London is an excellent city, and I’ll always recommend visiting it. But just like any other tourist destination, some people will try to take advantage of you. Even though London is – overall, a very safe tourist destination, know that anything can happen.
Here is a guide on how to avoid common scams and dangers that might leave you hundreds of Pounds out of pocket.
If you haven’t booked your hotel yet you might want to have a look on here for cheap places and great deals.
Beware of pickpockets - they are everywhere!
London is – just like Paris, pickpocket paradise!
I guess it was somewhere in my first year of living in London when I found myself sitting by the river at Tate Modern. I was waiting to meet a friend after work to grab a drink. As during so many nice and sunny days, I was reading a book and minding my own business when a man came and sit next to me.
He was one of those annoying scrubs – fake Louis Vuitton cap, plastic fucci (fake Gucci) shoes and a massive attitude. If he could get my number? No. Where was I from? What did I like? Did I have a boyfriend? Was I married maybe? And if I would grab a drink with him. I ignored him but he was pretty pushy. I discovered that he tried to distract me from his friend sitting on my other side. This friend – plain clothes, seemed to have a special interest in my backpack. I caught him redhanded trying to unzip my front pouch. I wasn’t carrying anything of value except for my phone (in my trousers) but when I noticed the plump guy trying to get into my backpack I jumped up and started screaming. Both guys ran away into the crowds and disappeared in no time.
I have to admit that I was a bit shaken by the whole incident. Up until that point, I have never felt unsafe in London. It did change my whole outlook. When I told my friends about the two guys, I found out that almost all of my London friends had been pickpocketed at least once since arriving in the city.
As a tourist it is extra important to brace yourself against pickpockets. Londoners are stern people, walking from point A to point B without much interest in what is going on around them. But when you are a tourist you want to take in the sights and smells and sounds of your surroundings. This means that you will be distracted (like me with my book and the guy) and be an easy target for pickpockets.
Definitely invest in an anti-theft backpack. These backpacks are designed to make it hard for pickpockets to get to your belongings. The zip is often protected by a flap or a piece of fabric.
Also take copies of important documents such as passports and flight tickets and always keep the phone number or address of your embassy or consulate close by.
I wrote a great article on pickpockets and how not to get your shit stolen!
Do not buy attraction tickets off the street - go through reputable vendors
Queuing for tickets is a bummer – but it is even worse when you have someone for tickets and they turn out to be fake!
A lot of scammers try to rip off tourists with fake tickets outside of popular and expensive attractions such as The London Eye or The Tower of London.
They might seem like tourists who bought too many tickets or even say they are staff of the attraction you are about to visit – they might even wear a fake uniform.
You pay a little bit extra (or sometimes less) for the tickets and can skip the massive waiting line at the ticket booth, only to find out your ticket was fake.
Only buy tickets at the ticket booth of the attraction you are visiting, or buy tickets off reputable online sellers such as Tiqets. Stay away from second hand sites such as craigslist (which is not a thing in the UK) and Gumtree.
Cabs might take the long way
Getting around London can seem overwhelming! Not only are there busses, trams, metros, cabs and ubers, you also have to find out where you are going to and how to get there.
Hailing a cab might seem like an easy and stress- free option, cabs can be incredibly expensive! Especially when some cabbies – especially those driving minicabs, take longer routes or routes that are congested to make you pay more.
How to avoid this? By taking the bus and underground as much as possible. They can be expensive – but are not nearly as expensive as cabs in London.
Buy an Oyster card to save money and download the map of London on Google Maps so you can access a detailed map and search function while offline.
If you want to visit and see multiple sights and tourist attractions it might be best to opt for a tourist bus that takes you around the city.
Don't take part in the Three Shell Game
The Three Shell Game is a classic tourist scam found in many big tourist destinations.
The set-up is simple: 3 cups, 1 ball. You place a bet and if you can guess under what cup the ball is hidden, you double your money.
Seems straight forward enough, right? Yes. Except that it is one big massive scam often ran by Eastern European gangs in Paris and London.
There are multiple gang members involved in setting up this scam. First of all you will have the shuffler – he shuffles the cups. They you have three to four onlookers. These people act as if they are interested in order to gather interest from tourists. We are all interested in what is happening whenever we see a group of people gathered around something, are we not? The onlookers will also identify and talk to easy targets or be on the lookout for police.
Last but not least you have the player. This person will act as if he or she is a normal tourist and play the game. He or she will often win large amounts of money which will convince tourists to play this ”lucrative” game. If you see someone winning – that person is the accomplice.
You can see the game being played in this video, but as you look closer, you notice the ball actually has disappeared into the shuffler’s hand. The game is rigged. You will never win.
