21 Most Common Tourist Scams in Canada

Safety at Vancouver, Whistler, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Canmore, Kelowna, Niagara Falls, Cape Breton Island, Stratford, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Victoria, London, Hamilton, Richmond, Halifax, Surrey, Windsor, Saskatoon, Brampton, Laval, Gatineau, Burnaby, Regina, Markham, Kitchener, Kingston, Barrie, Mont Tremblant, St. John’s, Burlington

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!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Black history month guys

 

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:

Avoid.

 

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 / 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.

 

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.

 

 

6. Sob story scammer

 

How it works:

Another very common scam around the world (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:

Buy from official sources, else, make sure that there are legitimate, positive reviews of whichever site you are using.

 

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

B. TRANSPORT

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:

Firmly reject and avoid. Take official taxis only.

 

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.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Rigged ATM / ATM robberies

Image source: thisismoney.co.uk

 

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 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 when typing it earlier.

Besides theft, ATMs have been rigged as well. Card skimmers (to read card details) and a pinhole camera (to capture your PIN) have been found installed at ATMs.

 

What to do:

Avoid using ATMs at dark, secluded areas and at night. Watch out for suspicious characters before use.

Ideally, only use those in controlled spaces such as in banks.

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

 

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

Image source: cbc.ca

 

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:

If you are suspicious, test the “owner” of the apartment if he or she is willing to meet your friend at the place for your friend to have a look around.

It doesn’t have to be a real friend, as this is just a test of the “owner’s” reaction.

 

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:

First, do not give your passport, but only show a copy of your passport.

Next, demand to check the identification of these police, and threaten to call 911 to verify their identification.

If the issue is still not settled, demand to only settle any issue at a police station. Check with a local passerby or use Google Maps to find the latest 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.

 

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:

Decline touts / promoters and only go to reputable establishments (can check with your hotel staff or through online research).

Always check or ask the price before your meal, and check your bill after the meal.

 

6. 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.

 

7. Fake hotel front desk phone call

 

How it works:

There have been reports of scammers using smuggled phones to act as fake 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.

 

8. Snatch theft

 

How it works:

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

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

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

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

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

A fourth 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.

 

 

D. GETTING HELP

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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2 Comments

  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.

    Reply
  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

    Reply

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