Tatütata January 8, 2018 8:30 AM

Street games are presented as a trick for creating an opportunity for pickpockets, which isn’t quite correct. The main objective is to suck the mark into the “game” by letting him observe staged rounds with shills. When the mark eventually wagers, he will of course lose, and things become nasty real fast, with the shills now doubling up as goons… Look-up the three-carte monte; shell game; bonneteau; Hütchenspiel, etc. I saw it performed just meters away from patrolling cops; it’s remarkable how smoothly and quickly they close up shop when the donut-eaters finally walk in their direction, without even appearing to be on the lookout.

And there is apparently a recent trend, called in German “Antanztrick”, where pickpockets simulate joy or drunkenness, and begin to “dance” with the mark.

The description of the “pickpocket warning” seems to have been picked up straight out of the beginning of Casablanca (1942)… “Pas op, zakkenrollers!”

For the geographical distribution, er, …, ’nuff said. Reminds me somehow of American Express commercials of yesteryear, with that fellow in a pork pie hat essentially saying “beware of foreigners in Foreignland, get AmEx traveller’s cheques”.

Rachel January 8, 2018 8:54 AM

Good list.

I’ve found that being streetwise and alert means you spot them as they are sizing you up – or they just choose to avoid you in the first place.
I’ve had the ‘ Rosemary Seller’ offer to shake my hand for good luck. I had sussed out her schtick as soon as I spotted her – but I later was told she would refuse to let go of your hand until paying. I wonder if her grip strength trumps mine?

I’ve encountered

  • Dont accept food from friendly strangers on a train
    • The flower seller in Rome whom stuffs their bouquet in your face whilst the other hand goes for the money belt. Uppercut , anyone?

    • Someone approaches asking or offerring help. When you pause their accomplice rushes up and side strikes your knee. Your bag gets stolen by the first person at that time. Once again I avoided this by observing them sizing me up prior to approach. They werent very discrete

Rachel January 8, 2018 8:59 AM


Three Card Monte makes me think of RUN DMC ‘ Tricky’. I have read the ‘ quick, it’s the cops’ component is one actual variant on the ruse and there are many ways it can be turned on the mark. I have not come across it before, does it exist in Europe?

Rachel January 8, 2018 9:14 AM

I appreciate its not very practical for many – but avoiding alcohol solves many problems, if one is outside the comfort area.

one is automatically removed from risky locales like bars

one is not less attentive, too relaxed, or too friendly to potential approaching predators

one isn’t quickly identified as a mark

one doesnt lose physical capacity to run/ resist etc. Nor the means to assess most effective decision ‘in the bubble’

Some of those travel survival books advise storing ones cash in three locations on the body. the spare wallet with a fiver and old cards a good decoy

Another one : man gets invited to bar by cute girl. She then asks him to buy a bottle of wine. The wine turns out to cost 800 euro. Man is prevented from leaving bar unless he agrees to be escorted to cash machine

Clive Robinson January 8, 2018 9:50 AM

That “Dodgy Doctor” is very minor compared to the “Dodgy Clinic” in Spain and similar.

Check with your insurance provider before you go just what they will and will not accept on the “health insurance” side.

Lets take Spain for instance there are Public Hospitals where you only need an EU Medical Card and there are Private Clinics that do not tell you just hit you with a bill often having taken your personal effects like passport and credit cards as hostage.

What happens is fake or on the take Ambulances will take you to a clinic no matter how you protest, even taxi drivers get kick backs. The further a clinic is away from civilisation the more they stick you with needless treatment. Come in with a sprained ankle which only needs a quick examination, strapping and maybe a few mild pain killers or on the outside an X-Ray. You will get several IV’s, Injections at 250USD plus MRI 1000USD and overnight or simmilar at 12000USD. To stop you realy realising what is going on one of those early treatments will probably have a mild sedative…

Young tourists will get something slipped in a drink by a barman on the take, you will feel sick nausious and unstable on your legs. The barman then alerts his Fake / Private Ambulance friends to turn up just as you start to vomit etc, He then phones for a legitimate ambulance to cover himself etc. You will be rushed on Blues and Twos up way into the hills to a clibic or some secluded “Industrial Estate” where a “borrowed unit” is decked out like a clinic. What happens next depends on a number of factors. If you are lucky you will get a 1500USD bill or if slightly less lucky you and your companion if theu are alowed to come with you will wake up in a field with if you are lucky just a headache and theft of just about everything else including clothes (there are rumours of “body part snatching” etc as a healthy young body is worth 2.5million USD for transplants etc).

