21 Most Common Tourist Scams in the Netherlands / Holland

Safety at Amsterdam, the Hague, Maastricht, Texel, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem, Nijmegan, Groningen, Delft, Eindhoven, Haarlem, Leiden, Breda, Den Bosch, Tilburg, Amersfoort, Zwolle, Alkmaar, Zandvoort, Valkenburg, Scheveningen, Leeuwarden, Enschede, Noordwijk, Dordrecht, Apeldoorn, Hilversum, Roermond, Almere, Amstelveen, Deventer, Gouda, Middelburg, Venlo, Roosendaal, Zaandam, Rijswijk, Hoorn, Hoofddorp, Heerlen, VIssingen

Image source: healthytravelblog.com

 

Home to picturesque windmills, colourful tulips, famous painters, canals, clogs, flat lands, caramel filled stroopwafels and more, the Netherlands also boasts a wealth of cultural heritage and you can find one of the most interesting cities in Europe that is Amsterdam here.

Although the Netherlands is generally safe, there is still a bunch of shady characters perpetrating a bunch of tourist targeted scams, with drunk / drugged tourists a favourite of theirs.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself in this beautiful land!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Junkies

 

How it works:

There are a number of these scammers hanging around red light districts who try to sell drugs and anything that they have stolen (e.g. bikes) to tourists.

You do not want to buy anything from them for a multitude of reasons:

  • The ware they peddle is usually fake
  • You might get trapped and scammed by a fake cop accomplice
  • You could get into real trouble with the law
  • Or worse, you could consume a drug that is not what it is advertised to be and is fatal.

In fact, there have been many cases of sheep dung / talcum powder / parsley being sold as drugs.

Further, in 2014, 3 deaths were reported and 17 were hospitalized after the victims consumed white heroin which they thought was cocaine.

 

What to do:

Do not engage. If you really want drugs, there are controlled and regulated “coffee shops” which you can go to like the one below:

 

Image source: rawstory.com

 

2. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

The pickpockets in Amsterdam are highly professional and usually work in gangs. They are so good they can rival those in Barcelona, the pickpocket capital of the world.

Let’s break this up into several parts as there have been different tactics used in different situations.

In Amsterdam, the areas where these lowlife hang out at are the crowded streets.

These include Kalverstraat, The Red Light District, Dam Square, the Museum Quarter (Oud Zuid / Old South District), near the Centraal Station, on Damrak and the markets (Waterlooplein Flea Market, Albert Cuypmarkt, etc).

 

Cities

Image source: ibiza-voice.com

 

At streets around transportation hubs (e.g. Centraal Station), pickpockets hang out at the dark alleys around the stations.

They wait for the right target, who are usually tourists carrying large backpacks / luggage as that makes them slower to react.

In some situations, especially along dark alleys, they may be brazen enough to claim that they have a gun and demand that you hand over your wallet. Or they may claim that a friend nearby who is looking at you has one.

Another reported tactic which pickpockets use is to surround you with a group.

However, when you think you will be assaulted, one of them actually shakes your hand, pulls you to him and then shakes your leg. What happens is that you will be distracted and the other accomplices will then steal your valuables.

Tourists stopping to watch street artists in action are also another favourite target for pickpockets.

Do be wary at night as well as this is the time where incidents of crime are at the highest.

 

Red light districts

Image source: iamsterdam.com

 

At red light districts, pickpockets can come in the form of beggars, ready to strike when you are distracted or drunk.

Another tactic is for one of them to push you from behind into an accomplice in front who then steals your valuables.

Another very common trick is for a scammer to drop a pair of broken glasses right in front of you. Even if you have not stepped on it, he will claim that you did.

In the ensuing chaos, an accomplice will steal your stuff from behind.

Besides glasses, it can be anything else too, such as a pack of drugs or spilled marijuana.

 

Shopping areas / crowded markets

Image source: esnutrecht-blog.com

 

Pickpockets love places like De Negen Straatjes and Kalverstraat, thus explaining the many signs warning tourists of pickpockets here.

Markets like Waterlooplein Flea Market, Albert Cuypmarkt are top hot spots where locals are careful at as well.

