“Free” Gifts and Blessings Scams

A friendly fist bump with friendship bracelets

One of the most common, in its variants, and usually harmless scams in the world. You might come across it just by walking through almost any crowded major tourist center or city.

And not only there.

In my experience, I have encountered it on practically every continent I have been to, although not in every nation, and in situations and environments that are quite different from each other.

Their presence or absence strongly depends on the degree of tolerance of local authorities towards this type of street scammers.

1) How it works

You are enjoying your day in a public square, a famous monument, a local market or an historic street or a temple area, then it happens.

Sometimes a Friendly Face (click here for the main article) will approach seeking for your attention and trust. Otherwise, scammers may try to catch you off-guard.

You will be offered something, depending on the scam. It will often be placed in your hands or on your body almost forcefully. It could be anything, such as an object, a blessing, or symbolic paint (Check the Extras and Thoughts below for the variants).

They will try to make you believe that that’s a gift and push you to accept it. Then they will ask you for a “donation”, often insistently, while endorsing the most disparate and desperate reasons.

They may try to guilt-trip you, annoying you or make you feel uncomfortable until you break and pay or leave.

Rarely, they might even become aggressive towards you. Or they could involve accomplices and even fake police officers to intimidate you.

A scammer who impersonates a monk and tries to offer a bracelet to his victim
Fake Monk Offering "Free" Bracelets in NY. (Credit - Jason Rupp via YT)

2) What you risk

In the best case, you’ll risk losing your money on something unnecessary and unsolicited. And maybe your good mood too.

You may also end up pickpocketed (click here for the main post) by an accomplice while being distracted.

3) How to avoid it

– Be aware of your immediate surroundings (First rule, as always).

Be kind but assertive and refuse any stuff “offered for free” by random strangers, especially in crowded tourist places. Not literally “any-any”, just feel the context and look for the red flags.

If someone try to force something in your hand or grab your wrists without your explicit permission, shake them off and walk away. Ask for help if they don’t leave you alone.

– In general, don’t let people manipulate, intimidate or guilt-trip you into making something or buying stuff you don’t need or want.

– If they try their best to make you think that something is a gift, without explicitly saying so, that is probably not for free.

– Don’t listen to their stories and reasons. They didn’t ask for your help. From the beginning, they were and are trying to gain your trust, guilt-trip and deceive you.

– My favourite answer is that I belong to a cult/religion for which it is forbidden to accept gifts of “that” specific type. 9/10 of scammers won’t argue with that.

– Beware of ninja henna painters!

– Check the Extras and Thoughts below for the list of variations of this scam, or click here to read about the Friendly Faces.

4) Extras And Thoughts

Here is a list of variants of this scam that are (or will soon be) in our Archives. In most cases, however, the advices in this article (check the How to avoid it part) should be enough to get you through each of the following scenarios.

Wandering monks, nuns and gurus

Self-proclaimed gurus and wise men/women who entangle tourists and passers-by by giving them blessings, books, or trinkets in exchange for not-so-voluntary donations. Read here to know more about them.

The image featuring the ‘Fake Monk’ is extracted from a video that clearly captures one of these scammers’ routine in New York. Click here for the complete video on YT and check out Jason Rupp‘s YT channels here and here. Besides being adept at dealing with scams and scammers, the guy knows how to travel around. A special thanks for his work and kindness.

Also, stay tuned for an upcoming article entirely focused on this subject.

Friendship Bracelets

Probably the most widespread, they approach you and tries to tie a bracelet (like the ones in the main image) to your wrist as a gift for sympathy. You can read more about this scam here.

Forced Bindis

This also applies to tilaks and any other form of ornamental forehead painting. A common street scam in India, but not only there.

Henna Street “Tattooists”

As for forced bindis, but this concerns street henna artists and tattooists. They pretend to offer you a drawing but, once it’s finished, they annoy you for payment. Sometimes they might start drawing on you by surprise.

The lucky object or charm

Like the fortune rosemary routine in Spain.

The Rose Gift Scam

Scammers who wander around holding a bouquet of roses. Some exploit guilt-tripping to pester all male-plus-female couples that pass by. It doesn’t matter if they look o are romantically engaged. They ‘give’ the woman a rose, accompanied by compliments and smiles. If she accepts, they immediately ask the men to pay for it and try to raise the price. Click here to read the post.

The Good Man (or Woman) in Distress

Also known as the ‘salesman in distress’ scam. Seemingly wealthy and very friendly people who will even give you some gifts. Afterwards, they will ask you to give them a lot of cash in exchange for their watch or jewelry or clothing that apparently is worth much more.

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