Moroccan Scams & How to Avoid Them

Morocco is a great destination if you like environments that are culturally authentic and will challenge you to adapt to a way of life that may be slightly out of your comfort zone. If you plan a trip to Morocco, be sure to research the idiosyncrasies of the nation ahead of time. Particularly, be sure to understand how their scams operate, which I detail here.

 

Scams are a business in Morocco and a source of income for many locals. You will thrive on your trip to Morocco if you accept that the locals will scam you. You will have to learn how to maneuver these situations before your trip. There’s so much to see and do in Morocco—including its eclectic markets where you can find things such as spices and handmade goods, delicious Moroccan cuisine, beautiful holy grounds to explore, and awesome natural terrain. You’ll have a great time there, scams and all.

 

 

Here is a summary of some of the scams that I encountered during my trip to Morocco and details on how to maneuver through these scams if you visit the country.

The Direction Giver

Market in Medina in Marrakech morocco. 20 people walking in Market. Sun is setting at dusk. Three tents that sell street food. Moroccan Scams take place here.

All I can say is oof. I encountered this scam a lot. Within Marrakech is a place called The Medina. The Medina is a large market and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s hard to navigate because google maps do not work very well within its walls. There are also very few street signs which makes it even harder to navigate. For someone who is directionally challenged (like me), this presents a stressful situation.Tourists often get lost inside the Medina and local scammers take advantage of this. My travel partner, Jon used his “sense of smell” to navigate for us. If you don’t possess superhero-like powers like Jon, then you should accept that you’ll end up having to pay the locals from time to time to get around.

Here’s how the scam works: Scammers look for confused tourists (which are plentiful within the Medina). When they spot their target, they will ask the tourist if they need help finding something. If you say yes, they’ll walk with you and then demand a large sum of money once you arrive at your destination. Usually, they will ask for everything that they can see inside your wallet.  If you say that you do not need your help, then there is a chance that they will walk with you anyway and then demand money once you arrive at your destination. Moroccan scammers are persistent and like to get their targets in no-win situations. 

You’ll probably fall a-trap to this scam at least once during your visit. Here are some tips on how to handle it:

  • Never go with a local that asks if they can direct you. If they ask, they’re more likely to scam.
  • If you are lost, then go into a store and ask a shop owner to point you in the right direction. Shop owners can’t leave which lowers the risk of being scammed. 
  • If you let a local on the street direct you, then always be sure to negotiate the rate of pay before walking with them. 20 Dirhams ($2USD) is a good amount of money to offer. 
  • If you walk with a scammer who demands more money than you want to pay…then be strong and tell them NO. They will be persistent and sometimes they don’t leave you alone until you pay. If this happens, pay them a small sum of money and don’t show them that you have more money available when you pay. They will demand all of it. 

The Henna Lady

Moroccan scam displayed. Moroccan Lady drawing henna on an arm in an intricate design.
My friend Jon and I were walking around The Medina at night when we a woman who drew henna approached us. She asked if we wanted some henna, and we said no. Even though we said no, she grabbed our arms and hastily drew henna on us. The designs looked like slop. When she was finished, she demanded money from us. We said no and walked away. The lady followed us for about 30 minutes, requesting that we pay.  We eventually caved and gave her the equivalent of $20 so that she would leave us alone. In hindsight, we gave way too much money but we weren’t thinking clearly when it happened.  

Here’s how to handle this scam:
  • Real talk: there’s not much that you can do to prepare for this. We researched Moroccan scams in advance and were aware that this could happen and it still hit us like a lightning bolt. The first step is knowing that it can happen.

  • If you are targeted, then stay strong. The henna lady is harmless. She will persist but she won’t hurt you. Walk away from her and eventually, she will leave you alone. 

  • If you cave in and pay, be sure to hide all extra money out of the Moroccan lady’s sight. As with the other scams in Morocco, she will demand all that she sees. 

Moroccan Carpet Shops & Tea

Moroccan scam displayed. Entrance to moroccan carpet shop. Carpets hanging and a cat in doorway.
There are hundreds of carpet shops in Morocco. When you walk through the market, owners will invite you to look, chat, and drink tea. As you sit and sip on their tea, they’ll chat you up and show you their carpets. If you decide that you don’t want a carpet of theirs, they’ll persistently ask why and make you feel guilty for leaving their shop.  They will also always ask for money for their tea. Nothing in Morocco is free. Remember that.  If you decide to buy one of their carpets (and why wouldn’t you, Moroccan carpets are really cool!) then be prepared for them to try to charge you more than the carpets are worth. 

Here’s how to handle this scam:
  • If you drink a shop owner’s tea, then the culturally right thing to do would be to pay them. 5 Dirham’s ($0.50 USD) is an acceptable amount of money to give per cup. 

  • If they try to sell you a Moroccan carpet and you don’t want one, then confidently say no, thank them for their time and exit the carpet shop. 

