Moroccan Scams to Avoid on Your Next Visit

Landscapes in Morocco | © ::ErWin / Flickr
Landscapes in Morocco | © ::ErWin / Flickr
Photo of Sarah Williams
2 November 2017

As with almost every nation on earth, there are a few common tricks and scams that are common in Morocco, especially in areas that see a large number of international tourists. Con artists usually seek to make a quick buck and relieve people of money unnecessarily, so be aware and be smart on your next trip to the kingdom and don’t fall prey to the tricksters.

Unwanted henna tattoos

Henna tattoo artists are prevalent in Morocco’s tourist areas, especially in large squares like Marrakesh’s Jemaa el Fnaa and similar. In an attempt to trick people into paying for a design, artists sometimes bump into a tourist or cause henna to get on their skin in some other way. As an apology they will offer to do a full design, after which a fee is demanded, sometimes rather aggressively.

Intricate henna designs | © SheltieBoy / Flickr

Rigged ATMs

Be cautious of using ATMs that are outside; scammers are quite good at tampering with the machines in a way that the untrained eye cannot spot. Try to withdraw cash at machines within banks or shopping centres, as these machines are more difficult for people to meddle with. It is also wise to avoid using ATMs at night time or those that are in quiet areas.

Hash scams

Illegal hash is big business in Morocco, with some farmers around the Rif Mountains making a living from the cultivation of hashish. One con involves corrupt police officers and hash dealers, who work in cahoots to extort money from unsuspecting tourists. Dealers sell hash to customers and then tip off the police, who then ‘confiscate’ the weed, often for resale to another tourist, and demand a hefty bribe to avoid taking matters further.

Fake goods

A common trick is for vendors to sell fake goods to tourists at highly inflated prices. If you’re looking for a genuine Arabian, Berber, or Persian carpet, for example, it’s best to have an idea of what to look for to ensure authenticity, and also to have an idea of acceptable price ranges. Gems, precious metals, antiques, ceramics, and the locally produced argan oil are a few items to be vigilant about when making a purchase.

Carpets hanging over a wall in Morocco | © Mar10os / Flickr

Missing purchases

If you buy anything in the souks, markets, or smaller stores, always check that everything is in the bag before you walk away. There are times when sneaky store owners leave a few items out when packing things into a plastic bag or wrapping items up in paper for protection.

Unlicensed tour guides

Many independent tourists will find themselves inundated with offers for guided services at major attractions and in popular tourist cities and towns. Although authorities are clamping down more and more on unlicensed guides, it is still common for people to chance their luck and try to make some fast money. Such people can be very persistent and almost rely on wearing people down so that they accept. In many cases, the tour isn’t very interesting, useful, or engaging, and visitors often find themselves being guided into a shop or to a market stall where they will be pressured into parting with more cash.

Medina of Essaouira | © Patrick Nouhailler / Flickr | © Patrick Nouhailler / Flickr

No change available

Whether paying for goods or services at markets, small stores, taxis, tour shops, restaurants, guest houses, guides, or similar, be prepared to be told, with a smile, that the person regretfully does not have change. People often try this trick when the due change amounts to a couple of dollars or less, in the hope that the consumer will simply say it’s no problem and thus round up the amount owed. Ensure that you carry small notes, ask if change is available before sealing the deal, or, if necessary, cancel the sale or booking and request your full amount of money back.

Tea time

A common ploy for getting people into shops is to offer a complimentary glass of mint tea, with assurances that there is no expectation to buy anything. After what seems like pleasant hospitality and conversation, vendors often try the hard sell. Some may also eventually demand payment for the tea if no purchases are made.

A pot of Moroccan mint tea | © Simone Colombai / Flickr

Taxi tricks

If taking a metred taxi, always ensure that the driver turns on the metre at the start of the journey and that the metre reads zero when getting into the vehicle. If a driver refuses to use the metre, refuse their services and find an honest cab driver. The larger, grande taxis don’t have metres, so prices must always be negotiated before the journey. If you forget, you will invariably find that a heavily inflated sum is demanded when you reach your destination.

Be cautious when going to bus stations; dishonest taxi drivers may take you to another taxi stand instead, insisting that the only way to reach your desired destination is to catch a cab. Beware of shared taxi scams too; sometimes, taxi drivers trick people into agreeing to take a taxi by quoting an attractive price for the ride. It is only afterwards that people realise the price is actually for one seat, and that the vehicle won’t leave until all seats are full. This can result in travellers paying for each seat for a journey.

Restaurant bills

Always check prices on the bill in a restaurant, and avoid eating anywhere where the prices are not marked on the menu. Try and keep hold of a menu until the end of your meal to check any discrepancies; some restaurants have two menus with different prices to try and trick people. Also check that extra items haven’t been added on. Check whether bread, olives, and water are free before consumption to avoid unexpected items appearing on the bill.

Moroccan food | © Paul Barker Hemings / Flickr

Closed attractions

If somebody approaches you to say that a particular attraction is closed, go and see for yourself and don’t accept any alternative recommendations; the chances are high that the original place is, indeed, open, and that the ‘helpful’ stranger is trying to make commission off taking you to another attraction, pressuring you to buy something, or getting you into a taxi.

Don’t take pictures of people in costumes or with animals like snakes and monkeys, unless you are prepared to pay for it. Beggars are prevalent in Morocco, with some who aren’t actually in genuine need but make a living from playing on the sympathies of visitors. In some areas, locals try and persuade tourists that there is an admission fee to enter a medina or tannery. Disreputable desert camps may charge huge of amounts for meals and other services once they have people at their mercy far away from major cities and towns. Friendly strangers who offer unsolicited tips, recommendations, or directions often demand a ‘tip’ afterwards. Female travellers in particular should be cautious of overly friendly men: the Moroccan gigolo is notorious!

Desert camp in Morocco | © Jacopo Romei / Flickr

It may seem like there are many scams to avoid in Morocco, but with awareness, vigilance, and a dose of healthy caution, exploring Morocco is usually filled with many terrific experiences that will be remembered for all the right reasons.

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