21 Most Common Tourist Scams in Canada

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Lake Louise, Alberta

Lake Louise, Alberta


Besides the majestic Niagara Falls, Canada’s natural wonders of huge mountains, calm lakes, imposing glaciers, wild forests, diverse cities, gastronomic delights and cultural heritage are bound to delight.

However, in this beautiful land still lie many scammers ready to part tourists from their valuables through tricks and petty crime.

Read on to learn how to protect yourself in this part of North America!




1. Black history month guys

Yonge and Dundas, Toronto

Yonge and Dundas, Toronto


How it works:

The black history month is a month where important people and events of the African diaspora are celebrated. It happens in February in the US and Canada, and November in the UK.

However, scammers exploit this every month of the year, especially in Canada in places such as St Lawrence’s market, Yonge-Dundas, Yonge and Eglinton, Path underground network and Union Station amongst others.

What these scammers do is they will try to shake your hand.

Once you shake their hand, they will NOT let go until you take a piece of paper / pamphlet from them, which they claim are facts about the black history month.

Now, once you have taken the paper, payment will be aggressively demanded.

Should you refuse, they will play the racism card on you, questioning you loudly if you are a racist and why you are not supporting them.

Many are coerced into paying as they do not want to be seen as racist.


What to do:

Firmly decline.


2.  Sticker lady

Image source: torontosun.com


How it works:

Otherwise known as Catherine Katie Herbert, the sticker lady is a fixture for decades on Yonge Street.

She will first compliment your good looks, then offer you a smiley face sticker seemingly for free.

However, once you accept it, payment will be demanded.

Should you reject, she will come up with the usual spiel, that it is for some sort of charity ranging from the homeless to the sick.


What to do:

Firmly decline.


3. Italian designer

Image source: ripoffreport.com


How it works:

Also found in countries such as Italy, the scammer will introduce himself to you as an Italian designer or someone who works for Armani and the like who is here for a trade show.

Next, he will ask you for directions to the airport.

To thank you for providing the directions, he offers you a discounted price on leather jackets which he has left over from his latest fashion show / trade show which he does not want to bring back home as it is too much of a hassle.

Some will add in time pressure by approaching you in a car and exclaiming, “Help! I am rushing to the airport but have lost my way, could you help me out?”

These are obviously, jackets of lousy quality.


What to do:



4. Fake monks


How it works:

Fake monks are like a global enterprise, you can find them everywhere around the world (e.g. Hong Kong, Australia).

They will ask you for a donation in exchange for a golden amulet / beads / charm. Some can get very aggressive and follow / hound you until you pay.

These monks tend to roam around ChinatownSpadina and Dundas, but don’t be surprised to find them at other tourist attractions as well.


What to do:

Firmly decline.


5. Pickpocket


How it works:

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, restaurants, 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 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 a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Keep your wallet in the front pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch.
  • Store 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 – our review) which covers loss of valuables.


6. Sob story scammer




How it works:

Another very common scam globally (e.g. Argentina, Mexico), a well dressed stranger will come up and explained that he has just been robbed, and if you would be so kind to give him some money to take the train to the nearest police station or embassy.

Or a guy who has forgotten to bring his wallet out, and is in a rush to see his sick wife / sister / mother in another city.

And even a guy who is around the College and Spadina area, who claims to have come to the city to get medicine or treatment, but needs money to get back home, and then show you a bunch of receipts.

Or the Hamilton lady who is really infamous..

Areas you meet with this can really be everywhere, such as transport hubs (e.g. union station, st George subway station, etc), town areas (e.g. city hall, downtown core) and tourist attractions.


What to do:

Firmly decline.


7. Fake tourist attraction ticket online site

Image source: entuitive.com


How it works:

In 2015, it was reported that a website shop-groupon.com tried to exploit the seeming association with the discount site groupon dot com and sold fake, discounted tickets online to tourist attractions such as to Ripley’s Aquarium.

Besides paying for fakes, victims also had their credit card information stolen. Eventually, this website was traced to an address in Beijing, China.


What to do:

Do not buy 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 (global leader) – bestselling tickets include:




8. Reese’s peanut butter cup / candy

Image source: snopes.com


How it works:

This is very similar to the black history month and sticker lady scam.

These scammers will try to pass you a package and make you think that it is a free sample.

Once you have taken or even eaten it, they will demand payment from you aggressively.


