A scam is most commonly defined as a fraudulent scheme made by a dishonest individual in order to rob money from a clueless victim. The saddest part is that most of the victims don’t realize they have been scammed until someone tells them about the ridiculous price they paid for a product or service.
In the souks of Morocco’s top touristy cities you will find tons of travel scams made by a few dishonest Moroccans who try to befriend you only to stab you in the back at the slightest chance. Luckily for you, here’s a handy guide on how to avoid them all and yes, a foolproof method to actually scam the scam artists.
Be safe and enjoy!
Morocco Travel Scam #01: The fake nice guy scam
Imagine the following scenario: There is a frail old lady trying to cross the street. Suddenly, a young gentleman helps her and afterwards, demand a ridiculous high sum of money from her. Obviously, she feels insulted and refuses. Then, the young gentleman starts to be verbally aggressive as he threatens to physically harm the old lady. In any average country, the police would immediately arrive to arrest the young criminal…but not in Morocco.
In Morocco it is perfectly normal for young men with no work nor studies to wait in the souks and prey on lost tourists. They offer to help you reach your destination and once you’re there, they demand a payment of 20 to 50 DH (2 to 5 euros) for the 5 minutes it took them to help you out. Of course, the average minimum wage in Morocco is 100DH (10 euros) for 8 hours of work and these young fellows want to get half of it in only a few minutes.
How to avoid it: Only ask help for people inside the shops and for traffic/police officers. They are honest hard-working people who have no need to be pushy and harass tourists. If there’s only unemployed youths around, just ask for directions but insist that you don’t need them to guide you. And even if they do, just remember that you’re not obliged to give money for a service you did not request in the first place.
Morocco Travel Scam #02: The obnoxious henna women
In Jemna El-Fna (or should we call it Jemna El-Scam?), the main square of Marrakech, you will find obnoxious overweight ladies who will try to use their henna ink syringe on your hand without you noticing it and kindly offer to mix their mistake by giving you a full henna hand tattoo. Results and quality may vary but on general it will be a low-quality one.
The catch? After they’re done they will ask you for sums of 100DH (10 euros) for the few minutes it took them to perform the task. And no, they won’t care if you liked the end result or not.
How to avoid it: Be suspicious of covered women that try to approach you on Jemna El-Fna. And even when it’s too late, just offer to pay in coins (no more than 10DH is a fair price) if you liked the tattoo or simply walk away if you didn’t. Remember: you’re not obliged to give money for a service you did not request in the first place.
Morocco Travel Scam #03: The hidden price restaurant menu
This scam comes in two different versions: The most common one is for waiters to lie to you about complimentary juice and bread being included in the meal only for you to be charged at the end for it. The second variation involves two different menus, each one with different prices.
When you first arrive you are presented with a menu with normal prices and once it’s time to pay, the prices are elevated. Once you ask to see the menu again, it is a different one with the new inflated prices and you have no other choice than to pay up…or do you?
How to avoid it: Don’t pay for the extra. Seriously, the police already knows about this particular scam so the restaurant will never file a report against you for not paying their scam prices. Just pay what you consider is fair and walk away. And no, don’t leave a tip!
Morocco Travel Scam #04: The abusive taxi drivers
In Morocco it is normal to find unlicensed taxi drivers but even those with a license will try to scam you out of your hard-earned money as long as they can get away with it. In Marrakech it’s against the law not to turn on the taximeter and yet, most taxi drivers will do their best to negotiate a price with you and will refuse to turn on the meter.
Things come to a boiling point when taxi drivers demand an extra “baksheesh” (tip money) even after being rude and offering a sub-par service. The worst part? They will constantly harass you until you give in. And here’s where my tip about keeping foreign coins comes in handy.
How to avoid it: Taxi drivers are probably the best example of the local/foreigner apartheid that exists in some nations of the world and that’s why those are the ones that deserve no sympathy from me. What I recommend you is to actually pay them with foreign coins and scam them by lying about their value. Can you believe that a Marrakech dishonest driver actually believed that a 10 pesos Mexican coin (real value about 0.50 euros) was actually worth 5 euros?
