Explore the U.S. without falling victim to common tourist traps and scams. Learn more about popular US destinations and stay safe while travelling with these helpful tips!
If you’re planning to visit the United States, you might be tempted by some of the popular attractions that promise a memorable experience. But beware, not all of them are worth your time and money. Some of them are overpriced, overcrowded, or downright deceptive. Here are some of the tourist traps and scams in the U.S. that you should avoid or be careful of.
🇺🇲 Times Square, New York City:
Image credits: Pexels
Times Square is an iconic spot in New York City. It’s a bustling street with bright oversized billboards and is a hallmark of New York City in pop culture. It may be a magnet for tourists, but it’s also a hotspot for scammers, pickpockets, and hustlers.
⚠️ Time Square Characters / Mascots
Image credits: Darkroom – Baltimore Sun
It’s common to encounter people dressed as your favourite characters, like those from Disney or Marvel’s Avengers. These actors will pose for a photo with you and then demand a tip. While it’s not a scam, they might just come up to you and urge you for a photo without your acknowledgement of the price. So if you want a photo, do agree on a price beforehand!
⚠️ “Free” CD Mixtape
Occasionally, you might be approached by someone who claims to be a rapper or musician. They’ll usually claim to be up-and-coming artists and would hand you a CD and tell you to give them a listen for free. After accepting the CD, they’d insist on a big ‘donation’ towards their dreams. Sometimes, they might even get your name during the conversation and sign the album so it’s harder to decline. Eventually, the music you’ve gotten isn’t free and the disc may turn out empty.
⚠️ Fraudulent Tickets
Similarly, you might be lured by someone who offers you a free ticket to a show or tour but then asks you to pay a hidden fee or sign up for something. You might spot someone doing a live promotion, cracking jokes, and selling tickets for a comedy show nearby. Perhaps they might even tell you that some well-known acts are headlining the show. They’ll then hook you into buying “discounted” tickets for the upcoming concert or show. However, these fraudulent tickets are probably for some other show you never knew about and are well overpriced.
The best way to enjoy Times Square is to walk around and admire the lights and the energy, but don’t engage with anyone who tries to sell you something or ask for money. If you’re looking to attend any shows, make sure to do your due diligence in buying from the official ticketing vendors!
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Check out our guide to affordable Michelin food in the U.S.
🇺🇲 Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, New York City:
Image credits: Pexels
⚠️ Fake Staten Island Ferry Tickets
Want to see the Statue of Liberty? You can get on the Staten Island Ferry for that picture-perfect moment of Lady Liberty. Ferry tickets to Staten Island are free! Yes, Free.
So in this scam, watch out for people posing as ferry workers in fake uniforms, selling tickets to Staten Island. The scammers will claim that tourists are required to purchase tickets to ride the ferry. And by the time you reach the ferry point and realise that you don’t need to pay for tickets, the scammer’s probably already gone with your money. There are legit paid guided tours to the Statue of Liberty that may include Ellis Island and museum tickets, but getting to Staten Island and boarding the ferry is free.
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Check out our first-timer guide to New York City
🇺🇲 Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles:
Image credits: Hollywood Sign
⚠️ Celebrity Home Tours
Another famous attraction that draws millions of visitors every year is the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where you can see the stars of your favourite celebrities on the sidewalk. These stars are like a badge of recognition for Hollywood celebrities. As tourist hotspots go, this area is also full of traps and disappointments. Like in Times Square, you might encounter fake celebrities, like Michael Jackson impersonators, who will pose for a photo with you and then ask for money.
A more popular tourist trap or scam here is the celebrity or star’s home tour. You might be offered a map of the stars’ homes, which is usually inaccurate or outdated. Alternatively, you might be pressured into taking a bus tour of the Hollywood Hills, which is often overpriced and boring. These tour bus operators also don’t have up-to-date information about where celebrities actually live. Investigations have found numerous residences were mistakenly labelled as belonging to celebrities, with frequently dramatised stories. Prices for these tours usually start from at least $35 USD which in my opinion, can be spent better elsewhere.
If you do want to visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, do some research beforehand and find out where your favourite stars are located for better chances of meeting them!
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Check out our Los Angeles foodie guide here
🇺🇲 Las Vegas Strip:
Image credits: TheStreet
The Las Vegas Strip is a dazzling destination that offers entertainment, gambling, dining, and shopping. But it also has its share of tourist traps and scams that can ruin your trip. And just like every other country, taxi scams are common here. You might be fooled by fake taxis, limos, or shuttles, which will charge you exorbitant fees or take you to unwanted destinations. Las Vegas taxi drivers are also notorious for long hauling passengers, which is taking them on longer routes to increase fares. To avoid this, what you can do is check the Nevada Taxicab Authority for the approximate legitimate rates you should be paying. Alternatively, try a Lyft or Uber.
