The most common tourist scams in Eastern and Central Europe and how to avoid them

Most cities in Europe are relatively safe and violent crimes are pretty unusual. In fact, the largest cities in Europe are arguably safer than most large cities in the US. However, Eastern and Central Europe are still a bit different than the western part of the Old Continent. The rapid spike of tourism in these countries in the 90s’ resulted in an increased number of scam artists that try to make a living by tricking tourists. This guide will explain how to avoid tourist scams in these countries and not fall victim to the popular traps most tourists fall for. With that being said, here are the 15 most common tourist scams in Eastern Europe.

1. The Bar scam 

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

Eastern and Central Europe are a part of the continent where you’ll find a lot of beautiful, innocent-looking women that serve as bait for con artists. One of the most famous tourist scams in Eastern Europe includes a couple of friendly girls approaching foreigners on the street with a map. They pretend to be fellow tourists asking for direction. After this, they start a conversation which normally ends with them saying they discovered a great bar with cheap drinks. You go to the bar and a few drinks later, the girls mysteriously disappear in the toilet and you’re presented with a fat bill that often exceeds 500 euros. Don’t even think about getting away because many of these places are mob-run establishments.

How to avoid it?

No matter how beautiful the girls are and how confident you are that this can’t happen to you, never accept their invitation to go for drinks. Alternatively, invite them to a place you’ve been before and see what happens.

2. The Currency Exchange scam

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

In this part of Europe, you will find many legitimate-looking places to exchange money. Unfortunately, many of those will be nothing more but a great work by a scam artist. I haven’t experienced this on my own but I did witness it first-hand. These places have huge board signs that claim “a real exchange rate” and “no commissions.” However, once you go to the counter and give your money, you will find out that the claimed exchange rate is only applicable to a sum that exceeds 1,000 euros, for example. If you exchange less that, not only will you get a below-average rate but you will also end up paying a fat commission fee.

How to avoid it?

Avoid exchanging money in outlets whose brand you’re not familiar with. Also, ask again about the rates before handing any money and always ask for a printed receipt of what you will get before giving your money. Finally, don’t be afraid to threaten that you’ll call the police.

3. The good Samaritan scam 

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

Be wary of random people in train/bus stations who offer to help you use a ticket machine and show you where your seat is. They appear to a be a good Samaritan at first sight but eventually, they will ask you to pay a “tip” for this service.

How to avoid it?

Be wary of people that appear to be too friendly. Oftentimes they might be a part of pickpockets crew as well.

Enjoying this article? Check out this list of the most common tourist scams in Southeast Asia.

4. The Friendship bracelet scam

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

This one starts with another friendly person approaching you, starting a conversation and ultimately offering you a friendship bracelet. After the bracelet is tied to your hand, they ask for money and continue to nag you until they convince you to pay them.

How to avoid this?

Stay away from friendly strangers. People in this part of Europe are friendly but only after you get to know them. If someone is being friendly towards a complete stranger, that’s suspicious.

5. The Silent bar scam

This scam doesn’t involve decoys, intimidating bouncers or rigged menus and is not spectacular but practiced throughout the region. In many bars in Eastern Europe, bartenders have developed this culture of self-tipping. Applied only to foreigners of course. Ever since foreigners started visiting the former Soviet Bloc countries in the 90s’ the bartenders developed this skill to spot a foreigner from 100 meters away. Once they know that you’re a foreigner, they will withhold the change they owe you or give you less.  The golden rule here is “the busier the night, the more they will withhold the change they owe you”.

How to avoid this?

If you don’t care about your change you can keep allowing them to do this. However, if you do, it’s important to let them know about it. Establish an eye contact, use your card or keys to make a noise to catch their attention, and don’t be afraid to confront them. If you don’t do this, you can say goodbye to your change. Sometimes, it will be only 50 cents but at times the change they take from you can be even more expensive than the drink you ordered.

6. The Fake ticket inspector scam

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

In many different countries in Eastern and Central Europe, you will find people with fake badges that claim to be train inspectors. They’ll try to trick you into thinking that your ticket is expired.

How to avoid this?

It’s rather simple. A real inspector will give you a fine and allow you to pay later. A fake one will insist that you pay on the spot.  Other than this, you can’t really tell the difference, especially because of the fake badge. However, you can always call the train company to verify his identification.

7. The Slow count scam

currency scam in Europe

In cities that get a lot of tourists, cashiers and taxi drivers thrive on the slow count. Whenever you’re receiving change, they’ll count your change with odd pauses hoping that in rush, the tourist will take less money and leave. Additionally, taxi drivers also have a number of tricks to hide a few bills and claim that you didn’t pay enough.

How to avoid this?

Double count every note and always compare it with the receipt. If it happens once, it’s not a big deal but if it keeps occurring, this petty scam can eat a large chunk of your budget.

