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TRAVEL NEWS

Seven tourist scams to be aware of in Switzerland

Are you coming to Switzerland this spring or summer? Great — you will enjoy visiting this beautiful country, but be careful not to fall victim to fraudulent schemes while you are here.

Seven tourist scams to be aware of in Switzerland
If you walk around like this, you are asking to be 'scammed'. Photo: Pixabay

Don’t worry: Switzerland is a safe country — certainly safer than many others — and serious crime is rare.

The vast majority of people you will encounter in Switzerland are honest, so don’t think there is a scammer waiting to pounce on you on every street corner.

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.

These scams are not typically ‘Swiss’ per se – if someone comes at your with a Swiss army knife while yodelling, we’d love to hear about it – as they can happen anywhere in the world.

They are not ‘common’ in  a sense that they are widespread; rather, this means they are the ones that you are most likely to encounter while visiting Switzerland. 

Here are some scams to be aware of. 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, whether these are real or virtual. 

Scams which you might see elsewhere – such as dodgy taxi meters, fake tourist prices at restaurants or fake tour guides – are not common in Switzerland, 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 117. 

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.

As Swiss news outlet Blick reported, “Scammers try to extract thousands of francs from people looking for accommodation”.

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 Geneva (the most expensive rental market in Switzerland) for merely 450 francs a month.

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 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. 

READ MORE: How to avoid rental scams in Switzerland

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. 

One way to see whether the property advertised online is legitimate is to pay attention to details in the photos.

One indicator that should sound the alarm is the shape of electrical outlets. In the aforementioned Geneva studio, for example, the outlets “are clearly Italian”.

A Swiss power outlet. By ZH8000, Filzstift - Own work by the original uploaderConcatenation of File:SEV 2011 2009 Typ 12 Stecker.jpg and File:SEV 1011 Typ 13 Steckdose.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0.

A Swiss power outlet. By ZH8000, Filzstift –  CC BY-SA 4.0.

As the old wisdom has it: if it is too good to be true, run the other way.

‘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? The Swiss Federation for the Deaf says it never asks, or authorises anyone, to collect donations in this way.

Generally, most charities and advocacy groups do not collect cash then and there. Instead, they’ll want you to make a regular contribution, so be wary. 

Fake ticket checkers or police

If you’re in a different country, it can be a relief to be approached by a person in an official capacity, whether that be a police officer or someone checking a ticket. 

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

Often, they’ll ask to see your ID or ticket, swiping something from your wallet in the process. Always ask to see official ID and never hand over anything without being sure. 

The ‘bonneteau’ game scam

This particular scam used to be widespread in Geneva but is now outlawed.

However, you could still come across it somewhere in the dark corners of Swiss cities, 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 francs!) 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.

Begging

In comparison to many other countries, beggars are still relatively rare in Switzerland. However, you may see them in tourist areas of large cities, sometimes accompanied by children or pets.

While some of these people may legitimately need money, the many are reportedly part of organised networks.  

According to Geneva police, where beggars reportedly cross the border from France each day to ‘work’, ”clan organisation directs these networks, with a chief at its head who sends the members of the clan to beg and reaps the fruit of their begging.”

Whether you choose to donate is of course up to you, but if you really want to help then consider donating to charitable groups such as Swiss Solidarity

‘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.

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

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. 

Other than all of the above, enjoy your Swiss holiday!

READ MORE: The apps you need for getting around Switzerland

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TRAVEL NEWS

10 francs: Everything you need to know about Flixtrain’s Basel to Berlin line

In early May, German transport provider Flixtrain announced it would begin running services from Basel to Berlin (and back) from June. Here’s what you need to know.

10 francs: Everything you need to know about Flixtrain's Basel to Berlin line

German transport provider Flixtrain has announced it will launch in Switzerland from June 23rd. The low-cost provider is offering 10 franc (10 euro) tickets from Basel to Berlin, among other cheap fares.

The low-cost company, which has been establishing itself Deutsche Bahn’s major competitor Germany over the past few years, runs long distance bus and train services. 

When will the services run?

The lines to and from Basel run from Thursday to Monday, with one connection per day in either direction. 

It will take 8 hours and 45 minutes from Basel Badischer Bahnhof to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. 

A trip with the German ICE will instead take just over 7 hours. 

The new line is part of an expansion of services which is set to include around 70 destinations in Germany. 

OK but will it really cost CHF10?

The price of the ticket grabbed headlines, with Flixtrain saying in its press conference that the almost-nine-hour trip would only cost CHF10 (10 euro). 

Flixtrain spokesperson Sebastian Meyer told Swiss news outlet Watson that tickets would start at CHF10, but more expensive tickets would be available when the CHF10 offerings were sold out. 

“If the cheapest ticket contingent is sold out, the next higher one takes effect. In this way, we can always offer our passengers cheap tickets. Affordable prices are still possible due to the corresponding utilisation of the individual trips.”

In order to get the cheapest possible fare, travellers are advised to book early. 

REVEALED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

Tickets between Basel and Berlin can cost as high as CHF150 or 160 euros from Switzerland’s SBB or Germany’s Deutsche Bahn respectively, although booking in advance can bring the price down to as low as CHF30. 

Where will the train to (and from) Berlin stop?

In either direction, the train will stop at: Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden, Offenburg, Freiburg, Wiesloch, Bad Hersfeld and Weil am Rhein. 

What else is different about Flixtrain?

Other than being bright lime green, Flixtrains allow you to take your bicycle with you, which is not allowed on most ICE long-distance trains in Germany. 

Are there any other destinations within Switzerland? 

As yet, Basel will be the only Swiss destination. The other two new routes are Stuttgart to Hamburg and Berlin to Weisbaden. 

In addition to the 10 franc (10 euro) ticket from Basel to Berlin, other journeys within Germany will start at 5 francs (5 euros). 

More information is available from Flixtrain at the following link. 

The expanded routes can be seen in the following image. 

A look at Flixtrain’s route network in 2022. Map: Flixtrain

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