29 Most Common Tourist Scams in UK

Safety at England, Scotland, Wales, London, Jersey, Windermere, Liverpool, Keswick, York, Glasgow, Isle of Wight, Bath, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Blackpool, Brighton, Sheffield, Cardiff, Belfast, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Bournemouth, Leicester, Plymouth, Cambridge, Oxford, Norwich, Aberdeen, Southampton, Newquay, Swansea, Scarborough, Inverness, Lake District, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, St Andrews, Stirling, Ayr, Oban, Fort William, Dunfermline, Dumfries, Aviemore, Falkirk, Portree, Paiseley, Pitlochry, Elgin, Stornoway, Dunoon, North Berwick, Cardiff

Rich in tradition, complex in culture and endlessly diverse, the UK and London are one of the most visited countries and cities in the world.

The amazing variety of gastronomic delights, iconic sights, rugged coastline, gold sand beaches, pretty small towns, fascinating history, heritage and many more are bound to delight.

However, having attracted so many tourists around the world, the number of tourist targeted scams and petty crime are high, similar to the major cities of Europe.

Read on to learn how to protect yourself here!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Street pickpockets

 

How it works:

The pickpocket situation in UK is not as bad as in Spain, Italy and France, but it is still essential to stay alert.

The usual touristy areas to stay alert at include:

  • Streets: Oxford street, Trafalger Square, Leicester square, etc
  • Tourist attractions: Buckingham palace, London Eye, Tower Bridge, etc.
  • Markets: Camden Market, etc
  • Scotland: it also happens in major cities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen etc but cases are rare. Crowded streets, clubs, pubs and restaurants are the places to be wary at

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 / coat / newspaper and then escapes with it.

Do watch out for child pickpockets as well.

 

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.

 

 

2. Street performers set-up

Image source: YouTube – Education

 

How it works:

Another variation of street pickpockets is that of the street performers set-up.

You might find a scammer performing a show on the streets or simply being a motionless “human statue” (not all are scams).

While you are distracted, the accomplice will move in for the steal.

A slightly different variation is specifically of musicians performing on the streets and selling CDs.

They sell CDs so as to see where you keep your valuables at should you choose to buy one. Once targeted, the musicians will move in to steal your valuables.

 

What to do:

Stay away from these street performers, as some are elaborate set-ups for pickpockets to strike.

Note that although some may not be set-ups, but because they attract tourists, it can be an easy spot for pickpockets to strike.

Thus, we highly recommend arming yourself with an anti-theft bag or a money belt or hidden pouch to make it almost impossible for these thieves to steal from you.

 

3. Shell game

 

How it works:

Also known as the Trilero / three pea / shell game (e.g. in HungaryGermany), this game involves the showing and then shuffling of three balls.

You then have to guess which cup contains the ball. Guess correctly and you can double your money.

The scam is perpetrated by a group of scammers. There will be one dealer, two to three in the crowd acting as onlookers, one playing the game and one on the lookout for the police.

This game seems easy but it is actually impossible to win, as the dealer uses a sleight of hand trick to take the ball out of the cups and into his hands. He will then put the ball back into whichever cup you did not choose.

If you were to see anyone winning, that is likely the accomplice, to 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 or intimidating you into staying. Some may even steal your valuables when you are distracted.

 

What to do:

Give this set up a wide berth – it’s impossible to win.

 

4. Photo taking set-up

Image source: Wikimedia – Daniel Hard

 

How it works:

Scammer #1 might offer to help you take a photo. While you are distracted, scammer #2 comes along to steal your valuables.

But wait, it gets better. Should you realize that you have just been robbed, scammer #1 will offer to help call the police and the bank, and ask you for your credit card details.

Scammer #1 then calls the police, who is actually another accomplice..

 

What to do:

It is safer to solicit help than to accept unsolicited help, in this case, for photo taking.

And as mentioned earlier, arm yourself with a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag. This way you will never become a victim of a thief.

 

5. Fake theatre tickets

Image source: dailymail.co.uk

 

How it works:

There are ticket touts outside theatres such as the West End theatres or concert grounds who sell tickets with a value that is lower than advertised and even fake tickets.

For instance, one common trick that scammers use is to print multiple copies of one e-ticket and sell it to unknowing victims.

If you are lucky to be the first to use that ticket, you can gain entry into the theatre. Else, you will be flagged and blocked at the entrance.

 

What to do:

Buy only at the official counters.

 

6. Fake charity collectors

Image source: kikiandtea.com

 

How it works:

You will find scammers posing as students going around seeking donations for a sham charity.

