately.

Also, request for a receipt, they are obliged to provide one if you do request for it. With a receipt, you can always get a refund.

Finally, always remember to note down the driver’s car plate number if you feel something is amiss.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. ATM fraud

 

How it works:

ATM fraud is a common problem around the world (e.g. Philippines, Croatia, etc) and can come in many forms.

In Austria, an ATM may have been rigged so that it doesn’t release your card properly.

A scammer will come to your aid and will help you get the card by asking for your PIN. They will then steal the card from you and use the PIN to withdraw all your money.

In other cases, they would not have to steal your card or approach you.

This is possible if they have installed a card skimmer (capture card details) and pin hole camera (capture your PIN) on the ATM.

ATM Fraud is particularly common in the area around St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna.

 

What to do:

When using an ATM, do not accept help from strangers or give your PIN even if the ATM seems to be malfunctioning. Call the hotline which is reflected on the ATM instead.

Further, avoid using ATMs in secluded, dark areas. Instead, try to use the ones in controlled spaces such as at banks.

Finally, 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.

 

2. Fake accommodation / apartment rental scams

Image source: hotelsinheaven.com

 

How it works:

There are scammers who set up fake websites (e.g. perfectchalets dot com) and fake listings on legitimate third party sites (e.g. AirBnB) offering extremely cheap accommodation.

However, you must pay in full in advance.

If it is a fake listing on a third party site, they will claim that the website’s system doesn’t work and request to conduct communication and payment off the site.

When you arrive at Austria, you will find that the property doesn’t exist or that it does but the person you dealt with does not.

 

What to do:

If you see accommodation advertised for a very cheap price, it is probably too good to be true.

Never pay in full upfront unless for a reputable hotel.

Next, conduct extensive due diligence:

  • Search for reviews.
  • Call up phone numbers provided on the listing.
  • Grill the “landlord” by asking specific questions, such as dimensions of the room or something unique 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 another contact number and call that to see if they are consistent.

Finally, another safeguard is to check out http://www.netland.at/wien/ which lists the legitimate accommodation options in Austria.

 

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: rare. Crime rates are also one of the lowest in Europe. Watch out for petty crime and scams instead.
  • Hazards: gangs of migrants may pose a problem if provoked.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: open borders with Schengen area countries may make it easier for terrorists to enter or leave. Possibility of attacks.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur. Influx of migrants and refugees may cause disruption to transportation services.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim.

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

 

2. Medical care

Image source: Wikimedia – Thomas Ledl

 

How it works:

Medical care is good in Austria.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies, measles.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance, 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.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving bats).

Prevent tick bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Use repellents with 20% or more DEET.
  • Consider permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
  • 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:

  • Avalanches: following heavy snowfalls. Alpine areas of Salzburg, Styria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg susceptible.
  • Rainy season: spring and summer. May cause flooding or landslides.
  • Heavy snowfall: winter. May cause roads to be impassible.

 

What to do:

Check the latest media reports and weather forecast. Two good sources are:

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting adequate travel insurance protection.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Road conditions are excellent, and the public transportation system of buses, streetcars, trains and metro is exceptional and extensive too.

However, a couple of factors to watch out for:

  • Winter: snowfall, ice or avalanches can make roads in alpine areas dangerous. Winter tire required legally from November to April.
  • Mountain roads: generally narrow.
  • Autobahn construction zones (e.g. A-1 East / West Autobahn): deadly accidents have been reported here due to two way traffic on reduced lanes.

 

What to do:

Check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

Stay alert while driving, always wear seatbelts and keep doors locked and windows up.

Again, we can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance in case anything goes wrong.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: sputniknews.com

 

  • European emergency number: 112
  • Police emergency hotline:  133
  • Ambulance service: 144
  • Fire brigade: 122
  • Mountain rescue: 140

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