13 Most Common Tourist Scams In Austria

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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!

Contents

 

A. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS / ACTIVITIES

1. Fake event tickets

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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.

Rule of thumb:

Buy tickets only from the official sources.

 

2. Street touts of poor quality events

Source credit flickr user carlos_jimenez_ruiz

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.

Rule of thumb:

Simply 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

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Some of the 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:
    • The three largest train stations: (Westbahnhof, Hauptbahnhof and Meidling).
    • Trains and buses along busy routes: 13A

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 then passes it on
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

Another spotted scene is of well-dressed girls who hide their hands behind a shopping bag. They get close to you and strike any moment you are distracted.

Rule of thumb:

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.

Only carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.

As for your valuables / emergency cash, conceal them securely in a money belt or hidden pouch and also in a sturdy anti-theft bag that is slash resistant, lockable, and difficult to unzip by others. Keep your bag in front of you.

However, do keep most of your valuables and passport in the hotel safe. Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead.

If you would like, you can use hotel safety tools such as a hotel safe lock or door jammer to strengthen the security of your hotel room.

 

4. Fake charity petition scam

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.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly refuse and walk away. And as mentioned earlier, arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag to conceal your valuables securely.

 

5. The dropped wallet

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.

Rule of thumb:

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

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.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert on the streets if you find someone getting close to you.

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, do arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag to conceal your valuables securely.

 

7. Fake police officers

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.

Rule of thumb:

It is extremely unlikely that a real plainclothes police officer would stop you on the streets to search your belongings.

If you are stopped, first ask to see their official police identification and a copy of their personal identification card. Call the police hotline to verify their identities (numbers at the end of this article).

If you are asked to pay a fine, request to only pay at the local police station. However, do not let them take the lead. Ask a passerby or use Google Maps to find out where the station is at.

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

In such cases, it is also useful to have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside 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.

 

8. Sprigs of rosemary

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.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and walk away.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Luggage slashing

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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.

Rule of thumb:

Keep all bags close to you and remain vigilant when on the train.

Consider getting a TSA lock for bags which do not have locks, or use slash-proof anti-theft bags or hard-shell luggage.

 

2. Fake train station helpers

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.

Rule of thumb:

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

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.

Rule of thumb:

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

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.

Rule of thumb:

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

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

To benefit from the low prices, they request that you 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.

Once you pay and have reached Austria, you will find that the property either doesn’t exist or that it does but the person you dealt with does not.

Rule of thumb:

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

To guard against this kind of scam, never pay upfront in full unless it is for a reputable hotel. Also, search for as many reviews as possible.

Further, call up any local phone numbers provided on the listing. Grill the “landlord” by asking as many specific questions as desired.

For instance, you could ask about the dimensions of the rooms, how old they are, etc. Or you could pick something unique as seen in the photos and question it. Or you could pretend something exists in the photos online and test if the “landlord” can call your bluff.

Also, you could search if the property has another online presence or another number to call online. By calling that alternative hotline, you may be able to identify if the third party website you were to trying to book through is legitimate.

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

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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

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