I arrived in Budapest earlier today and became the target of a tram ticket scam. Fortunately, I didn’t fall for it, but other travellers may not be so lucky.
Like many tourists who visit Budapest for the first time, I had no idea how the tram ticket system works. I found a lady who spoke good English and asked her if I could buy a ticket on the tram or would have to buy some kind of tram pass from elsewhere. She was very helpful and explained I would need to get a ticket from the machine on the other side of the track. She did not try to scam me or mislead me in any way.
When I crossed the track, I saw a guy loitering near the machine. He looked suspicious so I waited a while to see if he would move on. He didn’t. My first idea was that he was maybe waiting for an opportunity to steal someone’s card if they tried to use it with the machine, or maybe snatch their money. He was pretty muscular-looking, but not nearly as big as me so I thought, if anything bad did happen, I’d kick his ass. I was already aware something was amiss so there was no way he could catch me by surprise.
However, the Budapest tram ticket scam is more subtle than that. With my two big bags strapped to my body and the sweat running down my face, it was easy to see I was probably new in town. Then when I stood trying to figure out how the machine worked it made it all the more obvious.
“Do you need help?” he asked. I said that I was going to buy a ticket, but didn’t need any help. I saw him open the door at the base of the machine and reach into the ticket tray behind it. He pulled out a few strips of paper. I continued trying to figure out how the machine worked.
A few seconds later, he touched the screen and pulled up a menu. It showed the cost of a ticket. The price was 350 HUF (€1.07). Then he said, “You want one ticket?” I said that I did, then he tried to force a couple of strips of paper onto me. He said he’d just bought the tickets. He wanted me to give him money and was becoming increasingly pushy. I didn’t waver, I said, “No! I want to buy my own from the machine.”
The problem was, at that point, the machine was no longer responding when I touched the screen. I pulled out a 500 HUF note and tried to offer it to place it in the slot. The machine was still dead and the guy was still trying to press these strips of paper on me. The way he was going on would probably have intimidated a lot of people into giving him the money. All he managed to do with me was piss me off.
I put my money back in my pocket and snatched the “tickets” from his hand. Then I went up to a girl standing a little further away. I asked her if she spoke English. She said she did. I showed her the strips of paper and asked if they were tram tickets. She confirmed they were not. “So, they are useless,” I said and she agreed.
By this time, the guy was standing right next to us. I looked him the eyes, scowled at him and said, “Thank you.” He gave up and walked away. Then I looked at the girl and thanked her as well, but without the same acid in my tone.
How the Budapest Ticket Scam Works
After the guy had gone, I returned to the machine and successfully paid for a ticket. The machine threw out two pieces of paper. They looked very similar to me. I had no idea why there were two pieces of paper instead of just one. I showed them both to a guy waiting to use the machine and asked which one was the ticket. He examined them both and handed me the correct ticket.
I still don’t know why the tram ticket vending machines in Budapest throw out two pieces of paper, but I’m guessing of them is a receipt. Most people don’t need a receipt, so they tend to leave it in the tray of the machine. Then, when one of the less savoury members of the Budapest population comes along, they retrieve the pieces of paper and use them to try and pull a tram ticket scam.
How to Avoid the Tram Ticket Scam
The real tram ticket has a kind of noughts and crosses grid on one side. It’s filled with numbers. The other piece of paper does not. Real tickets also say “single ticket” on them and show the date. The print is quite small though. The numbered grind is much easier to see.
However, knowing how to spot a real ticket is only half the battle. Lots of people discard their used tickets after they’ve completed their trip. Some put them in bins. Others drop them on the floor. It would be easy for anyone to collect old ticket and then try to use them for this sort of scam.
I hate thieves of all kinds so I’m sharing this experience to try and help tourists in Budapest to avoid this tram ticket scam. My advice is to only use tickets you’ve bought directly from a tram ticket vending machine. They are a little hard to figure out because the screen does not display any obvious options unless you touch it. After that, it becomes obvious what to do and you can pay for your ticket using a card, paper money, or coins.
Unfortunately, big cities often become home to a lot of the wrong type of people. Most of the Hungarians I’ve met have been incredibly nice. Although, I became aware of this tram ticket scam when I was in Budapest, similar scams are likely to be in operation in other cities of the world. So it’s always best to be suspicious of any stranger who approaches you with a sudden offer of help. Especially if they are unusually pushy about it or seem to have been loitering near a ticket vending machine for a long time.
– – – – –
– – –
– – –
– – – – –