  • If you want to buy a carpet, then know the market value of the item before going into the store. Moroccan’s typically price items up to 75% more than what they expect to sell them for. This is especially the case in a carpet store. Always negotiate and go lower than you think is possible. You won’t offend them: negotiation is a part of the culture.

The Fake Beggar

Street where moroccan scams take place displayed. Alleyway in Morocco shown. Blue and white homes line the alleyway in Morocco.

As is the case in many other countries, some people will pretend to be poor or suffering from an ailment in order to make money. Sometimes, children will come up to you to ask for money and their parents will hover nearby to ask for more after you donate. This happened to us numerous times throughout our trip and it’s a heartbreaking situation to witness.

Here’s how to handle this scam:

  • You have to say no and walk away from all beggars. It’s very likely that they are faking it for money. 

  • Do not ever give money to a begging child in Morocco. Their parents usually hover nearby and when you pay, they will come to you and demand more money. 

The Photo Opp

Moroccan scam displayed. Snake that is used in Snake charming scam shown. Snake has long black head and is coiled up inside a basket.

Most photo opportunities that look staged come with a price tag. This includes pictures with; snake charmers, magicians, camels, etc. If you agree to take a picture like this then the local will ask for payment afterward. Just as with the other scams detailed, they will ask for all of the money that they see. 

Here’s how to handle this scam:

  • The best way to avoid this scam is to avoid taking these staged photos. 

  • If you really want one of these pictures, then negotiate the rate of pay before you take the photo. When you pay, don’t let the locals see more than you want to pay.

The Tannery Trap

Moroccan scam in Morocco displayed. Scam inside a Moroccan tannery. Picture displays paints and leathers inside a tannery.
 
Tourists will either be directed to a Tannery without their consent by a local who offers them directions and then re-routes them to a tannery…or, the tourist will happen upon a tannery that will scam them by themselves.  Once in a tannery, the scammers will ask you to pay a sum of money in order to experience the place. If you deny payment and ask to leave, they won’t let you. This becomes a no-win situation for the tourist and they usually end up having to pay a lot of money for a mediocre tannery tour. 

Here’s how to handle this scam:
  • There are some great tanneries in Morocco but it can be hard to identify what is real and what is a scam. To minimize your chances of being scammed, go with a trusted tour guide, and never walk into one alone. 

  • If you find yourself in the midst of a tannery scam, then pay as little money as you can and leave. A negotiation tip is to always lead with paying them less than what you want to pay. For example: if you want to pay a maximum 20 Dirham, then start by giving them 5 Dirham and slowly increase to 20 Dirham (final payment). They will think that they have “won” in this situation. 

  • Back to our golden tip: never keep more money visible than you want to pay. Always, always, always, hide large sums of money in places that are not visible to scammers. They will want it all. 

Restaurants with Hidden Prices

Local moroccan restaurant shown to display a place where Moroccan scams take place. There are three columns with intricate moroccan designs displayed. There are two tables and chairs with blue and orange moroccan cloth.

Moroccan restaurants sometimes include hidden costs in the final check. This can include things such as food items that they told you were complimentary before you devoured them or items that you flat out didn’t eat at all.

 

Here’s how to handle this scam:

  • Always look at your check before you pay it. 

  • If Moroccan’s offering you complimentary things and you don’t want to end up paying, then just say no to them. 

  • If you find an erroneous charge then let your waiter know. They will most likely remove the charge for you. 

Fake Fossils & Minerals

Moroccan gemstones that can be sold in a moroccan scam displayed in picture. Gemstones are polished and the colors blue, purple, white, orange and green.

Morocco is known for having authentic fossils & minerals available for purchase, but unfortunately, a lot of the products sold in the souks are fake. Sometimes, tourists will pay a high cost for something that isn’t real.

Here’s how to handle this scam:
  • Know how to identify an authentic fossil or gemstone before purchasing one. 

  • Do the research and know what the market value of a gemstone or fossil is before purchasing one. This includes researching online, asking locals, and looking at the cost of similar products in multiple shops.

How about common scams in Morocco and learn how to avoid them.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Sharon

    This is such a helpful post… full of valuable tips. We’ve been to Tangier for a day and found it quite intense. We are also supposed to be travelling through Morocco long-term when the borders re-open. I will be saving this post for then, thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad it was helpful! Morocco is really awesome. Hope you have a good trip when you go! I plan to go back too.

  2. World of Lina

    I was in Morocco last year and experienced some of them on my own. One time some children told us the street ahead of us is a dead end and they’ll show us the way. Of course it wasn’t a dead end 😀

    1. haha yeah, stuff like that happened to us there too! We had a great time but stuff like that happened a lot.

  3. Krista

    Loved reading this and thank you for all of the helpful tips!

  4. Becky

    I feel like you had a terrible experience in Morocco and I’m so sorry to hear that! We have been “stuck” in Morocco for 4 months because of Covid-19 and the closed borders and we have met some really wonderful people and we’ve experienced very few of these “scams”.