Morocco Travel Scam #05: The Guilt Trip Salesmen
All tours (both official and unofficial) will undoubtedly stop at either a carpet factory or a tannery where the owners will delight you with hospitality and give you free mint tea (or Berber Whiskey as they call it). Then they will give you a demonstration of how the carpets/leather items are made.
Eventually they will use hard-sell tactics, including fake tales about how impoverished their families are, in order to make you buy their items. The problem? They are extremely overpriced and the quality is sometimes even sub-par from the ones you can buy at the souks despite their lies about the high-quality of their products.
How to avoid it: Politely decline the mint tea and even if you end up taking it, remember that it was offered to you as a gift and that you have no real obligation of buying something you neither want nor need. Just thank the owner and explain that it is extremely impractical to carry a carpet in your backpack!
Morocco Travel Scam #06: The Beast Masters of Jemna El-Fna
In Marrakech’s main square it is perfectly normal to find people with monkeys and snakes placing them on you by force and then snatching your camera in order to take a photo of you. At first, you seem suspicious since there’s a chance that the beast masters might run away with your camera while they snap the shots. However, the real scam starts when it’s time to pay them.
You see, scam artists have an all-or-nothing mentality that represents a great handicap in their way of doing honest business. Instead of placing a sign saying the price for a photo, they tell you that it’s willing donation. Of course, if you try to donate anything less than 100DH they will start to harass you and throw back your own money at you.
How to avoid it: Just accept their rudeness and move on. If they’re not willing to accept your 20DH, it’s their loss and you should not feel obliged to pay anything more than what you consider fair. After all, negotiation is a two-way street and they told you beforehand that the amount of the donation was up to you. Just walk away and they won’t follow you.
Morocco Travel Scams #07: The horse/camel riders
You probably already read my story about the horse ride in Essaouira but even if you haven’t, you should be aware that the sexual harassment in Morocco’s top touristy places is very high and yes, some of those horse/camel riders can also scam you by stranding you in a far away place and demanding double the payment in order to return you to the main city.
The other variable includes over-inflated prices (often reaching 300DH!) for the same service that the locals can obtain for 30DH. This is an immoral pricing policy since it creates an apartheid and division based on nationality and perceived acquisitive power since it encourages service providers to treat foreigners like money signs and not like human beings.
How to avoid it: Besides refusing to ride a horse/camel, your best option is to hold payment until the very end and threaten the rider with calling the authorities (even if your cellphone has no signal!) if he tries to strand you in the middle of nowhere. Most of the time, these guys don’t pay taxes and operate in a legal loophole so the simple mention of the police will make them change their attitude towards you.
A foreword on the Travel Scams of Morocco
Yes, I know. Morocco is a developing country with a low-level of literacy and lack of job opportunities which is one of the main causes of why there are so many unemployed uneducated youths waiting in the souks for tourists they can scam. However, as my grandma always said: “It is better to be poor in terms of money than being poor in terms of values”.
It is quite astonishing how highly religious people who pray 5 times a day often forget about their values when it comes to dealing with foreigners, contributing to the local/foreigner apartheid that exists in some countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
Should you be the better man and turn the other cheek or should you denounce the scam artists to the authorities in order to avoid a culture of crime from prevailing?
That is up to you. Personally, I believe that the world needs more schools, not prisons. And yes, you can do your best to educate these scam artists in order to help them remember their way and to differentiate right from wrong.
Besides scamming the scam artists in order to teach them a lesson in morality, I recommend you to say the following phrase to them “Jazakum Allahu Khairan”. It means “May Allah reward you” and trust me, most of them will look at you with a face of forgiveness since you just reminded them that they are being untrue to their beliefs by engaging in illicit actions.
Scam artists are not bad people, they are just ordinary folks like you and I that have somehow lost their way in life. Don’t hate them, just pity them. I love Morocco and that’s why I want Morocco to improve.
And I’m sure most Moroccans feel the same way since it’s just a few bad seeds the ones that give the entire population a bad image abroad. It’s time to change that and the best way to start is by making people aware of the many scams that take place in this amazing country.
Will you help me spread the word?