Scams in Prague?
September 22, 2014 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Going to Prague soon. Will be careful about all of the usual perils that tourists face when they are sight-seeing in a different country -- keeping an eye on my possessions, trying to avoid becoming an easy or inviting mark for pickpockets, generally staying aware of my surroundings. Are there any non-obvious words of caution that the Hive can offer?

I am American and pretty suspicious by nature. In other countries I have encountered scams where cab drivers claim you paid with a smaller bill than you actually gave them, pickpocketers who drop shoeshine brushes as a distraction, invitations to special tea ceremonies, special foreign exchange rates on credit-card payments for souvenirs, and restaurants where it would have been unwise to give the waiter a credit card as payment. Are there any types of scams like these that might cause problems for the unwary in Prague?

Would also welcome any thoughts on how careful or suspicious one needs to be in Prague as a general matter. Imagine there's a spectrum between places where every stranger or street vendor is not above pulling a scam on the one hand and places where everyone you meet would turn in a wallet filled with cash to the lost and found on the other hand. Where do you think Prague falls on this (admittedly hypothetical) spectrum?

Looking forward to the trip, but basically trying to figure out whether I should be resigned to being badly overcharged for cab fares back to the hotel late at night. Děkuji!
posted by Slap Factory to Travel & Transportation around Prague, Czech Republic (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A week in Prague revealed no such scammers to me. The city struck me as very safe, in fact.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:25 PM on September 22, 2014

Prague is pretty chill. Taxi drivers are no more likely to rip you off there than in the US.
posted by fshgrl at 1:36 PM on September 22, 2014

trying to figure out whether I should be resigned to being badly overcharged for cab fares back to the hotel late at night.

I had this experience two out of five nights in Prauge. (This is fewer times than visitors staying with me in Cork have similarly been overcharged.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2014

Central Prague was almost unusually free of the street cons you'd see in say, Paris. Have a hot mulled wine, tip the blacksmiths in the square, and exercise a normal amount of city-awareness you'll be fine.
posted by The Whelk at 1:53 PM on September 22, 2014

Dobrý den! I was in Prague a month and a half ago. I've heard of cabs ripping you off, especially if you're going to or from the train station. This is secondhand— someone at my hostel had this happen to them. My guidebook warns about this specific scam.

That said, I found Prague otherwise quite comfortable and tourist-friendly. I hope you have a blast!
posted by yaymukund at 1:53 PM on September 22, 2014

The money-changing booths are a scam (or were when I was there - several years ago). Their advertised rates don't actually apply if you are changing foreign currency. When I said this to the guy behind the grille he pointed to some weasly one-line disclaimer (in a tiny font) at the bottom of the list of rates of exchange.
posted by TristanPK at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2014

Here's Lonely Planet's advice.

I was there last year. I was warned not to use taxis by a Czech businessman I met on the train to Prague. Pickpockets definitely seemed to be a thing. I got approached a few times by people trying to get me to change money: I suspect that would have been a bad idea. But overall, it didn't seem worse than most other large cities, as long as you're cautious.
posted by Pink Frost at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2014

The biggest scam I ran into in Prague is all the restaurants, merchants, and maybe even hotels insisting they could only charge my credit card in dollars, not Czech koruna. Every single place. That lets the bank/restaurant tack on 3-5% in nonsense fees. I did my best to argue in person and suddenly their English was very poor. This currency scam is not allowed by the credit card companies and I was stubborn enough to get refunds out of my CC company when I got back.

Other than that Prague is pretty mellow. It's intensely touristy, at least the old city center, but you just have to roll with that.
posted by Nelson at 2:54 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have an electronic copy of your travel documents somewhere online, and don't flash around big wodges of cash? Otherwise you'll be fine, Prague is half full of Americans anyway.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:54 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lived in Prague. Didn't need anything beyond basic city smarts. Know the currency and learn to count change on the fly quickly so as not to get deliberately short changed. Never had an issue with taxi. Make sure to have tickets for the tram as some of the folks enforcing the honesty system may be less so.

