Top Chicago Tourist Scams and How to Avoid Them

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Chicago is one of the largest cities in the world. It is known for its outstanding architecture, its iconic skyline, its museums and cultural attractions and its vibrant nightlife. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder the city is such a popular tourist destination. 

But when visiting the city, tourists should be on the look out for scams. In metropolitan areas like Chicago, tourists make easy bait for scammers and those that are vulnerable may end up getting ripped off.

Being ‘in the know’ regarding common city scams can help keep you protected. Here are some things to look out for. 

Don’t Pay a Lot of Money for City Views

Going to the top of the Sears Tower or the Hancock Building will get you a great view of the city. However, admission to these tourist sites is pretty expensive and they are not the only game in town.

A cheaper option is to visit the Signature Room which is located inside the Hancock Building on the 96th floor. Admission is free and the view is terrific. Even though you might have to spend a few dollars on a drink, it will still come out way cheaper than a tour of the observation deck. 

There Aren’t A Lot of Free Public Toilets

When you are hiking around Chicago, don’t expect store owners to be too hospitable when it comes to using the toilet. Finding a free one in a mall or park may not be a much better option as it’s likely you will have to pay to use the facilities. If you do find a free toilet, it will probably be unusable for reasons we would rather not go into. 

Instead of dealing with pay toilets, make sure to use the restroom in your hotel before you go out.  If you stop at a restaurant as a paying patron, take advantage of the facilities before you leave. In a desperate situation, you may have to pay for some food or an item at a shop or restaurant just to use the bathroom. 

Make Sure to Buy a Metra Ticket Before Your Board the Train

Public transportation is a great way to get around Chicago. When boarding a train, you may think you are getting a free ride as no one will ask you for a ticket. But once you start your ride, there will be a worker coming around and asking for tickets. If you don’t have one, he or she will charge you for your ride and an additional surcharge. 

Be Aware of Sketchy Neighborhoods

Just like any other city, Chicago has its share of good and bad areas. If you are walking through a bad area, looking like a tourist, you will probably stand out as an easy victim. If you begin feeling uncomfortable, do not hesitate to jump in an Uber or go inside a place you feel is safe. 

Illegal Taxi Rides

Illegal taxi drivers are common in Chicago. Though you may find them anywhere, they often hang out in O’ Hare airport and offer rides to tourists. Because they are not legal, their rates are unregulated, and they usually do not charge fair prices. 

What’s more, you never know who you’re dealing with. Illegal drivers are not subject to any background checks and you may end up in danger if you get into their cars.

Fake Monks

If you come across a monk asking you for money, beware. Many of them aren’t real monks and they are pulling some sort of scam. 

One common scam is offering tourists beaded bracelets. Once the tourist accepts the bracelet, the monk will insist they owe them money. They can be quite pushy about collection as well.

Fake monks will also often ask for money for charities that don’t exist.

As a general rule, avoid monks hanging out in popular Chicago tourist traps. And if Chicago natives seem to be ignoring these monks, you should too. 

Shoeshine People

You might think it would be fun to get a shoeshine while you’re on vacation in Chicago. According to the jazz culture, it makes sense that there are several shoeshine people hanging out in the city. 

However, these shoe-shiners will do anything to make a buck including stopping you even if you are wearing shoes that can’t be shined. The best thing to do is to walk away quickly. If not, you may end up with your favorite pair of sneakers or suede shoes destroyed. 

People Asking for Money

In almost any metropolitan city, there will be a substantial underserved population and you may end up getting asked for money often. Chicago is no exception.

While you might want to do a good deed and lend money to someone who is in need, there are situations where you will want to beware. People may ask you for money to fund a certain charity. Or they may make up a huge story saying they need a specific amount to get on a bus or train. 

Even though these people may legitimately need money, they are using dishonest means to get it. In these cases, it is wise to use your best judgement. 

People Selling ‘Hot’ Items

Beware anyone who approaches you on the street and offers to sell you electronics or any other mid to big ticket item. It’s likely it is stolen. 

These people may make up a story to try and get you to think they are giving you a great deal, but the reality is, they are just looking to quickly get rid of evidence. What’s more, if you are found with the item, you can end up getting blamed for the theft. 

Avoid this scam by only buying goods from reputable businesses. 

Flyer Scams

If you are sitting at a table in a restaurant or another public place, you may be approached by someone carrying a stack of flyers, candy bars or some other promotional item. They will place their baggage down at your table and begin talking to you about what they are selling and promoting. Once they are done, they will pick their package up from the table, making sure to take your phone or wallet with them. 

To keep this from happening, make sure all your valuable belongings are on your person…and avoid people holding fliers or candy bars! 

Final Thoughts

Chicago is an exciting place to visit, but scammers in the city can ruin your vacation. If you know what to look out for, you can keep yourself and your travel companions safe. What travel scams have you experienced on your travels?

Here are some sources I used for researching these scams:

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