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Avoiding common scams when travelling

Avoiding common scams when travelling

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The Maradona is a scam that is very common in Romania, especially in the capital Bucharest. Someone will approach you and attempt to engage you in a conversation (in English), typically - although not always - about something vaguely illicit. Seconds later, two men will appear in plain clothes but flashing legitimate-looking police badges. They will accuse you and your "new acquaintance" of some illegal activity (usually 'currency swapping', a totally ridiculous charge in a country where legitimate currency exchanges are more common than streetlights), and demand to see your wallet and/or passport.

Do not hand them these things! Keep your documents and belongings in your pocket and out of sight...

Walk away, or yell, or tell them outright that you do not believe that they are the police, or suggest that you all walk to the lobby of a nearby hotel (or police station) because you are not comfortable taking out your wallet or papers in the street, or whatever. These con men thrive because the police fail to enforce laws against non-violent crime and because some foreigners are easily gulled. They will not physically attack you: the treatment of violent offenders is severe - these men are professionals, and they would never be foolish enough to chance a physical attack.


Distraction thefts take a variety of forms. Generally the thieves work in groups: one will distract you and the other will rob you while you're distracted. Sometimes a single thief will rely on a ready-made distracton like a busker or a departure board. Sometimes the distraction can be pleasant, such as having an attractive accomplice talk to you, but sometimes it's very nasty, such as throwing rotten eggs or faeces over you and robbing you while you panic or clean yourself up.

It's best to be aware of what's going on around you in any public place and to be a little suspicious of strangers who appear to be trying to single you out. If you are the victim of a minor assault, suspect that it's the prelude to a robbery attempt and if you feel safe enough, try and get in a position where you can look after your belongings. Unfortunately you may need to refuse the help of concerned onlookers; it's common to have an accomplice pose as a concerned onlooker.

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