⚠️ Timeshare Sales People
You might encounter people who offer you free drinks, tickets, or coupons, but then ask you to attend a timeshare presentation or a club promotion. From Las Vegas Then and Now, “[a] timeshare is a real estate transaction in which customers pay an upfront fee, in addition to ongoing maintenance fees for rights to access a property, or a group of properties, for a specific amount of time per year.” So basically, the buyer gets to use a property for a period of time.
How this works is someone will casually strike up a conversation and ask you to sit through a quick presentation, promotion, or pitch based on the promise of freebies or discounts. However, this quick promo will turn into hours of hard sales tactics. You can technically say no without consequences and not buy anything, but these salespeople are highly-trained, persuasive, persistent, and can wear people down.
⚠️ Photographers and Characters
As seen in the previous two locations, photography is a common tourist trap technique. In Vegas, this can happen with characters like showgirls or street performers who expect tips after photos. Another way this can happen is people positioning themselves as “official photographers”. In front of famous signs or scenery, as you wait in line for your Instagram shot, there will be people carrying around cameras and claiming to be official photographers, offering to take your photos in exchange for a fee. Of course, there are no such credentials and they’re simply opportunists hoping for some quick tips while snapping dollars from unexpected tourists.
⚠️ Casino Coin Redemption
Image credits: Begas Vaby
Some casinos in Las Vegas issue tickets instead of coins when you cash out your winnings from slot machines. These tickets have an expiration date and if you don’t redeem them in time, you lose your money. This is a way for the casinos to make more profit from unsuspecting tourists who may forget or misplace their tickets.
To avoid this scam, you should always redeem your tickets as soon as possible or exchange them for cash at the cashier. It’s recommended that you take your cash-out ticket to a cashier’s desk (even though there might be a queue) to get your full cash-out — coins included.
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Find out more about Las Vegas here
🇺🇲 Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco:
Image credits: Travel in USA
This waterfront area in San Francisco is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, but also one of the most overrated. You might find some interesting shops and restaurants, but most of them are overpriced and catered to tourists. And when it comes to street performers and artists, they’re often mediocre and repetitive. Plus, sea lion encounters may sound exciting, but they’re often crowded by tourists (and noisy). The best way to enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf is to take a ferry ride to Alcatraz Island or Angel Island, where you can learn more about the history and nature of San Francisco Bay.
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Find out more about San Francisco here
🇺🇲 Rodeo Shows, Texas:
Image credits: Arizona Foothills Magazine
⚠️ Fake Rodeo Tickets
Rodeos are super popular sports and entertainment in Texas. The rodeo is second only to Spurs basketball in terms of San Antonio sports popularity. The state boasts over 80 rodeos happening across Texas every year. So when you visit, it’s not uncommon to catch one throughout the year, from large to small-town rodeos. However, as we all know, when there are tickets, there are scalpers, especially for rodeo shows that are either cancelled, rescheduled, or low-quality. The best way to confirm your seats is to do your research and book your tickets in advance on reputable platforms.
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Find out more here
🇺🇲 Ski Mountains, Colorado
Image Credits: Aspen Times
⚠️ Colorado Ski Lift Ticket Scam
Ski lift passes are tickets which allow you to use ski lifts and ski down runs at a resort. These passes are often specific to certain resorts, hence it is necessary to buy one for the resort you want to ski in. So what’s this scam about? You already guessed it. Similar to other ticketing traps, scammers sell fake or expired ski lift tickets online or outside the resorts. Again they often advertise them as discounted passes so visitors buy them outside of official sources.
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Find out more about Colorado here
🇺🇲 French Quarter, New Orleans
Image Credits: TimeOut
If you stop by New Orleans, you will definitely check out the French Quarter — one of the city’s most historical and significant neighbourhoods. As the name goes, the area used to be under French and then Spanish rule, which is why the neighbourhood has some really interesting architecture. As it’s a touristy area, you can encounter multiple con artists.
A guy will come up to you and say something like “I bet $20 I can tell you where you got your shoes”. And if you do play along, they’ll reply “You got them on your feet on (inserts current street)!”. It’s a trick question and a stupid bet.
Along the same lines, there’s a con of “I bet I can spell your last name” where they bet you money only to spell “l-a-s-t-n-a-m-e”.
So if anyone comes up to you with these lines, you know to politely walk away.
Tourist Traps And Scams In The U.S. To Watch Out For: Find out more about New Orleans here
No matter where you go, there will always be tourist traps and scams designed to swindle your money. However, they shouldn’t rob you of experiencing another place. Tourist traps and scams are not only annoying but also potentially dangerous and costly. They can ruin your vacation and leave you feeling frustrated and cheated. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common ones and how to avoid them. By following the above tips, you can enjoy your trip without falling prey to these unscrupulous practices!
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