16 Most Common Tourist Scams in Hungary

Safety at Budapest, Debrecen, Eger, Győr, Kecskemét, Miskolc, Nyíregyháza, Pécs, Szeged, Székesfehérvár, Szombathely, Lake Balaton
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.

 

Hungary Parliament Building

Hungary Parliament Building

 

Hungary is best known for its lively capital of Budapest which is covered in vibrant bars, traditional bathhouses, and ornate architecture.

Besides the old fashioned charm, you can marvel at Hungary’s natural splendor as well.

The country is bisected by the mighty Danube River, home to the majestic Great Hungarian Plains, the iconic Lake Balaton and many more!

Although Europe is generally safe, Hungary is one of the less affluent countries.

As such, there are tourist targeted scams to be mindful of when visiting. So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Drink spiking

Cocktails in Budapest

Cocktails in Budapest. Source: welovebudapest.com

 

How it works:

This scam usually targets male patrons of clubs which operate widely in Hungary.

When you visit a club, you might fall victim to a drink spiked with a sedative before it is served to you.

One of the dancers in the club sees that you are feeling unwell and offers to help you back to your hotel.

When you finally knock out, she will steal any valuables that you have in your hotel room.

 

What to do:

If you want to visit a strip club in Hungary, it is best to do so as a group.

Should you decide to visit alone then make sure to watch all your drinks being prepared. If possible stick to bottled drinks which are more difficult to be tampered with.

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

 

2. Extortionate bar bills

Image source: welovebudapest.com

 

How it works:

This is probably the most prevalent scam in Hungary (like in Turkey and Poland) and also targets male visitors primarily.

This scam usually operates in the fifth district of Budapest and is known to be used along Vaci Utca, an area with lots of bars and restaurants.

You will be approached by several young women who will engage you by asking for a light for a cigarette or asking for directions.

They will start chatting and ask if you want to go with them for a drink in a nearby bar. After a few drinks you will ask for the bill which will be incredibly expensive.

The women will claim that they don’t have enough money to pay their share. This is a scam as the women are working for the bar.

 

What to do:

Do not head to a suggested bar together with a random stranger on the streets.

But if you do want to make new local friends, some questions to ponder:

  • Does the restaurant / bar seem legitimate? Are there customers?
  • Is the stranger reading from a script? Evasive about things?
  • Is he / she only bringing you to a particular restaurant or bar?

Some other tricks you can use:

  • Pretend that you have company by suggesting to go another place where you have a few friends at.
  • Ask for prices before ordering. Only drink what your waiter or you have poured.
  • Take a photo together.
  • Leave your valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment safe secured further with hotel safety tools.

If you fell into the trap:

  • Pay with a credit card but call the bank to dispute your charges immediately after leaving.

 

3. Restaurants / bars with tourist menus

Image source: dailynewshungary.com

 

How it works:

This scam also takes place around Vaci Utca.

You will find street touts offering you a flyer to encourage you to visit a bar / restaurant. These places are almost never at street level and you will need to get an elevator inside a building to access them.

Once inside, you will be pressured to order drinks from a menu without prices. At the end, you will be presented with a huge bill.

This scam can also happen in restaurants where you are given a tourist menu with higher prices compared to menus for locals.

 

What to do:

When picking a bar or restaurant try to choose one at street level that has a large number of patrons.

Alternatively, check out online reviews or ask your hotel / hostel staff for recommended places to eat at.

If researching is too much of a hassle, you can also consider joining 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.

Check the menu carefully before your meal, do not eat what you did not order, and check your bill carefully after.

 

4. Pickpocketing

Street of Budapest

Street of Budapest

 

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 / 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.

 

5. Fake merchandise

Budapest Central Market Hall

Budapest Central Market Hall

 

How it works:

There have reports of fake products at the Central Market Hall, and even reports of fake food in supermarkets in 2014!

And all those luxury products which you see sold on the streets, those are obviously cheap knock-offs as well.

 

What to do:

Generally, the price is a good signal of quality – if something is too cheap to be true, it usually is.

 

6. Street touts selling fake high end electronics

 

How it works:

As shown in the video, you might be approached by a tout on the streets selling an iPhone at a really cheap price.

He could claim that he won it and thus, has no use for it. Or that he needs to sell if off as his child has just fallen sick and needs the money for surgery.

From the video, you can see the scammer offering the item for EUR 300 initially but dropped it to EUR 100 when the guy was going to leave. This is because it is an obvious fake.

Note that it is not just iPhones, but any expensive electronics products can be used.

 

What to do:

Firmly reject and walk away. Buy only from authorized dealers.

 

7. Three shell game scam

 

How it works:

A common fixture around Europe (France, UK, Germany), this is also known as the shell game.

This game involves the showing and then shuffling of three peas / balls / cards. You either guess which cup contains the ball or which card is the odd one out. Guess correctly and you double your money.

The scam is perpetrated by a group of 6-8 scammers. One is the dealer, three to five act as the crowd, one plays the game and one acts as the lookout for police.

This game seems easy but it is impossible to win.

This is because the dealer uses a sleight of hand trick to swap the ball / pea / card. If you see anyone winning, that is the accomplice, as they try tempt tourists into thinking that it is easy to win.

Watch out for those accomplices acting as onlookers, as they will pressure you into playing. Some may even steal your valuables when you are distracted.

 

What to do:

Walk away.

Ideally, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag or a money belt / hidden pouch so that your valuables cannot be easily stolen, not just in this situation, but in many other situations as well.

