I can’t say enough good stuff about the Big Apple. But if there’s one thing that ruins the experience for me and the millions of visitors to this fine city, it’s the scams. Sure, it’s expected for such a popular destination, but nevertheless, it’s a pain the ass to deal with. Here are ten that you should be aware of.
1. THE COSTUMED CHARACTER
I mean, their costumes aren’t even that nice. So why even bother having your photo taken with them—and get charged $10 for it? Just walk away.
2. THE CD HUSTLERS
This happens around Times Square—so beware! A random man would approach you and ask you if you like hip-hop or rap music, as he is an aspiring artist who just pressed his first CD. He’ll give you one, then ask you to pay for it (although he won’t really say the word “pay”). If you refuse, his cohorts will approach and intimidate you to coughing up the money.
Lesson here: Don’t even entertain their question. Sometimes, they’ll pull off a switcheroo: They’ll extend their hand as if to shake yours, then give you the CD. A firm “No” is all you have to do when dealing with them.
3. THE COMEDY SHOW TICKET SELLER
You’re walking around Times Square, admiring the neon lights you’re being bathed in, and a stranger casually approaches you and asks if you would like tickets to a comedy show happening downtown, where
But you arrive at the comedy bar—and you shortly realize you’ve been had. It’s not the huge venue that was promised to you; the comedians you expected to see are nowhere in sight; the acts performing that evening aren’t even that funny; there’s a two-drink minimum (and an automatic 18 percent gratuity tacked on with every drink order); and a ticket at the door is only $20.
4. THE STATUE OF LIBERTY FERRY BOATS
The iconic Lady Liberty is a must-visit for anyone visiting New York City, location notwithstanding. Unsurprisingly, you get bombarded with scammers the moment you step outside the two subway stations that Google Maps tells you to take. Bright orange-vested individuals will ask you if you already have tickets to the Statue of Liberty—they do sell them, but as part of the Visit NYC package, and at an inflated price. The only place where you can buy tickets at the correct price is at Castle Clinton National Monument, nowhere else.
Statue Cruises is the only authorized ferry boat to dock at both Ellis and Liberty Islands. Any other cruises at Battery Park will just offer you a view of the statue from afar.
If you don’t have four hours to spend visiting Liberty Island, take the free Staten Island Ferry, sit on the right side of the boat, and enjoy la statue de la Liberté.
5. THE ACCIDENTAL BUMP
So you move away from NYC’s tourist spots and you’re thinking “Thank god the scams are gone.” Unfortunately for you, they don’t go away that easily. The bump-and-drop scam occurs frequently around neighborhoods with a high percentage of bars—and as the night progresses, drunk people.
The scam is fairly standard: You “accidentally” bump someone, they drop whatever they have on a sealed black plastic bag, you hear the sound of glass breaking. They come up to you and tell you that you broke their expensive bottle of wine (HA!) and have to pay. First off, you didn’t; and they are morons.
Another specie of this scam are the eyeglasses men. Same M.O., different broken object.
6. THE “I ONLY NEED A DOLLAR TO GET HOME”
This scam happens most commonly at the two main transportation hubs of the city: Port Authority and Grand Central.
While you’re waiting for your train or bus, a stranger makes an announcement that he’s headed for some town outside of New York City but is short by a few dollars. They then ask for kindness in your hearts to give them the amount they need so they can go home. Since the ticket booth is far from the loading area, you never really see whether they make do with what they said.
I bet you a dollar they’re back at the same place, peddling the same scam, after just a few hours.
7. THE “BUY A SWIPE FOR CHEAP”
A fairly common scam that happens anywhere there’s a subway station, someone comes up to you while you’re trying to buy a subway card from the machines, selling you a $20 card that they “bought by mistake” for $15.
What you’ll end up getting is an expired unlimited card (that you can’t refill) or one that has $0 in it.
8. THE SHADY CAB
Getting scammed at the airport sucks balls. Do not entertain anyone offering you a ride to your destination that isn’t your Uber/Lyft/Via car or an officially licensed yellow cab.
Just a reminder, a one-way taxi ride from JFK to Manhattan is $52 + the cost of toll + NY state tax of $0.50 + tip. (If you’re traveling on weekdays from 4-8 p.m. there is an additional $4.50 surcharge. Not applicable during American holidays.)
9. THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING NOT-REALLY AUTHORIZED TICKET AGENTS
I’ll come off like a broken record here, but the surefire way to not get scammed during your trip in the city is to buy tickets to its most popular sights only at the official avenues—their website or at the ticket counter at the attraction. I could not emphasize this any more than at the Empire State Building. This attraction is notorious for long waits, so it comes as no surprise that scammers have taken advantage of visitors’ impatience.
The spiel is the same: ID-clad individuals with a vest saying they are “authorized ticket agents” will try to sell you a VIP, skip-the-line ticket to the ESB. Know that the only way that you can skip the line is if you buy the express pass at the ticket counter inside the ESB. Agents outside the building are unable to sell them.
Bottom line, if there’s a long wait at the ESB when you arrive, consider coming back after 10 p.m., when the line is usually at its shortest. And make sure you don’t transact with anyone other than those inside the building.
10. THE MONEY SWITCH
This doesn’t happen often because most people use credit cards while in the United States. However, in some neighborhoods where cash is what drives most transactions, an unscrupulous vendor would switch out a part of the money you handed to them with lower-value ones—say, $1 for a $20 bill—then claim that you didn’t pay them enough.
Avoiding this scam is easy: Count the money in plain view, where both parties could see it. And do not take your eyes away from the bills until you get your change.