Common Scams in Krakow and Eastern Europe

Krakow is a fantastic place to visit. Poland’s 2nd largest city and most visited destination has an amazing wealth of history, architecture and is one of the best places in Europe to enjoy a few drinks out. Unfortunately, like other major Eastern European cities, for example Prague, Budapest and Riga, the boom in tourism has also seen a spike in a small minority of people who seek to take advantage of visitors. Here are 5 common scams in Krakow, sometimes involving “legitimate businesses,” to be aware of during your visit. These are also good to keep in mind when traveling to many other countries, but should not deter you from the wonderful experience of exploring this awesome region.

St. Mary's Church in main square of Krakow, scams in krakow

1)  Currency Exchange Scam – There are loads of legitimate looking places to exchange money in the Stare Miasto (Old Town) of Krakow. Unfortunately many of them are scams. I had read about this before visiting and witnessed a man near the main square get taken advantage of. The rate posted at the front entrance of the exchange shop showed 4.17 zloty to the euro, with no commission. That was too good to be true because that was the “real” exchange rate. When I entered a German sounding man was demanding his money back after just being conned. The employee behind the counter pointed to a different sign posted on the wall next to him showing that the value rate was only on sums in excess of 4,000 zloty (nearly 1,000 euro!). The exchange rate on less than 4,000 zloty was trickily posted at a meager 3 zloty to the euro. The man exchanged 100 euro and they took a 29 euro commission. Completely ridiculous. Be sure to double check currency exchange outlets and even ask for a printed receipt of what you will get before handing any money over. Here are some general tips on ways to save on exchanging money.

 Money in Poland, scams in krakow

2) Drinks Scam – I wrote an entire post about several scam propositions I received in Budapest last year. I was actually not propositioned in Krakow but it does happen frequently. The gist is that 2 girls, also pretending to be tourists, will approach a male tourist asking if he has a map. They’ll strike up a conversation and tell the man they know a good place to have a drink. The unsuspecting male will go along to the scam bar and have several drinks. After a few drinks he’ll be presented with a bill equivalent to several hundred euro. If you try to get out of paying these mob run establishments have ATM’s and giant burly guys that will rough you up. There are several scam bars in Krakow, Hard Candy is just one of them. As a general rule, you usually shouldn’t patronize establishments that do not have drink prices posted on their menu out front. And even then, double check the menu inside. Bell and I had beers at a middle of the road scam bar in Riga a couple years ago. They had cheap beer prices posted out front but the menu inside had cocktails listed in the range of 25-30 euro, and the place wasn’t at all fancy. Luckily Bell did not order the 25 euro Cosmo!

Ripoff Nightclub, scams in krakow
3) Taxi Scam – Taxi drivers anywhere can take you the long way. But in Krakow there are additional taxi tricks to be aware of. Some may turn on night or weekend meters during the day, or try to trick you into saying you paid less than you did. Be sure you know how exactly how much you handed over to your driver upon arrival at your destination. Also, any legitimate taxi company will have their rates posted out the front of the taxi. They are usually around 7 zloty to start (under 2 euro) for the first kilometer and around 2.5 zloty for each additional kilometer. Do not get into any taxi that does not have posted rates similar to these.

4) Credit Card Scam – Some visitors to Poland have been known to be awoken in their hotel in the middle of the night by “the receptionist” asking them to verify credit card details. After the tired and disoriented traveler reads them over, they might be in for a shock the next time they see their credit card statement. You should also air on the side of caution handing your card over in certain shops. As a general rule of thumb, we usually prefer to pay cash in restaurants anywhere in the world because when your card is taken from your site, you never know who might steal your card details.

5) Good Samaritan Scam – This is another scam that I’ve only read about, and did not actually witness. You should apparently be wary of random people in train stations who offer to help you use a ticket machine or show you to your seat. People might use “assisting” you at the ticket machine to take your money and run. And if they show you to your seat, they may ask you to pay a tip for this “service.”

