HOW TO AVOID FAUX GUIDES AND SCAMMERS IN MOROCCO.
First of all, the genuine guides are easily recognizable as they must wear a suit or smart traditional Moroccan djellabas, kaftans or the like and all of them wear an obvious badge that accredits them and gives a list of the languages that they speak. They are proud of their achievements, having to pay for the privilege and take exams, so often get very annoyed with faux guides who they feel are stealing their money. Your hotel or riad can usually help set you up with an accredited guide, or you can ask a policeman. Many are listed in guidebooks. Fes Desert Trips can help you find good ones. Some of them are expert in their own city and some are national guides who deal with trips all over Morocco. However, not all the official guides are actually very good. A few of them sound bored or disinterested, perhaps having done this a thousand times before, and often they don't know the answers to questions that aren't in their script.
Faux guides, or fake guides are everywhere. They are just out to make as much money as possible, so are often scammers, too. They come in various guises.
- "Can I Help you?" If you are looking lost, a young man or child may ask if you need help finding your hotel or whatever sight you are trying to find. Sometimes, this is genuine, though they may still ask for a few Dirhams as they've helped, but this is fine. Faux guides will take you to your location, often by an unnecessarily long and circuitous route and then ask for a large amount of money. They may get very nasty if you don't pay up. TOP TIP : Don't ask people in the street for directions. A lot of the men hanging about in tourist areas are potential faux guides or scammers. Ask a policeman or someone in a restaurant or shop. TOP TIP 2 : Try not to look lost and confused or look at your map too often. It makes you a target.
- "I am a guide." Some faux guides will just come straight up to you, claim they are a guide and offer a tour of all the sights. Ask to see their badge. To be fair, some of these are actually excellent guides and it is possible to agree a fair price. But most of them are just scammers and will take you to places where they get a cut of whatever you spend.
- "I know the Best Prices!" Other faux guides will promise you they know where the best restaurants are, or they can find you the cheapest places to buy leather goods, carpets, ceramics, souvenirs etc. They will take you to their friends' establishments where they get a share of the profits and then you will likely get charged over the odds. Again, it is true some of the accredited guides also so this to some extent, but only for a small commission.
Quite common these, I'm afraid.
Morocco has two types of taxi, the 'petite taxis', usually small Fiat 127s or Dacias that can carry up to four people within the city limits, and the 'grand taxis' that travel longer distances, can carry six ( or eight with some really big cars) and are usually Mercedes. Taxis are numbered and colour coded per city, so, for example, in Fes petite taxis are red and in Marrakech a light tan. Do be aware that prices are a little bit higher after 8 pm.
- Fake Taxis. Sometimes a white van or three-wheel flatbed vehicle will offer to give you a ride for a fair price. These are all illegal and scammers who will charge ridiculous prices. Just say no.
- "My Meter is Broken." No, it isn't. This is a scam to get you to pay more money by negotiation. Petite taxis have to have working meters by law. Sometimes, the driver will 'forget' to turn the meter on and then can charge what he likes when you reach your destination. So, make sure he switches the 'compteur' on before you start your journey.
- "I Haven't Any Change". Probably a lie, but rather difficult to prove. Always make sure you have plenty of small change and smaller denomination notes when you're going to take a petite taxi.
- Grand Taxis. These will sometimes just make up a price. The grand taxi ranks should have posted lists of the fares to the most common destinations and you can also ask for the Mul-taxi, the man who controls taxis in that area. Prices are fixed so find out what it should be.
Particularly in Marrakech, but elsewhere as well, ladies, often in an all black niqab with only the eyes showing as they don't want the police to recognize them, will ask if the women in your group want a henna tattoo. They can often ask in several languages or even actually grab you to drag you off to their den. The designs are often quickly drawn and awful to behold. The price may be exorbitant. Worse they often use 'black henna which can cause permanent scarring. Real henna paste is green or brown, never black.
If you do want to get a temporary, traditional and beautiful henna tattoo, please ask your Fes Desert Trips guide.
- I can show you the way.
- I can get you the very best price.
- The road ahead / place you're going to is closed.
- This is a Berber market, only open today, so you must come now!
- You need a guide to visit the tannery.
All of the above are invariably lies to entice you to pay for something you don't need. Sometimes several people will tell you the same thing as you continue your journey, but they are all in on the scam. Don't be fooled by it. Just keep walking. If you are worried or lost, ask in a restaurant or shop, NOT someone else on the street.
