Moroccan Scams & Rip Offs

By , Travel Insights Editor Morocco mid east, morocco, scams, travel-crime, travel-safety

The majority of people in Morocco are honest and very helpful to visitors, however there is a minority who are focused on ripping people off.

Snake charmers, carpet sellers right out of central casting, artisans who are more like con artists - they're waiting for the unprepared tourist. Don't be one of them.

Henna Ladies

If you decide to have a henna tattoo make it clear exactly what you want and where you want it on your hand. The henna ladies have a habit of very quickly extending their designs up your arm and demanding payment for the "extra" work.

(A WorldNomad getting some temporary ink)

Even if you haven't actually requested a tattoo, don't stand too close or have your back to them, particularly in the Djemma El Fna in Marrakech, you may find unwanted henna appearing up your arm, and of course a request for payment.

Pay Per View

Taking photos of snake charmers, dancers and water sellers will require a payment. Take a few coins whenever you go in search of a photo opportunity.

Perversely, in the Djemma El Fna the water sellers get annoyed if you don't take their photo, it can be unpleasant or annoying but never reaches menacing proportions.

Unwanted Assistants and Guides

There's no end of Moroccan men who want to be your guide or assistant, but as with "friendly strangers" all over the world, there's often a price to pay. These "guides" can be very persistent and intimidating particularly in Tangier, Fes, Marrakech and Essouaria.

It's a scam. You know it's a scam, they know you know it's a scam - so they come up with more subtle ways of making themselves your guide:

You're taking a photo and find yourself approached by someone who can show you a better viewpoint, and then another and more. As you snap your photos and take the advice they are leading you all over the medina until finally they request money for the service they have just provided to you.

Or - you ask directions to a place or where you can buy something and you are led on a wild goose chase through the souk for an hour and then asked for a payment for guiding services. This wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't taken you to the usual tourist haunts (the ones you would have found on your own) or to the over-priced shop (where they get a commission for delivering you).

Similarly, you're approached by someone wanting to practise their English which leads to them showing you things in the souks and medina, having tea and good conversations about life in Morocco and finally they demand money for the service and get persistent when you don't pay.

If you need directions go into a shop, the owner can't leave the store, so has no interest in leading you astray, or ask a family group.

If you find you've inadvertently acquired an ad hoc guide, or are being harassed by someone who insists on being your guide, ask him to take you to the tourist police

It's illegal to be a guide without a registered licence.

If you really want a guide, get one of the official ones - ask your hotel for contact details.

Kif, Hash and Drug Laws

Don't buy drugs in Morocco. Hard to believe, but true: the authorities take a hard line against drug use.

(They're for smoking tobacco - no, really!)

Of course, some take advantage of this. One of the most common scams is for a dealer to claim "it is safe, no problem" to sell you a large amount of "kif". The hapless tourist is arrested either because the dealer was an undercover Moroccan policeman or because the police gave the dealer a payment for the tip-off, or they were all in the scam together. The only loser is the tourist who will most probably end up in a very unpleasant Moroccan jail.

Don't Have the Rug Pulled from Under You

Morocco has some wonderful carpet shops and you will be invited in to "just look" and take some tea. Not a scam, but it certainly preys on the sense of obligation this generates in many westerners (not a bad deal, a 1 cent cup of tea to secure a big sale!). If the carpet seller becomes demanding, offer to pay for the tea, which releases you from your obligation.

(Carpets for sale in Marrakech)

Another carpet scam preys on your greed. You meet another foreigner who is in the country to buy carpets for resale back home at a handsome profit. He will invite you to dinner with his local guide and then the following morning you are taken on a tour of the souks and craft shops which inevitably ends up in the carpet shop. You will see your new friend selecting a few carpets and you will hear the price. The carpet sellers start showing you the rugs and carpets and will offer you a lower price! Can you believe your good luck? If you pay the amount asked you will have been scammed at a hugely inflated price as all the team are in the deal together. It is also very unlikely that you will be able to resell the carpet for a higher price back home in spite of their advice.

Bargain Hunting

Don't let the scams put you off there are some lovely items to be found, but do some research. Know what the carpets cost back home. Then, in the souk, look around and get an idea on prices.