8. The Phony police scam

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

This one starts with a “fellow tourist” meeting you on the bill and telling you a story about how money-counterfeiting keeps rapidly growing in the region and how you should be careful. A few minutes later, you will meet thieves disguised as “Tourist police”. They will flash their fake badges and ask to check your wallet to see whether you have counterfeit bills or what they claim to be drug money.  The excuse they most commonly used is that there are a lot of counterfeit bills spread among tourists. By the time they leave, you won’t notice it but your wallet will be significantly lighter. Even worse, they might replace some of your money with fake bills.

How to avoid this?

Don’t think too much and just threaten to call the police. The real one.  Never give them your passport or any other documents and consider carrying a decoy wallet which is going to be empty.

9. The Room inspector scam

tourist scams

This one starts with a knock on your hotel room door by a couple of guys claiming to be room inspectors. One of them waits outside trying to distract you while the other goes inside the room snooping around and hoping to find something valuable

How to avoid this?

Unless you didn’t expect someone, don’t let anyone in your room. Always call the reception whenever “inspectors” turn up on your door.

10. The Broken camera scam

popular tourist traps

This one is very common around tourist attractions. A local con artist that pretends to be a tourist approaches you asking you to take a picture. You accept and take the camera but you notice that it isn’t working. When you hand it back he somehow drops it on the ground where the camera breaks into pieces. Finally, he asks you to pay for the repair. He might work in a group too and while you’re distracted arguing with you, his associate appears and lifts your wallet.

How to avoid this?

Be careful whenever someone asks you to take their picture. It’s difficult to tell the con artists from the scammers because they operate in areas where there are a lot of tourists but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

11. The Stripper scam

the stripper scam

It’s very likely that you saw this tourist scam in a Hollywood movie but it actually happens in reality too. It features a beautiful woman and a street vendor. The woman is accused of shoplifting, after which she starts stripping (very slowly) to prove her innocence. All of the men around gather around to witness the spectacle. The act ends with the vendor apologizing to the woman and most of the men in the crowd losing their wallets.

How to avoid this?

I don’t think I need to add a detailed explanation here.

12. The Throw something at you scam

tourist scams

Imagine you’re walking around, everything is fine and suddenly you see a baby flying towards you. You leave everything around you in trying to save the poor creature. But, after you catch it, you realize it’s only a doll. If you weren’t paying attention to anything else, chances are you probably lost some of your valuables.

How to avoid this?

This trick is mostly performed by gypsies or beggars, so keep your eyes open for suspicious faces if something like this happens.

13. The Border scam

border scam Croatia

In the European Union, the borders between country members are open. However, there have been several reports of scammers acting as border guards in attempts to extort money from tourists.

One example is the Brgat Gornji Cross between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the crossing, you will see a gate and a building which appear to be deserted. However, once you cross it, the lights suddenly turn on and you are asked to stop your vehicle. The driver is accused of trespassing, and if you are naïve enough to give these people your passport, you won’t get it back without paying a ridiculous amount of money.

How to avoid this?

When you hear such reports, it’s better to take the busy crossing rather than the remote one. If you’re ever caught in this scam, report it to the police immediately and under any circumstances, don’t hand your passport over.

Are you enjoying this article? Then you also might like my post about the most haunted places in Europe.

14. The Rigged ATM scam

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

Cases of ATM card skimming have been reported in multiple locations across Eastern and Central Europe. Scammers use skimming devices that they attach to the card slots and can be quite difficult to spot. These devices can record your card details, including your PIN and send this information via SMS/Bluetooth. Even though the chances of this happening aren’t high, you should still be aware that these things happen.

How can you avoid this?

If you spot a glue residue around the card reader or loose parts of the machine, that’s a red flag. One precocious step you can take is to only use ATM machines near banks or the city center and avoid the ones located in suspicious locations. Finally, consider using an RFID blocking wallet. This can prevent your card details from being skimmed.

15. The Train companion scam

how to avoid tourist scams in Eastern Europe

One of the most dangerous tourist scams that can happen in Eastern Europe countries and Turkey is the train companion scam. This one consists of a friendly person that starts a conversation with you on the train. After some time, they might offer you food or drinks. A nicely friendly gesture, right?

WRONG! Next thing you know, you wake up 5-6 hours later realizing all of your valuables are missing.

How can you avoid this?

It’s simple. No matter how friendly someone might appear, do not take food or drinks from them. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Alternatively, reconsider your travel insurance plan if you don’t have one. If you’re traveling to Eastern Europe from the US and thinking about which travel insurance plan to choose, you can compare travel insurance from USA’s leading travel insurance carriers and save a lot of time while planning your trip.

