How I got Scammed in New York

By Laura Jemetta

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So, it’s time for an embarrassing story. I was in New York for three weeks last year, and yes, I did fall victim to a couple of scams in my time there. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. See, in my real, non-travelling life, I consider myself to be a very savvy and aware person. But I think there’s something about being a tourist in a strange city, that probably makes you let your guard down a little, making you more vulnerable to being scammed. Unfortunately, there are people in every city in the world who will target tourists for this reason.

So, here it is: a cautionary tale for you, so hopefully the same won’t happen when you are travelling.

So, how did it happen?

This particular morning, we had tickets for a particular time-slot at the One World Tower, and we were cutting it fine to make it downtown in time. I remember rushing down the stairs to the subway station, which in hindsight, made us the perfect targets. We were in a hurry, and anybody in the area would have been able to tell that we really wanted to catch the next subway. We all needed to buy new tickets, and so we were headed to the ticket machine, when a man yelled to the station in general that the ticket machines were out of order.

Red Flag no. 1: He wasn’t wearing a metro uniform.

Red Flag no. 2: He said we could buy new tickets from him instead.

You can guess what happened next right?

Yes, we bought ‘tickets’ from an uniformed ‘metro’ employee.

To be honest, I don’t have much of a defense, apart from the fact that none of us were really thinking, (evidently), and that the man pulled out key with which he unlocked the locked gate to the platform.

But, here comes the really stupid part: we gave him money for the ‘weekly subway passes’. As in, cash money. We just handed it over, and got – you guessed it – expired subway passes in return.

  • Yes, this man disappeared as soon as he pocketed the cash
  • Yes, we realised immediately that we had just been scammed
  • Yes, we panicked. We had just handed over roughly $150 US to a scammer
  • Yes, we felt, (and feel), exceptionally stupid about it

Realising we had just been scammed, we found the nearest Police Officer, who directed us to the nearest Police Station. A report was made, though nothing came of it. Of course, I don’t hold anything against the NYPD; the officers took out report dilligently, and likely did as much as they could do. After all, police have much bigger fish to fry than tourists willingly giving $150 to a scammer.

  • Note: I always recommend reporting any scam or crime you are a victim of to the Police, even if you think nothing will come of it. 

Top Tips to Not Get Scammed

Stay Aware: I believe we were caught off guard because we were in such a rush; we had blinkers on, and we just wanted to catch the next subway. When you’re travelling, it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing; in trying to make a reservation you’re late for, or in exploring the attraction you’re visiting. But remember to keep your wits about you – and to keep a bit of paranoia in the back of your mind. I know it’s not very pleasant to be questioning the genuineness of everyone around you, but it’s necessary when you’re a tourist – as I found out.

Pay Attention to Red Flags: Listen to your gut. When something feels uncomfortable, it’s a sign that something probably isn’t right. I remember the thought crossing my mind that the man should have been wearing a Metro uniform, but I dismissed it, because of how confident he was – with his Subway station key, and carrying out his scam in the middle of the day in the station, where there are cameras. It all seemed too brazen to be a scam. I now know that I should have listened to my gut. Yes, you risk offending someone, but caution can go a long way when you’re travelling.

IMPORTANT TIPS FOR TIMES SQUARE: 

  • You will probably be drawn to Times Square on your first visit to New York, but it is a hotbed of underhanded activity, under the guise of busking
  • When in Times Square, do not let anybody hand you anything – people will try to ‘give’ tourists their ‘music’ on CD’s, but once you have it in your hand, you will be hard pressed to get away without making a ‘donation’ to their ‘musical career’. Spoiler Alert: the CD is blank, and there is no musical career.
  • To avoid this, don’t make verbal or physical contact with anybody who tries to hand you anything. Just don’t. Keep your head down, and just keep walking.
  • Also important: there is an area of Times Square that is designated by a large green square on the pavement, where anyone is allowed to busk. Avoid this area like native New Yorker’s avoide Times Square. Do not step into this green square. Don’t talk to anyone in the green square. If you find it hard to walk away when salespeople are pitching to you, just give the green square a wide berth.

New York is a wonderful city, 99% full of wonderful people. However, like you will find in any city in the world, there are people who will take advantage of vulnerable tourists. While I hope you enjoy the city, and open yourself up to everything it has to offer, I also hope my story helps to remember to always keep your wits about you and listen to your gut.

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