If you're feeling pressured to buy say you need to get your friend for a second opinion before committing to a purchase or that when you return to the city after your tour in the Atlas Mountains you will make the decision.

It'll take a lot of will power to resist the well-practiced selling techniques and some great haggling skills to get a good price - but what an adventure.


  • Kelly said

    Here are some other tips I would like to pass along during a recent trip to Morocco. Let it be known that I have been to Morocco many times in the past and have seen some elaborate schemes and some that are downright laughable. Unfortunately during this last trip, a friend of mine from Senegal was discriminated against despite the fact that he is Muslim and speaks Arabic, French and 7 other languages.

    1. Do not believe the taxi drivers in Marrakesh. The fare from the airport to the medina should not be more than 50 dirham. My friend who arrived days after I did, paid 200 dirham for a 2.5 mile ride. I later told him to take the airport bus when he was departing for his return flight to France. It is only 30 or 40 dirham.

    2. Boycott Hotel Amira et Vacances in the Marakesh medina (27 USD) due to their blatant racism toward my Sengelese friend. They told him he had to leave when I left despite the fact that he paid his bill. Their breakfast is not good either and the coffee was funky when they served my friend. The tea they served me was not drinkable and I refused it.

    3. Beware of the fish stalls in Essaouira. The fish was just so so and we were charged over 55 USD for two mediocre meals with lukewarm fries. They claimed they could not give us fresh fries because they were cooked elsewhere. They even had the nerve to ask for a tip! We refused. Ask someone to show u where the locals eat.

    4. Dont give money to the many beggars u will encounter. Many of them are scammers. One so called blind boy who had a helper was able to discern quite well where my hand was that held the money. This was at the bus stop in Marrakesh and I gave him bus fare of 3.5 dirham...just for the heck of it.

    5. Keep track of what u order from the food stalls in Marrakesh. At stall number 1 that was heralded in some travel mag according to their sign, they tried to rip my friend and I off for twice as much money. When I called them on the bill, they changed the price. They had added all kinds of things we had not ordered. The next night, the woman asked me why we did not want to eat with them again and I boldly told her it was because she tried to cheat us the nite before. She quickly left us alone after that.

    6. Be aware that even if u pay for a window seat on a CTM bus, there is no guarantee u will have that seat. An old woman stole my seat, refused to move thereby forced me to sit in someone else's seat. He complained about me and the driver made me sit way in the back. It was very uncomfortable. I complained but nothing was done! I was furious because it was a long bus ride and that took the pleasure out of the ride.

    7. Please patronize the Sengelese who are trading their wares. They are discriminated against and have even fewer rights than Moroccans themselves. In fact, they have NO RIGHTS at all because they are illegal and hounded by the police who throw them in jail or steal their wares.

    8. Know that Moroccan police are corrupt and many Moroccan vendors are greedy and deceitful. They will cheat you out of a measly dirham.

    9. Be aware that you do not have to pay to use the bathroom in public places so dont give in to Moroccans who watch as u exit the bathroom and hold out their hands. I fell for this once but only to the tune of one dirham, roughly 13 cents!

    10. Bargain for all things. In Rabat and Fez, you can buy watches with designer logos but look carefully as some may fall apart as soon as u put it on. This happened to me on my recent trip March 2013 and I took it back to the vendor to have it fixed. The band fell apart again as soon as I got home but the watch itself (made in China with the Chanel logo) works beautifully. I only paid 30 dirham or less than 4 dollars for it.

    11. Don't believe these ppl who claim to be students and only want to practice their English. I called them on it and told them I was not interested in purchasing anything from any store. They left me alone.

    12. In Fez, dont let the so called guides to the tannery or medina tell you there is an entrance fee. I told the young man that I had been there before and there was no entrance fee to the tannery. He left and I laughed. I guess conning ppl is good work if u can find it.

    13. Beware of foreigners who lead you to hotels. I met this British or Australian man who encouraged me to stay at Pension Talaa in Fez's medina. He was standing in front of it and claimed it was a great place to stay. It was a 14 USD dump with no sink, tv, shower or toilet in room. I hated it and moved out the next day to medina Hotel Bab Boujloud which was way nicer. I only stayed at Pension Talaa because it was raining very hard and I was tired from the long bus ride from Marakesh. DO NOT STAY THERE under any circumstances.