- As soon as they start telling you it's one hundred years old or that it can be sold for more in your country, or it's from a remote Berber village - run away.
- Argan Oil - best bought in Agadir or Essaouira as often in other cities it's fake or mixed with other oils but will cost more.
- Saffron is very expensive at the best of times, but watch out for fakes. Never buy it in a sealed container as the real spice can be told by its distinctive aroma.
- Fossils and Gemstones. Morocco is rightly famous for its wonderful fossils and minerals. But there are many fakes out there. If you're not a professional geologist it can be near impossible to tell the difference. Buy something because it looks nice, by all means, but don't expect a rare fossil at a cheap price. Always haggle. Watch out for quartz dyed purple to look like amethyst and geodes with dye or glitter added.
Usually in bigger cities there will be pickpockets, particualrly in the huge medinas of Fes and Marrakech. Beware especially when in crowds. They often target wallets, handbags and passports, but will snatch phones and jewellery, too. Sometimes, they work in gangs. Just keep everything in a secure place, don't be ostentatious and keep vigilant. Buy a money belt or anti-theft bag which is knife proof and lockable. Ensure your travel insurance covers theft.
Morocco has its fair share of beggars and many of them are genuinely needy. But there are scammers as well: ladies who borrow a young child or baby for a day's begging; children who are taught to pretend to be sick; adults who act blind, sick or disabled. Young children should never be given money or the bonbons or stylo (pens) they may ask for, as they will thus be encouraged not to attend school. Likewise, the young children trying to sell packets of tissues shouldn't be encouraged.
It's probably best not to give to beggars at all, as the locals will know who are really needy and help them out. If you give money, it can attract further unwanted attention.
To be honest, often this isn't a scam at all. The system of haggling in Morocco, in my opinion at least, is fair and fun. The vendor will often appraise the person by looking at their shoes, clothing, watch, accessories and nationality and decide a starting point based on that. The Japanese are often thought to have the most money, followed by the Americans, then the Europeans, people from the Middle East and so on. A high price will be decided on and you start from there. Don't be afraid to haggle! If you decide to pay the initial price, you've only got yourself to blame. Start considerably lower than the price that you're willing to pay and then work towards that. Don't go over it. The Moroccans themselves have to haggle, it's just the way things are done here. Speaking a little Arabic and pretending you know what you're doing can work wonders, too.
There are shops, cafes and restaurants that have set 'tourist prices', but there's not much you can do about that except find a place that doesn't.
Some restaurants will offer complimentary bread and water and then charge you for it or charge you for food items that you never ordered. Some will have two menus; the real one and the over-priced 'tourist menu'. They'll give you the first menu, then your bill arrives which is much higher than it should be. You protest and they bring you the second menu to show the actual prices you must pay.
Snake Charmers and Other Animal Scams.
Don't get drawn into playing along with the snake charmers which can be found mainly in Marrakech, but also elsewhere.
The snakes will either have had their fangs pulled or their mouths are sewn shut so they present no real danger. This means the snake soon dies and a replacement has to be procured. This is obviously cruel and unacceptable so have nothing to do with these guys.
Likewise, the monkeys in suits are often terribly badly treated. You see them chained to their owners or to another object. These are "Barbary Apes", actually a type of macaque monkey which should be living wild in the Atlas Mountains, not help prisoner in the cities with a nappy on. Best left alone.
Sometimes, tourists will be sold a baby tortoise as a pet and be assured this is okay. It isn't. It's illegal to take tortoises out of the country and you could be in hot water if you tried to do so. Also, wild tortoises are now endangered because of the pet trade.
Car Hire Scams.
With the smaller car hire companies, make a note of every scratch and dent on the car, both the exterior and interior. People have been charged for damage and cigarette burns that were already there. Taking a video of the car is a good idea.
Being charged a hidden cleaning fee when you return the vehicle is another scam. Only pay it if it was stated on your contract.
Hashish and Kif.
You may well get people approaching you to entice you to a party or offering the best 'shit' or 'chocolate'. Or just offer you hashish. We know some people come to Morocco, which is the main supplier of hashish to Europe, but bear in mind that it is illegal here, even though you will see people brazenly smoking it in some cafes and streets.
One scam is when a dealer offers to share some of his merchandise with you. After you've become a little high, the police appear and you'll have to pay a bribe to the cop or risk time in a Moroccan prison. The policeman in question, of course, is in league with the dealer. This doesn't always happen, of course, but it might. Just say no.