Not what you're asking, but good shoes. With support. Cobble stones + ankles don't mix.
posted by TravellingCari at 3:16 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recall that when I went there in the early 2000s, Prague was very walkable even late at night (if you watch out for packs of drunk tourists). Not sure if your hotel is out of the way or something, but you may not need much in the way of taxis anyway if you don't mind a walk. The only taxis we took over a week or so were to and from the airport.
posted by Hoopo at 3:46 PM on September 22, 2014

Don't check/use your wallet on the street. Pickpockets love hanging out around "WARNING: PICKPOCKETS IN AREA" signs, because when people see those, they reflexively check their wallets, and the pickpockets now know where they keep them. If you hear someone yell "THIEF!", don't check your wallet, for the same reason. Carry a few bucks in your front pocket for use at snack stands, and leave your wallet somewhere non-obvious. If you're in a shop, pay for your purchase, get your change, put it all back in your wallet, and stash it. Don't be fumbling with it as you leave a shop.
posted by Etrigan at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is kind of the opposite of a scam, but when I was there about ten years ago, I was approached as I got off the train by a dishevelled looking old woman who wanted something from me and didn't speak English. As she got angrier,I walked away faster and she grabbed my sleeve and I ran, and then there were police. And it turned out she was a legitimate ticket collector wanting to see my ticket, not a beggar or scammer. So there's that.
posted by lollusc at 4:37 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Would also welcome any thoughts on how careful or suspicious one needs to be in Prague as a general matter. Imagine there's a spectrum between places where every stranger or street vendor is not above pulling a scam on the one hand and places where everyone you meet would turn in a wallet filled with cash to the lost and found on the other hand. Where do you think Prague falls on this (admittedly hypothetical) spectrum?

I spent a month in Prague this summer for a combination of work and vacation. I went in slightly paranoid, and basically didn't think about most of this after being there for a bit, it was fine and really not something to stress about. I had a great time there, and the city is overall extremely safe. The main thing is to figure out how to do the currency conversion in your head (for USD, divide by 20) so you know what you are paying for things. As far as I'm concerned you don't even need to bother reading the rest of this post.

However, here's what I encountered or had reliable information about, mostly pretty minor:
  • Money changers. Just don't bother getting cash changed unless it's such a small amount that it won't matter, even the airport changers (which I assumed would be ok) had ridiculous charges hidden in their fee scheme. Definitely stay away from the ones all over the place in Prague itself. I'm sure there are changers that are ok but it's too much work to figure out which ones.
  • ATMs can also be a little tricky; many of them give you a choice between their rate, and your own, framed such that the latter looks like some sort of alarming and risky choice that could do who-knows-what to your bank account. (I think it basically says in an alarming way that it will charge you in CZK, which is actually what you want; this is a variant of the one Nelson describes.) But your rate is bound to be better so just choose that one. This one works because it is _really_ hard to figure out what you actually get charged. I only was able to figure this out with my bank statement up.
  • Tip at restaurants. Tip is 10% (and sort of but not really optional at anywhere decent) in Prague. Some waitstaff at restaurants in tourist places will hand-write e.g. a tip value that is 20% in with a new total, making it look like that is what you have to pay, but you are completely free to ignore this (and complain; you'll see this mentioned occasionally on tripadvisor as a complaint too). A variant is that if you look especially confused about the currency a waiter might "help" you with the tip, and then 20 minutes after leaving you'll realize they took 2x what they should have. I had both things happen to me at various places.
  • Taxis. Taxis are likely to rip tourists off to some degree, but one might not notice (especially on that first trip from the airport) for two reasons: you don't know how much the ride should cost, and even if you have some idea it takes a bit to get used to doing the currency conversion in your head, and the currency is different enough from USD or EUR that you won't be able to interpret the numbers at first. The locals were pretty up front and clear about the situation, and both the conference organizers and hotel people gave specific and useful advice about how to deal with taxis (e.g. a ride to the airport from X should cost Y; negotiate it up front). For a ride back to the airport in particular, you should be able to just let your hotel set this up for you. For example, the (local) conference organizers suggested only taking "AAA" or "111" taxis, and that the fare should not exceed CZK 600 from the airport to the new town square. There are plenty of honest taxis, too, but they're hard to differentiate. The three places I was told are particularly likely to get you ripped off are a ride from the airport, from the train station, and when picking one up late at night on the street. There's this famous story from nearly 10 years ago, and locals claimed to me that the situation is basically unchanged since. Also, I was told that the taxi-situation is Prague specific, so anywhere else in the Czech Republic is fine. I personally dodged having bad taxi rides but heard plenty of first-hand stories about them. Thankfully, the public transit (including the bus to/from the airport, which I recommend) is so good that you probably don't ever need to take a taxi if you don't want to.
I did not encounter or even hear of any pickpocketing (among the very large group I was with for the work part), and my guess is that it isn't any different in Prague than any other major city. I.e. there are plenty of pickpockets, they do some profiling based on age/race/touristiness, they operate mainly in extremely crowded places (so, old town), and most of them are more desperate and only marginally competent than they are Linus Caldwell-style artistes.

