Reader’s Digest did a study where they went to 16 major cities all around the world and left behind 12 wallets to see how many of them would be returned. Helsinki, Finland took first place, having 11 of the 12 wallets that were “lost” be returned. Mumbai, India took second place, Budapest 3rd. The bottom three were Lisbon, Portugal (only 1/12 of the wallets were returned, and the couple that returned it weren’t even from Portugal), Madrid, Spain, and Prague, Czech Republic. Our beautiful city was rated the third most dishonest city in the world. If you were to tell that to a local, they would laugh painfully in agreement.
The Czech Republic is very safe in general, including Prague. You can actually walk around most places in Prague and not have to worry. Women are safe to walk at night, and don’t have to worry about being attacked. It’s just a safe place all around… unless you’re a wallet. From pickpockets to tourist traps, Prague is not a safe place for those who are not prepared. The purpose of this Article is to help you avoid the scams that plague this city, because if you are just aware of what to avoid, then Prague will most likely be the best city you’ve ever been to!
The center of Prague is usually packed with tourists, especially in the summer and around Christmas time. This makes it the perfect place for pickpockets to breed and fester. Whether you’re in Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, Charles Bridge, or riding public transport, you could be a potential victim. Don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket. Especially when you’re in crowded locations, keep an eye on bags and pockets where you have valuables.
A friend of mine came to Prague to record some music and produce an album. He had everything on his apple computer. On his first day, he began speaking to someone and put his bag down that had his computer in it. After talking to this individual for about 5 minutes, he turned around to pick up his bag, but it wasn’t there. This happened in a not-so-touristy area, so imagine what’s possible in the center. Pickpockets/thieves usually work in pairs, one will distract, while the other robs you.
This may seem like I’m painting a picture that all locals are not to be trusted. This isn’t the case at all. Having spent many years in the Czech Republic, Czechs are some of the nicest people I have ever met. The best part of it, they’re genuine about it. That being said, because of the reality of how often theft occurs, it is important to watch out. Don’t let strangers get all touchy-feely with you (this sometimes happens to tourists who are drunk, roaming around at night and then get approached by someone. They seem friendly, but they are going for your pocket). If you just keep an eye on your valuables, you will be fine.
Back when I was giving tours to large groups of foreigners coming to see my golden city, I would always make sure I made a stop by eXchange on Kaprova Street, right by St. Nicholas Church on Old Town Square. The reason I did that was because it’s the best way to exchange your currency (I often had foreign currency given to me from tips). They have the best rates and no commission. I used this place all the time. I heard there was another good place by Wenceslas Square on Štěpánská Street, called Samiko, that is equally as good. It will actually be cheaper for you to exchange your currency in to czech currency in Prague, than it would be in your home country. If you aren’t using Euros, or dollars, or any european currency, then you should go to the National Czech bank to exchange. It can be found right across the street from the Powder Tower.
Sometimes there are people standing outside the exchange places, and they’ll approach you. They’ll concoct a story, in which they try to have you exchange money with them. DO NOT DO IT! They often will give the tourist their own national currency instead of czech money. Since most tourists have never been to Prague, they have no idea what the czech crown (koruna) looks like. I had this happen to tourists that I gave tours to. As I would go on with my spiel about what to avoid when exchanging money, every once in awhile, a tourist would speak up and admit that this had happened to them, sometimes only moments before they came on the tour.
When going to exchange booths, make sure they say 0% commission, or no commission, because if not you are going to be ripped off. Unfortunately, that won’t protect you from all scams. Chequepoint has 0% commission, but will take almost half of your money that you exchange there. It is actually legal for them to so. When you go into an exchange place, they are required by law to show you what their exchange rate is, and you have to sign a receipt before the exchange takes place as proof of agreement. Often tourists will not check the exchange rates for that company, sign away, then get angry that they were ripped off. So it’s important to check those rates! Ironically, shops and restaurants actually give better exchange rates (for the euro). That means that if you want to exchange your money at the main train station, do it at Burger King or Mcdonalds. They just require that you purchase something there.
Another way to get a good rate is to withdraw money from ATMs. Use either czech banks (likeČeská spořitelna bank, which I personally use) or international banks. You will find these ATMs at the actual banks, even though it’s important to know that not all ATMs at banks are operated by them. Most banks are found around New Town and Wenceslas square. Make sure to use a debit card if possible, and try to avoid stand alone ATMs, because they are notorious for breaking down and keeping your card. Some stand alone ATMs have an option to pay using ‘local currency’ and ‘home currency.’ Go with the ‘local currency’ option, because you’ll get a good, international rate set by your bank. Another reason it’s good to avoid stand alone ATMs is because sometimes they can be equipped with card readers card reader has stolen your information, and your pin number has been recorded. Even when you use bank ATMs, it’s best to get a receipt. Also, keep an eye out for people who are in close proximity to you.