Some pickpockets wait at secluded ATMs, ready to steal your money once it is dispensed from the machine.

Others wait alongside benches of shopping streets or execute the bump and steal scam in small shops as described earlier.

 

Tourist attractions

Image source: tammytourguide.wordpress.com

 

At attractions such as the Anne Frank museum where there is usually a long queue, do be wary if someone pops up to ask you a few questions out of the blue.

It is because that is meant to distract you while an accomplice works on your belongings from behind.

 

Restaurants / hotels

Restaurants and hotels are great locations for pickpockets as these are places where you feel safe.

Because of that complacency, bags or valuables are usually left unguarded and out of sight. Pickpockets hanging around the area can easily steal these by waiting for the right moment.

The more aggressive thieves will try to distract you and they have many ways of doing so.

For instance, one could ask you for directions or ask a random question while the accomplice strikes.Or one could pretend to look for a friend to create distraction.

There are even cases where someone comes in with a map and puts it over your valuables on the table (assuming you have left it there) and asks for directions. When they take the map up, they take your valuables with them.

Of course, there are also the plain simple ones. For instance, there are careless victims who leave their bag or luggage behind their seats unattended and out of their line of sight.

 

Busy tram lines

Image source: subways.net

 

Tram 5 (between Centraal Station and Amstelveen) is the most infamous for pickpocket cases, as the route passes by many hotel and tourist attractions.

In fact, it is estimated that ~40+% of all tram pickpocket cases occur on this route.

 

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.

 

 

3. Spilled liquid scam

 

How it works:

This is an extremely common scam all over the world (e.g. Argentina, US, Thailand).

How this works is that a scammer will accidentally spill liquid that look like puke / mustard / bird poo / ketchup on you.

Then, a few strangers will spring into action from nowhere and help you clean up.

While you are flustered and distracted, that is when they steal your valuables.

 

What to do:

Keep an eye out for anyone tailing or keeping too close for comfort to you.

If caught in such a situation, stand your ground and push away anyone who tries to help you.

And as mentioned earlier, arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag so that it is almost impossible for these thieves to steal anything from you.

 

4. May I help you scam

Image source: greatlakesexplorer.com

 

How it works:

Similar to the one in Morocco, you will find an over friendly stranger who offers to help you.

However, his real intention is actually to rob / steal from you.

Some may even throw misinformation, such as claiming that a place is closed (like in IndiaThailand, etc), and offer to bring you somewhere else.

That somewhere else is either somewhere they get kickbacks or where they can rob you.

 

What to do:

Never engage an overly friendly stranger on the streets.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, use an anti-theft bag or money belt / hidden pouch is highly recommended to prevent the scammer from stealing from you.

 

5. Spiked cookies / drinks

Image source: iamaileen.com

 

How it works:

It could be anyone who offers you some free cookies, be it a girl, young boy, old grandmother and what have you. If you consume those cookies, you will be knocked out soon after.

When you arouse from your slumber, your valuables would have been robbed.

Same goes for spiked drinks in nightclubs or bars.

 

What to do:

Decline anything free from a stranger.

For drinks, either watch it being made in front of you, or get a bottled one that is difficult to tamper with.

Further, do not flaunt your valuables when engaging in such activities.Leave them in your hotel / hostel room instead where you can further secure with hotel safety tools.

 

6. Food museum

Image source: mustseeholland.com

 

How it works:

In Amsterdam, you will find many food places with the word “museum” added to them (e.g. cheese museum).

These are simply tourist traps masquerading as a place of heritage so as to charge higher prices.

 

What to do:

Avoid. Do some research online or check with your hotel staff to find the real reputable ones.

 

7. Fake counterfeit bill machine and currency switcheroo

Image source: news.err.ee

 

How it works:

When you pay, the shop owner will claim that your bill is fake and run it through a special machine which beeps in response.

However, when he runs a bill from the cash register, the machine would not beep.

If you decide not to buy, he will return your “fake” note. However, through sleight of hand, he has actually swapped it with the real counterfeit bill from the cash register.

 

What to do:

If you find yourself in such a situation, watch carefully to make sure your note is not swapped.

