Scams in Prague

What to look out for in Prague

Ryan Scott

Written by Ryan Scott Published on 09.06.2011 13:41:10 (updated on 09.06.2011) Reading time: 5 minutes

From my own experience, I’ve yet to experience a scam – some frustrating dealings with government offices, some sub-par service, but nothing I’d call a scam. However, after asking around, I saw that others were not so fortunate.

By scam, I mean anything in which people profit from the ignorance of someone else. Some scams are definitely illegal while others are just unpleasantly dishonest. The following are what some respondents have experienced.

This works in a number of ways. Restaurants don’t print prices or English and Czech menus show different prices. If in doubt – ask to see the Czech menu. If the restaurant claims not to have any menus, leave. In the center of Prague, there are many restaurants and you’ll be able to find an honest one.

Another common complaint is charging, sometimes exorbitantly, for bread.  I should point out charging for bread in itself is not a scam, but a lot of restaurants may not inform you. Once again, check the prices or ask.

The same goes for those pretzels dangling so innocently in the center of the table. After a few beers they can be awfully tempting. But they’re not free. So if you think your willpower will diminish after a few beers (and given where you might end up after a few beers, we can assume it will) ask the waiter to take the pretzels away, or at least ask the price.

Having said that, this is one of those scams I personally haven’t encountered after several years of eating my way through the cities restaurants, so I wouldn’t say it is widespread; rather there a few establishments out to make some extra crowns from the unsuspecting.

Changing Money
You can be scammed in two ways with exchange. One is illegal and the other is quasi-legal. In the gray area, exchange offices will advertise a higher rate which only applies to large sums of money. The only time you realize is when you’ve handed over your dollars, pounds or euros and got much less than you expected in return. So check the rates and commissions.

The absolutely illegal variant is someone approaching you on the street to change money. People think they’re getting a good rate only to discover they’ve been given counterfeit notes. The Czech police consider this to be such a problem that they even have a mobile stall advising people. The only way to guarantee you won’t be scammed is to NEVER change money with anyone who is not in an exchange office or a bank.

ATM Scams
This scam has been widely reported across the globe. A fake reader can be inserted into an ATM machine and steal data while a camera records your pin, as can be seen on this article at Snopes. A more recent a lo-tech approach was apparently a sticky money slot.

Another well-known scam is the so-called ‘Lebanese loop’, which Snopes also investigated. The Czech press have warned people about it too.

Undercover Undercover Police
You’re minding your business in central Prague and someone approaches you claiming to be a police officer. He flashes some indication – it could be his bus pass, but you’re new and hey, this guy says he’s a cop, and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law already. The guy then claims he’s checking for forged bank notes and would like to see your wallet. Forged bank notes! Well, it’s a good thing this guy came along…

Sadly this scam can also be the preamble to a robbery, so while it’s easy to say don’t hand your wallet to someone, I wouldn’t want to advise people putting their lives at risk, either.

Inspect the Inspectors
It seems there is no end to the subterfuge scammers will employ. Another trick is for a person to claim to be a ticket inspector and claim a fine. The inspectors from the Prague Metropolitan Transport  Service (DPP) are required to display a badge and are usually dressed in blue uniforms. Some do travel ‘incognito’ but they will show you the badge too. Also an inspector will write out a ticket you are not required to pay straight away; it is only cheaper if you do (700 CZK on the spot, 950 CZK at the office). For more information and an example of the inspector’s badge, check this page.

Other Disguises
It is a reality that some people come to Prague not to enjoy the history or the architecture. They are after more earthly delights. If you are among these people, you probably want to exercise caution.

For example, if you are responding to a personal ad, check whether or not money will be expected to change hands.

It can also happen that someone will approach you, offering ‘adult services’ in the early hours. To show that they’re serious, they grope the prospective client. The client goes to fight off the unwanted attention and in the next second, his wallet is gone.

Even if the situation doesn’t transpire quite as innocently as described, the point is that there are enough establishments in Prague that offer these services without you having to put your valuables in danger.

Real Estate
Perhaps, you’ve experienced this before. You want to rent a place but before you’ve been shown the flat or house, the estate agent asks for a deposit to show that you can pay. Or when it comes to terminating your lease, you’ll find that your landlord doesn’t return all of your security deposit though there is no visible damage.

These problems have been addressed before so I’ll only say briefly don’t hand over any money unless you have something in writing and you have made clear the terms of the lease. It is probably also better to rent through a recognized company with some experience with foreign clientčle, rather than privately. Lastly, make sure that as a prospective tenant you won’t be charged a fee by the agency for finding you the flat.

Right, now that we’ve put the fear of God into you, it’s time to remind you that these are the scams that people have come forward about. You’re time in Prague won’t only be spent fending off con-men and shysters…or will it? You tell us.

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