Austria Scams: What to Keep an Eye Peeled For!

Austria - the home of Mozart, the von Trapps and one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. In fact, most warnings from fellow travellers are about avoiding the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg rather than crime hot spots!

But that doesn't mean travellers should drop their guard completely. An influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe to all parts of Europe, including Austria, occurred when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2006. It's reported they added 30 million to the EU population and both have jobless rates of up to 10 per cent. Without jobs many of the gypsy clans from these countries set their sights on easy money - a tourist's wallet.

(In a February 2012 update to its travel advice for Austria, the Australian government added a warning for travellers sleeping on the train from Prague to Vienna. The Smartraveller site says there's been an increase in the number of incidents where pockets and bags have been slashed open - quietly so as not to wake the victims - and passports and wallets taken.)

Don't Be A target

Any area that attracts a high number of tourists lures local pickpockets whose quick sleight of hand and distraction techniques could see a traveler robbed or their wallet, or worse, passport.

So before you even leave the hostel/hotel, leave valuables (including your passport) and large amounts of cash in the safe or ask reception how it can be secured. Austria's major cities are modern, highly law abiding and safe - it would be unlikely a hotel reception would steal the valuables you ask them to keep. It's not a third world village!

Hot Spots

While the capital Vienna's ring road is dominated by stunning Baroque architecture, lush green lawns, beautifully kept museums and music halls, there are areas where extra precautions should be taken.

The ring road called Ringstrasse, does exactly that circles the CBD, known to the Viennese as the"Innere Stadt"(1st District). It is here that many of this historical city's landmarks are found including the Hofburg, the former Habsburg palace that houses the National Library, the Spanish Riding School, and six museums. Most of the traffic in this area is pedestrian and can heave with numbers in the peak tourist months between May and August. Similarly near the famed St Stephens Cathedral and the city's largest train stations.

Other areas that can attract pickpockets and con artists include the busy squareKarlsplatz in Wieden (4th District) where tourists flock to see the domed churchKarlskirche in the daytime that becomes a haven for drug addicts at night. The Prater is a family oriented amusement park area that can be frequented by opportunistic criminals. Along the popular shopping strip Mariahilferstrasse, in the 6th district is dicey in the evenings and while the Flohmarkt (flea market) here is dynamic and packed each Saturday, it can attract a seedy element.

Likewise in Salzburg's Getreidegasse, a shopping strip where Mozart's house is located..

In areas like this be wary of "bumping". It's a ploy used by pickpockets to divert attention and get close enough to swipe your wallet. The general advice is if you are bumped or pushed in a crowd, turn around immediately and see who the culprit is. And in a crowd always keep a tight hold of your bag, preferably in front of your body, or your wallet if it's in a pocket. Bum bags should be avoided at all times for so, so many reasons that are not confined to safety!

And be wary of people claiming to be "plain clothes police", particularly in the city centre area of Innere Stadt. Demand to see their police badge or other identification to verify that they are cops and don't give them anything (ie your passport or wallet) until they prove who they are.

(And watch out for this shady character!)

Helpful Strangers

Be careful of con artists as well the standard unseen pickpockets. Some of the ploys include strangers asking for help or "accidentally" staining your clothes to distract you.

If your card gets stuck in an ATM (every traveler's nightmare!) be especially cautious of people who suddenly rush to your aid with offers of help, asking for your PIN to get the card out. Obviously don't give it to them!

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been robbed, call the police in Vienna on 133. While German is the preferred language, you'll find most Austrians speak impeccable English, as well as about three other European languages!

Accommodation scams

Finding somewhere to stay on the other side of the world is a cinch with the web. But Austria, like most European countries, has been targeted by con men and women who set up bogus accommodation websites to make a buck.

An unfortunate but memorable travel experience would be booking and paying for accommodation in Vienna during peak summer season via a website, only to arrive and discover there's no room for you.

The main tip here is to be very cautious before making any payments for overseas accommodation. Recently international money transfer company Western Union were innocently embroiled in a fraud where travelers were sending money to pay for rental accommodation but when they arrived in Vienna the "owner" they had been dealing with didn't exist. While the address and photos of the accommodation were real, the person advertising and accept payment for it, wasn't.

There are a few simple precautions you can take before booking and paying for accommodation in Austria online:

Poor spelling and grammar within the content on the website and in emails is a dead giveaway it's not legitimate.

If there a telephone number on the website or email, call it. The number may be made up or the call is answered. If so, grill them with questions about the accommodation they are advertising.

Do not pay with a method of payment that is not traceable. Make sure that the web address starts with https:// and the padlock appears on your browser.

Google the accommodation site and see if there are any negative mentions or feedback from other travelers about the site being fraudulent.

Call the hotel/hostel that the site is advertising and check if they have heard of it, or know their accommodation is being mentioned on it.

Buyer beware if it's unbelievably cheap and too good to be true, then it probably is.

If you are not sure, visit The Apartment Owners and Rental Association of Vienna official website that lists legitimate accommodation in various parts of Vienna.


Austria is one of the safest holiday destinations in the world, and fortunately has been spared any major acts of terrorism.

However the US Government still warns that its open borders (Austria borders with eight European countries - Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Liechtenstein and Switzerland could leave it vulnerable to terrorist groups entering and leaving anonymously.

US intelligence states that there has been significant radicalisation of immigrant Muslim individuals and small groups, and increased use of the internet for propaganda purposes. Despite terrorism related incidents directed against the Government of Austria in 2007, the overall terrorist threat level is, thankfully, low.

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1 Comment

  • David from said

    Thanks for sharing! If we may add, also watch out for fraudulent apartment listings and potential ATM skimming in touristy areas. Scams wise (, avoid buying from the touts dressed as Mozart in long velvet capes.

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