What to do:

Firmly decline.


9. Chocolate bars for donation


How it works:

Exactly the same as the Reese’s peanut butter cup / candy scam, just this time chocolate bars instead.


What to do:

Firmly reject and avoid.


10. Sick kids / orphans fundraising scam

Ottawa Byward Market

Ottawa Byward Market


How it works:

Again, very similar to all the fundraising scams out there, these scammers (can be anyone, like a girl or even a group of Filipino ladies was reported to be doing so) carry their clipboards and hound people to donate to pay for their supposed illnesses.


What to do:

Firmly decline. If you want to help, donate to established charities instead.


11. I’m a girl fundraising scam




How it works:

Again, very similar to all the fundraising scams out there, these female scammers carry their clipboards and hound people to donate to pay to support girls in the community.


What to do:

Firmly decline. If you want to help, donate to established charities instead.



1. Taxi touts

Image source: huffingtonpost.ca


How it works:

You will find many of these taxi touts around airports (e.g. Pearson airport) especially, as they exploit tired tourists who are unfamiliar with the local transport system.

They will bug you persistently, saying that their price is cheaper and you do not have to waste time waiting in a queue.

Should you yield, be prepared to pay an outrageous fee at the end of the trip.

If not, he can simply drive you somewhere secluded and abandon you there.


What to do:

Do not take an unofficial taxi. If you do take one, take a photo of the car plate and the driver’s license in case anything goes wrong.

Else, consider these other options:

  • Get a cab from the official queue.
  • Use a taxi booking app like Uber, Taxify, Facedrive
  • Pre-arrange vehicle pick up through your hotel / hostel or through day tour platforms like GetYourGuide (global leader) – 9 options:



2. Could you help me cash my cheque

Image source: activism.com


How it works:

This can happen in many different contexts, one for instance is the situation below.

You might be approached by two men at a GO station who claim that their car has broken down.

One will act calm, while the other will act very angry and frustrated as he curses and swears.

The clam guy will explain that they have no cash on hand, and the only “credit” they have is a cheque at work.

If you were to be able to help them cash the cheque, they would give you a cut of it.

Should you hesitate or reject, now the angry guy will shout at you to try to intimidate you.


What to do:

Firmly decline.



1. Rigged ATM / ATM robberies


How it works:

Be especially careful at ATMs, as these are ripe spots for easy thefts by criminals.

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

Should you turn, an accomplice will appear out of nowhere to steal your cash or card.

Besides robberies, ATMs can be rigged in two ways generally:

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:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas. Use only at controlled environments such as in banks.

Scan the area for suspicious looking characters and cover your PIN when typing it in.

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.


2. Dropped phone scam

Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia


How it works:

This scam is simple, the scammer drops an already cracked phone in your path hoping you step onto it.

Should you do so, he will then exclaim loudly and demand compensation


What to do:

Watch out in crowded areas and try not to walk too near to anyone in front.


3. Fake apartment listing

Quebec Royal Plaza

Quebec Royal Plaza


How it works:

This is a pretty common scam everywhere around the world with the rise of online bookings (e.g. through Craigslist, Kijiji).

What scammers do is to simply copy a legitimate listing and pass it off as their own.

Look out for these red flags:

  • Are there verified and trustable reviews of this listing?
  • Is the price too good to be true?
  • Is the renter willing to meet in person or conveniently out of the country? Or meet your friend who can help you check the apartment?
  • Is payment being demanded through a wire transfer? (e.g. Western Union)
  • Are personal information being asked for which are not relevant for the rent?


What to do:

Book only though legitimate 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 Canada 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, never pay in full upfront, unless for a reputable hotel.


4. Fake police




How it works:

There was a bout of cases back in 2014, where Asian tourists were targeted.

What these fake cops do is they will suspect you of carrying illegal drugs or arms and ask to check your identification / bags / wallets / valuables.

Once you reveal them, they might simply snatch and run, or one will distract you while the other steals the money in it.

The more sinister ones will have another accomplice who first acts as a fellow tourist and approaches the victim for directions.

Next, the fake cops will appear to demand an identification check. At this point, the accomplice will up the pressure by encouraging the victim to oblige.


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. Restaurant’s today’s special

Image source: sobeys.com


How it works:

This is one usually pulled off by restaurant touts / promoters.

