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Six tourist scams to be aware of in Austria

Planning a visit to Austria? While the Alpine nation is one of the world's safest, there are a few things to be aware of.

Pickpockets can be a problem in Austria. Image: Pixabay
Pickpockets can be a problem in Austria. Image: Pixabay

Austria is a safe country for tourists and residents alike. Fortunately, serious crime is rare and the following are very much an exception rather than the rule. 

However, it always a good advice for a visitor to any foreign country to stay alert, be cautious, and not fall prey to tricksters out to get your money.

Many of these scams are not typically Austrian. In fact you’ll likely encounter them in many countries and many big cities, but could encounter them while visiting Austria so it’s worth being aware. 

One thing to remember is that these scams are very much targeted at tourists, which means you are likely to encounter them in locations popular with tourists – real or online.

Scams which you might see elsewhere – such as dodgy taxi meters, fake tourist prices at restaurants or fake tour guides – are not common in Austria, but are still worth looking out for. 

If you’re visiting a popular tourist site or trying to scout accommodation online, best to be on your toes. If you see something fishy, call the police on 133. 

Have we missed one? Get in touch at [email protected]

Rental scam

If you opt to rent a flat or holiday apartment rather than stay in a hotel, keep in mind that not all advertisements you see online are legitimate.

These false ads invariably feature photos of beautiful properties for prices that are totally incompatible with reality — for instance, a fully furnished large studio in the centre of Vienna or Innsbruck at rock bottom prices. 

How do you know such offers are scams? Usually if it seems too good to be true, then it is. 

But there are a few other telltale signs. 

One example is if the landlord tells you he or she will send the key by mail — after you pay one month’s rent in advance.

Another is to ask for specific personal details, like a copy of your passport, before you visit the apartment. 

In order to avoid this, try and book through reputable sites – although this is no guarantee, as scammers can find there way to AirBnb and other well-known accommodation companies. 

For an extensive summary of some of the scams to watch out for in Austria, check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: Five common apartment scams in Austria

‘Deaf’ people asking for money

If you sit in an outdoor café and a person carrying a little sign approaches you asking for money, beware.

The sign says (often in several languages) that the person is deaf and asks for a donation for the organisation helping people with hearing impairments.

You can be sure this is a scam. How? 

Generally, most charities and advocacy groups do not collect cash then and there.

Instead, they’ll ask for your contact details and want you to make a regular contribution, so be wary. If you are unsure, don’t hesitate to ask for ID. 

Fake ticket checkers or police

If you’re in a different country, being approached by a person in an official capacity can put you at ease – which is why scams of this nature can be effective.

Austria’s Ministry of the Interior has warned of people dressed as police officers targeting tourists, particularly tourists of Asian appearance. Russian and American tourists have also been targeted, with the US Embassy in Austria issuing similar warnings

One scam reported in Vienna involves people dressed as police officers with fake identification approaching tourists and asking for their ID. When the tourists handed over their wallets, they were later returned with the cash taken. 

Similar scams can be carried out by people pretending to check your train tickets. 

As many Austrian train stations do not have barriers, your ticket will be checked by an official ticket checker roaming the train. 

Always ask to see official ID and never hand over anything without being sure. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Austria’s ‘fake cop’ scam

The ‘bonneteau’ game scam

This particular scam used to be widespread in many parts of Europe but is now outlawed.

However, you could still come across it somewhere in the dark corners of Austrian tourist sites, as scammers will hide away from authorities. 

A person will invite you to play a game where a small ball is moved under three cups; you must place a bet (starting at 100 euros!) and guess under which cup the ball is hidden.

This is akin to throwing your money out the window because you will never win — but lose plenty if you are drawn into this scam.

If the person 'winning' looks like the dealer, there's a good chance you're witnessing a scam.

If the person ‘winning’ looks like the brother of the dealer, you’re probably witnessing a scam.

‘Free stuff’ scam

Say you are walking down a street and someone approaches you and offers you a something for free. It could be a flower, a ‘friendship bracelet’, or anything else. The moment you take it, the person demands money and causes a scandal if you refuse to pay.

READ MORE: How to avoid rental scams in Austria

These people could be disguised as Buddhist monks or other trustworthy figures, but don’t accept anything from anybody you don’t know.

If this does happen to you and the person threatens you when you refuse to pay, just walk away. The law is on your side, not theirs.

Never accept ‘freebies’ from anyone. Photo: Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash

Pickpockets and distraction techniques

These people ply their trade in crowded tourist spots, so be careful about how you carry your belongings.

They are much more sophisticated than pickpockets of yore who merely slid their hand in a back pocket of your pants and took your wallet. 

These days, they are more likely to operate in gangs or at least teams of two — one person will distract you (by bumping into you, for example, or by telling you that you have something like bird poo on your shirt) while the other will cut the strap of your bag and run away or simply take your phone or wallet. 

Another scam involves pressing up close to you and ‘dancing’ with you, while removing valuables from your bag or pocket. 

