7 Scams to Avoid if You Come to New York City

New York City attracts people with big dreams and a knack for making money. For centuries, capitalists and entrepreneurs have come together to build the greatest financial center in the history of the world.

Alas, this money-making spirit isn’t always a good thing: New York also has no shortage of scammers who prey on people with creative but shady schemes.

If you’re new to the Big Apple, don’t worry, most people are friendly and quick to help you out. But it never hurts to keep your guard up, especially if you’re a tourist. That’s why Fortune is offering this list of seven scams to watch for if you visit New York.

1. The Creepy Character Shakedown

creepy characters

You might find it charming to encounter your favorite TV and movie characters in Times Square. Spiderman, Dora, Elsa — they’re are all there. Some days, you can see four or five Elmos jostling for space on Broadway.

But some of these characters have a nasty streak you won’t see on TV. They can get aggressive with those who take their photo and fail to pay a big enough tip. There’s even been arrests: Spidey punched a cop, Cookie Monster groped a teenager and “Anna” from Frozen made off with some money. You’re best to steer clear of the whole gang.

2. The Ferry to Staten Island

Staten Island Ferry

A great way to see New York’s famous harbor, and to knock another borough of your list, is to hop aboard the iconic Staten Island ferry. Former mayor Mike Bloomberg even used the ferry for romantic dates when he was young.

Today, some people are so eager to ride the ferry they will shell out extra money to get aboard. Tourists have paid $28 and, in once case, $400 for a pair to street hawkers offering tickets. One problem: You don’t need tickets to ride the Staten Island ferry. It’s been free since 1997.

3. The Restaurant Bill Scam

Olive Garden

New York City has wonderful pizza, delis and fine dining of all sorts. But if you insist on sticking with the familiar—Olive Garden, Applebees and Red Lobster—all we can say is watch your wallet.

The Times Square location of all those restaurants have been busted for adding a gratuity to every bill and, for good measure, adding another line for an extra gratuity. Those not paying attention risk paying a tip on a tip. (Note that added gratuities are not uncommon—but only for larger groups, and the server should always tell you).

So always check the bottom of your Olive Garden bill. (Or you could always, you know, pick somewhere else to eat).

4. The Pedicab Rip-Off


One way to tour Central Park and mid-town Manhattan is in a cart towed by a bicycle. I’ve never seen the appeal but, if you think this sounds like fun, be careful. Pedicab drivers are notorious for using tricky pricing systems and made-up fees, and getting aggressive if you complain.

In one infamous example, a driver charged a tourist couple $442 for a ten-minute ride. That’s more than a limo or a helicopter. New York City recently imposed a pricing system, but the business still has a shady reputation. You’re better off choosing the subway or a cab or a horse or just about any other form of transport.

5. Subway Sneak Attack

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - June 21, 2013

This one’s old school but it’s still around. Veteran criminals known as “lush workers” prowl the subway with razor blades, and cut out the pockets of sleeping victims who have had too much to drink.

Yes, the greater subway danger today is a crook snatching your smartphone. But do you really want to explain to your friends why your pants are missing their pockets and your wallet is gone?

6. The “Buy My CD” Scam

This scam likely started on the west coast, but it’s now all over Manhattan and even Brooklyn. It works like this: A “musician” approaches with headphones and presses you to listen to his tunes. The next thing you know, a CD is in your hand and you’re facing a lot of pressure to buy it.

Reluctant to pay? The “musician” is likely to get nasty and, in some cases, call over his friends to get you to fork over some money. It scam ends with you walking away with a CD you don’t want, and may not even have any music on it.

7. “You Broke My Glasses!”

Broken Glasses

This one’s a New York classic. A mild-mannered individual steps out of the subway and bam! He or she bumps into a large man who accosts them and points to a pair of shattered eyeglasses.

“You broke my glasses,” he bellows, and explains they are expensive. You can guess where this going: The goon angrily demands payment for his precious eyewear.

It’s a scam. The glasses are cheap and the whole point is to extort a payment. The hustle, which sometimes relies on an “expensive” bottle of wine instead of glasses, has been going on for years. There is no obligation to pay anything.

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