6 Tourist Scams You Need to Avoid in Switzerland

| © violetta/ Pixabay
Sean Mowbray

Switzerland is considered one of the safest places to travel in the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on your guard. Like anywhere else, crime does happen. Theft is quite common with tourists, particularly solo travellers, often primary targets. Zurich, Geneva and Bern is where most crime is concentrated. So don’t be lulled into a false sense of Swiss security. Here are some of the scams that you should look out for. But be aware scams are constantly changing, so it’s best to be vigilant and if in doubt, walk away.

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‘Free’ stuff scams

Free stuff scams are exactly what they sound like. Scammers will approach you and offer you something, or force something on you. Immediately afterwards they’ll force you to pay, causing a scene if you don’t. Scammers in Geneva pretend to be Buddhist monks, offering ‘friendship bracelets’. In other cases people may offer you a free flower, robbing you while they put it on. Refuse the free stuff and walk away.

Pickpocketing gangs

As in most large cities, you should be aware of pickpockets. They often work in groups, with one or two acting as a distraction while another lightens your pockets or handbags. Incidences can vary, but be aware of someone bumping into you or tripping you.


In 2010, groups of scam artists were profiting from the age-old game known as bonneteau; the shell and pea game. It works by a small ball being ‘hidden’ under one of three cups, when in fact it never goes under the cup at all. Stakes were starting at 100CHF. Police issued warnings against the scam, but tourists and locals were conned out of their cash regardless. You probably won’t see this happening today, but if you do be sure to steer well clear.

“The Conjurer,” painted by Hieronymus Bosch

Fake police

This scam centred around Geneva in 2013 and 2015. People posing as police (plain clothes and in uniform) asked to see the wallets of random people that included tourists, Swiss citizens and UN officials. Both rings were been broken up and there haven’t been any reports of a similar scam for some time, but you should still be vigilant. If you are in any doubt, don’t hand over any of your belongings and instead, call 117 – the emergency number in Switzerland.

Free hugs

The Free Hug Campaign is great, everyone loves hugs. But it’s also good to be wary of anyone wandering the streets asking for hugs. It does happen that your pockets can be rifled while enjoying the warm embrace of a stranger. If it feels dodgy, don’t do it.

Free hug campaign

Ticket scams

The so-called ‘Marseille’ scam popped up in Zurich in 2015. Travellers seeing an error message when buying tickets at Zurich station’s machines would go off in search of help, while the money they paid is liberated by scammers. Again, this is an old trick, but may still pop up now and again. If there is a fault with ticket machines, stand and wait for an attendant to come to you. There’ll always be another train.

The fake donation

This one is tricky. Switzerland has a large concentration of international NGOs and charities, particularly in Geneva. It’s not uncommon to see people on the streets asking for donations, but they will also have official identification and probably want you to sign up for more information. Some rogues will ask you to make a cash donation on the spot or sign a petition that requires a payment – this money won’t make its way to the cause you expect. Again, say no thanks, and walk away if you are in any doubt.

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