New York City – where wall street wannabes come to make money, fashionistas walk the posh shopping districts, and sadly, where some people just want to make a quick buck through scams.
It’s not just people in NYC that try to rip off unsuspecting tourists, this is true in most cities. But there are some scams that are notorious in New York, and I witnessed nearly all of these during my short trip there earlier this year.
Read on to find out what you should watch out for in New York, and how to avoid the most common New York scams.
1. Unofficial cabs at JFK airport
When you’ve gone through passport control and baggage reclaim in JFK, you’ll be able to quickly see the Taxi line. You can’t miss the large yellow signs stating where to get an official yellow cab from. If anyone approaches you on your way to that queue stating that they can offer you a cheaper ride, or that you’ve gone to the wrong line – do not listen to them! They’re either trying to take you to a quiet area to mug you, charge you obscene amounts for your taxi fare, or are trying to avoid paying airport fees to pick up passengers. Just stick with safety and grab the official yellow cabs.
2. CD bullies and Times Square CD hustlers
You may come across people wanting to give you a ‘free’ CD… actually, call it ‘free’ anything. Nothing is free in New York. If you take the CD, or whatever it is someone’s trying to offer you, they’ll quickly demand at least $5, if not more than that. And if you don’t give them what they’re asking for, they can get nasty. If you want to take home a CD as a souvenir, just head to a legitimate shop – it’s much safer!
3. Cheap subway tickets and cards
In many subway stations (even those off the beaten track), you’ll notice people trying to sell you a cheap subway ticket or card. They’ll often cry that you’re going to pay extra at the machines, but the chances are very high that the ticket they’re offering only has enough on it to get you through the barrier once, rather than a full day or several days ticket they would have charged you for.
4. Unofficial tickets, tours and attractions
Particularly around popular tourist destinations like Times Square, you’ll likely have a number of people try to sell you some kind of tour, or ticket to a popular attraction. Just don’t bother! Buy your ticket from the official box office, or in advance online. The scamming touts may be pushy, they may insult you, heck, they may even try intimidating you… just walk away.
5. The Staten Island Ferry
Although this comes under the heading of not buying from street touts, it’s such a common NYC scam that I thought it needed its own paragraph. The Staten Island Ferry is FREE! Therefore, anyone trying to sell you a ticket outside the ferry terminal is a liar and a scammer.
6. Pedicab ripoffs and overcharges
If you’re going to make like a tourist and hop in a pedicab, or horse drawn carriage ride (generally around Central Park), then beware of some who will try to rip you off or overcharge you. To avoid this scam, ensure you agree your fare upfront with the driver. By law, pedicab drivers are actually supposed to advertise their prices on the front of the cab, although some will try to get away with not doing this if possible. If the price they’re quoting is too much, just walk away… they’ll likely call you back with a lower price anyway. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect to pay between $3 to $7 per minute, per ride, while the main pedicab operator’s website has prices by the hour as shown here.
7. TV and movie characters posing for a photo
This one is true of anyone wanting to pose for your photo in most cities, although this is highly prevalent in New York (particularly in and around Times Square). A quick pose for a photo by Spiderman or Miss Piggy is not technically free! If you’re determined to get a photo with your favourite TV or movie character, then agree the price upfront before having the photo taken, and keep an eye on your personal belongings while posing (just in case).
8. Fake ‘monks’ in New York City
One last thing to watch out for in New York, and a very common scam around the city, is people posing as monks. They’ll try to offer you some kind of ‘gift’ such as some incense, or to ask you to sign their wishbook or something, only to then demand money afterwards. Just politely avoid these people at all costs just to be on the safe side.