Central London from above

Five bizarre London scams that you need to know about

The streets of London may not actually be paved with gold, but that doesn’t stop scammers trying to make a quick “pony” at your expense.

Whether you’re a Brit or a foreigner visiting London, things play out a little differently in the capital, and you need to know the score. 

In a list of 128 European cities, London ranks 19th in terms of crime and safety.

Street scams can happen to anyone, but the more you know, the lower your chances are of being caught out. 

Here are five of the most common scams you’ll come across in London and how you can easily avoid them. 

Scam #1: Free flowers

It’s always nice to receive flowers, right? Possibly not when you’re on the streets of London. 

A stranger will approach you and offer you a single-wrapped flower. It’ll appear like a lovely gesture from a person wanting to share some joy. 

That is until they decide to demand payment from you for the flower you just “bought”.

Many scammers will take a guilt angle, making you feel bad because they are poor. You may find people who are more aggressive in demanding money from you. 

Whichever version of the scam you get, the easiest way to avoid it is to just decline the offer of anything for free, no matter how kind and pleasant the situation initially feels. 

Scam #2: Street games

If you’ve really done your London research, you may have seen the famous Guy Ritchie movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

At the start, you’ll see the cup and ball game, where some of the characters hide a small ball under a cup, and a “punter” tries to guess which. 

The “punter” – actually a friend of the person playing the game – will consistently guess the right cup, and you’ll want to join in.

When you pay to guess where the ball is hidden, suddenly, the ball is nowhere to be seen, and your money is pocketed. 

If you’re ever tempted to play games for money on the streets of London, don’t. As the old saying goes, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”. 

Scam #3: Cheap perfume

Another classic representation of London life is the comedy Only Fools and Horses, in which you regularly see the main character Del Boy try out hair-brained get-rich-quick schemes. 

Something right out of Del Boy’s playbook is the fake perfume or watch scam.

Find yourself in the bustling street markets of London, and you’ll see cheeky street traders working hard to get your attention and your money – including selling what turns out to be fake goods. 

Anything that claims to be designer goods isn’t going to be on sale on the streets of London.

Want haute couture fragrance? Head over to Harrods and buy the real deal. 

Scam #4: Fake WiFi

As a tourist, free WiFi is always appreciated. When you settle down with a serving of jellied eels, you might want to check in with home or Google some of the cool things you’ve just seen. 

High-tech scammers can set up “fake” free WiFi that is able to track everything you do online.

They can see your card details being used to book theatre tickets or your email to your friend telling them your hotel room number that you won’t be in all day. 

It can be hard to spot a fake WiFi situation, but you can protect your data with a VPN UK set up.

Add a VPN to your phone and make sure you always connect to the internet with it, so that all of your data coming in and going out is encrypted and scammers can’t read your browsing. 

Scam #5: RFID scanners

Contactless payments are ubiquitous in London.

From tapping on and off the bus or tube to grabbing your tea and scone at a tearoom, everywhere takes your contactless card. 

Unfortunately, your card details can also be scanned and stolen, and it happens on the streets of London.

A scammer walks past you, runs their scanner over your pocket from a few centimetres away, and they can empty your bank account. 

The easiest way to keep yourself safe from this scam is to use an RFID-blocking wallet. They’re pretty common and inexpensive and will stop your London trip costing way over the odds.

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