In the countries this sort of thing goes on in the authorities are often well aware of what goes on and going to the police is unlikely to be of any benifit to you. It might even cause you to be detained and charged and rapidly expelled from the country minus a big fine and expensive air fares to pay.

So just do your research in advance have friends that use a camera to photograph those around and the faces of ambulance staff and licence plates and ensure that you are accompanied by a switched on friend to look after your interests. If anybody acts cagy or pretends they do not understand then get the hell out of there as fast as you can.

Pete January 8, 2018 10:21 AM

When traveling in “target rich” areas, we always play “finger the pickpocket” – fun for the entire family.

For bonus points, take a photo of them staring at you within 10 ft. I hear they love that. Ok, perhaps not.

echo January 8, 2018 11:29 AM

Yes, sizing people up and avoiding alcohol when outside of your psychological and physical comfort zone are very good tips.

On the issue of a friendly photographer helping out many people are of course genuine. I forget the name but I did read of one couple who were helped by a passing stranger when taking their photograph on a mountain. The passing stranger was a famous photographer of note. This is a technical issue but within some legal jurisdictions unless a photograph is “work for hire” (the payment of a token sum should cover this) the copyright belongs to the person who pressed the camera release.

A work colleague traveling in Columbia was stopped by two fake police. The scam was extortion which, I understand from the odd media report, includes threats and forcing relatives and friends abroad to send money. He luckily managed to be let loose by them perhaps by being too poor and more bother than he was worth.

A friend (who was ex-military which may or may not be a connection) always declined aggressive beggars and similar closing on him with his arm outstretched and palm raised. He reasoned that this physical action was a clear “No” signal and had a preventative psychological impact.

thiefhunter January 8, 2018 12:00 PM

Agreed, knowledge and forwarning are everything. But many of these are mash-ups or plain old urban legend. Like “throwing the baby.” That doesn’t happen, but people love to talk about it. Gypsy women carry their infants in a cloth sling, allowing both hands to be free for picking, particularly from the victim’s fanny pack, purse, or pants pockets that can be hidden by the bulk of the baby. Sometimes they’re nursing their babies or otherwise showing their breasts, which is not taboo in the Roma culture, and which further distracts victims from what’s going on under that tableau. Sometimes the babies are shared (or rented) for use by other gypsy women. The babies are not thrown.

Other examples here are imagined or mashed, like the rosemary or flower sellers, who actually use an extremely skilled slight of hand trick to snag bills from a wallet. This is what happens when an aggregator makes a list, instead of pointing to an expert’s list. I hunt thieves.

Peter S. Shenkin January 8, 2018 1:04 PM

I was presented with a rose by a Gypsy in Granada. She then held out her hand for a handout. So instead I gave back the rose. She then cursed me with a Gypsy curse.

I was amused. But OTOH, it does explain quite a bit about my subsequent life…. 🙂

Clive Robinson January 8, 2018 4:03 PM

@ Peter,

But OTOH, it does explain quite a bit about my subsequent life…. 🙂

What healthy, happy and wise 🙂

Scared January 8, 2018 4:04 PM

The Italian delayed change scam is history now with the Euro, but what always amazed me was how this scam was done by public servants. You would buy a train or vaporetto ticket and the clerk would give you about half of the correct change which could be ten thousands of Lira. Most tourist would leave without checking. If you knew the trick and looked at the clerk, he would give you the remaining thousands a split second later…

Garbo January 8, 2018 5:42 PM

“Someone approaches asking or offerring help. When you pause their accomplice rushes up and side strikes your knee. Your bag gets stolen by the first person at that time. Once again I avoided this by observing them sizing me up prior to approach. ”

That seems like an incredibly specific thing to “see and avoid” before it actually happened. Amazing.

Citation Expected January 8, 2018 6:15 PM

In the countries this sort of thing goes on in the authorities are often well aware of what goes on and going to the police is unlikely to be of any benifit to you. It might even cause you to be detained and charged and rapidly expelled from the country minus a big fine and expensive air fares to pay.