They use a “foot in the door” persuasion trick. First, they give you a flower in exchange for 10 pounds. Should you buy, they will take another one out and ask you for another 10 pounds.

Besides roaming the streets, these scammers go door to door as well. It is unlikely that you will face this at a hotel, but you might face one if you were to rent an apartment.

 

What to do:

Decline firmly.

 

7. Fake vouchers

Image source: bookatable.co.uk

 

How it works:

There have been reports of tourists buying a book of vouchers that offer half price / a 1 for 1 deal at West End restaurants.

Try using them at these restaurants however and you will find that no such voucher exist.

 

What to do:

Buy only at the official place if there is one.

 

8. Mock auctions

 

How it works:

This is commonly held at retail units around tourist attractions, where seemingly high value items, usually electronics, are auctioned off on at a low price.

This is perpetrated by a gang to make it more convincing, where accomplices are in place to “win” items at a ridiculously good price.

Should you partake, you will most likely find yourself winning a low quality or damaged item.

 

What to do:

Avoid.

 

9. Beggars / sob stories

Image source: huffingtonpost.co.uk

 

How it works:

You will find these beggars at Mayfair, Marble Arch and Oxford street. Do not give any money as you might tempt other beggars to hound you.

Or you might open yourself up to a potential robbery by the beggar’s accomplice while you are distracted.

Then, there are the sob story beggars as well and the same ploy always plays out.

It starts with a sob story such as being robbed, losing one’s way, wife giving birth soon, etc.

The scammer then asks if you could give a small sum of money for them to take the transport to the police station / embassy / friend’s house or somewhere else for help.

Some will even offer to exchange contact details / address so that they can pay you back, which is nothing but a ruse.

Watch out for these at the busy touristy areas, such as Tower Bridge and Westminster Bridge and also busy transport hubs such as Victoria coach station.

 

What to do:

Avoid giving.

 

10. Fake (designer) products

Image source: thesun.co.uk

 

How it works:

You will find many fake designer products (e.g. designer bags, clothes, perfumes, etc) being peddled in London, particularly at Oxford Street and Marble Arch.

Fake bags and clothes are pretty apparent with one look. However, for perfumes, the product tester is usually an authentic one.

Should you buy however, the perfume in the box is going to be a fake one.

 

What to do:

If the price is too good to be true, it is.

 

11. Fake monk

Image source: thesun.co.uk

 

How it works:

This is global scam, as you can find fake monks all over the world in places such as Hong Kong and the US as well.

These fake monks go around pushing a gold token / amulet / wooden bracelet into your hand and then demand a donation aggressively.

Some will push a clipboard in your face and ask you to write a donation number and to donate.

There are also others who will ask for money in exchange for blessings of peace.

It’s easy to identify fake monks, as real monks do not go around soliciting for money on the streets.

You will find these fakes around the usual tourist attractions such as Tower of London, Tower Bridge, etc.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline.

 

12. Bird poo / spilled liquid scam

 

How it works:

A common scam globally (e.g. Argentina, US), this is where a scammer will spill something on you that looks like bird poo / mustard / food sauce.

It can be anything as long as it shocks and keeps you distracted.

The scammer will now rush over to help you. In the ensuing commotion, either the scammer or an accomplice will try to steal your valuables without realizing it.

 

What to do:

Be alert and look out for anyone who tries to get too close to you.

If someone tries this on you, push anyone who tries to help you forcefully away and quickly move to a more spacious area.

And at risk of sounding like a broken record, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag and a money belt or hidden pouch and these thieves will not be able to take anything from you.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Public transportation pickpockets

Image source: YouTube – 3KIDSRUS

 

How it works:

Besides crowded streets and tourist attractions, the tube is another favourite place of pickpockets. Favourite hunting grounds include:

  • Stations: King’s Cross St Pancras, Victoria Station, Liverpool Street, Stratford, Bank / Monument, Leicester Square, Holborn
  • Line: Central Line

On the tube, watch out if you are close to the door, as there are pickpockets who strike and escape just before the doors close.

A reverse scenario is when a thief jumps onto the crowded carriage of a train at the last second. He will be carrying several bags. These bags serve to act as a cover, while he goes about picking your pockets.

At the station, there are also pickpockets who wait at the turnstile to strike while you enter.

The escalator is another spot to execute the classic front drop (of an item) and back snatch (stealing from you from behind).

 

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.

 

 

2. The falling lady

 

How it works:

The falling lady scam works just like the pickpocket scam, but is so infamous it deserves an entry on it own.

As the name suggests, a female scammer, usually an elderly looking one, will fall / stumble somewhere crowded and make a huge commotion while doing so.

In the process, many will be distracted, That’s when the gang of pickpockets swoops in and begin grabbing as many valuables as they can find.

