16 Most Common Tourist Scams in Hungary

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Hungary

Image source: YouTube – BookingHunterTV

 

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. Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Drink spiking in strip clubs

Hungary drink

Image source: welovebudapest.com

 

How it works:

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

When you visit a strip 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 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 and also targets male visitors mostly.

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:

If you are approached by young women who ask you to go to a bar with them, particularly around Vaci Utca then this is probably a scam. Decline firmly.

If you do want to go for a drink then only order from a menu that clearly states the prices on it.

Also, when you order, make it clear that you want a separate bill that only covers the cost of your drinks.

 

3. Restaurants / bars with tourist menus

Image source: dailynewshungary.comv

 

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.

Ask to see the menu upfront. Check the prices before you order to make sure that you feel comfortable paying the stated amounts.

 

4. Pickpocketing

Hungary Vaci Utca

Image source: YouTube – light2tube

 

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 / 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

 

What to do:

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.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • 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 securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead instead of the actual one.

 

 

5. Fake merchandise

Hungary central market hall

Image source: tastehungary.com

 

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 a game where 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, we recommend arming 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.

 

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 could consult the hotel staff how long a trip should take or simply do some online research (e.g. from an online taxi fare estimator) or check Uber.

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:

There are endless variations. The first is that of a simple snatch of your phone or bag from behind you or on the table, and then running into a getaway car to escape.

The second happens at restaurants, where victims are usually in a relaxed state and distracted in conversation.

  • A bag, wallet / purse or camera slung around the chair, or left on an adjacent seat are super easy pickings for thieves. The either steal it stealthily, or do a distract and grab.
  • If you have laid out your valuables on the table, another trick scammers use is to lay out a map over them and to ask for directions. When they take the map back, they will take your valuables along as well.

The third favourite spot for thieves are at hotels and airports. This is because you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually tired or distracted with the customs / registration process.

A fourth spot is the seats beside a train’s doors are a great spot as well as the thief can time his escape perfectly just before the doors close.

Finally, a fifth spot is at the nightclubs and areas around, where tourists either do not keep their valuables in their line of sight are too drunk to be aware of their surroundings.

 

What to do:

Stay alert at crowded places, and even at seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

  • Do not lay your valuables out on the table or expose them unnecessarily in public.
  • Keep your bags in your line of sight and as close as possible (e.g. on your lap when at a restaurant).
  • Ideally, use a money belt or hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

 

While out walking / on a vehicle on the road or streets:

  • Watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).
  • Carry your valuables in a bag across your body with a cross body anti-theft bag, away from the road / windows of your car / bus.
  • Do not carry items in your hands such as a mobile phone when walking by the road or when beside the window in a car / bus.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off your body.

 

 

2. Rigged ATMs

rigged ATM

Image source: thisismoney.co.uk

 

How it works:

A big problem in Europe and in Hungary is ATM fraud. Some ATM machines may be rigged like in the above picture.

 

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.

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.

 

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 all around the world (e.g. PolandMoroccoMalaysia, etc) but with different variations in each country.

You are approached by police officers flashing their badges. They ask for your passport and other travel documents.

They usually operate in a group and when you are distracted, one member of the group may steal your valuables.

Or should you pass your wallet over, they might take your credit card or cash out while the other accomplices distract you.

Another variation is a scammer, posing as a local, will approach you and ask for directions. At this point, the fake police officers steps in, accusing both of you of doing something illegal.

They ask to check your wallets, which the scammer posing as a local will immediately hand over. This makes the act more believable and tempts tourists to hand theirs over as well.

The more aggressive ones will simply threaten you with deportation or imprisonment, unless you hand over cash and your ATM pin number.

 

What to do:

Should you be approached, always ask to check their identification. After getting their identification details, threaten to call the police hotline to check (end of this article).

If they insist on a fine, demand to only do so at a police station. Check with a local passer by or use Google Maps to find the nearest one.

Also, do not give up your passport, but show a photocopy of your passport instead.

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.

 

D. 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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