I have travelled twice to Morocco, spending a month there each time, and I managed to see quite a lot of the country and meet a lot of people.
Due to high unemployment, particularly amongst the younger generation, a lot of young men will go to extreme lengths to get money. Hence the scams. Here are a few of my absolute favourite Moroccan scams that I encountered, heard about or … foiled!
1. “Pig in a poke”
This is usually occurs when you buy something from a stall in the souq which is handed to you in a black plastic bag.
Later, upon opening the bag, you realise that half of the things are missing. This relies on you not checking immediately and not wanting to confront the situation again.
2. “The Museum is closed”
Someone will approach you and ask you what you are looking for or if he can help you. If you tell him you are looking for a particular museum, he might say it’s closed and, instead, direct you to somewhere else, e.g. a shop or another “museum”. Simply ignore these people with a smile and carry on.
3. Unwanted guided tour
This usually happens in walled fortresses with very few exits. A meek, harmless boy is eager to show you around his beloved village for no money… he’s just being friendly. Upon leaving the fortress, his three bigger brothers – who are waiting for you at the gate – inform you that you ought to pay the young boy something.
This can occur even if you didn’t want the tour and even if he didn’t show you round. This makes no difference to his brothers.
Politely (or even firmly) requesting the guide to leave is usually not enough.
These guys have all the time in the world and waiting for them to leave won’t succeed either.
Either join up with a bigger group (safety in numbers!) or leave the same way you came in.
4. Henna tattoo
A lady grabbed a friend’s arm and started scribbling a henna tattoo whilst he didn’t know what was going on. She then immediately asked for money. Anybody walking around with a henna bag should be avoided. The dreadful tattoo lasted three weeks.
5. “You will pay for your tea”
Not technically a scam, but relies heavily on the tourist’s guilt. After inviting you for tea in his stall (or even in his house) your host will then offer you some goods which you feel obliged to buy. Unfortunately, if you decline, tempers can flare if the host feels that their hospitality has not been recompensed. Therefore, it is wisest to either to kindly refuse the tea or avoid this situation altogether.
When I, for example, offered a tea back, this gesture regrettably didn’t suffice and an argument ensued.
6. Car parking “attendants”.
If you are renting a car and parking it up (especially in remote, beach area) a group of young men might offer, for a small fee, to protect your car from gangs who want to either steal the car or smash it up. “Which gangs”, you might enquire. “Us”, they might respond.
They will most likely target single tourists and couples in particularly isolated areas.
7. “No change”
A classic. If you pay for something small with a high value banknote, there always a possibility that the vendor suddenly realises that he doesn’t have any change (after he has taken your money). Again relies on your insecurity or guilt. If you want to be on the safe side, ask to see if they have change FIRST before paying for anything.
8. The magic bus station
This is a real nuisance and happened to me.
You take a small taxi to a particular bus station but the taxi driver, instead, drives you to a remote taxi stand for “Grande Taxis” whereby the next scam occurs:
9. Sharing a taxi
The taxi to, for example, Mount Toubkal costs e.g. 100 Dirham. Not a bad price – fair enough, until you realise that each seat costs 100 Dirham. The taxi driver will refuse to leave unless all seats are filled or you pay for all the seats. There are six seats, so: 600 Dirham. Not a very cheap any more. Since you are stranded outside of town with no way to return, you have two options: wait indefinitely or pay the full price. The likelihood of another traveller coming is low and, even if they do, the scam will ensure that you don’t meet each other, thereby two taxi drivers receving the full amount.
In this situation, I would recommend being very firm and insisting that the original taxi driver takes you to the bus station, don’t pay and don’t leave the taxi until he does until he does so.
10. Desert camps
By far the most perilous. Note: You might even end up at one without wanting to go.
Although, I prefer to go off the beaten track when travelling, going to a desert camp is a situation where I highly recommend going with an established and regulated operator.
You can potentially be ‘held hostage’ to outrageous demands including extortionate prices for water, food and especially the journey to leave the camp. I have heard of first-hand accounts where the return journey was denied unless a huge amount of money was paid. The couple didn’t have this money and had to hand over their watches.
How I foiled the desert camp scam – a short story
I was almost tricked into this by an elaborate and well-planned operation involving at least three people over a full day:
- The previous day, the hotel reception found out where I was going.
- Later that evening, another person in the lobby asked, out of interest, which bus I was taking in the morning. The 0800 I responded.
- The third person who was sat behind me on the 0800 bus started a conversation with me and, after the initial pleasantries, then casually offered me a lift in a 4×4 at the end of 6 hour bus journey, to the same place I was going! Fantastic.
The best part of this scam was that it appeared to be a sheer coincidence.
I have to say, he was very charismatic but he made one mistake – he invited me to an omelette at the service station and refused my money. This made me think. So, just test whether my theory was true, after a while, I told him I had changed my plans. He then panicked and wanted to increase the pressure. He rang up his friends on his mobile and wanted me to commit on his phone – to them – that I was accepting their lift. I dismissed this and gave him his phone back. Absolutely no way.
He became desperate and started showing me a catalogue of the beautiful desert camp, where he worked! When I realised this was indeed a fantastic scam I had to stay calm and keep grinning. I then, for no apparent reason, started relating to him some other scams I had encountered and how tired I was of people who lie to me. I allowed him to make the connection.
He realised that the plan had been foiled – there was no money to be made – and he promptly got off at the next stop in a sulk.
Don’t tell anybody where you are going or staying. If need be, keep changing your plans.
1. Don’t wander about aimlessly. Figure out where you want to go and go there. Be alert at all times. A lot of people go on holiday to have a relaxing time and “switch off”. Morocco is not a place to switch off. With this kind of attitude you could quickly get into trouble as you will be an easy target.
2. Be respectful but firm. Don’t get bullied into a situation and don’t feel guilty about anything.
3. Be very cautious about accepting anything. Regardless of whether this is help, carpets, lifts or tea. You can be quite sure that if you don’t pay for something now, you will later on.
Pay close attention to people’s expressions and their body language. They are, after all, human beings and deep down they know what they are doing is wrong which causes an internal conflict. This crisis will almost always manifest somewhere in the body. I have travelled to almost forty countries and I am able to recognise exactly when someone is thinking about ‘having a go’.
They will do some cursory checks – is he alone, has he got money, can I get away with this. You will see them look at you but you can recognise that they are also processing the information at the same time.
Then when they are thinking about their chances and how to do it, they will look away or try to distract themselves as if they are busy with something.
Once they have made the decision, they will instigate the act as quickly as possible and they won’t look at you directly so as not to reveal the truth.
So, if think something is up. Pause. And take your time, keep looking at them and use your gut instincts.
Why am I writing this? Morocco is a beautiful and fascinating country and I certainly recommend going there. It is a unique country that has developed an incredible culture and architecture.
Unfortunately, a few bad scams can really leave a bitter taste – or even ruin a trip – and I don’t want that to happen to you.
For this reason I hope that you can mitigate some of these situations.
Writing this article has also helped me get a few things off my chest too!
Stay safe and good luck!
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