On preview:
And it turned out she was a legitimate ticket collector wanting to see my ticket, not a beggar or scammer. So there's that.

There is a kind of scam I heard about but have no direct evidence about, where people fake being this person (including the language thing). But the legit ones will show you a badge with the transit logo, so if someone does that, they probably want to see your ticket. I would actually be slightly suspicious of someone with this job who appears not to speak any English; I had my ticket checked once and his English wasn't great but it was definitely enough to communicate with American tourists. (All the transit is the kind based on random inspections by non-uniformed transit employees, so don't forget to validate any ticket you use.)
posted by advil at 5:20 PM on September 22, 2014

I see a lot of talk about cabs but if you are just sightseeing then be aware the attractions are very central and you will be able to walk to everything. Also the transit system is great so even a cab from the airport is unnecessary.
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:15 PM on September 22, 2014

The only "scam"my thing that happened to me in prague was buying old town ham on the street to eat. The listed price was something like, 5 USD and then it ended up being like 20USD because it turned out to be by weight, only they don't tell you til AFTER they've cut up the meat and weighed it for you.
posted by raw sugar at 8:49 PM on September 22, 2014

Best answer: I was in Prague for 3 (or 4?) days over Christmas this last year and had no trouble at all. Don't flash your cash, don't be conspicuously drunk, and I found it really easy to get around on foot/in the subway/with the trams (which are really rickety and fun to ride in a good way!) Word of warning: if you're staying in the Old Town, take a GOOD map and know if you should be going up or downhill because the small streets can be confusing and not very well-marked.

I had a few odd interactions where people intercepted me on public transit to ask me things in Czech. A few phrases of my poor Latin American Spanish meant they quickly gave up and went away. If you have any second language abilities at all (even very basic things like "I don't speak Czech"), I'd avoid using lots of English, since that's the language folks who want to chat you up/ask for things/get your attention will use (after Czech). Not speaking it solves that problem for you.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:01 PM on September 22, 2014

Unless your second language skills involve German, Russian or French. They speak those languages just fine (combination of history and current tourism patterns).

Anecdotally Welsh is the best language for this. Nobody learns Welsh outside of Wales.
posted by tinkletown at 2:57 AM on September 24, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the helpful responses. Prague was indeed very safe and comfortable. It was so walkable that taxis were not even really an issue. There was never a time -- when we walked around Old Town, New Town, Small Town, etc. -- when we felt concerned. It compares very favorably with places like Beijing or Istanbul or even Paris in its lack of scammers and touts, I think. In fact, there were some shopowners who actually asked some American tourists to show more decorum because they were laughing too loudly before Tyn Cathedral. Want to confirm that good behavior and a little bit of Czech language appears to go a long way with the locals. Really appreciate all the thoughts and advice.
posted by Slap Factory at 5:49 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

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