A Viennese man who witnessed the scammers in action told the Kurier newspaper that he was showing some friends from Thailand around the Hofburg when they were approached by a group of people with leaflets and a petition which they said they were collecting signatures for. “I didn’t find out what they were collecting money for but they were very determined and aggressive,” Alexander B. said.
He added that the leaflets appeared to be handmade and had pictures of wheelchairs on them. Some of the Thai tourists signed the petition and were then asked for money. “Six people ran after us and made a circle around us. I repeatedly told them to leave us alone but they wouldn’t. Finally I had to yell at them to go,” Alexander B. said. He said that he also noticed the ‘fundraisers’ conferring with another man, who appeared to be telling them what to do.
A spokeswoman for Vienna police said that they are aware of the problem and have already received a number of complaints about the scammers. “It’s commercial fraud – these people are inventing charity projects and making their own leaflets and we are clamping down on them where we can,” Michaela Rossmann said.
The fake fundraisers – who police said are mostly from eastern European countries and don’t speak very good German – target tourists because the language barrier means that the tourists are often confused and don’t realize that the leaflets are fake.
“Vienna is a very safe city compared to other European capitals. But new con artists are always emerging and we are working with the police to stay up to date so we can warn tourists in time,” Walter Strasser of the Vienna Tourist Board said.