Since tourists are unfamiliar with Prague, they often choose to use a taxi to take them places that are in walking distance from where they are. When they choose this option, they are subjecting themselves to one of the most common scams that tourists become victim to. The sad thing is, the city of Prague officials aren’t very effective in preventing or dealing with the problem.
First, it is advised not to go into a taxi just by the road. Instead, if you really want to use a taxi, go to an official taxi stand, or into a hotel, and have them call a taxi service like AAA. There are designated places where taxis are supposed to be, but many of them will park anywhere they want. The police don’t really enforce it that much, and when they do, the fine is practically nothing. I say: if they’re willing to break the law one way, what will stop them from breaking the law in another?
Now, just because a taxi is in the right location where it should be, doesn’t mean the driver won’t try to scam you. The Prague Taxi service is notorious for overcharging. For being a relatively cheap city to visit, taxi drivers often scam tourists by charging them way more than an even expensive European country would. Since tourists don’t know any better, they sometimes have to pay $35 just to travel 3 km. Local taxi rates by law can charge no more than40Kč for a drop charge, 28Kč per kilometer, and 6Kč per minute for waiting. If you are arriving to Prague from the airport, and are trying to get to the town center (usually the destination is Wenceslas Square), then you will be paying a flat rate instead of per kilometer. A good flat rate for using a taxi is 500-600Kč.
Common tricks that taxi drivers use to try to scam you is by either with their turbo meter, in which there is a button that they can press that allows the meter to start going up much quicker than it should. In Scam City it was cleverly referred to as “czechnology.” Then there are times when the meter is working fine, but the driver decides to give you the long, scenic route, or they charge an outrageous amount for luggage. Sometimes their math isn’t so good (sarcasm), and they short change you. Always count what you have. Sometimes you might even find russian rubles instead of the koruna! Make sure to get a receipt. If they refuse, then refuse to pay. The receipt has to come out of the meter, don’t let them give you a handwritten one. The driver is required by law to give you a receipt. Another scam that a driver may pull on you is to go to the wrong place. You tell them that to go to a certain hotel, but they end up taking you to one that has a similar name, but is not the right place. They then take you to the correct place, but charge you extra. To avoid this one, write down the destination clearly on a piece of paper, that way they have no excuse, and if they do take you to the wrong place, you won’t get charged extra.
If you feel you are being overpriced, or any of these situations have befallen you, then make sure you write down the car’s registration number, the taxi’s registration number, and the driver/company’s name. Try to remember as many details as possible because you can go to the police, or to Rytířská 10, where they specialize with these kind of complaints.
In the end, I always told my tourists to use the public transport. You can get to almost anywhere by riding trams and the metro, and it’s much much cheaper!
Clip Joint Scam
I must say, I have never had this one happen to me, nor do I know of anyone that this has happened to. However, in an episode of Scam City, the journalist hosting the show became the victim of the Clip Joint Scam. Essentially what happens is a promoter for an adult entertainment club will tell you about a place that’s further away, where you can get anything you want. They show you pictures of a place that looks very fun. Then they arrange for a taxi to come pick you up and take you there. The taxi fare is decent, but upon arriving the the club, you find that it looks nothing like on the brochure the promoter gave you. Eventually, you’ll have the workers of the club prevent you from leaving, and threatening you to give them you all that you have. Once you pay them all the money that you have, you take the taxi back, only to have him over charge you. To avoid this scam, don’t get on a taxi that a promoter gets for you. They are getting paid more to send you to the shady club than the legit club that they actually work for.
During communism, drug laws were practically non-existent. The reason for this was that the regime wanted to pretend that everyone was happy in the socialistic state, so there was no such thing as drug consumption. That’s what happens in the west in capitalistic countries. Well, when communism ended and capitalism began to take over again, the drug laws didn’t really change. Today you are allowed to carry 15g of pot, 1g of cocaine, 5g of Hashish, 2 grams of Pervitin, 4 pills or capsules of Ecstasy, 5 pills, papers or crystals of LSD, 40 hallucinogenic mushrooms, and 1.5g of heroin without any penalty. Interestingly enough, Czechia is the number one country for meth consumption in the world. Ever seen Breaking Bad? **Spoiler Alert** Walter White ends up taking his meth empire to the Czech Republic and making bank.
Street drug dealers are the epitome of what scammers are in Prague. Not only are you likely to get pickpocketed, but if you choose to buy drugs from them, you most likely are buying fake drugs. There is no one you can report this scam to, because 1: Selling and buying drugs is illegal, and 2: The police won’t do anything since no law was broken (drugs weren’t being sold). If you want to get buy actual weed, your best bet is to ask a bartender.
Basically you can’t buy drugs, but you can have them. Even if you were to share with some people that you met, or friend, technically that would be illegal. If you were to pass a joint over to your friend, you would be breaking the law. Like all laws though, there are loopholes. If you just place the joint down and you friend picks it up, then you didn’t break any law, because your friend “found” it!