 

8.  Disabled beggars

 

How it works:

Do not be surprised if you find quite a number of beggars on the street.

However, note that these are usually not Hungarians themselves, but gypsies.

They are usually part of an organized crime syndicate and act disabled so as to get more pity.

 

What to do:

Do not donate, as you will only be encouraging these scammers to continue begging on the streets.

Further, the money will go to the mafia, and not them. If you do want to help then donate to an established charity instead.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Taxi meter problems

hungary taxis

Image source: starsandlightsbp.com

 

How it works:

A common scam that you may encounter in Hungary is a taxi that has a problem with its meter.

All licensed taxis in Hungary should have a meter. However, many will tell you that it is broken to charge you a more expensive flat rate.

If they do use the meter, then this is sometimes rigged so that it displays a much higher fare than normal.

 

What to do:

When you hail a taxi, make clear to the driver that you want to use the meter.

If you feel that the price is abnormally high at the end of your journey, take down the details of the taxi driver according to their official identification papers.

These details should be displayed in the taxi and you can make a complaint to the local police station.

 

2. Longhauling taxi

Image source: dailynewshungary.com

 

How it works:

If a taxi in Hungary does use a meter, they may try to get a more expensive fare from you by going on a longer route.

This scam is often used against tourists as the driver assumes that you are not familiar with the city.

 

What to do:

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

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

Make the driver aware that you know where you are going and will not be easily fooled.

Also, if you have your mobile phone with you then look up the route using GPS.

Follow it so that you know you are going the right way. Alert the driver if he seems to be taking a longer and less direct route.

 

3. Short-changing taxi drivers

Image source: u-szeged.hu

 

How it works:

Another scam perpetuated by taxi drivers relies on visitors not being able to identify the local currency correctly.

In Hungary, the Hungarian Forint is used.

Often a taxi driver will simply short change a customer or they may hand you notes which are no longer valid.

You will not be able to use these as legal tender and they will be effectively useless.

 

What to do:

Try to familiarize yourself with the currency of Hungary when you arrive.

Always take the time to check your change and count it thoroughly before you get out of a taxi.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

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

 

2. 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:

Try to only use ATMs in controlled environments such as banks and high end hotels.

If possible, do not use ATMs located in places such as bars and restaurants as these have a reputation for being fraudulent. Also avoid using them at night or along secluded streets.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters, check the ATM for any red flags and cover your PIN when typing it in.

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. Sprigs of rosemary

Rosemary

Image source: uk.lush.com

 

How it works:

This scam is common in all parts of Europe including Hungary.

The scammer is usually an older woman who will walk up to you and offer you a sprig of rosemary. She tells you this is for ‘friendship’ or ‘good luck’.

When you take the rosemary however she will ask you for money. If you refuse, she will often become insistent and extremely pushy.

Instead of rosemary, other items such as a friendship bracelet or an amulet (e.g. in France, Italy) are used as well.

 

What to do:

Never take anything that you do not want to pay for.

 

4. Unscrupulous money changers

 

How it works:

Money changers in Hungary have a reputation for scamming customers who are changing currency.

One of their main tricks is to give you old bank notes which are no longer legal tender in Hungary. This means that you won’t be able to use them.

Another trick is for money changers to use sleight of hand when counting your money or to give you a very bad rate of exchange.

 

What to do:

Make sure to count all your money when you use a money changer.

Do not feel rushed into leaving until you are satisfied that all the money is correct.

If possible count the notes several times and don’t let the money changer do it for you.

Also scrutinize all coins and notes to make sure you haven’t been handed any old currency.

 

5. Fake police

 

How it works:

This is another common scam globally (e.g. PolandMoroccoMalaysia).

Variation 1:

  • Scammers approach and ask for your passport / travel documents / wallet.
  • While distracted, an accomplice may pick your pockets.
  • If you pass your wallet over, they take it and run.

Variation 2:

  • A scammer posing as a local asks for directions.
  • Suddenly, fake police officers appear, accusing you both of doing something illegal.
  • They ask to check your wallets, which the scammer posing as a local will hand over and encourage you to do so.

Variation 3:

  • More aggressive scammers will threaten you with deportation or imprisonment, unless you hand over cash / ATM pin.

 

What to do:

If you have not obviously broken the law, be very skeptical when a “police officer” approaches you.

Three steps 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.
  • If they want to fine you / check your bags, insist to only do so at a police station (use your GPS to find or check with a local) with a lawyer or someone from your embassy.

Next, you should have hidden your valuables in a money belt / 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.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

Most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise common sense, but 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. Watch out for petty crime and scams instead.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: criminal underworld is strongest in Budapest but should not affect tourists.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but cannot be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: ethnic nationalist groups have been gaining popularity, though are non-violent for now. Occasional demonstrations, possibly on national holidays (e.g. August 20, March 15, October 23).

 

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: obudagroup.hu

 

How it works:

Medical care in Hungary is satisfactory.

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 (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 (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:

  • Rainy season: April to June. May cause flooding in the northeast, along watershed of upper Tisza River. Floods may also occur at areas along Danube River.
  • Snowstorm: December to February. May cause roads to be impassible.

 

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:

The public transportation system is safe and reliable, and highways are generally in good condition.

However, roads in rural areas are generally poorly maintained, unlit and narrow.

Note that snow tyres have to be used in the winter.

 

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

 

  • European emergency number: 112
  • Police emergency hotline:  107
  • Ambulance service: 104
  • Fire brigade: 105

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