New York City’s mayor likes to say that this is the “safest big city in America,” and data does back him up on this. But, as safe as it is, that doesn’t mean you should come to New York with your wallet open and your guard down. Tourists and locals alike are still susceptible to being scammed during their time in the city. Here are a few of the most common NYC scams to look out for:
The Discounted MetroCard Scam
As you go in and out of the subway, you may encounter individuals trying to sell you a MetroCard swipe at a discounted rate. I know that transportation charges can add up pretty quickly in the city, but before you even entertain these “salesmen,” be aware of two things. 1. Only MetroCard vending machines and a few selected stores are allowed to sell MetroCards, and 2. the MetroCard this jerk is trying to sell you has no money on it. So you’ll be left swiping your empty MetroCard at the turnstile like a dufus while some scammer is long gone your cash.
The Staten Island Ferry Scam
The Staten Island Ferry is free and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! The last time you had to pay for the ferry was July 3rd, 1997 and at that time it only cost 50 cents. Stay away from anyone trying to sell you ferry tickets.
The Statue of Liberty Ticket Scam
Commit this to memory: Statue Cruises is the only company in NYC that provides ferry rides to and from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. So if anyone tries to sell you a ticket to the Statue of Liberty and they’re not sitting behind a booth at Castle Clinton, you’re being scammed. The same can be said for admission to other attractions in NYC: if the person selling you the ticket is not someone sitting behind a booth, they’re swindling you.
The Double Gratuity Scam
Tipping at restaurants is customary throughout the US, but don’t do it absentmindedly. Some greedy eateries already factor the gratuity into your bill AND then have the nerve to include a “tip’ line on the check. That means if you’re not a careful reader, you’ll end up paying a tip twice.
The CD Scam
In New York, your rule of thumb should be to never accept anything some rando on the street tries to hand to you. That’s a surefire way to end up paying for an unwanted mixtape. You see, what happens is some guy shoves a CD in your hand and will engage you in conversation. He’ll tell you about his musical aspirations and then pressure you into giving him money for the CD he gave you. If you try to give the CD back, he won’t take it, so the best thing you can do at that point is to put the CD on the ground and walk away. Don’t be intimidated into paying these punks because most of the time, the CD you’ve just payed for is a blank disk.
The Buddhist “Monk” Scam
This is like the CD scam, but worse because in this case, the scammers are impersonating Buddhist monks. The so-called monk will walk past you and hand you a small token like a bracelet. Then he’ll ask you for a “donation.” If you don’t donate or if the monk isn’t pleased with the amount you’ve given him, he’ll berate you. The last time I checked, this isn’t very monk-like behavior. It’s best not to engage them at all, as these guys aren’t really monks and the only cause they’re interested in is lining their pockets.
The Costumed Characters Scam
Don’t be too quick to snap a photo with the large-than-life Mickey Mouse you see at Times Square. If you’re going to take a photo with a costumed character, be prepared to pay. These masqueraders expect tips of at least $5 and if you don’t pay them, they’ll be pretty upset. At worst, they might get more than a little aggressive with you.
The Artist Upgrade Scam
Not going to lie: those personal sketches that sidewalk artists do near Times Square and Central Park are pretty cool and they make good souvenirs. But before you sit down in front of the artist’s easel, be extremely clear on what type of drawing you’re agreeing to. Make sure you articulate that you’re expecting a simple black and white caricature or a realistic color portrait. Do not let the artist go above and beyond, because they will charge you extra for their added flare, turning your $5 sketch into a 20-buck mistake.
I hope this list of NYC scams hasn’t given you the wrong impression about New Yorkers. Overall, we’re decent, hard-working folk, but we have our bad apples like anywhere else. Just steer clear of anyone who approaches you on the street, especially around tourist hotspots and you should be fine.
If you want more tips on what else to avoid while you’re in NYC, check out my article on What You Should Skip When Visiting New York (And What You Should Do Instead).