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Four Common New Orleans Scams to Avoid

Before ever having gone to New Orleans I was schooled on how to do the city right by several locals. First, I had to increase my alcohol intake (aka increase my tolerance) so I could “hang” with the group all night. Mind you, I was in my early twenties so it was some time ago. Secondly, I had to know a few of the common scams so I wouldn’t get myself – or my friends – sucked into them. And trust me, in my twenties I would have been an easy target, especially after a Hurricane or two.

Over the years though I’ve come to find the hustles in New Orleans to be more a part of the city’s charm. That is of course unless you’re one of the folks who gets charmed out of their money.

To help make sure that doesn’t happen, here are a few common New Orleans scams to avoid.

1. Welcome to New Orleans, I’ve Got a Rap for You

A nice, outgoing person may welcome you to New Orleans and ask where you are from. That’s great! And that’s simply southern hospitality. Now, when they start breaking into a rap verse about your name and your hometown that’s when you know it’s not just hospitality. At the end of the rap, they will of course have their hand out. It’s wise to either walk away when they break into song or pay up.

2. Sneaker Scam

One of the more common scams in New Orleans is when someone asks you “where did you get your shoes?” Or “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes.” The obvious answer is “on your feet” and that’s exactly the answer you’ll get as a response if you play the game.

The problem is, if you play, you have to pay. If you deny the first bet you may get, “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes AND what street you got them on.” Again, the answer is an obvious one, ” you got your shoes on your feet and the street you got them on is (current street).”

Your best bet is to simply say “no thanks” and keep walking. If you engage, you’re likely going to have someone in your face demanding payment. And frankly you’ll be lucky if it’s just one person demanding the payment…

3. Three-Card Monte

Three-Card Monte also known as the Three-card carney and Three-card trick is an easy one to get sucked into. A friend of mine was actually taken for $20 when he first moved to New Orleans. While it looks like an easy and fun way to win a few bucks, don’t be fooled.

To play, a dealer places three cards face down on a table, usually on a cardboard box; it’s easy to set up and disappear quickly. The dealer shows that one of the cards is the target card, say the king of spades. The cards are then rearranged to confuse the player about which card is which. The player is then given an opportunity to select one of the three cards.

If the player correctly identifies the king of spades, they win an amount equal to the amount they bet. If they select the wrong card they lose their money.

4. Tell Me Your First Name, I Bet I Can Spell Your Last Name

I’ve never been good at spelling, and more than likely someone making this bet with you isn’t either. Here’s how it works. You’re asked, “Bet you $10 if you tell me your first name, I can spell your last name”.”You give them your first name, and then he/she spells out “L-A-S-T N-A-M-E” (literally spelling out the word last name), then says “now gimme $10”.

So What If…

If you are approached by someone with any of these scams, the best thing to do is just smile and politely say not thanks and keep walking. Do not engage. Word to the wise though, plan to carry some cash so you can pay up just in case you do get charmed into one of these.

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Elaine Schoch

Elaine N. Schoch

Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.


MA Shawn

Sunday 10th of May 2020

Wish this would have been published before my wife & I visited the French Quarter during during Mardi Gras 2017. We got swindled out of $20 by two guys running the shoe scam. They stopped us in a friendly way, then in the next second one of them was putting a white cream on my tennis shoes and wiping it off. Then they said, "I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes." The whole time they were friendly and smiling, even laughing.

I was born in New Orleans and my mom & brother still live there so I've visited many times over the decades and never encountered these type scams in the past. I guess I was lucky. I'll be more prepared next time.

Elaine Schoch

Monday 11th of May 2020

Ugh, sorry to hear this. Glad it only cost you $20...

Tony Quinn

Friday 11th of January 2019

THIS IS CALLED STRONG ARM ROBBERY!!!! Don’t give these pieces of shit your time or your money. There is nothing charming about uneducated, violent, drug addicted lowlifes harassing tourists. Shoe shine hustlers are trash and born and raised locals hate them!

Jono Harris

Friday 14th of December 2018

First time I was in NOLA I got caught with the shoes gag. He had a cool rhyme to accompany it and if I could remember that, it would be 6 bucks well spent. I agree it’s part of the vibe there. ‘A dollar earned, for a lesson learned..’

Lars

Sunday 7th of October 2018

I'm a life long New Orleanian and work in the French Quarter. As a rule, most New Orleanians are inviting and engaging but don't let your guard down - we have our share of street scammers. The most likely place you will encounter them is in the Quarter on & around Bourbon St all the way up to the River and up river to Canal St. In these areas, tourists outnumber locals by at least 10 to 1. Thus, the scammers know there are many unsuspecting targets that they can bully into paying out on such "innocent" schemes. Unfortunately, it's not innocent because it emboldens the scammers, many of whom use these schemes to pay for their drug habits. Also, nobody but the scammer likes getting scammed so when people fly home, they bad mouth the city for something the police are unable to control. So the best advice truly is this: if a stranger walks up to you and attempts to engage you, assume that you're a mark and act accordingly. If you feel you must say something, follow Nancy Reagan's advice and just say no ;-)

Elaine Schoch

Sunday 7th of October 2018

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I was just in NOLA last week and glad to say we didn't have any issues in the Quarter (or anywhere else). It's all about being smart and not putting yourself in a bad situation.

Norman Doyle

Thursday 25th of January 2018

The whole 'take some cash with you, just in case' is not good advice in a city like NOLA. If you are in those parts of town where these scams are more common - The French Quarter, the Marigny, Irish Channel and the CBD - you must NOT engage in this kind of banter with strangers.

It may seem somehow more "charming" because it's New Orleans, a city that definitely has a singularly magical quality. The only difference between someone trying to get your money on the corner of Decatur & Gov Nicholls in NO compared to say, 6th & Brazos in Austin is the alleged "charm". In Austin it's "Got any cash?" And in NOLA it's the storied little games.

The upshot though, is that in Austin, if you say no, it's no. But if you hesitate for a moment in New Orleans, they will be in. And once you're in, it's almost impossible to get out. New Orleans is also notorious for street robberies that end in worst case scenarios. What does that mean?

New Orleans is not the most violent place in America. However, if you are the victim of a violent robbery in New Orleans, you are more likely to be killed as opposed to injured.