The Big Apple’s Bad Apples: 10 NYC Scams To Avoid

New York City – the concrete jungle where dreams are made…and wallets are occasionally emptied by wily scam artists. As a seasoned traveler or even a local New Yorker, it’s important to keep your wits about you and your grip on your cash. Join me on a whirlwind tour of the city’s most infamous scams, and learn how to sidestep these Big Apple bad apples.

The Port Authority Hustle: A Tale of Woe from Buffalo

Setting the Scene: You’re ambling through Midtown, minding your own business when a stranger approaches you with a sob story about being short on funds to get back home to Buffalo. Moved by their plight, you generously hand over a crisp $5 bill, wishing them well on their journey. Little did you know, you’ve just been played like a fiddle!

The Scam: Fifteen minutes later, you spot the same “stranded” individual spinning the same yarn to another unsuspecting tourist. This is no weary traveler – it’s a professional panhandler working the Port Authority/Penn Station area, day in and day out. They’ll be back tomorrow with a fresh supply of crocodile tears, but your $5 is long gone.

The Takeaway: Unless you’re prepared to finance this person’s entire acting career, it’s best to politely decline and keep walking. After all, if they really were from Buffalo, they’d know the suburbs are that way.

The Faux Monks of Manhattan

Setting the Scene: You’re taking in the sights and sounds of Times Square when a serene-looking individual in monk’s robes approaches, attempting to slip a bracelet onto your wrist. “A token of peace and good fortune,” they murmur, before asking for a “donation” to their temple. Aww, how spiritual!

The Scam: Here’s the cold, hard truth: these aren’t real monks, and there is no temple. They’re simply con artists capitalizing on cultural misunderstandings to separate you from your hard-earned cash. The “temple” they’re collecting for? Their own pockets.

The Takeaway: As tempting as it might be to support a higher cause, remember that real Buddhist monks take vows of poverty and wouldn’t be peddling overpriced knick-knacks on the street. Politely decline their offerings and continue on your merry way.

The Rhyming Rip-off: The CD Guys

Setting the Scene: You’re navigating the chaos of Times Square when a group of young men approach, thrusting CDs into your hands. “Here, take one, it’s free!” they exclaim with friendly smiles. Wow, score! You’ve always wanted to own that hot new album by…wait, who are these guys again?

The Scam: After you’ve accepted the “free” CD, the tables quickly turn. Suddenly, these budding rap artists are demanding payment, sometimes quite aggressively. Reports suggest the CDs may even be blank – the real crime here is against music itself!

The Takeaway: In this digital age of streaming, who even owns a CD player anymore? Unless you’re prepared to drop some serious cash on underground urban talent of questionable quality, keep those headphones firmly in your ears and those hands firmly in your pockets.

The Dropped Item Diversion

Setting the Scene: You’re strolling through a quieter neighborhood like the Village, lost in thought, when someone brushes past you. Suddenly, they’re shouting and pointing accusingly at the ground, where a bottle of liquor/glasses/medicine/old fries now lies.

The Scam: The scam artist deliberately bumped into you and dropped the item, then demands compensation for the product you “knocked” out of their hands. My seasoned New Yorker brother fell for this ruse back in the ’90s – I, however, kept walking confidently despite the shouted insults. They’re banking on your embarrassment and eagerness to make amends.

The Takeaway: Do not engage, do not make eye contact, and certainly do not pay them a cent. If they persist in following you, calmly explain that you know it’s a scam and are calling the authorities. Watch how quickly they scurry away to find a fresh mark.

The Hot Dog Hostage Situation

Setting the Scene: You’re feeling peckish and spot a friendly hot dog vendor amid the city bustle. “$2 for a dog? What a deal!” you think, placing your order. Moments later, you’re handed a water you didn’t ask for, and the total rings up to $5.

The Scam: Especially in tourist-heavy areas, some vendors will attempt to tack on extra charges for items you didn’t request or agree to purchase. Maybe the hot dog itself costs a steep $7 or $8. Without listed prices, the totals are completely arbitrary – and often outrageous.

The Takeaway: Before placing your order, always ask for a full price breakdown first. If the vendor tries to bounce around the question or seems shady, take your business elsewhere to one of NYC’s many upstanding hot dog heroes.

The Staten Island “Ferry” Tale

Setting the Scene: You’ve heard the Staten Island Ferry is one of the best ways to view the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan’s famed skyline…for free! As you approach the terminal, someone waves you down, offering to sell you ferry tickets.

The Scam: The Staten Island Ferry is, and always has been, completely free for passengers. These individuals are simply trying to make a quick buck off unsuspecting tourists by selling useless “tickets” for a ride that doesn’t require any.

The Takeaway: Buying from these scammers is like paying a guy on the street for sunlight. Take the crisp bills you were about to hand over, put them back in your wallet, and keep moving. The only money you’ll need is for an authentic NYC hot dog afterward!

The Tragically Unhip “Uber” at the Airport

Setting the Scene: You’ve just landed at JFK after a long, draining flight. Bleary-eyed, you spot a man holding an “Uber” sign amid the crowd and gratefully accept his offer of a ride into Manhattan. Finally, you can relax!

The Scam: Here’s the bitter truth: no legitimate Uber (or Lyft) driver can solicit riders at airport arrivals. They’re required to await rides through the app. That “Uber” guy just scored himself an outrageous fare, likely double what you would’ve paid through the app.

The Takeaway: No matter how tired or frazzled you might be after traveling, always order an official ride service through their app, and meet your driver at the designated pickup area. The only “Ubering” those curbside touts are doing is taking you for an overpriced ride.

The AirTrain Strain

Setting the Scene: You’re about to leave JFK Airport after a wonderful visit to NYC. As you head toward the AirTrain to catch your flight, a stranger asks if you have any MetroCards to spare. Figuring you don’t need it anymore, you gladly hand yours over.

The Scam: That person wasn’t an opportunistic traveler – they were a scammer acquiring unlimited-ride MetroCards to resell. Now, when you go to board the AirTrain, you’ll have to re-purchase a fresh $8 ticket, losing the remaining value on the card you handed out.

The Takeaway: Unless it’s a unlimited card with just a few rides left, hold onto those MetroCards until your journey is complete. Better yet, see if any fellow travelers are heading your way and could use your remaining balance. Sharing is caring, but beware of card collectors!

The Comedy of Terrors

Setting the Scene: You’re meandering through the madness of Times Square when a vendor aggressively waves you down with promises of uproarious laughter and a good time at a local comedy club. The enticements are endless: “See big-name stars tonight! Affordable tickets – last chance to get ’em!”

The Scam: The comedians may be hilarious, but the joke’s on you if you buy those tickets. Sales folks will conveniently leave out crucial details about obscene drink minimums that could potentially double or triple your budget for the evening.

The Takeaway: Unless you’re prepared to laugh through the sticker shock, always do your research and buy comedy show tickets through official, reputable sources. Grabbing them from aggressive touts is a surefire recipe for getting ripped off and having the last laugh.

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