12 Most Common Tourist Scams in Germany

Safety at Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Dortmund, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremberg
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.

 

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

 

Admired globally for its economic prowess, precision engineering capabilities and world class efficiency, Germany is also a fascinating place to visit.

As the largest country in central Europe, Germany has inspired Europe’s historical influences, cuisine and architecture, and it is also one of the most modern and safest country on the continent.

That being said however, there are still a couple of things and petty crime to watch out for, and it always pays to be careful.

Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Pickpocket hotspots in Germany include:

  • Crowded public transport (train stations, on train / bus) near tourist locations (Berlin: Alexanderplatz, Kreuzberg; Munich: Hasenbergal; Hamburg: Munckebergstrasse; Frankfurt train stations)
  • Street marketsfairs

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 him or her and then work like this:

  • One keeps a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene
  • Another pushes / distracts the target (e.g. ask you a question / survey / drop something and ask you)
  • A third steals your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last hides the loot under a jacket / items and then escapes with it

A “unique” one in Germany is the drunk pickpocket.

  • He / she comes over to say hi, embraces you warmly, and try to nick your valuables.

 

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 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.

 

2. Petition signing

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

 

How it works:

A common scam perpetuated in Europe (e.g. AustriaItaly, etc), these scammers are usually pickpockets in disguise.

You may encounter them in Berlin as compared to other cities in Germany.

Working as a group, they would surround you and shove clipboards / forms in your face.

Once you are distracted, your valuables will be stolen.

 

What to do:

Spot these scammers from afar as they are quite obvious and stay far away from them.

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

 

3. Street gambling games

 

How it works:

This is another popular scam in Europe (e.g. UK), and a common variation is the “shell game”.

The street vendor hides an item in three cups and moves them around. You win if you guess which cup contains the item.

The key to this scam which not many realize is that the crowd around the game are mostly accomplices of the scammer!

They can tempt you to play by having a “stupid” guy who keeps guessing the wrong cup when it is painfully obvious. Or they could tempt your greed by allowing an accomplice to win multiple times.

When you attempt to play, you will lose no matter what, due to the sleight of hand trick involved.

At the final move, the scammer will reveal the cup with the item slightly for you to see. However, what he is really doing taking the item out of the cup without you realizing it.

Not to mention, partaking in the crowd puts you at risk of being pick-pocketed.

 

What to do:

Stay far away from this setup.

 

4. Gypsy “change” scam

 

How it works:

A gypsy might come up to you with a hand full of coins, and asks if you have specific coins to change with.

Should you take out a handful of coins as well, the scammer would exchange coins with your stash so quickly that you would not realize what was being changed.

She will then disappear in a blink of an eye.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline.

 

5. Beggars

Image source: revue.ch

 

How it works:

This is a common scam throughout Europe (e.g. Hungary, France).

In Germany, you will find them in Berlin especially, and beggars are usually gypsy women.

Do not donate, as you will either attract more gypsies, who might rob you when it gets chaotic, or get hounded further by the one you donated to, to give more.

Also, do not be deceived by the “pitiful looking kids” they bring around with them as well, or the fake “disabled” beggars you see.

 

What to do:

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

If you do want to help, donate to established charities instead.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Scammers selling already validated train tickets

Image source: german-way.com

 

How it works:

The German train system works similar to several other European countries. Before boarding the train, you have to validate it by stamping it in a machine on the platform.

For those new to the country, they might not be able to recognize the “stamp”.

Thus, scammers exploit this by selling already validated tickets at a discounted price to tempt your greed.

Using a validated ticket (which is usually sold cheaper than the original price) puts you at risk of paying a much larger fine if caught and so is not worth the risk.

 

What to do:

Just buy your train tickets from the official counter.

 

2. Fake train ticket inspectors

Image source: thelocal.de

 

How it works:

In Germany, train ticket inspectors can either be in uniform or in plainsclothes.

However, fake inspectors have fake badges as well, so you can’t really differentiate a real from a fake based on these alone.

The only way to spot a fake is if the inspector demands that you pay on the spot. A real inspector can allow you to pay later by printing out a notice for you.

 

What to do:

A fake inspector will claim that your legitimate ticket is invalid and demand that a fine be paid on the spot.

On the other hand, a real one will allow you the option to pay later.

Should you suspect the authenticity of the inspector, ask for identification and threaten to call the train company to verify his identification.

 

3. Airport taxis

Image source: nuberlin.com

 

How it works:

Although it is illegal for taxi drivers to solicit for passengers, there are still a number of drivers who break off from the regular cab queue to approach customers.

