15 Most Common Tourist Scams in Poland

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Wawel Krakow

Wawel, Krakow

 

Poland is a wonderful country to explore – the cities are full of historical significance with plentiful stories to tell and the countryside is vast and beautiful.

Recovering from communist rule, Poland has emerged as a popular place for tourists to visit especially the fairytale city that is Krakow.

Although this city is a UNESCO world heritage site, home to Europe’s largest square and offers a bustling café and bar scene, there’s a darker side to the city.

With the rise of visitors, criminals have taken advantage and devised scams targeting vulnerable tourists.

So read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Two girls bar scam

Image source: tripadvisor.com

 

How it works:

This scam has been around for a while but is still going strong in Krakow. Male travellers especially those alone are usually targeted.

You will be approached by two girls (some claim them to be Latvian girls) appearing to be tourists themselves.

They ask for directions or recommendations, and as the conversation flows, they will nonchalantly point to a bar nearby and suggest getting a drink.

Once you’ve had a few drinks you’ll be asked to pay the bill, this being an extortionate amount, being told the girls had very expensive cocktails.

If you refuse to pay you will be threatened by large mob guys who will bully or push you around until you fork up the cash.

 

What to do:

Do not head to a suggested bar 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.

Avoid these places infamous for this scam: the clubs / bar particularly on ul. sw. Tomasza, ul. Slawkowska, Florianska (Flames), and sw. Marka (Club Saxon and Hard Candy).

 

2. Pickpocketing

 

How it works:

Poland has one of the highest reported pickpocket cases in Eastern Europe.

Hotspots include:

  • Tourist spots: Krakow Old Square, Rozbrat Square near Lazienki Garden
  • Transportation hubs: Warsaw train station
  • Routes connecting to tourist areas: bus to and from Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street, the Royal Route / Trakt Królewski
  • Resorts in the summer: Gdansk, Sopot, Gdyni
  • Nightclubs

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 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 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.

 

3. Tourist photo scam

Image source: Warsaw Tourist Office

 

How it works:

This is an old scam that is still ongoing.

You may be approached by a seemingly friendly stranger offering to take your photo at a popular tourist attraction.

Once they have a hold of your camera or phone and have taken the photo, they will demand a large sum for the privilege of the photo taking and will hold onto your camera until you pay.

 

What to do:

Never hand over your camera to a stranger who approaches you. Find a fellow tourist or use a selfie stick instead.

 

4. Restaurant scam

 

How it works:

Restaurants of poor quality will usually engage touts to solicit aggressively on the streets, offering a discount or promotion that is too good to be missed.

Once you are hooked, tricks to exploit you include:

  • Serving appetizers which were not ordered but which would be charged
  • Passing off tap water as expensive bottled water
  • Inconsistent bills such as charging for random add-ons
  • Misleading prices / weight on the menu
  • Having extra surcharges in Polish when the entire menu is in English, etc.

 

What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive touts.

Do some online research or check with your hotel / hostel staff on recommended places locals go to eat at.

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

  • 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.

Should you prefer to just drop by a restaurant along the way:

  • Always ask when unsure (e.g. if any extra charges for this or that; found something you don’t understand on the menu, etc).
  • Get an itemized bill and check it carefully at the end.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Taxi fare scam

 

How it works:

Taxi scams happen all around the world (e.g. India, Mexico) but specifically to Poland, there are certain scams you need to know.

Some taxi drivers turn on night or weekend meters during the day, or claim double the amount of what was initially agreed upon halfway or at the end of the trip.

Legitimate taxis in Poland will have their rates clearly marked so you know how much you are paying before you start your journey.

 

What to do:

Always book with a reputable taxi company and don’t get into a random taxi.

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

 

2. Longhauling taxi drivers

Traffic in Poland

Traffic in Poland

 

How it works:

Happens in many other countries as well (e.g. Chile, Greece) , do be wary when a driver asks if you will like to take a shortcut.

Another way they do so is by purposely misinterpreting the street name (e.g. bringing you to Matoviska instead of Mazowiecha).

 

What to do:

Do your research – how long would the route take and how much would it cost roughly?

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, Neptun, EcoCar, Dajan.

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.

 

3. Unofficial taxi drivers / black market taxis

Gdansk streets

Gdansk streets

 

How it works:

You will find many of these unregulated / unofficial “taxi” drivers at tourist attractions or major transportation hubs.

