13 Scams All Tourists Should Avoid in London

Cash Machines In London | © Garry Knight/Flickr
Cash Machines In London | © Garry Knight/Flickr
Photo of Lizzie Thomson
London Writer28 November 2017

When visiting any new city, whether it’s abroad or in the UK, it’s always best to be cautious of scams. Although you probably won’t be affected by them, it’s better to be streetwise and vigilant and look for any suspicious activity. Here are 13 scams any tourist should be aware of when visiting London.

Contactless card-readers on the Tube

One of the newest scams to hit the city is people carrying contactless card-readers in hidden places, such as bags or coats. Scammers will brush up against where you’ll typically keep your card (in a back pocket or the front of a rucksack). It only takes a few seconds for the payment to scan, so you might not even notice it’s happening. Contactless payments may be capped at £30, but it’s still a fair amount of spending money to lose on any trip to London. Protect yourself by wrapping your cards in foil, which acts as a barrier to the contactless signal or try Defender Note.

Brixton Tube Station | © Oxfordian / Flicker

Fake theatre tickets in Leicester Square

No visit to London would be complete without experiencing a West End show, but if you’re looking for a last-minute trip to the theatre, be aware of scammers selling fake tickets, especially in Leicester Square, although the ticket booth TKTS is legitimate. If you’re tempted by an offer for a theatre deal that sounds too good to be true, chances are it probably is. Always buys tickets from licensed box offices or from the theatre itself. All in all, be cautious of individual sellers in theatreland.

Bag-cutting thieves

Similar to pickpockets, bag-cutting thieves operate within London’s busiest areas, but go to greater extremes. Rather than taking belongings out of the top of a handbag, they work by cutting open the bottom with a knife and then placing another bag underneath to catch the contents that fall out. It’s also common for thieves to cut the sides of rucksacks to gain quick access to valuables within the bag, so always stay alert when carrying a bag through crowded places in London.

Fake designer products

If you’re looking for genuine designer products, London’s markets are not the place to find them. Street-sellers often have a wide selection of fake goods that look very similar to their luxury counterparts. London markets are famous for their excellent vintage and second-hand offerings, whereas Regents Street and Bond Street are the great places to find designer stores in London.

Street Market London | © Geograph

Fake charity collectors

Sadly, fake charity collectors do exist and they take advantage of kind-hearted and sympathetic individuals. To collect in a public space, charities always need to be registered and have a licence. All charity collectors must carry a collector’s permit, so before offering any money, ask to see this or any other official documentation, such as their charity’s registration number. Trust your instincts; if a collector seems vague about knowledge of the charity (or the use the money will be put to), don’t donate.

Borrowing your phone

Scammers like to prey on the general public’s generosity and many will ask to borrow your phone for a scenario that is hard to refuse. They might say they’ve lost their child or their bag has been stolen, and while some cases may be genuine, always be cautious when handing over your phone to someone and make sure they’re always in sight when they are using it.

Cameras at ATMs

It’s always best to be wary when using an ATM in London. Watch out for anything that looks like it may be an addition to the machine, such as stick-on parts or cameras. Often these devices will be used to record your PIN number and card details. If anything suspicious catches your eye, avoid the machine completely and report it to the bank in question.

Cash machines in London | © Garry Knight/Flickr

Thieves and pickpockets

When visiting any city, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings and have them secured in a safe place in your bag. Avoid using handbags that gape open and keep valuables in inside compartments rather than outside pockets. Pickpocketing hotspots in London include Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Circus and on the Tube, although thieves can operate anyway, so always keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour.

Group photo offer

No visit to London would be complete without a group photo to remember the trip. Many scammers are aware of the trust the general public have when handing over a phone or camera to take a photo. Asking groups or families rather than individuals offering to take a photo is one way to ensure your phone (and all your precious memories from your city trip) won’t be stolen.

Fake tickets outside music venues

London is home to many popular music spots including the O2, Wembley Arena, Alexandra Palace and The Roundhouse. Often these venues have ticket sellers waiting around the premises hoping to catch someone looking to buy a last-minute ticket. Always be cautious of unlicensed ticket sellers – in some cases, they might genuinely be looking to sell a ticket, but it’s difficult to tell until the actual ticket itself is scanned (after you’ve handed over the money). Stick to well-known ticket trading platforms to avoid disappointment.

The O2 | © Jose Francisco Del Valle Mojica/Flickr

Fake auctions

Mock auctions are usually carried out in street markets where cheap goods are sold for ridiculously high prices. A group of scammers will continue to bid on an item, tricking the general public into thinking the value is more than the item is worth. Some mock auctions also distribute fake prizes to winners and leave before the winning bidder has a chance to realise what just happened.

Newspaper distraction

Whether you’re sitting outside in a central London café or perching on the steps by Trafalgar Square, it’s important to be aware of distraction scam techniques. A common scam in the city is individuals coming over and placing their newspaper on top of your phone or wallet and starting up a conversation with you. Then when they leave, they pick up their newspaper along with your valuables and walk off.

Bike thieves

A crime becoming more and more common in central London is thieves on bicycles and motorbikes. For many people, it’s pretty normal to walk along the pavement using a phone or holding a handbag on the side of their body that’s facing the road. However, thieves on two wheels take advantage of this and zoom along the road at high speeds waiting to snatch valuables within reach from passers-by.

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