Oh, and if that wasn’t bad enough – onlookers might actually pickpocket you.
People offering you to take your picture might rob you
We all want amazing pictures when on holiday! Getting a group picture might prove hard and thus we often ask strangers to take our picture.
In London however, there have been cases of people offering to help take your picture and then rob you. This can happen in a number of different ways.
First of all they can pickpocket you while you are distracted showing the person how your camera or phone works.
There have been instances where the pickpockets will actually help you call the police (but not the real one, rather an accomplice), after which they ask you your Credit Card number etc in order to “”block”” it.
Within 30 minutes they will have emptied your bank accounts.
Other dangers lie in handing over your device to a stranger in the first place. These nice people offering to take your picture also have been known to run away with your phone or camera before they even take a single pic.
How to avoid this? By buying a selfiestick! (not very fashionable, but very handy and safe)
Walk away from Market Auctions
As you can see in the excellent video above, it is best to walk away from market auctions.
These auctions – promising high value goods for low prices, will leave you with a bag of crap and £20 of your hard earned money lighter. They are an easy way for scammers to earn money and still leave people with a good feeling.
Those Buddhist monks asking for donations or money are fake. Do not give them any money.
My husband is very sweet – but he is not very savvy when it comes to travelling. He is always the one that gets hounded in souks or stopped by scammers – no idea why. Maybe because I have a bit of a resting bitch face? 😉
Anyway, even Londoners can fall for scams. Take the Buddhist Monk scam. This scam is not very well known but it is very prevalent. People who seem to be Buddhist monks walk up to you and put a talisman in your hands. This is often a very thin little piece of plastic or a gold coloured, thin piece of metal. They act as if they do not speak English and telling them you do not want it will not help at all. It is also hard to call them out on what they are doing or get angry as you do not want to offend a monk – just as you wouldn’t want to offend a priest or an Imam.
It is a tricky scam to avoid as they literally will not take the little talisman back. The best thing you can do is avoid them completely – and if you get caught unaware by a fake monk, you can ask them to take the talisman back. If they don’t, just put it on the floor, a bench, a window pane etc and walk off.
But how do you recognize fake monks? Well that’s pretty easy: real monks do not go begging for money on the London streets.
Stay away from tuk-tuk or rickshaw drivers
Stay away from all and any Rickshaw drivers in London. Even though they might seem great and legit and trustworthy, these drivers will ask extortionate prices for a drive that takes no longer than a few minutes.
Even better: these bikes and tuk tuks are seen as dangerous and unregulated which means that there are no official instances that use these tuk tuks and rickshaws. They are 100% a way to make a lot of money off poor tourists as illustrated in this YouTube video.
Watch out with fake Airbnb listings
Apartments and hotels in London can be very expensive. I have always been a massive fan of Airbnb and VRBO and I am always glad to recommend these platforms to my readers.
However, you should be aware that there are active scammers on these websites trying to steal your hard-earned holiday money.
When browsing around on websites, you might find a great apartment or room at a very low price. Scared the room will be gone in no time, you book or contact the owner. The owner, however, tells a sob story about the high commission fees Airbnb takes of both the host and the traveler and asks you to pay through paypal of bank transfer.
When you arrive in London and head to your apartment, it turns out you never rented the apartment in the first place as you were dealing with a scam artist. You will not be able to get any money back as you did not pay or book through Airbnb.
Airbnb and VRBO are 100% safe. They offer amazing customer service and will always help you when you have a problem – both hosts and guests (and I have been both). So always ALWAYS always book through the platform itself. When an owner wants you to book “another room” as “the rooms are rented out” and “pay the money into account X” or “pay the money through paypal because of the high commission Airbnb takes“, you should report the listing and find yourself another nice room or apartment.
Do not give money to beggars or people with a sob story
Another scam you will find in many bustling European cities is that of fake beggars. Old ladies with crippling disabilities, people with deformed legs or mothers with children begging for money… they might not be who they say they are!
Romani and gypsy gangs “employ” people (read: ship people to western countries and put them in tiny rooms or make them squat) to beg.
These people make a massive amount of money on big, expensive streets and around tourist attractions. It is best not to give them anything as you only enforce the despicable habits of these gangs and human traffickers.
Or worse: there have been instances in other cities such as Paris where Romani begging women drugged kids to be quiet and sleep in their arms while they beg in the Paris subway.
Do not give them money! If you want to help beggars in London, buy a ‘Big Issue’. This newspaper is made and sold by homeless people. It offers employment opportunities for people in extreme poverty. It is a hand up – not a hand out.