If you take up their offer, you will most likely be told that their meter isn’t working and will be charged a fixed rate that is higher than if you were to use an official taxi.

Another technique they use is to offer a much cheaper price.

However, halfway through the trip, perhaps on a highway or stopping by a secluded area, they will demand an inflated fare.

 

What to do:

Only use official taxis. Other alternative options which you can explore include:

  • Taxi booking apps: Uber, Neptun, EcoCar, Dajan.
  • Private transport: arranged through your hotel / hostel or day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe).

 

4. Taxi driver sleight of hand

 

How it works:

There are rogue taxi drivers who will try to cheat tourists unfamiliar with Polish currency with sleight of hand tricks to hide certain bills and claim that you have not paid enough.

 

What to do:

Count the notes out loud before handing them over to the driver.

Watch carefully as the driver counts them.

 

5. Transport ticket friendly helper scam

Image source: polrail.com

 

How it works:

When buying a train or tram ticket from a machine you should beware of good Samaritans trying to help you.

You might be stopped by a passer-by, who will press buttons on the machine or attempt to help you insert your payment.

Most people are dazed or confused by this and won’t notice the switch of the ticket or the snatch of your cash until it’s too late and the culprit has ran away.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings when booking tickets.

If approached, decline any help politely.

 

6. Fraudulent bus companies

Bus stop in Silesia

Bus stop in Silesia

 

How it works:

In Poland, tourists have been left stranded when companies cancel their prepaid trips.

 

What to do:

Do not buy tickets from streets touts or unofficial sellers.

Only buy a ticket through these sources:

  • Direct from company / official counters.
  • Licensed retailers.
  • Your hotel / hostel if such a service is provided.
  • Day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (best in Europe – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport with best price guarantee).

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Rental apartment fraud

Wroclaw

Wroclaw

 

How it works:

The situation in Poland is that although there have been some fraudulent rental listings on apartment rental aggregator sites, many landlords are still not on these sites and prefer to deal direct.

Anyhow, you should watch out for these red flags both on aggregator sites and when dealing direct:

  • Prices that are too good to be true.
  • Illogical descriptions because they copy and paste without any edits.
  • Dodgy sounding reviews.
  • Use Google Maps to compare between real photos and provided photos
  • 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.
  • Insisting to only use English.

 

What to do:

Ideally, book through 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 Poland 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. Credit card hotel scams

 

How it works:

In the early hours of the morning, especially after one too many drinks, you might receive a phone call from the self proclaimed hotel receptionist to confirm your details.

Drowsy, drunk or hungover you might give out your details over the phone in your hotel without a second thought.

Next thing you know there’s a massive bill and you have no idea who has spent this money or where it was spent!

 

What to do:

Never reveal your credit card details over the phone.

Check with the reception the next morning to find out if the call is genuine.

 

3. Credit card skimming

Image source: europol.europa.eu

 

How it works:

When paying with your credit card in restaurants and shops, beware of your card being taken away by staff.

If your card is taken out of your sight there is a chance that your card details are being taken to be cloned or used fraudulently.

You might find yourself hit with a large bill weeks later.

 

What to do:

Paying with cash is the best solution.

However, if you must pay by card, don’t let your credit card go out of your sight.

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.

 

4. Fake police officers

Gdansk historic centre

Gdansk historic centre

 

How it works:

You might find fake “policemen” wandering around looking quite real and official in their uniforms (different variations in different countries such as the US, Egypt, etc).

You may be stopped and asked to produce your ID and credit cards and even your PIN numbers.

Of course, real officers will never ask for your PIN but these fake officers can be quite intimidating.

They look through your wallet, then give it back to you and say everything is fine.

However, once you check, you’ll find that your money or cards have went missing.

 

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.

 

5. Currency exchange scam

 

How it works:

There are scam currency exchange booths which advertise a super low rate along with the claims of there being no commission.

Tourists will think they are getting a deal only to be told once the exchange is made that the expected rate and free commission is only applicable to large sums of money.

Thus, you end up paying a hefty commission fee, a terrible exchange rate due to the no-return policy.

 

What to do:

When exchanging currency, always check the small print and confirm the rate and commission before making the deal.

Get them to write it down before you make your exchange.

 

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, though be wary of petty crime and scams in larger cities.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: no major recent history, but safety should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: 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, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

 

2. Medical care

Image source: naszadrogado.pl

 

How it works:

Medical care is generally of a good standard in larger cities, but may be lacking in smaller towns.