Also, learn how to spot a fake bill and check your bill when the shop owner returns it.

 

8. Fake police

 

How it works:

Fake cops here will show you a badge and accuse you of possessing drugs or counterfeit currency. You will then be asked to pay a fine.

When you show your real bills to protest your innocence, they may also swap it with counterfeit ones.

 

What to do:

Ask for an ID (badges are fake) before you accede to any request they have. If you still have doubts, threaten to call the police hotline to verify their identities (at the end of this article).

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

If they insist on a fine, insist on only paying at a police station. Check with a local or use Google Maps to identify the nearest police station.

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.

 

9. Tulip stands

Image source: malamare.net

 

How it works:

Tulip stands operate all year round, however, tulip bulbs can only be planted and grown in the Autumn.

Don’t fall for the claims made by some vendors that these can grow anytime of the year.

 

What to do:

If you want to buy to grow it, only buy it in the autumn.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging taxis

Image source: iamsterdam.com

 

How it works:

Rogue cab drivers in Netherlands will make up their own charges when the official taxi police is out of sight.

This is because they feel unfairly repressed by the strict regulations of the industry.

There are also some who claim that at night, there is a minimum charge of EUR 10, which is nonsense.

There has even been one case where a tourist was charged EUR 980 for a trip from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam!

 

What to do:

You could do some research online (e.g. using an online taxi fare estimator), use Uber or simply check with your hotel to find out the rough fare for a route.

Alternatively, you could take public transport which is pretty well developed, or take taxis from Taxi Electric which is one of the most reliable taxi companies.

Also, if you think you have been cheated, take note of the taxi number on the roof of the car and report them to taxiklacht.nl.

 

2. Forgot to turn on the meter / rigged meter

 

How it works:

This is an easy scam on unsuspecting tourists, especially those tired after a long flight.

As the title suggests, the driver can simply choose not to turn the meter on unless he is caught.

Should he be caught, he can pretend to have forgotten about it and there is no loss for him.

 

What to do:

Always check that the meter is turned on. During the trip, check to see if the meter is rigged or jumping too quickly.

Again, if you suspect foul play, take note of the taxi number on the roof of the car and report them to taxiklacht.nl

 

3. Unofficial / fake taxis

Image source: topbusinessclass.com

 

How it works:

There have been reports of drivers of unofficial taxis / lookalike taxis who wait in / outside airports and who pressure tourists to take their vehicles.

Many of them will also brandish an official looking taxi licenses which is fake, and will offer a rate cheaper than the official airport taxis to entice you.

What happens next varies.

You could be driven in an old, beaten up car; you could be taken on a longer route than usual; or you could even be driven to a secluded place and coerced to pay a higher sum.

The unlucky ones simply get robbed!

 

What to do:

Avoid engaging.

If you do because you are in a rush, take a photo of the car number and driver license number, especially if you feel uneasy.

 

4. Longhauling taxi drivers

Image source: driveeurope.co.uk

 

How it works:

Taxi drivers in Amsterdam are infamous for taking the longer route just to squeeze more of your fare.

Take note if your driver asks if you would like to take the highway, as the distance covered is longer. However, this really depends on where you are headed to.

 

What to do:

Research the routes, especially those longer ones and roughly how much it would cost.

You could do some research online (e.g. using an online taxi fare estimator), use Uber or simply check with your hotel. E.g. a ride from Schipol Airport to the centre of Amsterdam should cost around EUR 50 – 60.

 

5. Used public transport tickets

Image source: amsterdamtips.com

 

How it works:

There have been reports of scammers picking up thrown used tickets (tram / bus / train) or simply asking commuters for them.

Then, they tempt tourists to buy these worthless tickets which cannot be used at all by offering a discounted price.

 

What to do:

Only get your tickets from the official sources (i.e. the official ticket counter).

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Hotel touts

 

How it works:

There are a number of these hotel touts who target tourists who look lost and who have not booked their accommodation.

It is not unthinkable as Amsterdam, with its legalized drugs, do tend to attract some of these youngsters who act on the spur of the moment.