You were talking about Spain.
Do you have a reference for this extensive corruption involving so many government officials?

And which part of the world can break a young, healthy, tourist down into USD 2.5m of spare parts with such a large number of desperate and rich recipients already gowned up and standing by? Color me a little skeptical that this is anything more than someone’s arbitrary total of the presumed end price of all the potential vales of organs in a body. In reality the value is too low to make murder worthwhile, let alone profitable enough to pay off the necessarily enormously large number of people.

Rachel January 8, 2018 6:45 PM

any relation to Greta? yes you are probably right. what i described happened the day before to someone i met in the hostel. In the Old Town in a deserted street I subsequently saw two guys see me knowingly, then split off in an organised fashion which was plain odd. The first guy made a line straight for me with a big smile speaking in english. i had enough experience to know that particuar nationality in that country do NOT behave like that. I refused to pause or interact but marched aggressively and it sort of unsettled him. so, didnt see the outcome. Common sense is also not carried ones bag in a way you can be unburdened of it even when surprised

B. D. Johnson January 8, 2018 8:02 PM

I’ve worked in security on the Vegas Strip for 11 years and I’ve never heard of a cab driver deliberately withholding a bag in their vehicle when someone is being dropped off at a hotel. Cabs here are very conspicuously marked and surveillance can identify the cab in under a minute and have that information for the Taxicab Authority (a law enforcement agency specifically dedicated to taxi-related crimes).

For Las Vegas, the big tourist scams are generally prostitution-related. There’s the grope-and-grab where someone will approach a tourist and grab, rub, or grind in a sexual manner while stealing phones, wallets, cash, etc. Trick rolls happen when a tourist is approached by a prostitute offering services. Once you go up to the room with them then they’ll suggest you take a shower and, while you’re in the shower, will rob your room. Alternatively, they will watch you putting your cash/wallet/phone in the safe and, after you fall asleep or are not paying attention, will open the safe and steal the items and depart. Another method used is that they will steal your key while they’re in your room and then they (or an accomplice) will return later and steal your things while you’re out of the room. Although rare, prostitutes have been known to use roofies to facilitate robbing someone.

There’s some distract-and-grab teams but they’ve fallen off as slot machines have moved to tickets rather than coins. It still happens so if someone approaches you while you’re on a machine, keep an eye on the machine itself. Same goes for bags/purses. Don’t hang bags/purses on the back of your chair. Keep them on your lap.

There are occasionally problems with the costumed street performers and, since their faces are generally covered and there’s virtually no regulation as long as they’re on public land, it’s tough to track them down. Don’t hand over your phone/camera and watch your wallet/pockets when posing for and taking pictures.

Frances January 8, 2018 9:17 PM

@Mister Easy, he really does. We’ve met him here before. Check his website, there is some interesting and useful info on it.

*Nervous Sheep Sound* January 8, 2018 9:36 PM

Moral of the story, stay-cation, vacation, only you hide in the basement.

Andrew January 9, 2018 3:01 AM

I almost fell for the monte game once in Paris…I’d never heard of this scam, so when I saw a group of tourists playing around a table I went over to have a look and one of them invited me to bet on the outcome. However, the speed at which the other ‘tourists’ were betting was the thing that started alarm bells ringing..they were whipping large banknotes out of their pockets and slamming them on the table without any hesitation..not what you’d expect to see from a genuine tourist. I walked away, and later a local shopkeeper told me what I had guessed – every one of them was in on the act, and they regularly fleece people out of hundreds of Euros.

Rachel January 9, 2018 5:21 AM

@thieffhunter who is presumably .Bob Barno provided a link – I second the notion to its excellency. Theres really good information and a what appears to be an indispensable ebook about the complex ways of pickpockets. Also a film about pickpockets filmed around the world

hmm January 9, 2018 9:36 AM

If you’re the target of pickpockets you’ve already failed your first job as tourist:

Medo January 9, 2018 11:37 AM

Something that happened to me and family in Morocco:

At the side of the road between villages, we saw a broken-down car and two people, one of them trying to hitch a ride. They just wanted one of them to be taken to the next town where they could get someone else to drive out and tow the car. Already guessing at the game, we offered to have a look and see if it could be fixed quickly, but they hastily assured us that it was beyond repair.

