Tourist Scams and Traps in New York City

Don’t let naivety part you from your hard-earned cash by falling for these common tourist scams in New York City.

First, some good news.

New York is generally safe compared to other major cities. It’s reputation for crime came from the 1980’s – and since then crime levels (everything from Murders to Robberies) have plummeted.

Some of these tourist scams are more prevalent than others. A little situational awareness and will avoid most problems.

I love New York, and the worst personal experience was a taxi driver who claimed I said a different street. Luckily, I caught on early that we were headed in the wrong direction!

Top 10 Tourist Scams and Traps for New York City

#1 – Unlicensed Cabs / Transport Options

You will be offered cheap transport at the NY airports and at popular attractions. These are risky. Not only will the final fare not be cheap at all, but there is also a risk of robbery.

Only use licensed taxis. They show a decal on the front, have a lighted sign on top and the driver must display fare information and their own license inside. Uber or Lyft are great alternatives in New York – here you should double check the license (registration) plate of the car that picks you up with the one displayed on the app.

You can even verify the license on this official government site:

Don't get in an unlicensed NY Taxi

#2 – Street Gambling Games in New York are ALWAYS Scams

Shell games involve three cups, and you must guess which one has a ball inside when they stop moving. Other entertaining street games include Three Card Monty.

These are always rigged. You might win (or watch someone else win) a couple of rounds. The idea is to make tourists think they can beat the game. When the stakes increase, you will lose – guaranteed.

If you feel that being parted from your money is worth it for the entertainment alone, then feel free to give this a try. I’d rather keep my hard-earned cash for attractions and meals.

Chess is separate. You can bet money to pay the hustlers in Union Square and elsewhere. Unless you are a master of the game, you’ll lose the bet. If you win the first game, and the player offers a rematch for big money – run. As long as you are aware, you are paying for a cool and unique NY experience!

#3 – Ticket Touts (Scalpers) at Major Attractions

Scalpers are smart in New York. Anyone new to their tricks will end up scammed with fake tickets or simply overpaying for popular attractions or shows.

Don’t believe those plausible stories about their uncle not being able to make it today… These are professional scammers who are playing a numbers game.

There are many ways to legitimately save money on NY shows and attractions. More on that in a future article.

Be careful of NY cash machine scams

#4 – Cash Machine Skimmers

ATM skimming devices are a global problem and pop up in New York all the time.

These electronic devices attach to the card input slot on cash machines. They read your card and are often accompanied by a video camera watching for your pin.

Avoiding this tourist scam is simple:

  • Give the ATM card input a quick tug, as the devices often come loose.
  • Make sure you cover the pad when you enter your PIN.
  • Best of all, get a prepaid card, so if the worst happens, you won’t need to cancel your main bank cards.

Separately, choose major banks when using an ATM. There are thousands of private ones in NYC, which can come with sky-high fees!

#5 – Hotel or Attraction Email Phishing Scams

If you get an unexpected email from your hotel asking for credit card or other personal information, your spidey-sense should be tingling.

While on some occasions this may be legitimate, there are tourist scams in New York city where accomplices inside the hotel pass on e-mail information.

If you have even the smallest doubt, get in touch with the hotel through their official communication channels to double-check.

#6 – Designer Goods on the Street are ALWAYS Fake

Now, this NY City tourist scam depends on you.

If you are aware that the line of YSL, Chanel and Burberry handbags on the side of the road are fake – and want to buy one anyway – well, that is 100% a personal choice.

I’m listing it here are there are people who believe they are genuine. These are low-quality fake designer goods. The selection is not limited to handbags, watches, electronics. luggage and even video games are available for sale.

New York City Rippoffs

#7 – Restaurant Rip-Offs in NY City

Bad food, bad service and a bill that could be 3x to 5x what you’d pay in a legitimate restaurant.

While rare these days, pop-up horror shows of restaurants appear in the seedier parts of New York City, ready to rip off unsuspecting tourists. Good luck attempting to refuse to pay, ‘security’ will quickly appear…

A simple only check of restaurant reviews online is all it takes to avoid this scam. Fortunately, NY has thousands of fantastic bars and restaurants.

#8 – Pick Pockets and Distraction Techniques

If you ever hear someone ‘in trouble,’ and calling for help down an alleyway in NY – keep on walking. You are almost certain to be robbed when out of sight. If you suspect this is a real call for help, then call the police instead.

Pick pockets work in all major cities, and New York is no exception.

Be aware of distraction techniques, where pickpockets work in teams. One will distract you, for example asking for directions or accidentally bumping into you. Another will relieve you of your wallet, phone, or bags.

Central Park NY

#9 – NY City Scams: Unofficial Tour Guides (Especially at Major Attractions)

If you choose an unlicensed or unofficial tour guide, you are setting yourself up for high fees, low quality information or to be diverted into a ‘cousins’ business for more rip-offs.

New York has a licensing system for tour guides. Making sure you book through a reputable online agency, and sticking with licensed guides will save you a lot of headaches.

#10 – Charity Scammers in New York

Fake charity collections are prevalent. They range from young kids selling things for their local basketball team, to more elaborate petition / subscription style scams.

This is a numbers game, and after you show no interest, these charity scammers will quickly move on.


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