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Have you ever experienced any of these tourist scams in Eastern Europe? Or maybe you experienced some other ones? Let me know in the comments!

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38 thoughts on “The most common tourist scams in Eastern and Central Europe and how to avoid them”

  1. That’s a big list of scams! I feel, in almost every part of the world there are people trying to trick tourists with travel scams! It’s sad and a bit scary at the same time!

    Reply
  2. Wow! I had no idea there are so many different ways to get scammed in Eastern Europe. This is really useful! I’ve always had plans to visit Poland and Russia at some point so will definitely bookmark this for the future!

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    • I’m glad you could get some useful tips from this article, Sheena. Eastern Europe is a bit different than Western Europe and one can never be too careful. I hope you have a great upcoming trip 🙂

      Reply
  3. No matter how smart you are, you can always be tricked! Keep your eyes open and your hand on your wallet. It would be hard not to try to catch a flying “baby” though. Yikes.

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  4. Wow, so many scams I’ve never heard of. I came across the friendship bracelet scam in Paris before and currency exchange scams are also a problem in big cities like London. It’s sad that there so many different scams and I wonder what long term effects it has on tourism as I’m not sure if people are happy to return after an experience like that?! I know that bad experiences have put me off in the past…

    Reply
    • Indeed that’s true, Sina but these scams happen on an individual level and are related to luck and cautiousness. As for luck, there’s not much we can do but we can at least warn travelers about the common tourist scams that happen in this part of Europe

      Reply
    • I have heard that about the Philippines even though I never visited. I guess some of these scams can be found in a lot of countries across the world but some are typically Eastern European 🙂

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  5. Wow! Look how many tricks people do to get something from tourists. I know #2 happened in Bali all the time. Thank you for sharing this useful information.

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    • I didn’t mean to scare you off from visiting Eastern (and Southeastern) Europe, Anwesha. It’s relatively safe to travel around anywhere in Europe. I just wanted to let people know what are some of the common scams that happen around here just to be more cautious when visiting.

      Reply
  6. I didn’t know there are a lot of sorts of scams in Eastern Europe. Some of these seem similar in Asian countries, like the Good Samaritan and the slow count (some would do the opposite…count the change fast and you wouldn’t notice they’d slip a bill after counting and handing over the change). Wherever we travel, this post reminds me to be vigilant and alert to avoid scams.

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    • Indeed, Jing. Scam artists are everywhere. They just have different methods of operating or like you mentioned, sometimes even the methods could be quite similar.

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  7. It’s so scary that a few bad apples ruin an entire visit. It isn’t fair to other Eastern Europeans. I’ve heard of most of these scams and they happen a bit less in other countries-like the cab that gives you back less money. Very sad.

    Reply
    • Indeed, Annick but scam artists are everywhere. They just have different methods of operating. Sometimes even those are the same. Anyway, the point of this article isn’t to discourage anyone from visiting Eastern and Southeastern Europe but rather to be cautious about some of the most common tourist scams 🙂

      Reply
  8. Oh, so many scams and it looks that anyone can be trapped too. I had faced Helping a hand type of scam in Italy on Rome railway station. Broken camera and stripping girl scam are the new ones which I have never heard of. Currency exchange scam happens in many parts of the world. Thanks for keeping us aware with the list of many well known and some unique scams.

    Reply
  9. It’s scary how many scams there are in Europe!!! I remember encountering something similar to the friendship bracelet while in France. I ignored the guy and he actually kept following me and yelling and it was terrifying. Thanks so much for educating the rest of us about all these things we should be careful of. Definitely sharing this with my friends!

    Reply
  10. OMG this post is an eye opener! I can’t believe the innovative tricks these people use to extort money. This must be a very scary experience for anyone who has encountered these scams. Thanks for creating the awareness. I need to share it with all my traveller friends. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

    Reply
  11. You know many of them occur in Rome too! And I will add this tip too: never load the trunk of your car and leave it unattended! A client of mine did it before checking out and when he got back to his car his luggage was gone!

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  12. Oh dear Lord. This is pretty scary. I’m planning a couple of Eastern Europe trips next year. I’ll keep these in mind and I’ve forwarded this to my friends who are accompanying too…

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    • I’m sorry to hear you had to go through that. Hopefully, more travelers read this kind of articles to prevent that from happening to them in the future. Thank you for the share

      Reply
  13. OMG! What countries do you consider Eastern Europe? I’m almost afraid to go back home after this article, because I do explore beyond my own country limits when I’m there… Also I feel like most of these scams can be applied around the world as some people in comments already mentioned.

    Reply
    • Perhaps I should have emphasized that I refer to Eastern and Southeastern Europe both. However, this article doesn’t mean that these things happen all the time. I wrote it to make the average traveler more aware of what are some worst-case scenarios that could happen on the road.

      Reply

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