Prague Scams and Frauds
I’ve witnessed these Prague scams and I’ve been affected by them. They spoil holidays and leave a bad taste in the mouth. Some are blatant but you can’t prove otherwise. Others make it look like it was your fault. This page will tell you how to prepare yourself, what to watch out for and how to prevent being scammed.
The Petition Scam
This comes and goes but when it’s working you’ll find these people everywhere in the centre of town. It works in the following way. A man or woman will walk up to you with a smile. They’ll show you a clipboard which will have a petition sheet on it (Czech and EU National flags etc) and at least 6 or 7 signatures on it already. If you sign it then you will immediately be asked for a donation and they’ll point to the previous signatures and how much they donated. Of course the previous signatures are fake but having signed you will come under tremendous pressure to give something. Any money you give will NOT be going to any worthy cause.
HOW TO BEAT THIS SCAM: Politely refuse the offer to sign.
Prague Taxi Scams
Fast Meter: Taxi tariff looks ok but, closer inspection of the mileage will show that the distance travelled is not enough based on the total fare charged.
Scenic Route: Taxi tariff and distance appear correct for the journey but, you went a lot further than necessary.
Wrong Tariff: The mileage travelled by the taxi appears to be correct but the price is inflated. Often this is inflated by a “luggage tariff” i.e. like if you took the taxi from the airport. Driver will probably explain it as “local tax”.
Bad Change: Check your change. Sometimes it’s been known for taxi drivers to give almost useless Russian Roubles in the change. You won’t realise it until you take the money out of your wallet to pay for something else and can’t understand where they came from.
Wrong Hotel: You tell the taxi driver to take you to the Central Hotel and he takes you to the Hotel Central. He then takes you to the correct hotel and charges extra.
HOW TO BEAT THESE PRAGUE SCAMS: Don’t flag a taxi on the street if you can and absolutely don’t get in one parked in a major tourist area. If I need a taxi in town I will walk into a big hotel and ask them to call me a taxi from AAA, Profi-Taxi or Halo. These are reputable firms with drivers that generally don’t rip you off. Specifically for the “Wrong Hotel” scam, write the info clearly on a piece of paper so the taxi driver has no reason to go to the wrong place and if he does, you don’t pay the extra. Specifically for the “Bad Change” taxi scam, you must be familiar with what Czech banknotes look like (these can be seen on the Money page). Take a look at the No Stress Guide to Using Prague Taxis.
The External ATM’s have been targeted in the past for a copy scam. There are two types:
1) Advanced. A false top plate and card reader plate appear normal but, the bank rejects the request. A camera in the top plate of the ATM has recorded your PIN and the card reader has enough information to make an identical card.
2) Basic. The card slot is again manipulated but this time you don’t get your card back. It’s a mechanical card catcher. You put the card in and it still requests your PIN. Whilst you are entering the PIN somebody will be standing close enough to film you by camera or mobile. You get no money and it appears to keep your card. If your PIN was filmed the culprits simply remove the card catcher from the machine and use your card to withdraw cash.
HOW TO BEAT THESE PRAGUE SCAMS: Don’t use an external ATM. If you have to, cover the keypad with your free hand as you enter the code. If you are rejected twice, let somebody else try the suspect ATM, if they get rejected inform the bank and ask them to check the machine.
It is safer and more convenient to use an ATM located within a bank and as large denomination notes are frequently given, the bank will break them down to smaller denominations free of charge. Be aware that although the ATM is located in a bank, it may not be operated by the bank. The CSOB bank uses a contractor to operate it’s ATM system. Note that this does not eliminate problems but it does reduce them. An ATM within a shop or private building are notorious for breaking down and keeping cards. At least if the bank ATM breaks down you’ve got a better chance of getting your card back the next day.
Always ask the ATM for a receipt and keep it even if you get the money ok. I’ve known it several times that tourists think the transaction has not worked but, in fact the account was debited. Take it up with your credit card company or bank and give them the receipt details. If you get no ATM receipt, make a note of the bank name, street, local time and amount requested in local currency.