 

What to do:

When you find yourself in such a situation, keep your valuables securely fastened and get out there as soon as possible.

Also keep most of your valuables safely locked up in your hotel’s safe. Carry around a photocopy of your passport / ID instead of the real thing for identification purposes.

Again we stress, a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag will do wonders in ensuring that your valuables are hidden and secure.

 

3. Used London day travel cards

Image source: wikiwand.com

 

How it works:

You will find touts selling used travel cards at the end of the day.

They try to entice tourists by selling at a discounted price, but these cards obviously will not work.

 

What to do:

Buy from the official counter / outlets.

 

4. Fake sightseeing bus tickets

Image source: dayoutwiththekids.co.uk

 

How it works:

There have also been reports of scammers at Trafalgar Square who sell tickets for a sightseeing bus.

The tickets might look legitimate but they are in reality not tagged to any company or vehicle.

 

What to do:

Buy from the official counter / outlets of any sightseeing bus companies.

 

5. Overcharging taxis

Image source: Flickr – *SHERWOOD*

 

How it works:

Taxi drivers in the UK are an honest bunch, and unlikely to cheat tourists. Meters are tamper proof as well.

However, some reported tricks have been longhauling (taking a longer route than needed) and also selecting the pricier “night and weekend” rate on the meter on a weekday.

That said, note that there are always a number of road closures due to road works. So do not be surprised if your driver takes a detour or a longer than expected trip.

 

What to do:

For long distances, research the route and price it will cost.

You could find this online, through an online taxi fare estimator, with Uber or by simply checking with your hotel staff.

During the trip, you can also use your phone’s GPS and let the driver know you are doing so.

If you feel uncomfortable or feel that you have been scammed, take a photo of the taxi number and request for a receipt.

 

6. Rickshaw / pedicab / tuk-tuk drivers

 

How it works:

There have been multiple reports of rogue drivers of rickshaws / pedicabs / tuk tuks fleecing tourists for hundreds of pounds for a ride that lasts only a few minutes.

This happens in almost every country where you find them, such as Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

You can see one such example in the video above. These “vehicles” are seen as unregulated outlaws and are best avoided.

 

What to do:

Avoid engaging. Do not believe anything they say.

 

7. Car break-ins

 

How it works:

There have also been cases of window smashing to steal any valuables you might left in your rental car.

 

What to do:

Do not expose any valuables or items that will identify you as a tourist in the car.

Instead, keep your valuables secure with you either in an anti-theft bag or money belt / hidden pouch, or hide them in your car boot.

 

8. Windscreen washing scam

Image source: itv.com

 

How it works:

If you rent a car, you may find a windscreen washing lady who pops out of nowhere to wash your windscreen for 10 seconds.

Next, you tip her with a coin, but she drops the coin accidentally in your car. As it’s too troublesome to scour the floor in a tight space, you give her another coin.

When you finally find the coin on the floor which the lady has dropped in your car, you will find that it is a fake (it has been swapped)!

 

What to do:

Firmly decline the service.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch thefts / moped crime

 

How it works:

There are many variations of snatch thefts, depending on where it occurs.

The first such is a pair of thieves on moped / motorbikes driving up to you with the pillion rider snatching your phone / valuables from you.

  • This can be extremely dangerous as you can be knocked down or dragged along the road. It is a serious problem that has been worsening and plaguing the city of London.

The second is that of a simple snatch of your phone / jewelry from behind you, and then running into a getaway car to escape.

The third 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 take the map back, they will take your valuables along as well.

The forth favourite spot for thieves is at hotels. This is because you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually distracted while handling the registration process.

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. Fake apartment listings

Image source: airbnbhell.com

 

How it works:

The rise of fake apartment listings is now a serious problem globally (e.g. Greece, Dominican Republic).

How scammers trick tourists is to advertise property in prime areas at below market rents.

So in a moment of greed and the need to act fast, many tourists are willing to provide deposits or full payment upfront.

 

What to do:

Check for reviews and grill the site owner. If suspicious, get in contact with the apartment owner and request if a friend of yours could check the apartment.

You do not necessarily need a friend to check as this is more of a test.

Some suspicious signs to watch out for: requests to transfer money via Western Union (as Western Union doesn’t require address verification), money transferred hasn’t been received, demands for more money than advertised, etc

If something is too good to be true, it likely is.

 

3. Fake waiter credit card scam

 

How it works:

If you were to sit outside a restaurant, you might be approached by a scammer posing as a waiter asking you to pass him your credit card.

If you do so, you will never see your card again.

 

What to do:

Pay only at the end of the meal and make sure that the waiter is an official one.