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: March to May, may cause flooding.
  • Heavy snowfall: January to February, black ice on road is dangerous, and heavy snow can affect train travel.

 

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 reportsweather forecasts and sources such as the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Driving is safe in Poland, but you will have to be more cautious when driving outside major cities, especially after dark.

Some factors to watch out for:

  • As a major east – west transit route for transport trucks, you will see many heavy vehicles.
  • Some roads between towns and cities are poorly lit, poorly surfaced and narrow.
  • Many roads under maintenance during summer.
  • Some drivers do not adhere to traffic rules.
  • Traffic can be congested.
  • May find horse – drawn and agricultural vehicles in rural areas.

As for public transportation, it is efficient and safe in Poland.

 

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: catholicphilly.com

 

  • Police: 997
  • Ambulance: 999
  • Fire brigade: 998
  • Road assistance: 981
  • Municipal police: 986

Join the community!

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10 Comments

  1. Radiotechnieman

    Had a strange thing yesterday.
    We drove on the S11 from Kórnik to Poznan when I saw a car on the emergency lane with yellow plates.
    A man was waving to cars to stop.
    Since I am Dutch I thought it was a Dutch car, but after stopping in front of the car I saw it was a British car.
    The man came to us (spoke good English, had tinted skin, maybe Roman…?)
    He said he had no gas and no money and a kid in the car.
    He gave me a business card and said he would give his golden ring and neckless as collateral and asked if we could lend him some money.
    I said we had none, only credit card. He said it’s no problem, he had a little gas to go to a gas dispenser.
    It didn’t feel right.
    I asked him why he didn’t have any money or credit card when traveling to Poland. And giving him gas or money won’t get him to England. He stumbled and only said “I have a kid the car”
    He didn’t even seemed really upset that we didn’t want to help him.
    I wonder if there are people who also have seen this.

    Reply
    • Mike

      This is a common gypsy trick. The things he would have given you are worthless.

      Reply
  2. Radiotechnieman

    Also be aware of Romans trying to sell you fake phones and other crap on the parking places on the highway.
    We had this several times on the A4 near Kraków. They operate in groups and are very aware of the police. They seem to know when the police are coming because every time right before the cops come they hurry and disappear with their cars.

    Reply
  3. marek

    To be fair, the “fees” for the Auschwitz museum are publicly advertised so it can’t be really considered a scam only something that people need to be aware of

    Reply
  4. myname

    I was in playhouse club , a taxi driver in the entrance of the club offered to take me back to my hotel.While driving he said he knows great place for massage , it was in Felińskiego 8, Warszawa.

    When arrived staff there asked to pay by credit card for 455 PLN , I paid it using their credit card machine, once returned back to hotel I discovered they stolen 11,000 PLN

    Reply
  5. N999

    I ended up in a place called club dopamina on foksal street in Warsaw. Agreed to pay 240 zł for a dance and told they only accept card. First mistake was believing this, second mistake was I then noticed there was a 3 in front of the240 but there was a space and no. So I believed them when she said its the terminal number 3 with 240 zł and not 3240 zł… now of course i find I was charged 3240 zł and as I paid it using my pin I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back again even though it’s a blatant scam that I should have bendable to avoid but it was expertly carried out by this club.

    Reply
    • Mike

      Indeed, the same they tried with me in April 2018.
      The first time, when I ordered a drink, the girl who had asked me to come inside charged me correctly for my beer (I paid in cash) and a drink for the girl, which was not overpriced.
      Then they gave me many drinks (free shots).
      Then they tried to make me buy another drink for a special price.
      Somehow they first produced a receipt with 139 PLN, then they were putting a number 2139 PLN (600 Euro).
      Luckily, I left the club after they did not explain me and they were pushing me not to go.

      Reply
  6. From LTU

    Are those scams really happening? I have been in that restaurant in Gdansk and it was ok. I have been in Warszava and Gdansk and Gdynia like 10 times and for me it seemed like its pretty safe country. I have also met a lot of hot girls there and they didnt scamed me. Can somebody from Poland make a comment on this?

    Reply
    • Milan

      It can happen, it doesn’t mean it will happen.
      It’s a matter of bad luck.

      Reply
  7. Michael

    Well all of the above happens in all western countries. For example I bought house in Ireland. An Irish foreman who I choose to put my new kitchen has disappeared after I gave him money for materials.

    Reply

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