Needless to say, the fare they charge will be much higher than the one you pay if you had taken a cab from the regular queue.

 

What to do:

Stick to the queue, or you can also consider these other options:

  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel.
  • Or though day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee).
  • Book a rental car throug AutoEurope (over 60 years of industry experience, super reliable with best price guarantee).
  • Use a taxi booking app like myTaxi / Uber.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Rental apartment scam

Hamburg Speicherstadt

 

How it works:

If you spot an apartment with a price that is too good to be true, there’s a good chance that it’s a fraud.

Red flags to watch out for:

  • Landlord not in Germany, unable to meet you, and no tours are allowed.
  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions because they copy and paste without any edits.
  • Dodgy sounding reviews.
  • Payment only by bank transfer off the booking platform.
  • Or payment to a foreign bank account or via Western Union (sure sign of scam as transfers are irreversible).

These scammers will engage you bit by bit, by sending bits of “personal” information over through a series of email conversation.

Once they feel you are hooked, they will request for a deposit to a foreign bank account / via Western Union.

Should you pay the deposit, the scammer will then disappear.

 

What to do:

Only book via legitimate apartment listing 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 gaining genuine insights of Germany 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.

 

2. ATM / Bank card skimming

 

How it works:

It is difficult to imagine rigged ATMs in Germany, but they do exist. 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.

Check the ATM for any red flags.

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.

 

3. Spiked drinks

Image source: thelocal.de

 

How it works:

As common sense dictates, never accept a drink from someone else, it is never free.

 

What to do:

Never accept a drink from anyone.

Watch how your drink is made and also keep a close watch of it throughout your time in the bar / pub.

If possible, order a can / bottle drink where is more difficult for the staff to tamper with.

Finally, do not flaunt your valuables – keep most of them in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe which you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

4. Cell phone rental scams

 

How it works:

Not technically a scam per se, but more a buyer’s beware situation.

Cell phone rental shops in Germany advertise that there is no rental fee charged should you return the phone within two weeks.

However, the fees and add on fees involved are exorbitant.

 

What to do:

Read the terms and conditions carefully.

 

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, may occur during large gatherings. As a tourist you should be more wary of petty crime and scams.
  • Hazards: may get harassed by hooligans or extremist youth groups for racial reasons.
  • Hotspots: potentially, refugee camps such as in Manching.
  • Terrorism: random violent assaults have happened before and future attacks are likely.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations may occur, possibly during political significant days like German Labour Day (May 1) and during international summits hosted here. 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 (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

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

 

2. Medical care

Image source: heidelberg-marketing.de

 

How it works:

Medical care is good in Germany.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis (forested areas in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg), 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 (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.
  • 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:

There are none to really be concerned about, except for possible flooding in spring and summer.

 

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:

Road conditions are excellent and driving is safe here. Public transportation is likewise safe and extensive.

However three things of note:

  • There are dedicated bicycle paths where bicycles travel fast and you should exercise caution if crossing as a pedestrian.
  • Bicycles have right of way over vehicles when crossing into side streets.
  • Depending on the situation, you may need to fit winter / snow / ice / mud tyres if driving.

 

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: sputniknews.com

 

  • Police: 110 or 112
  • Fire brigade: 112
  • Ambulance: 112

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6 Comments

  1. Ankita

    Thanks for sharing these useful tips. Thanks a million.

    Reply
  2. Don Higgings

    “fake disabled beggars” – interesting concept….

    “Don’t bother donating – you’ll only encourage them”. This is the kind of thing my dad would say. They’re people, not pigeons, and they’re homeless, or at the very least job-less.

    Reply
    • Martin Geliot

      Begging IS a job unfortunately. Beggars are often pimped too, rotated around popular spots by their pimps even.

      I have been hassled while buying tickets this week thrice already. I just want these people to fuck off.

      If you are in a country with a welfare system, leave it to the system you pay for.

      Reply
    • Ipeed Freely

      you honestly believe they are homeless and whatever they claim to be?
      Whilst there are the genuine few that have fallen on hard times, 99% are con artists, fact. It is a scam for the gullible.
      Oh, BTW, can you give me your bank account details so I can transfer lottery winnings to your account.

      Reply
      • Harry Grant

        Yes, I have seen this many times in Berlin and Hamburg. And they don’t look like fake homeless but in Berlin it will be young guys hanging out waiting to victimize the vulnerable or unaware.

        Reply
  3. Harry Grant

    Berlin is VERY dangerous. There are big packs of men usually hanging out in streets from the center to eastern part of the city. So, the “bump” and “Roll” is what I saw happen in Potsdamer Platz.

    Reply

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