23 Most Common Tourist Scams in Czech Republic

Safety at Prague, Brno, České Budějovice, Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, Kutná Hora, Olomouc, Ostrava, Opava, Pilsen, Telč, Zlín
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.

 

Prague

Prague

 

Although it is a small landlocked country in central Europe, the Czech Republic has much to offer.

With over 2,000 castles, the country boasts the highest density of castles in all of Europe.

Czech Republic is also rich in cultural and historical sites, with the country dotted with UNESCO heritage sites, well-preserved Gothic architecture and towns all with a story to tell.

When you need some refreshment, you can get some of the best beers in the world here, or head to the Moravian region for flowery and earthy tasting fine wines.

However, although violent crime is rare, scams and petty crime are rather common around touristy areas.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Petition donation scam

 

How it works:

This is a very common scam in Europe (e.g. France, Italy)

While you are walking on the street, someone will approach you and ask you to sign a petition which will already have a few signatures there

The petition could be for anything, such as a donation to the deaf mute association or disability association.

This is all a ruse. The person asking for your signature will wait till you sign and then ask you to donate.

Of course any money you donate will not go to any charitable cause.

 

What to do:

Decline and move away, as you do not want to expose yourself to the scammer’s accomplices who might pick your pockets while you are distracted.

 

2. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

A non-exhaustive list of hotspots include:

  • Crowded streets: Karlova street
  • Transportation: Ruzyne Airport
  • Markets and shopping malls
  • Restaurants and hotels
  • Tourist attractions: Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, Prague castle
  • Nightspots and festivals

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. 

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

  • Carry 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.

 

3. Overcharging restaurants

Outdoor restaurant Czech Republic

Outdoor restaurant Czech Republic

 

How it works:

Restaurants and food stalls in Wencelas Square are particularly infamous for overcharging tourists.

Examples of shady restaurants include: U Vejvodů (near Old Town Square), Mystic Café (near Prague Castle), Bar Nebe (Heaven Bar) (in Wenceslas Square), etc.

Tricks they use include:

  • Providing extra products which were not asked for.
  • Not giving back the correct change.
  • Misleading advertising that makes you think the listed price per pound is for the whole dish, especially for dishes such as pork knuckle or duck.
  • Adding an additional 10% service charge on top of the 10% charge already on your bill.
  • Giving a handwritten bill that is either illegible, or does not break down the items you ordered so that they can overcharge you.
  • Providing you a tourist menu with inflated prices.

 

What to do:

Before ordering:

  • Ask if the price is for the whole meal, or per pound.
  • Look out if others are using different menus. If the waiter tells you that there is no menu, leave.
  • Scan the menu for hidden footnotes or footnotes in another language.

After the meal:

  • Make sure the bill is itemized and check it carefully.

Ideally, eat only at recommended places – do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff.

If researching is too much of a hassle, you can also consider a fun local food tour!

  • 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.
  • GetYourGuide: best day tours platform in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee.
  • Your hotel / hostel affiliated tour operator: reliable but generally not the best or cheapest.

 

4. Trilero street scam

 

How it works:

This is a common scam in Europe (e.g. Spain, Hungary).

Also known as the pea game / shell game, you have to find a ball / pea under one of three cups. Guess correctly and you double your money.

As you watch, it is painfully obvious which cup the ball is in and you see others winning easily. Should you join however, be ready to lose.

This is because before the last move of the cups, the scammer will slightly expose the cup which has the ball, tempting you to choose that cup.

However, through a sleight of hand trick, he will take the ball out of that cup and slip it into any other cup while opening them.

Also, the onlookers who are all part of the same gang may pickpocket you while you are distracted.

The gang works like this: one sets the game up, one plays and win to tempt others to join, three to five act as onlookers, and one looks out for the police.

 

What to do:

Avoid joining.

If curious, watch from a distance to see how the gang works but make sure your valuables are secured.

 

5. Kneeling beggars

Image source: miriamrousseau.wordpress.com

 

How it works:

Around tourist attractions, particularly Old Town Square and Charles Bridge in Prague, you will a couple of kneeling beggars.

You never know if some may really be in need or whether they are putting on a front.

However, conventional belief is that they are most likely part of some organized groups, or simply normal people who chose this kind of lifestyle (“free” money for cigarettes, alcohol, food).

 

What to do:

If you want to help the needy, we recommend donating to recognized charities instead.

 

6. Old Town ham scam

 

How it works:

At the Old Town Square in Prague, you will find stalls selling ham with prices advertised as per 100 grams.

Should you order thinking that the ham comes in a 100 gram piece, you will be shocked.