Once they pull you in to their restaurant, you will be offered today’s special without a mention of the price.

At the end of the meal however, you will be hit with a hefty bill.


What to do:

Avoid restaurants promoted by aggressive promoters and streets touts.

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

Otherwise, you can also consider joining a food tour for an authentic, local food experience!

  • GetYourGuide: leading day tours platform globally – excellent curation of tours, tickets and transport – popular food tours:


Always check or ask the price before your meal, do not eat what you did not order, and check your bill and change after the meal.


6. 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:

When seated / not moving:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Avoid carrying valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.

Other 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 – our review) which covers loss of valuables.


7. White van scam

Image source: bbb.org


How it works:

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

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

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 one is selling jackets claiming that these are leftover samples which the seller needs to get rid of fast.


What to do:

Reject such offers – these are poor quality products.


8. Fake hotel front desk phone call

Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver

Pan Pacific Hotel, Vancouver


How it works:

There have been reports of scammers using smuggled phones to act as front desk personnel.

They call guests in the wee hours of the night requesting credit card information, with the reason that the hotel’s computer system has crashed or that there is an error with the number.

Another convincing variation is of the scammer calling just to verify your card details on record.

He will provide the last 4 digits of your card, which is obviously wrong. When you point the error out, he will act confused and ask you to read the entire number.

Other situations could be claiming that you have won a free night (exploiting greed) or even posing as the local authority investigating a fraud case (exploiting fear).


What to do:

Do not provide your credit card details over the phone no matter the occasion; cut the phone and report to the hotel’s staff.



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 but can occur, especially in urban areas.
  • Hazards: n.a.
  • Hotspots: n.a.
  • Terrorism: history of lone wolf attacks, threat remains.
  • Civil unrest: n.a.


What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim (e.g. looking like a tourist / flaunting valuables).

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.


2. Medical care

Image source: healthcareglobal.com


How it works:

The standard of medical care in Canada is good.

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.
  • 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.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, rabies (outdoor activities, activities involving animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets.
  • Plug-in insecticides.
  • 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:

  • Earthquakes: British Columbia and Yukon are located in an active earthquake zone. Tsunamis are rare but can be triggered.
  • Avalanches: in mountainous regions, such as in Alberta and British Columbia.
  • Snow storms: December to February, in the same mountainous regions.
  • Hurricanes: July to November, with coastal regions possibly affected.
  • Tornados: May to September.
  • Forest fires: can happen anytime, with grasslands and forests in the west at risk.


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:

Reacting to one:

  • Earthquakes: drop (to hands and knees), cover (head and neck with arms), hold on (to sturdy furniture); expect aftershocks.
  • Hurricanes: stay indoors away from windows, do not use electrical appliances / equipment, do not head out and touch debris (more injuries / deaths happen after than during).
  • Forest fires: make yourself seen (e.g. spread out something large and bright), find shelter with little vegetation, stay low to avoid smoke.


4. Transport safety


How it works:

Driving in Canada is largely safe, and the public transportation system is well developed and reliable.

However, a couple of factors to watch out for:

  • During winter, when certain weather conditions (snowfall, rainfall, ice) make certain roads dangerous or impassable.


What to do:

Before going out, check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

When on the road, stay alert, wear seatbelts, keep doors locked and windows up.



1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: thestar.com


  • Emergency (police, fire, ambulance): 911
  • Non-emergency (in certain areas such as the main cities only): 311

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  1. Matthew Rooyakkers

    Other than maybe some of the black people doing it independently who live here we really don’t celebrate black history month in Canada, that’s more of an American thing. With the designer scam, the scammer will tell you he needs money to pay for his airport taxes/fees often $300ish and then will give you the cheaply made article of clothing in return.

    • Lisa

      Black history month is celebrated by more than a few black people. There is the black film festival, blacks history events at schools and work places, there is a black history ball , also an events put on by local gov’t. Where have you been? Either you don’t take part or just not well informed.

  2. Ron

    I was approached man in car needed directions to Calgary airport. I helped him and then asked me my name and jacket size he had leftovers from an Armani show and offered 3 of them for free he filled a bag with them and handed it to me.

    Then he asked if I could take him to a Best Buy store to by a gift for his son in Rome as he was
    out of cash. I walked. He was very well dressed had an Italian accent and drove a rented Mercedes he took back jackets. haha


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