    14. Be aware that animals are not treated with kindness or respect in Morocco. I saw the poor monkeys and donkeys being terribly mistreated. It broke my heart. Morocco has millions of cats and they are not treated much better and look like they could use some vet care with their runny noses and sick looking eyes. It is terrible.

    15. If you do meet and talk with a Moroccan, try not to engage in political or religious discussions. Some vendors asked if I was a Muslim, I truthfully told them no and that I am a Christian. They called me a "Nazrani". I guess they thought I did not understand and then they jacked their price on goods. I refused to pay.

    16. Some Moroccans will tell you they dont dislike Americans only our government, but they are lying because in America we the ppl ARE the government, so don't think they really like u. They are after something either money, a visa or whatever they feel they can con you out of.

    17. If they ask you if you like the president of the USA always say yes even if you dont. Do not bad mouth America or Islam, even if you dont like either one.

    18. Enjoy Morocco. Eat well and travel safely.
    Hope this helps.

  • Mark said

    While on a tour with Peregrine I went to a carpet shop in, I believe Midelt-Merzouga. I bargained pretty hard and purchased a nice rug and because I was aware of a scam where they swap a poorer quality rug for the one you purchase, I was very particular about keeping an eye on the rug. For only a few seconds the owner was very insistent in keeping me occupied, no matter how I said no to another rug and tried to follow my rug to the wrapping room. Well you can guess what has happened; I have gotten it home only to find the ends ratty and worn and even a slight tear in the rug. At one stage I was even tempted to make them unwrap my rug again just to make sure and now regrettably I should have.
    Buyer beware.

  • Canadian said

    #14. The cats are strays. The animals should be treated kindly, but the Moroccans don't have enough money to pay for exhorbitant vet bills (and neither do many North Americans!).

  • Nadine said

    In my opinion Morocco is not worth the trip or the effort. It's been overly romanticised. I thought it was going to be amazing BUT most of my experience was having the locals working to scam every step I took from blankets to buying a simple orange juice. They tell you one price for the orange juice and then demand double after you drink it. The same thing that happend to Mark with a rug - happened to me with two berber blankets in Fes. I opened them at home and found acrylic. (Also, being from NYC- I felt as though the Old Fes Medina is equivilent to Times Square in NYC for tourists. If Marrakech is worse - which is hard to even imagine - you are better off staying home or choosing another destination).
    Morocco is not really all that beautiful considering with every step you see starving kittens, abused donkeys, abused women & children and the stink of human/animal waste.
    Before going I asked many people about it and most told me of the beauty of Morocco. Maybe I am missing something here, but I really had a hard time getting past the overwhelming poverty, smell, scam artists and just plain gross.
    Spain was beautiful. Morocco was gross. Moroc-gross.
    Read the post you really want to spend your vacation stepping over starving kittens while the people there try and rip you off every step of the way?
    Fes was supposed to be the less touristic destination - it felt to me like the tourist scam capital of the world. The old medina portion that is safe for tourists which is where the locals purposely keep tourist in one area of the medina - where they can offer you the world- rip you off on the price and leave you holding nothing but cheap junk that smells like a donkey.
    I believe there is a rich and amazing culture in Morocco somewhere under the feces...but I will NOT be going back to even try to experience this.

  • lari said

    The word Mazrani is not anything derogative, it is a word to refer to people with crhtistian background. While many things are true people often get paranoid thinking that people hate you because of your backgound, it takes a lot to know people's psicology.

  • David ad Rob said

    I agree with all these posted comments and have never experience anything quite like Morocco! Laying on my bed in Tangier patiently waiting to get to Spain where life works normally! What gets me is the hospitality of hotels! You can here them yell and scream, slam doors from your room! The begging and blatant shopping rip offs eventually jade you to the point you lose interest and after being in five cities it's all absolutely the same stuff even though they all say they made it! Sade from bad manners from the Bedoins I really enjoyed our camel ride and night in the Sahara but nearly went head over heals off the croatching camel as I was asking for advice how to get down! If coming to Morroc have a back up plan if your sensitive and know it's not like home! No one hear has your concern just your wallet! From Canada

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