What happens is that a huge part of ham is sliced off and you will be charged many multiples of the price.

 

What to do:

Make it clear how many grams you want.

 

7. Fake monks

 

How it works:

Fake monks are everywhere globally (e.g. US, UK, Myanmar), and it was only a matter of time before they showed up on the shores of Czech Republic.

What these scammers do is to offer you an amulet / token / blessing, seemingly for free at first.

Once you have accepted it, they will demand an inflated fee.

 

What to do:

Real monks don’t go around selling or begging. Ignore.

 

8. Drink spiking

Image source: praguevisitor.eu

 

How it works:

There have been multiple incidents of drink spiking, and the odourless and colorless nature of the crime makes it difficult to detect and eradicate.

Further, it is really easy to execute, as victims are usually young, already tipsy and more focused on having fun rather than caring about personal safety.

Should you fall victim, it is difficult to seek recourse as well since you will be unlikely to remember anything after the drug kicks in.

 

What to do:

Do not accept any drinks that you have not seen made in front of you, or to leave it unattended.

Canned or bottled drinks are recommended as it is more difficult for someone to put a sedative inside.

Also, do not flaunt your valuables. Leave them in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

9. Bar girls

 

How it works:

One scam that targets men in particular is that while at a bar or club, a beautiful woman will come up to you and flirt with you for a bit.

She will seem super interested in you, and while you are talking she will order a drink and assume that you will pay for it.

If you don’t catch on to it fast enough, these women may invite one or more of their friends over to join you and order more on your tab.

When your final bill comes, you will see a much inflated figure and with your new found friends nowhere in sight.

 

What to do:

Keep aware of the tab you have at a bar and who is ordering what drinks.

 

10. Fake drugs

 

How it works:

Just like in other countries, drug dealers are trying to get the most they can while giving out as little as they need to.

What this means is that you will probably end up getting fake drugs, which are either harmless pills like aspirin, or may end up sending you to hospital.

If you are lucky enough to skip the hospital, you may end up in jail though if the police catch you with it.

 

What to do:

Avoid buying.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Fake metro ticket inspector

Image source: travel.stackexchange.com – DarthVader

 

How it works:

These scammers pose as metro clerks going around to check tickets.

When they identify you as a tourist, they will accuse your ticket of being fake or some offence and then demand a fine to be paid immediately.

 

What to do:

Real inspectors from the Prague Metropolitan Transport Service should be in blue uniforms (though not always) with their badge prominently displayed.

Ask for their badges and identification. If they refuse, threaten to call the police (number at end of this article).

If you commit any offence, they will write a ticket with you having the choice of paying now or later, though it’s cheaper to pay on the spot.

 

2. Public transport pickpockets

Image source: czech-transport.com

 

How it works:

A non-exhaustive list of hotspots includes:

  • Transportation hubs: Prague main railway station, subway stations (Malostranská, Můstek, Muzeum, Staromĕstská)
  • Transportation to and from airport, tourist attractions: tram routes 9, 10, 22 (to Prague Castle)
  • Overnight transportation: trains

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 will surround you and then work like this:

  • One blocks you at the door(pretends to tie shoe laces / drops something), the other steals from behind and slips to a third who escapes, and one other blocks others from viewing the act.
  • Some are able to time it perfectly such that they can snatch your stuff and jump out when the doors are just about to close.
  • Other times, especially at escalators, they might trip you or bump into you. Next moment, your valuables are gone.

 

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. 

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

  • Carry 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.

 

3. Taxi rigged meter

 

How it works:

As the name suggests, the taxi meter either jumps too much for the distance travelled or too fast for the time travelled.

 

What to do:

Call for an official taxi, or get one at the “fair place taxistand.

The reputable ones are AAA Radiotaxi (14014), ProfiTaxi (844 700 800) and City Taxi (257 257 257).

Alternatively, you can also use taxi booking apps such as Uber or Liftago.

During the trip, watch the meter and these red flags:

  • Tampered / missing meter seal
  • Only fare is displayed (without distance and waiting time)
  • Not being able to find taxi name, taxi operator number, taxi car plate number inside the cab
  • Driver clicking something, probably a hidden switch
  • If driver drives slowly at a high speed area to prevent the meter from jumping too wildly

If you suspect something amiss, take a photo of the taxi’s license certification and car plate number and threaten to call the police.

 

4. Longhauling taxi

Image source: praguemorning.cz

 

How it works:

Three ways this can go wrong:

  • Scenic route: taxi tariffs and distance appear correct, but you took the scenic route and travelled a longer distance than necessary.
  • Wrong place: the driver purposely confuses your intended destination and takes you somewhere else. They then drive to the proper address and charge you for the entire trip.
  • Congested traffic: driving into a traffic jam and let the meter jump while you wait.

