Top Washington DC Tourist Scams and How To Avoid Them


Washington D.C. is our capital city. As such, people flock to D.C. to take in sites like the White House, the Supreme Court building and the Capitol building.  They will also want to check out the performing arts centers and the many iconic museums in the area. 

One thing travelers will notice about Washington D.C. is that it’s extremely busy. The hustle and bustle makes it easy for scammers to prey on tourists who are overwhelmed by the sights and sounds.

However, if you know which scams to look out for, you can keep yourself from getting ripped off and enjoy a pleasant vacation. This article will review common Washington, D.C. travel scams and give you tips on how to avoid them.

The Hotel Scam

When you start shopping for a hotel to stay in, many of them will promise that they are “15 minutes from the White House” or a “short walk from the Kennedy Center”. However, when you actually get to the hotel, you will find these destinations are much father away than the hotel promised. 

To avoid getting ripped off, do some research in advance to make sure you will be close to the attractions you want to see the most. 

Don’t Pay for the Smithsonian Museum

The Smithsonian Museum has many locations in D.C. and they are all free. If anyone tries to sell you a cheap or discounted ticket to the museum, don’t buy it. You should never have to pay admission when you enter. 

Never Make Change for Anyone

Here’s another classic one that happens, not only in DC, but in cities all over the world. 

You will be approached by someone asking you for change. They will request two tens for a twenty. After you make the transaction, they will try to tell you that one of the tens was actually a one. They will give you a dollar in the hopes you give them back a second ten. 

The moral of this story, don’t make change for anyone. 

Don’t Give Money to People with a Sob Story

Another common universal travel scam that often occurs in Washington, D.C. is getting asked for money by someone with a sob story.

They will tell you that need a specific amount of money to get gas in their car or get on the bus to see a dying relative. That might not be their exact story, but they will usually make up some sort of elaborate tale and ask you for a very specific amount of money to try and give their story credibility. 

Of course, these people might genuinely need money, but you can always bet their story is a fake. And once you give them the money, who knows what they will end up doing with it?

Your best bet is to refrain from giving money to anyone, especially those with a long, sad tale. 

Don’t Act Like a Tourist

As mentioned earlier, D.C. is a very fast paced town, metropolitan town. There are several things you can do that will make you stick out as a tourist. If scammers pick up on the fact you are a tourist, they will see you as an easy target. Here are some ways you can make sure you blend in.

  • Stand to the right on escalators and moving sidewalks. The left is reserved for people who want to walk. Not only will standing to the left make native D.C.’ers annoyed, it will make you stand out as easy prey for scammers.
  • Don’t eat on the Metro. This is another frowned upon habit that is typical of tourists.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of the street. You may be looking at all the sites or you may be trying to plan your route as you go, but if you walk slowly, you will disrupt traffic while making it clear you are ideal scammer bait. 

Vacation Home and Lodging Scams

This is a common travel scam that often happens to DC travelers. 

When searching for accommodations, you may end up talking to a travel agency that is less than reputable. They may ask you to wire them money to make reservations for hotels, plane fare and other services, but they never end up securing your room and travel. Rather they are just out to take your money.

Not only can you end up with no vacation, they can also scam you out of thousands of dollars.

To avoid getting scammed, make sure you are working with reputable agencies and never wire money. Once you wire money to someone, it’s as good as gone. 

Fake Monks

This is another one that happens in several cities, but it’s a good one to look out for in D.C.  

Fake monks hang out in popular tourist destinations asking for money. They may slip a beaded bracelet on your wrist or put some cheap trinkets in your hand. Once you take these items, they will ask you for money. 

They may say the money is going towards a charitable organization but it’s likely no such organization exists. If it does exist, these fake monks are probably not affiliated with it in any way. 

Once these monks place one of their cheap trinkets on your person, they can be very pushy about getting their money. The best advice is to avoid anyone that looks like a monk and is hanging out in a tourist area at all costs. 

Don’t Stand in Line at the National Mall Museums

This one isn’t so much a scam, but it can help you be a much savvier D.C. traveler. 

When visiting the National Mall Museums, don’t enter through the main mall entrance. It will be very crowded and, because every visitor is searched upon entry, it will take a long time to get in. 

Smart visitors will realize there are multiple doors you can enter through. Going through these doors will help you avoid long lines.

Final Thoughts

D.C. is a great city to visit, but it’s important not to let scammers ruin your vacation. These tips will help you avoid scammers so you can have a great time and stay protected. We hope you have a wonderful trip.

Research for this article was sourced from the following:

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