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.
More of New Orleans
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.
These are some crazy scams. Thanks for these tips and warnings. My first and last trip to NOLA was in high school a very long time ago and I’ve been planning a return trip with kids in tow. These are great to know and knowing my kids, may have been sucked it to one of them easily. That’s a scary thought when visiting with kids and the naïve.
I now find them more funny than scarey but yes, the first time I heard them – and was approached by the shoe scam – I was nervous too. New Orleans is a fun place filled with nice people, but it’s still a tourist town so knowing some of the scams will help make a trip more enjoyable.
Was in Nola last week .Aug 6 2021 .The shoe scammer came up .I started talking to him when he asked about my shoes .I basically said before he went any further .Im not giving you any money .He looked pissed but instantly walked away .
Good for you! Hope you had a great time in NOLA.
Wow! Does that really work? I guess people just pay to get people to leave them alone.
Paying them to leave you alone is always a strategy. =)
Oh please, I grew up in Detroit and will NEVER carry money to pay a criminal to leave me alone! In fact I’m in NOLA now and have had several people ask about my shoes and I just sigh and walk away! Do Not Support Theives!
Yes, don’t even respond and just walk away!!!
I must say I would never think it was a scam if someone were to break out in a rap or just asked me soemthing about my shoes…
I know. I actually ask people rather often where they got there shoes but that’s more because I’m obsessed with shoes. =)
Which is completely understandable 🙂
Who knew? Great tips Elaine.
Fabulous tips! I really want to visit New Orleans and appreciate all of your sharing!
Very good information here for people travelling to New Orleans! I have never been there but I am going to share this post so that others may know,.. thanks for this.
Thanks so much for stopping by! These are good things to know for sure but not things to keep anyone from visiting NOLA. It’s such a great city!
I had this happen (shoe scam) to me and I just told him to piss off. I’m not scared by some street punk. Quit being intimidated .
My parents fell for the sneaker scam in the 80’s!
Ha! Hopefully it didn’t cost them too much.
We got hit up with the shoes scam. But my husband said, “You can tell me anywhere you want, but I’m not giving you any money.” The guy got pissed when he attempted to collect. But he wasn’t exactly what you’d call a wordsmith.
You’re lucky there weren’t “friends” of his around… On our trip out there in Sept. We had at least seven people try the shoe scam on us in one day. Just made me laugh.
I can’t believe some are recommending that you pay up with these scam artists or, even worse, to pay up just to get rid of them. That’s the worst thing you can do and that just encourages them.
DON’T PAY UP! EVER!!! Don’t be so naïve.
Do people actually do these? Crazy! And kinda clever too – I mean, they’re basically riddles. I guess I’d get fooled because I use the phrase ‘I bet’ all the time, without actually meaning that I’m betting anyone any money. Good tips of what to watch out for – thanks!
I know, I wouldn’t have believed them if people hadn’t actually said them to me – especially the shoe scam.
Wow those are pretty ridiculous!
“give you ten?” “sorry, I only have six,but when I reload,i will give you the other four.”
Thanks for the tips. Felt like I should try Nola again.. my first time was Mardi Gras and I feared for my life… but after reading this, I will NEVER go back. Who needs all that?
Oh, I’m sorry. That wasn’t the intent of this post. There are risks everywhere, especially in big cities that attract a lot of tourists. NOLA is one of the greatest city’s in the US, I hope you do get back there. I would suggest going during an off week though – not Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest – so you can really soak in the city and all that it has to offer.
It’s a unique city. I don’t consider it as culturally diverse as I expected it to be, but it does charm. A basic walk through the French Quarter shows interesting and beautiful architecture, lots of homeless people with dogs, various street performances that are typically mediocre and plenty of places to drink, eat and shop. I liked Frenchmen Street for the artistic vibe and the Garden District/Uptown for its genteel grace and charm. The Wharehouse District had a nice upscale hipster vibe with strong restaurants littered throughout and a more industrial, Northeast urban feel. I would go back for the charm and uniqueness of N’Awlins. Its something to see.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on NOLA. It’s a great city and one I love to visit!
Just wondering we are heading to New Orleans on our honeymoon in July. Was looking forward to it but when googling the amount of stories on crime and scams. Do these scams result in confrontation or do you just respond “no thanks” when someone asks you where you from? I was told to just stick to the French Quarter. Are we worrying over nothing? Thanks guys
I wouldn’t worry about it. New Orleans is really a great place and like any city being aware of your surroundings is key to being safe. If someone does approach you just say no thanks and walk away.
I was in New Orleans 8/21/16 and while walking around bourbon with my father, 1 guy came up and got me with the shoe scam. My father and I didnt take him seriously, actually laughed in his face and told him to f*** off. His other 9 buddies got up and demanded payment. We brushed it off and they left us alone. Im pretty sure if this would have been NIGHT time then we would have gotten beat to a pulp and robbed of everything. Definitely beware of the shoe scam. Just walk away or be in a group in case you get sucked in. Not too easy to rob 6 people when theres 1 or 2 guys.
Wow! Sorry to hear this. I’m glad you guys are ok. Yes, it’s a very real scam, albeit humerus when asked but not so funny if/when it turns threatening.
Guaranteed all the local swindlers know each other and would stick together regardless against tourists
Thanks for all these tips and warnings. It’s not always about low and charming houses, narrow streets, number of squares and alleys filled with the charming cafes where you can sit down for a cup of an aromatic cappuccino and a French pastry and talk with the bartender about philosophy and art. You always need to be careful.
There needs to be more police presence on foot. Recently my family went up to the upper level next to cafe’ dumont between St. Louis church and the river. Wanting to get a picture, a seedy character (who was not alone) tried the shoe scam. Waived him off, well he proceeded to loudly call me all kind of foul name which he continued to do from over the railing as we made are way to the river. Very threatening . I knew it was best to just ignore him but he persisted. By the grace of god he didn’t follow us. Be careful in the big easy. Loser and low lifes to abundant
I’ve seen that happen myself. It’s sad but true. Sorry that happened and I’m glad you guys are ok.
I’m from Louisiana and visit New Orleans a couple times a year. I was first introduced to the shoe scam on my senior trip on Bourbon Street. The guy kept telling me I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes and I kept saying I’m pretty sure you can’t. Eventually he ended up saying on your feet. I never paid the worthless scum artist though. The correct wording would be “I bet I can tell you where you have your shoes” anyways not “Where you got your shoes”. Because I most certainly don’t “got” them on my feet, I “have” them on my feet. If they ever pull the crap on you just tell them they’re not using proper grammar so the bet doesn’t even count. Plus they can’t just make you pay them money just because you failed to answer their riddle correctly. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal on some level to harass someone and try to extort money from random people. Please people, don’t ever pay these low-life pieces of scum. You don’t owe them anything and you’re definitely not obligated to give them your hard earned money
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.
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 😉
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.
Elaine, your experience is the typical one and most people will have a great time here without any issues. Hopefully, these comments will deter a scam artist from taking an otherwise unwary “mark,” be it in New Orleans or elsewhere.
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..’
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!
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.
Ugh, sorry to hear this. Glad it only cost you $20…
Comments are closed.