 

What to do:

Write the physical address down clearly so that the taxi driver has no excuse of confusing your intended destination.

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.

Again, if you suspect something amiss, take a photo of the taxi’s license certification and car plate number and threaten to call the police.

 

5. Overcharging taxi

 

How it works:

There are several ways a taxi can overcharge, such as:

  • Charging an inflated flat fare
  • Adding a bag fee when there is none
  • Claiming the fare should be denominated in a more expensive currency
  • Or claiming the fare should be per pax, not for the whole group of passengers
  • Giving less change or mixing worthless coins in there

 

What to do:

Always negotiate the fare (currency, price for everyone, not per pax) before getting into a taxi.

You can estimate a fair price of any route by checking:

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

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

Alternatively, you can also consider:

  • Using a rental car from AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee.
  • Arranging private transport through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe).

 

6. Car thefts

 

How it works:

In Prague, the leading property crime is car break-ins.

 

What to do:

If using a rental car, ensure that your car doors are locked and windows are up.

Avoid parking in unlit areas, but park in public garages or guarded parking lots.

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

Do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Rouge money exchanges

 

How it works:

There are some ways shady money changers around tourist attractions use to trick tourists:

  • Advertising a favourable exchange rate or 0% commission without mentioning the high minimum exchange amount required.
  • Or advertising very favourable rates but which are actually for selling Czech Koruna.

If you change with a rouge operator, you can be sure to lose out on 20-40% of what you should be getting.

 

What to do:

Change at official money changers, at banks (2% extra commission), withdraw with a credit, change at a supermarket but avoid using ATMs.

 

2. Street money exchange scam

 

How it works:

Besides rogue money exchanges, you may encounter someone on the street who offers to change money, but is actually using counterfeit currency.

 

What to do:

Change at official money changers, at banks (2% extra commission), withdraw with a credit, change at a supermarket but avoid using ATMs.

 

3. Fake police

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

 

How it works:

There are scammers pretending to be plain-clothes police officers and there are many variations.

  • One variation involves asking to check your passport as they are investing illegal activities or asking to check your money for counterfeit bills.
  • Another involves a local who asks you for directions. While discussing, the fake police appears and accuses you of a crime (e.g. illegal money exchange) and demands to check your wallet.

Either way, once you hand your wallet over, they will run away with it.

 

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. Rental apartment fraud

Cesky Krumlov

Cesky Krumlov

 

How it works:

From Jan – Sep 2017, 30 cases of rental fraud were reported in Brno and over 600,000 CZK was lost.

This is not limited to Brno only however, as such cases have been seen in Prague as well.

Some common tell tale signs of a fraudulent rental listing:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Claiming to be overseas and only being able to communicate in English (and bad at it).
  • 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.
  • Or payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union / MoneyGram (sure sign of scam as transfers are irreversible).
  • If the “owner” refuses to provide more details or to allow for a tour of the place.

 

What to do:

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 Czech Republic 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 before booking – it doesn’t have to happen, you just want to test the owner’s receptiveness.

Finally, avoid paying in full upfront or making payment off the platform.

 

5. Rigged ATMs

 

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 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.

 

6. Snatch thefts

 

How it works:

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab.

It can happen in many 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.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • 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:

At crowded places, even seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Do not carry valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off.

Other protection 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 – check our review) which covers loss of valuables.

 

7. Shortchanging

Czech Republic Koruna

Czech Republic Koruna

 

How it works:

Some locals may have the idea that all foreigners are rich, and may try to short change you.

 

What to do:

Count your money before handing them over, and count your change after getting them back.

 

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

Image source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: low. Be more wary about increasing petty crime and scams.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: strikes and demonstrations may occur.

 

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, avoid hotspots and avoid participating in demonstrations.

 

2. Medical care

Image source: gmt.care

 

How it works:

Medical care is reasonable in Czech Republic.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis, West Nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, hepatitis.

 

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.

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:

Not much to look out for, except potential heavy rains in spring / summer causing local flooding.

 

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:

In small towns, you may encounter roads of poor condition, uneven surfaces, and unclear road signs.

 

What to do:

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

Driving:

  • Only book via legitimate platforms (e.g. AutoEurope – over 60 years of industry experience, 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

Image source: racom.eu

 

  • European emergency number (police, fire, medical): 112
  • Fire brigade: 150
  • Rescue / ambulance: 155
  • Metropolitan police: 156
  • Police: 158

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