Friendship Bracelet Scam: A Classic Street Encounter

a woman in a pink dress and a tattoo on her hand is fastening a friendship bracelet around someone's wrist

Friendship Bracelet scammers may seem like ordinary street vendors, carrying heaps of bracelets on their arms or in easily accessible bags. They often present themselves as Friendly Faces, locals or foreign immigrants,  and target anyone they can stop – tourists and locals alike.

You’ll find them almost exclusively in busy areas, particularly tourist hotspots, due to the high turnover of potential targets.

Their presence in an area largely depends on the local tolerance for this type of activity. They rarely manage to enter bars, restaurants, or other private establishments, but they can be spotted in public ones like central train stations.

1) How it works

In my experience, these scammers often try to interact with tourists using simple English and friendly approaches. (you can read here about Friendly Faces)

Depending on the initial response, they get if the target is already aware of this scam routine and decide whether to continue or not.

There are three reported ways of approach for this scam:

  1. Scammers will approach, greet you, and engage in conversation. At any point, they will insistently offer you one of their coloured bracelets as a token of friendship.
  2. While greeting, scammers will offer their hand for a shake or a fist bump. If you reciprocate the gesture, they seize the opportunity to quickly try tying the bracelet around your wrist.
  3. Scammers will try to catch you by surprise in a crowd, grabbing your wrist to quickly tie the bracelet. This is the rarest case and largely depends on the crowd.

Regardless of how the bracelet ends up tied to your wrist, once it’s there, your new “friend” will ask you for payment.

The design and materials of these bracelets, coupled with the way they are tied, make it difficult to quickly remove the “gift” from your wrist without damaging it.

This gives the scammers time to try to persuade you to donate something by sharing heart-wrenching stories and photos of children and attempting to evoke a sense of pity.

In some cases, I have also read about attempts at intimidation. However, these are very rare and largely depend on how you handle them.

A friendly fist bump with friendship bracelets
Friendship Bracelets (Designed by Freepik)

2) How to Handle Them

The tips covered in this article, about the “Free” Gifts And Blessings Scams, might serve as a good source of information to counter this scam and others alike.

  • The more time and space you give these people, the more they will try to convince you to fall for the scam. In this case, accepting the wristband and then donating something in return for the “gift” received.
  • Spotting Friendship Bracelet scammers is often not difficult at all. They’ll often have some, or a lot, of those wristbands with them in plain sight.
  • Also, they’ll always rely on your willingness to stop and talk to them. Once you recognize the red flags of this scam, be firm and refuse any further interaction. Remain as polite as possible, even if only to avoid potential escalations.
  • Remember that it might be very difficult to remove the bracelets without cutting and damaging them. The best protection against this scam is to prevent them from being strapped to your wrist in the first place.
  • Last but not least, try not to get too distracted by these random encounters. They could always be a diversion for pickpocketing attempts (click here for the main pickpocketing thread).

4) Extras And Thoughts

While being aware of the risks and taking the necessary precautions, there’s nothing stopping you from interacting with these people from a human perspective.

Like most “Free” Gifts and Blessings scams, this routine often relies on a friendly approach and the law of large numbers – stopping as many people as possible and moving on to the next if the current target doesn’t fall for it. They are rarely aggressive or dangerous.

Just don’t expect them to be interested in stopping to talk to you, unless you’re willing to donate something.

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