    I think a lot depends on where you go. We’ve been in Marrakesh, Rabat, Casablanca, and Tetouan. In Marrakesh we did have a lot of people try to direct us, but we just didn’t listen and most people left us alone with a pretty firm “no thank you”. It is true though that if someone that you don’t know walks up to you on the street and says they will guide you for free, they will likely ask you for a tip at the end.

    People will absolutely walk up to you and ask you for money here- but part of the culture for Moroccans is charity so it’s a normal thing for people to give them a dirham or two (a dirham is .10 USD).

    In our experience, you have to be on your guard whenever you’re traveling, in any country. We were harassed more by beggars in Spain than we have been in Morocco.

    1. We actually had a great experience in Morocco! It’s definitely just a part of the culture, the post is just to inform travelers that have never been in an environment like that of the way that things can go there (specifically in Marrakesh). Morocco’s a really lovely city and I plan on going back. It sounds like you’re having a great experience there – that’s wonderful! We met some really kind locals there, too. And yes, totally agree – travel can always hit you with a scam or something hard if you’re not alert. I never had issues in Spain but I do agree that other places are equally, if not tougher! Thanks for the comment. :
      )

  5. Sarah Camp

    Super helpful tips! I like to scope out popular traps prior to travelling somewhere and I’m glad I read this – I had no idea about the tannery scam – and quite frankly ick haha. I’d love to buy a carpet but I’d have no idea how I would get it home!

  6. Mayi Mac

    These are super helpful tips for first-timers. I would add to the list taxis – I had a situation where the taxi who went round and round the block to finally take us to a shady restaurant with extortionate prices. It wasn’t even the place we’ve asked him to take us. Obviously they were working together. Having said that, I’ve had both great experiences and bad experiences in Marocco.

    1. Ah, yeah – good call. We had an issue with a taxi driver in Marrakech. He took us to a guy that he said would walk us to our hotel. He obviously knew the friend because his friend asked us for a large tip which was equivalent to what the taxi driver gave us back for change. So, the driver must have told him how much tip money we had on us. Ah, well! We had really great experiences in Morocco too … but yeah just wanted to list these tips out for first-timers as you said.

  7. Tina

    I’ve never been to Morocco but it’s definitely a country I would love to visit one day. Thanks for sharing, these tips are great. Always good to be on the lookout.

  8. Jamie

    Thanks for sharing the details – it’s key to be prepared for what could happen. I had an amazing trip to Morocco myself but did run into the henna scam. I had been prepared for the photo ops, direction giver, and the necessary haggling. But having my hand grabbed and henna applied without consent was intense – you described it well as being hit by lightning.

    1. Jess

      Thanks for sharing your henna experience, it’s good to hear from someone who had the same exact thing happen to them! It was def shocking.

  9. On the travel wish list! Would love to visit Morocco. So good to go prepared with a list of scams to watch out for. I must admit that we have seen most of these scams with local flavours in other countries. We have successfully managed to avoid trips to tailors and rug shops. So hopefully would not get conned into visiting a tannery! A good post to keep as a reminder!

    1. Jess

      Thanks for the comment! I Hope you’re able to visit some day. 🙂

  10. Medha Verma

    The country I come from, it is not uncommon for the locals to scam tourists and thus, to a great extent, I am always on the lookout for scammers when I am travelling. However, there are some countries which have a higher chance of scammers and Morocco definitely seems like one. This is a fantastic list of things one needs to be aware of before travelling so that it can be avoided. Most of the ways of scamming sound quite ‘usual’ in the sense that they do not surprise me, but the fact that restaurants might end up adding items in your bill which you didn’t even order or consume, is shocking! I’d expect local shop keepers or people in the street to do such things but establishments such as restaurants, wow!

    1. Jess

      That’s great that you already know what to look for. I grew up in a bit of a bubble so being exposed to scams like this was new to me. Morocco was one of my first trips abroad, so candidly I think that the scams there got to me a little more back then than they would if I re-visited today. Thanks for sharing your comment!

  11. Carol Colborn

    We just went on a day trip to Tangier from Spain. Going on a group tour helped us avoid these. I can imagine how it would be if you are.all alone.

    1. Jess

      It’s a harder country to navigate alone, but not impossible. I’ve heard Tangier is a cool place to visit!

  12. Jan

    Great tips here to avoid scammers in Morocco! It is scary that the henna-lady just pulled your hand and applied henna. It takes weeks to get rid of henna color. I have heard of scams like this in Barcelona and Madrid too. As tourists, we have to be conscious of our wallets and valuables while walking around busy places and say no to possible scammers. Thanks for an informative blog post. 🙂

    1. Jess

      Yeah! We were so worried that we’d have disgusting henna blobs (of nothing) on our hands for a few weeks. Luckily, we were able to quickly scrape the henna off with the help of a local. That’s interesting, I’ve never heard of scams like this happening in Madrid and Barcelona and spent two months in Spain…but, you’re not the first person who’s said that!

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