 

Old Town (Stare Miasto), scams in krakow
 

Horse and carriage ride at Wawel Castle, scams in krakow

And of course pick pocketing is something to be wary of in cities all over the world. Never carry your wallet in your back pocket in any busy city. And be wary of intentional distractions that may throw you off guard as pickpockets sometimes work in groups. Again, Krakow is a fantastic place to visit and none of the things mentioned should deter you from visiting this wonderful city. But it’s a good idea to check the “dangers and annoyances” of anyplace you travel to.

 

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11 thoughts on “Common Scams in Krakow and Eastern Europe

  1. A read of a guy who took a stroll in the evening in Warsaw. He saw a beautiful young woman lying at the mouth of a narrow alley who was crying in despair. He leant over her to help and a second later he had a gun at his head and the woman was smiling.
    When the concierge spotted him re-entering the hotel barefoot, he didn’t ask questions.

  2. Wow, that’s messed up. As a society we don’t need more excuses not to help strangers in despair in cities… Makes it far worse that she was smiling about it. Shows no sign of conscience.

    1. Scams are not only directed toward tourists as one may think though, it happens with everything, everywhere, at every opportunity. It is very hard to do anything at all in this part of the world.

      1. Thanks for the comment, rmonteux. That’s an interesting point you bring up. As a tourist you sometimes just focus on what directly affects you, but I certainly can imagine what you’re saying. Considering that dodgy currency scams and bars operate like “legitimate businesses” where the authorities are clearly turning a blind eye (I’m assuming some big players have investments here), it must frequently be challenging for many locals to conduct honest business with one another (though that can be the case in any country, to varying degrees).

  3. I was seeing a lot of foreign exchange scams in Asia, too, although I never saw the dual rate listings. Sneaky. I remember in China, the banks were sometimes even complicit in the scams, in that they allowed scammers to operate on the premises in exchange for a kickback. There were times I was told at the window that they’re “out of money”. As I turned to leave, a helpful stranger looking to exchange just the currency I needed was suddenly standing right behind me in line. Very subtle…

    1. That’s interesting and unfortunate about Chinese bank employees being in cahoots with scammers. We’ve never been to China (would love to go someday). I have a good buddy who lives in Shanghai and he told me he’s had to bribe the port authority to collect overseas shipments of normal stuff. He and his fiance just sent us a wedding invitation which arrived at our apartment already opened (perhaps a Chinese postal employee opened it to see if there was money inside the card).

  4. Just returned from Krakow where I have been four times without issue, however on this occasion we fell for the Drinks Scam at Hard Candy. My mate and I were approached in the main square by two girls claiming to be from Warsaw and asking for directions to a bar, when my mate produced his map they invited us to accompany them for a drink. Suffice to say on arrival at the bar the girls ordered two drinks for us and two for them, and we were presented with a bill for 500 zloty (near £100). When we questioned the bill we were told we couldnt leave until it was paid whereby a big fella appeared and growled at us. Unfortunately for them I am a big fella too and gave him my meanest Liverpool scowl. They asked us to pay by card to which I refused, we then pushed our way past the bouncer and left. We reported it to the local Police who, although sympathetic, said it wasnt illegal as the prices were displayed on menu’s inside. Obviously I felt a stupid for falling for such a scam, but we were lucky to get away, some might not be so fortunate.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Scousefire! Excellent work bulldozing your way through the bullying bouncer. I imagine several people complain about this at the police station every single day. You guys are indeed very lucky, because most will feel forced to pay! It’s good you had backup, because apparently the girls/scam bars like Hard Candy find guys traveling alone to be easier pray.

  5. Just back from a long stay in Krakow…..been scammed over along period by a Ukrainian student, young beautiful girl, who has promised the Earth (love and marriage) who I met in a strip-club (where she works 2 nights a week) and then arranged to meet outside the club on a regular basis….all well for 4-5 months 9as I was working over there) until I catch her red handed doing the same thing with another guy from the same club…..never gave any money, but a fortune in dances and drinks at the club. Love is blind…..beware!

    1. Hey Jason Paul. Thank you for sharing this story here. Love can indeed be blind sometimes and something like this can happen anywhere. All the best to you moving forward from this.

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