Prague Fake Police Scams
The situation will be as follows. You will be walking down a quiet street but, may not necessarily be on your own. It works in one of two ways. 1) You are approached by someone with an open wallet and banknotes in his hand, he may ask if you have “change”. As he begins to speak to you, a second person appears who will show you some kind of identification and inform you that he is a police officer. He will ask to see your wallet. While he has your wallet his accomplice will distract you as the “police officer” removes a high value banknote from your wallet. He then thanks you for your time and gives you the wallet back. The “police officer” may then “arrest” the accomplice or simply walk off. Of course, they may simply run if they find the wallet contains a lot of cash.
HOW TO BEAT THESE PRAGUE SCAMS: It generally cannot be beaten by a non Czech speaking person unless you can keep your eyes on the wallet at all times, so it’s down to damage limitation. This can be a serious situation and it only happens to tourists. You may be on your own against two people possibly armed with knives. The only deterrent here is not to carry much cash or credit cards or in other words, carry only what you can afford to lose. If you carry a wallet, don’t leave all your cash in it. As I understand, they ask only to see the wallet.
There’s another variation. You leave a shop having bought something expensive, usually electrical or jewellery and have left the shop. Again you will be challenged by someone who will identify themselves as shop security. You both go back into the shop which is normally busy. He asks to see your receipt and asks for your bag. A second person will now distract you and before you know it, both men and your bag will have gone. HOW TO BEAT THIS SCAM: Never let go of the bag.
Prague Restaurant Scams
Overcharging: Of course this includes overcharging scams but, it has been known for the odd leather jacket or silk scarf to go missing as well, even from smart restaurant cloakrooms.
Bread/Pretzels on the table: is the first and most popular of the Prague scams. This can be cut bread, rolls or pretzels. If you don’t want to pay then ask them to take it away. Even if you don’t use it, if it’s on the table then you pay.
Group payment: Prague scams normally centre on the number of beers or side dishes consumed. As the waiter will normally ask if you want to pay “together” then expect to pay 10% more than the correct price as in general it’s pretty easy to squeeze in a few extra beers or plates of chips etc.
Hand-written bill: Prague scams – Alarm bells should be going off if you do not get an itemised bill. In a Czech pub or “pivnice”, it’s usual for beers or bar food to be marked on paper and the cost calculated at the end (since 2017 all restaurants are required to give you an itemised bill). In restaurants this is not usual practice and even if you ask to pay “separately” you will almost certainly be overcharged for something.
Service charge: Prague scams – Many central Prague places already include a service charge and should notify the customer of this when they get the bill. Sometimes they forget.
Pay by weight Scam: In a restaurant this is a “pork knuckle” and “duck” scam but can be applied to any food offered by weight. The scam is that on the menu you see a price for your meal and order it. What you might not notice is a little “*” or some indicator almost invisible to the naked eye which will be noted somewhere in the menu that the actual weight of the meat you will be paying for is probably 4 times what you think. This is possible because unless the menu specifically says “quarter” or “half”, then you could get a whole duck or large pork knuckle etc. In a market environment watch out for the price and then a really small “per 100g” close to it. Again if you get a 300g portion that will be 3 times more than you thought you were going to pay. I’ve now written an Understanding Pay By Weight post to help you especially in markets.
HOW TO BEAT THESE PRAGUE SCAMS: There are a couple of things that you can do. Keeping a menu on the table will knock out most of the chances of overcharging. Asking for an itemised bill should prevent everything else. Itemised bills should state if a service charge has been included. For “Pay by weight” you must agree in advance. My own general advice is you pay what you think it’s worth. I’ve found overcharging to be more prevalent in the “original Czech pub” environment which generally does not have itemised billing (UPDATE: from June 2017 it is now law that pubs and restaurants must give you an itemised bill).