Since we were six people in the car, we decided it would be safe to take one of them to town anyway and see what happens. As we drove off, we already saw a replacement hitchhiker stepping out from behind a rock and going to the car…

Arriving at the next town, we dropped him off by his uncle who was so happy that we helped them out, he had us sit down by his shop and had his wife make everyone some tea while he told us about his work as a carpet salesman and his amazing products. And of course, because we had done him a favor, he decided sell to us for a VERY special low price. Well, you can guess.

So, a pretty harmless scam all in all, and considering that I still tell the story so many years later I consider the experience was worth the couple of overpriced rugs.

Johny Jones January 10, 2018 2:14 AM

What I read here is quite surprising, I’m Spanish and not young anymore, so I would see that I have seen a lot. In addition, I have family in law enforcement, and in all my life I have not heard anything about “Dodgy Clinics”, people kidnapped by ambulances, taxis and doctors. I suppose you saw all this in some movie, but really looks absurd.

The most stunning thing is the assertion of people being kidnapped so their internal organs could be removed from them, or even the full body is sold to someone. Again, I have not heard about this in all my life, nor anyone in my environment (including law enforcement) have heard about this happening in Spain, although it is a known plot in some Hollywood movies (where the plot happens in some eastern European countries quite far from Spain, but again, those are movie plots…).

In reality Spain is a very safe country, of course you can find the usual deal of pickpockets in tourist areas, but nothing serious. Police officers are close to incorruptible, I would not even think of bribing them, as that would quickly put you in jail. In addition, citizens’ rights are strongly protected by law.

You should know that in Spain the public healthcare system is free (in reality is paid by taxes), so anybody (even illegal immigrants) can go to a public hospital and get the treatment they need for free, no matter the cost or duration. Even medicines are subsidized to a very low price, and if you are retired, you pay 0€ for any medicine you may ever need. Of course there are some private clinics and hospitals, but those are a minority.

So, please, don’t use movies stories to discourage people from visiting Spain or any other European country, in fact you will realize that it is much safer (in my experience) than visiting USA (here only police officers are allowed to own firearms).

Paul January 10, 2018 4:06 AM

One I’ve heard of, and may have passed on: being approached by a cute girl who offers sex or a massage back at your hotel. Once there she texts your room number to accomplices who arrive in police uniform. Only by payment of a large bribe do you avoid prosecution for whatever you did or didn’t do with a minor. The girl may or may not be a real minor. The police may be real.

By may have passed on, I mean I’ve been approached and said no thanks to, I think teenage girls. Read about possible consequences later (in Manila).

I am surprised to read a suggestion that the woman with a baby story in Rome is fake. The throwing bit, perhaps. A friend claims that a toddler was thrust into his arms … And that the child relieved him of his wallet and passport!

M January 10, 2018 6:52 AM


“Dont accept food from friendly strangers on a train”
Sounds like reasonable advice. I would extend it to “don’t accept food from strangers anywhere”

“- The flower seller in Rome whom stuffs their bouquet in your face whilst the other hand goes for the money belt. Uppercut , anyone?”

The typical flower sellers in Rome tend to target couples, they give the rose to the woman and ask the man for whatever the going rate is. Men being men, many will pay for the rose. Actually returning the rose and thus not paying for it requires persistence that most people on holiday don’t have.

They just have to be careful and clear the area when the police are around.

Pickpocketing is a more serious offence, and involves more risks: you can get chased, beaten up etc. I wouldn’t exclude that some might be pickpockets but the risk for them is not really worth it when they can simply sell a good to people who don’t need it for such a high markup.

“Someone approaches asking or offerring help. When you pause their accomplice rushes up and side strikes your knee. Your bag gets stolen by the first person at that time”

If someone is ready to assault you they don’t need complicated schemes – they will just assault you and take your posessions. There is not much one can do against a determined aggressor that has the element of surprise on their side.

hmm January 10, 2018 2:00 PM

“In reality Spain is a very safe country”

I can second this. The organ harvesting BS is just that.

