10 Common New York Tourist Scams and How to Avoid Them

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When you visit a foreign city or country, the cultural differences can have you caught off guard. Tourists who are a bit green when it comes to finding their way around the city may easily fall prey to scammers who are trying to take their money. 

In a city like New York, it’s easy to get intimidated. With all the hustle and bustle and big city attitudes, tourists can become influenced by people who do not have their best intentions at heart. When this occurs, it is very upsetting and it can even ruin your entire vacation.

However, if you are aware of scams that are likely to happen, you will know what to look out for and you will be able to avoid shady situations.

Here are some common tourist scams that happen in New York City. 

Free Tickets to Attractions

As you are walking in popular tourist destinations in New York City, you may find people lining the sidewalks offering to sell you discounted tickets to popular attractions. Beware of the offers they are making.

What they are actually doing is selling free passes. For instance, a museum may have free admission on certain days of the week. However, a scammer will sell you a ticket for discounted admission that you wouldn’t have had to pay for in the first place. 

One scam to look out for is people selling tickets to the Staten Island Ferry. The Ferry is completely free and anyone selling you tickets is trying to scam you out of money. 

To avoid scams, get familiar with discounts and free admission being offered for the attractions you want to see. Better yet, try to buy tickets directly from the source rather than from someone selling them on the street. 

Over Tipping

Chain restaurants in the Times Square area have been found to be in on a scam that has gullible tourists over-tipping. Here’s how it works.

Restaurants add mandatory gratuity to a bill. Then they include an additional line for patrons to add a tip. This results in diners over-tipping and paying way more than they should.

To prevent this from happening, look carefully at your restaurant bill before paying. 

Transportation Scams

In New York, there is no shortage when considering the ways you can get around the city. Ubers, taxis and public transportation are all terrific options.

However, tourists should be aware that there are also many ‘gypsy cabs’ on the street. These cabs are not registered with the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Therefore, they can get passengers to pay more for their services. 

And transportation scams in New York are not limited to gypsy cabs alone. Last year, nearly 500 Uber drivers were busted for making illegal pickups at Kennedy Airport. 

You can choose to take the bus or subway, but you might not be safe from scams there either. People may try to sell you Metro cards that they say have a balance. But when you try to use these cards, you will find they have no money on them at all. 

Pedicab Scams

While on the subject of transportation scams, pedicab scams are worth mentioning.

Pedicabs seem like a lot of fun. These open-air vehicles can take you through scenic destinations like Central Park in vintage style. 

However, what’s not so much fun is the bill you end up with after the ride ends. 

Pedicab drivers are infamous for charging inflated rates that were not clearly posted in advance. Before taking a pedicab ride, make sure you know exactly what you are paying for. 

Costume Character Scams

When you walk through busy tourist destinations such as Time Square, you will see costumed characters lining the sidewalk. Some may be dressed as super heroes, some may be dressed as celebrities and some may be dressed as cartoon characters.

It may seem like a fun idea to take your picture with some of these costumed characters, but beware. Many of them expect a tip. What’s more, these characters have been known to become irate if you take a picture with them and don’t tip.

To keep this from happening, don’t give in to the temptation of taking a picture with them, or be prepared with a tip in hand. 

People Selling CD’s or Mixed Tapes

Another thing you will find when walking through busy New York tourist destinations is people trying to sell their CD’s or mixed tapes. 

While many of them are honestly trying to promote their music and make money to support their art, others are just trying to make a quick buck. Once you get home, you may find that the CD features poorly recorded music or nothing at all. 

Electronic Stores in Midtown

There are many electronic stores located in Midtown Manhattan. They span from 34th St. to Central Park South and sell items like cameras, headphones and iPhones. 

No matter how desperate you may be to replace electronic items while on vacation, it is in your best interest to stay away from these stores. They are known for selling merchandise that is poor quality and/or extremely overpriced. 

Parking Scams

It’s a nightmare to find parking in Manhattan. Lots make a convenient alternative as long as they are reasonably priced.

Often times, lots will have a rate posted in large print, but it turns out this rate only covers the first half hour of parking. From then on, rates could so much as double for each additional hour. 

You may also be charged extra for parking during an event and getting belongings from your car while it is parked in the lot. Tax may be charged on top of the rate as well. 

To avoid this headache, stick to public transportation. 

People Asking for Money

New York is an expensive city so it should come as no surprise that a lot of people will have their hands out when you visit. While it is nice to be charitable, be aware that some will be quite aggressive.

They might start by trying to be funny and entertain you, but it will be hard to get rid of them until you put some money in their hands. Others will make up stories that they need a very specific amount to get on the subway. If the tales seem to elaborate, they are likely to be untrue.

You also may see Buddhist monks asking for money. Beware because not all of these monks are the real deal. 

They will ask for donations to support their charity and may even hand out a medallion in return for donations. However, the truth is, they are only dressed up to look like monks and the charities they are collecting for are not real. They can also be pushy if you refuse to give them the funds they are requesting. 

To keep so-called Monks from stealing your money, don’t give donations to any located in high traffic tourist areas.

Final Thoughts

New York City is a great vacation destination, but tourist scams can ruin your fun. Now that you know what to look out for, you can avoid scams that get in the way of your good time. Here’s hoping you have a great vacation wherever you may go.

The below sources were used to research this article:

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