Perhaps the most common trick combines the fake charity scams listed above with pickpocketing. It is particularly effective for people sitting at cafes or bars who have their phone or wallet sitting on the table. 

Scammers will carry a clipboard or pretend to sell/donate magazines. 

They’ll walk over to where you are sitting and hold the clipboard over it, asking you to donate or sign a petition. This will obscure your view of your valuables, which they will pocket. 

To avoid these scams, act like a local. Walk briskly through crowded places and carry only the basic necessities with you, leaving valuables in your hotel room. And never put your phone, wallet or other valuables on a bar or table. 

READ MORE: Austrian police warn of fake DHL text message scam

Other than all of the above, enjoy your holiday!

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Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

Summer vacations and rising Covid-19 infection numbers are a dangerous combination for travellers. Here is what you need to know about your rights if you get sick and need to cancel your holidays to or from Austria.

Reader question: Can I get a refund after cancelling my Austria trip due to Covid?

You are all set for your long-awaited vacations, but just before you leave, the coronavirus test comes back positive. What to do and what are your rights? Is it possible to get a refund on your trip to or from Austria?

Will the airline let you move your flight to a different date, or will the hotel reschedule your reservation?

As summer vacations arrive, with most European countries having no or almost no coronavirus restrictions, travelling is back – and with a vengeance, it appears. Austrian Airlines boss Annette Mann said that “people [now] have an insane desire to travel”.

READ ALSO: Will Austria see travel chaos in airports this summer?

At the same time, Austria has been facing rising Covid-19 infection numbers for weeks, and there is a fear of an intense summer wave.

On Thursday, June 30th, the country reported 12,506 new cases in 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry.

What to do if you have symptoms?

If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, including mild flu-like symptoms like coughing or sneezing, you should get tested. In Austria, there are many alternatives for those looking for the test, from free PCR at home to antigen tests.

If you test positive with an antigen test, you should confirm the result with a PCR test. Once you are a suspected case, you should quarantine until your result is confirmed. If the PCR test is positive, you need to self-isolate for at least five days.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Austria

Self-isolation after a positive test is mandatory in Austria and most countries worldwide. That means that, by regulation, you are not allowed to leave your home for non-medical purposes during those days – or even longer,, depending on the course of the disease.

If you have a trip scheduled during your isolation period, that could be a problem.

What happens to my flight tickets?

Airline companies are not required to refund you or allow you to make changes to your flight for free – unless the ticket you purchased entitled you to these rights.

Most companies sell tickets for the same journey with different fares. Not only prices can change depending on the classic “economic, business, first class” divisions, but they can also increase dramatically depending on the type of ticket.

For example, an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to Rome in economy starts at €59.92. There are then three options: economy light, economy classic, and economy flex.

An empty Austrian Airlines check-in counter. Photo: ALEX HALADA / AFP

READ ALSO: Austria sees scores of flight cancellations after airline staff contract Covid

The first, with the lowest tariff, does not entitle you to a refund and will charge you €70 for rebooking plus a possible tariff difference.

A “economy classic” ticket costs €89.92, and will allow you to rebook without a charge (you only need to pay the difference in prices). It will not give you a refund.

Finally, the “economy flex” costs €129.92, allows for a refund (minus a €70 fee), and lets you rebook without a charge (you only have to cover the price changes).

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

The tickets have other differences, including allowing you to carry more luggage or reserve your seat, for example. Depending on which one you purchased, you may or may not be entitled to a refund.

What about my hotel reservations?

The same is valid for hotel reservations. Most of them, especially if you have used an online booking platform, will have different fees and travellers have different rights. It is essential to understand each tariff and what they entitle you to.

For example, a twin room in a hotel in downtown Vienna could cost you €92, but it is non-refundable and you need to pay in advance.

READ ALSO: EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The same twin room can be found for €108, but with free cancellation – read the fine lines and you will see that even the free cancellation is only valid until three days before the booking date in some cases.

Just like airlines, hotels are not mandated to refund you if you can’t make it to your reservation because you or a travel companion got Covid-19. Unless you paid for the more flexible (and more expensive) rate.

Photo by Jorgen Hendriksen on Unsplash

What can I do, then?

It is worth mentioning that there are a few things you could try. For example, if you purchased travel insurance, or if your debit or credit card has it automatically, you might be able to get a refund. So, check those insurance documents.

Additionally, it may be possible to negotiate directly with a hotel. While airlines are major corporations and it might seem next to impossible to find a human being able to perhaps negotiate, this is not the case with a hotel.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

It may be that you are able to swap your reservation dates, depending on occupancy and how much wiggle room the hotel manager has. It won’t solve all your problems, but if it’s a trip to a nearby place, sometimes accommodation is more expensive than flights.

You also need to always be careful and double check the policies of tickets and hotel (or private accommodations) you buy and reserve. If you have booked through a travel agent or online platform, it is also worth looking if they have different cancellation or rescheduling policies.

Finally, if you have not made it to your hotel reservation because of a flight problem, if your flight was cancelled or delayed, for example, you have rights under the EU law.

*Prices for this story were checked on June 30th.

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