Pickpockets exist everywhere, drunks are KTFO’ed everywhere, there are ‘bad taxis’ everywhere.

Spain’s crime rate is actually comparably very low. VERY low.

Search away, any link worth any salt at all shows that.

Some ethno-centric ethno-phobic Americans think the Fox News reality actually exists.
Pity them.

Sartor Wontstaertus January 11, 2018 11:14 AM

In some counties of Europe, it may help to dress more formally like a local. The typical informal or functional tourist wear is a giveaway. Learning some everyday phrases and additionally how to tell someone in different degrees of politeness to buzz off can help with this disguise. The gypsies though are very brazen and persistent.

msb January 11, 2018 12:04 PM

I have travelled quite a bit around the globe–across Europe, Africa, North and South America and SE Asia, and always keep an eye open. I am also a fairly athletic male, so I suspect I am less of a target for many, but I have had my share of encounters with dodgy taxi drivers, street vendors, fortune tellers and beggars.
One of the more interesting experiences was in Marrakech,Morocco. This one almost go me:
While looking for a tourist site, my wife and I became lost (it turned out we were not even a block in the wrong direction) when a couple of young kids offered to show us the way. They continued to lead us off in the wrong direction, heading off the main roads into progressively narrower and twistyer side-roads. After about the third turn, I noticed that the two kids had grown to a much larger group. Altogether this put me on edge, so I just turned around and walked away. At best the kids were leading us to their uncle, the rug merchant, or just messing with the dumb tourists to get them lost.

A couple of things I will usually do when travelling, is to keep a few coins and small bills in a pocket. because you can easily reach into the pocket and pull out a couple of coins as a good way to get rid of a street nuisance, and then feign povery (“sorry, this is all I have!”) Worst case, it gets picked and you are out a couple of bucks. I also carry a wallet with my day’s spending money and a card or two, but keep the majority of my cash, and valuables in a hotel safe, or money belt, under my clothes. If I end up at a somewhat questionable establishment, I will order bottled drinks and make sure I see them open it. I foound many places will actually make a show of presenting a closed bottle and making sure you see it opened.

Wael January 12, 2018 4:15 AM

I went on a trip to the Middle East a few years ago. Egypt was one of the destinations…

In the hotel I hired a taxi for a day and gave the driver the agenda: Pyramids, the Cairo museum, and a bazaar. Agreed on the price (I agreed to pay him what he asked for as I don’t like to bargain and haggle.) I explicitly told him to stick to the plan and not take me anywhere else. He took me to a “perfume shop” somewhere downtown Cairo.

Me: W-w-w-why are you stopping here?
Driver: It’s a perfume shop and they have good prices!
Me: Didn’t I tell you to take me exactly where I told you and nowhere else?
Driver: But it’s a good bargain place
Me: Do I stink or something? Get me the #### out of here.

Anyway… I went to the shop, and the owner told me he can synthesize any perfume I like because he has access to all perfume formulae. Told him I want Azzaro. He slapped together a concoction that smelled nothing close to it. I payed for it, took it and threw it away. Then the driver took my somewhere else. I told him you wasted half a day, I agreed to give you what you asked for and I was going to tip you, but you’re a greedy scumbag. Here is half the money for half a day, hit the road, I’m going with someone else.

I had better luck with the “someone else”, whom I stayed with the whole week. Drove me from Marsa Matrooh to Sharm El Shiekh then to Cairo twice! but half a day of my short vacation was wasted.

This is a trailer of a movie (Assal Eswed – Molasses) full of scams. In this scene the police scams a person. You’ll need to turn subtitles on. The full movie was on YouTube a few years ago but it’s no longer there.

Racher January 12, 2018 10:41 AM

Wael and mbs and all appreciate the coments. Ratio is going to Egypt so we may hear some more examples.
I have known some entirely sensible people warn against making eye contact with gypsies as they apparently can hypnotise this way

Wael January 12, 2018 10:56 AM

@Racher (did you fat-finger your name, Rachel?)

Ratio is going to Egypt…

This isn’t exactly the best time to visit!

Rachel fatfing January 12, 2018 11:36 AM


well, Egypt – providing he reads the Lonely Planet book first.
He did express a certain interest in Ecuador. Not sure what sort of scams go on there

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