Do not believe their spiel, as the rates they offer are usually made up on the spot.

Once you are there, you will be subject to high pressure sales tactics to book a room.

Prices may also be more expensive and the room is usually of poor quality and in an overcrowded place. It may even be an illegal place (i.e subletting)!

 

What to do:

Do not take up recommendations from an unknown stranger or from street touts.

Instead, do your research and stay at a reputable / legitimate place.

 

2. Fake apartment listing

Image source: hub.theasap.org.uk

 

How it works:

Scammers exploit greed and pull in unsuspecting tourists by pricing these listings at extremely low prices.

If they ask you to make full payment upfront off the platform to some bank account out of the Netherlands, that should be a clear red flag.

 

What to do:

Avoid booking listings without reviews or those which look shady. Also sites are craigslist, marktplaats, FB ads aren’t the most reliable.

If you are unsure, simply mention that you would like to arrange for a local friend (even if you do not have one) to check the apartment. This is just to test the apartment’s owner.

Also avoid making full payment upfront, unless it is for a reputable hotel.

 

3. Counterfeit bills

 

How it works:

In 2004, there was a flood of fake EUR 100 bills in the country which are still in circulation today. Some tips on how to spot a fake note:

  • The fake bill itself feels hard and stiff as it is made of 100% cotton. It is not flimsy like the actual note
  • Best way to deal with fake currencies (e.g. like in China, Turkey, etc) is to hold it against a light source. If you fancy, you could get a small battery operated UV light torch before the trip.
  • For the EUR 100 bill, look for the whole denomination number on all corners and on both sides of the bill. Also look out for a dark security strip across the bill
  • When shone under a light, the hologram image changes from the number to a window / door symbol, the signature and flag turn green and stars turn orange
  • Or, check out this app that will help you do everything above!

 

 

What to do:

Educate yourself on how to differentiate fake Euros and be careful especially around large notes.

 

4. ATM card skimming

 

How it works:

ATMs can be rigged with a card skimmers to capture your card details, and a pinhole camera to capture your PIN.

Some telltale signs are a glue residue around card reader, loose parts of the machine or if some suspicious items are placed on the machine which could be used to house a camera.

Also, if you see something protruding or not fixed tightly, that should be a clear red flag.

Further, there have even reports of robbery at these machines, so do stay on the lookout.

 

What to do:

Use ATM machines inside controlled environments like in the banks. Avoid using those in dark streets, secluded areas, tourist attractions and at night.

Before using, always scan your environment for any suspicious characters who may be near you. Next, inspect the ATM machine for any signs of being rigged as shown in the image above.

Finally, to protect yourself from potential theft or pickpockets, we highly recommend the use of an anti-theft bag or money belt / hidden pouch which will make it almost impossible for thieves to steal from.

 

5. Street money changer

 

How it works:

These scammers work by approaching tourists and offering a very attractive exchange rate. Should you hand them your money, they will simply run away with it.

Another situation is where a scammer ask if you have smaller notes for him to change notes with. Once you take your cash out, he will grab them and run away with it.

 

What to do:

Only change your money at official sources (e.g. Grens Wissel Kantoor, banks, etc).

 

6. White van scam

Image source: bbb.org

 

How it works:

This is a variation of a scam that is pretty common worldwide (a similar variant is the Italian suit scam in Italy, US).

You will find a white van approach you, and someone in the van will introduce themselves as working for Bose / some electronics company and ask you for directions.

If you help them, and even if you are unable to help, they will offer a discounted box of products to thank you.

Should you buy them without checking, you will realize that they are actually empty boxes.

 

What to do:

Avoid engaging.

 

7. Prostitute scam

 

How it works:

Not technically a scam, but many tourists who feel cheated are those who did not pay attention or clarify the details of services provided.

 

What to do:

Avoid but if you engage, check the terms and conditions carefully.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: freewordandfriendsworld.com

 

  • Police, ambulance, fire: 112
  • National police (non-emergency): 0900 8844
  • Telephone: 0800 0407
  • Sea rescue / coast guard (Kustwacht): 0900 0111
  • Tourist Medical Service (ATAS): 020 592 3355

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