 

4. Spiked drinks

Image source: beta.met.police.uk

 

How it works:

Happens everywhere around the world (e.g. Turkey, Philippines, Mexico, etc), there are cases of spiked drinks in the UK as well, so be wary of accepting free drinks from strangers.

Single male tourists are commonly targeted by pretty bar hostesses. Once you are knocked out, your valuables will be stolen.

 

What to do:

Do not accept drinks, and make sure you see how your drink is prepared, and keep an eye on it throughout.

It may be a good idea to get bottled or canned drinks, as these are more difficult to be tampered with.

 

5. Fake police

 

How it works:

This is not just a problem in London, but in other parts of UK such as Scotland / Edinburgh as well. This is also common globally (e.g. Morocco, Indonesia, etc).

One method used is for scammer #1 to approach a tourist asking if he / she can help to take photos or to ask for directions.

Scammers #2 and #3 will now appear dressed as cops, asking for details of the credit card and identification card of you both. At this point, scammer #1 will oblige and also encourage the tourist to do so.

Another variation is that scammer #1 will do the same approach in asking for help with a task.

Next, scammers #2 and #3 will appear and accuse you both of drug dealing, and then demand to search your belongings and bags. In the process, your valuables will be stolen.

Another reported method in Scotland is that these fake police officers will and demand to check your belongings brazenly.

Thousands have been stolen this way. Incidents have been reported at the Grassmarket, Chambers Street, Castle Street, Calton Hill amongst others.

 

What to do:

Do not panic, but ask for the police officers’ licenses and badges.

Threaten to call the police hotline to verify their identities (number provided at the end of this article), and demand to only settle any claims or cases at a police station.

However, do not let them lead the way, but check with a local passer-by or use Google Maps to identify the nearest station.

In such cases, it is also useful to have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside just sufficient 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.

 

6. Would you like a drink?

Image source: backpaxtravel.com

 

How it works:

Single guys are usually targeted, where they are approached by a pretty female on the streets asking if you would like to hang out over a drink.

Should you agree, you will find yourself in a deserted bar.

However, once you enter and get a seat, you will find yourself surrounded by scantily clad girls who order a round of drinks, while your new friend disappears.

When you try to leave, you will be hit with an extortionate bill.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline such a proposition. If you really want a drink, request to go to another place and not the one suggested.

If you are caught in such a situation, one way to salvage the situation is to pay with a credit card.

Next, get out of there quickly and call your bank to cancel the card and to dispute the charge.

 

7. Rigged ATMs / ATM theft

Image source: thisismoney.co.uk

 

How it works:

Be especially careful at ATMs, as these are ripe spots for easy thefts by criminals. Also, cover your pin while typing it in, because there might have been cameras set up to capture your PIN and a card reader to swipe your card.

There have also been reports where a scammer can distract you by tapping you as are withdrawing money to claim that you have dropped a $10 note behind you.

Most people would turn, and at this point, an accomplice will appear out of nowhere to steal your card.

And if you haven’t realize, scammer #1 would have already seen and memorized your PIN if you hadn’t bother to cover it up.

Here’s a video of a ATM robbery on Green Lane, Dagenham, as distributed by the police.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas and at night.

Use ATMs found in controlled environments like in the banks. Watch out for any suspicious characters.

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.

 

8. Do you have spare change for parking?

Image source: thetimes.co.uk

 

How it works:

This is similar to the sob story scam, where the scammer will approach you to ask if you have change for the parking meter, as he is about to get a parking ticket.

Most people fall for it as they are put under time pressure and it only concerns a small amount.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline.

 

9. White van scam

Image source: bbb.org

 

How it works:

This is a really old scam that still exists, targeting both locals and tourists.

The scammers, working in groups of around 3, will be wearing a company uniform and driving their van around.

They approach you and explain that due to a corporate error (e.g. over-order by client; system error, etc), they are now left with many speakers which they need to clear soon. As such, they are able to offer them to you at lower than retail prices.

Should you reject the offer, that’s when the high pressure sales tactics will come in.

They will bombard you with fancy looking marketing collateral, technical jargon, hound you if you try to leave and finally, lower the price significantly.

Besides speakers, other things such as designer clothes or luxury bags can be sold as well. A common item is jackets which they claim are leftover samples which the seller needs to get rid of fast.

 

What to do:

Decline such offers – these are poor quality speakers / items.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: prideinlondon.org

 

  • Ambulance: 999 or 112.
  • Fire: 999 or 112.
  • Police: 999 or 112.
  • Gas emergency: 0800 111 999.
  • NHS direct (24 hour health helpline): 0845 4647

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