If you’re traveling to Morocco, it’s a good idea to be aware of the many types of Moroccan scams you may encounter. Read on for our full list!
Morocco was beautiful, gorgeous, dazzling, full of olive and date trees, absolutely resplendent in her tiles and mosaics, carved stucco and cedarwood, a hint of jasmine floating through the air.
Morocco was also CHOCK FULL of scammers and hustlers. We sometimes felt like we were fending off scams and hustles left and right, especially in big cities like Marrakech and Fes.
(Of course, that is not to say that everyone in Morocco or Marrakech was trying to take advantage of us. We met many lovely people who were kind and honest. But unfortunately, that group of people who tried to take advantage were the ones that, by definition, interacted with us more).
Fortunately, most of the scamming was of a similar flavor. We fell for a couple things the first day, and then wised up – mostly.
We did see and experience a lot of different types of scams, so I’m going to try to break down everything we know and learned in our 10 days in Morocco in this post.
It’s hard when you don’t know what’s real and what to expect! It’s especially hard if you enjoy being a nice person and don’t want to be rude to someone.
That’s why we’re going to spill everything we know about navigating scams in Morocco and not feeling like a chump.
The “It’s Closed” Scam
We fell for this one on our first day in Marrakech. We were looking for the El Badii palace and the map seemed to indicate we could cut through a particular side street.
A friendly young man stopped and told us that “oh, that way is closed” and ostensibly, it did look closed. Then he said “El Badii closes for lunch from 12-3 each day,” which sounded weird, but, hey, maybe it did. He kept chatting with us and then convinced us to let him take us to this “super great artisan market.”
El Badii, as we double checked later, was certainly not closed from 12-3 each day.
Our second mistake was going to the “artisan” market, which was a huge warehouse of goods, where the locals get a kickback when they bring customers. To underscore that point to us, he saw us again later, asked if we liked the store, and when we were like “meh” he said oh, you should go back later (and buy something so he could get his commission).
We encountered this scam in Morocco over, and over, and over. If someone tells you “it’s closed,” ignore them and continue on to your destination.
(Ironically, there was one time when an attraction actually was closed and multiple people told us that, but we forged on until we saw the “closed” sign. Still the right choice).
The “You’re Going the Wrong Way” Scam
We encountered this Moroccan scam many, many times. Similar to “it’s closed,” the “you’re going the wrong way” is intended to disorient you and set them (the local) up as a guide to take you to the “right” spot.
Honestly, this one was just so amusing sometimes, as we would be walking past someone and they would just shout out “Oh, the Blue Gate’s that way” pointing in the opposite direction of the Blue Gate, which I had literally already walked by at least 6 times and knew 100% we were going the right way.
Or, again in Fes, when we were looking for the tanneries, multiple times we were told, “Oh, no tanneries that way. Only houses.” *Shockingly*, we came right to the tanneries 2 minutes later on that very street.
If someone says you’re going the wrong way, I almost take that to mean you’re going the right way. Certainly, do not listen to anyone offering directions.
We also avoided telling people where we were going, too. If we stopped to consult a map, or they just flat out asked “where are you going,” we usually hedged and didn’t tell them. We just felt we didn’t need to give anyone any encouragement to follow us or bother us further.
The “I’m Not a Guide”
This is something you will read in any article about Morocco, and I’ll repeat it here: You do not need a guide.
This is good advice, and one to definitely follow.
Now, the guys in Morocco know that most people know to not go with a guide. So they’ll say “I’m not a guide” when you don’t want to go with them. They either do this because A.) They’re lying and will definitely ask for money later or B). They want to take you to their friend’s store to get a kickback (as in our example above).
If someone offers to take you somewhere, and you hedge, they may say, “Oh it’s ok, I’m not a guide, I’m just going that way.” Knowing what I know now, I would be a lot more forward with saying “no thank you, we’re good” because every time we got soft, we ended up at someone’s shop or with a hard sell.
The “I’ll Just Walk With You” Scam
Several times, we had someone want to be a guide or give us directions and then just start walking with us, as if they were actually taking us somewhere.
This is one of the most uncomfortable Moroccan scams, I’m not going to lie. How do you get rid of them if they keep walking with you?
Well, first off it helps when you don’t tell people where you are going, because if they think they’re taking you one place and you veer off another way, they often leave you alone. We also repeatedly said, “No thank you, we don’t need help.”
If you can’t shake them off, you may have to be forceful with saying, “We don’t need your help. Please leave us alone.”
The Fake Money Scam
In Ait Ben Haddou, as we were walking past a shop, the shopowner came out with a “$20” bill and asked us if we could change the $20 for 200 dirham (a fair exchange rate) because he had no way to get it exchanged locally.
This was one of the most absurd Moroccan scams we ran into because the $20 was obviously a fake. We said no and moved on.
Later, as we walked past the same spot, he tried to get us to come shop in his store. Funnily enough, after that attempt to cheat us, we didn’t feel so inclined to buy from him!
Thankfully, we only encountered this Moroccan scam that one time.
The “Free” Sample Marrakech Scam
This was a scam we encountered mostly in Marrakech. There are guys selling cookies on the side of the road, and I actually really liked these cookies! A fair price is 1 dirham for 1 or 2 cookies.
Well, as we were walking through the gardens of the Koutubia mosque, there was a man holding a tray of cookies. I liked those cookies, I wanted another cookie, and we were walking toward him intending to buy one.
Well, after chatting with the man for a minute, he offered us a “free” cookie.
This wasn’t even our first day, so I’m a little embarrassed to admit that we fell for this one!
We accepted the “free” cookie, and then he started giving us other items too, which of course, were not going to be free.
We told him we didn’t want the other ones and gave them back, at which point he told us the cookies we were holding (and had started eating, ugh another misstep) cost 10 dirham.
(He had also tried to get us to sample the second set he gave, which is when it finally dawned that this was a setup.)
When we said “oh no, you said it was a gift” he said “oh one of them was, but not the other one” and he wanted 5 dirham for the one cookie, which is 5X more than what you should pay.
We ended up giving him 2 dirham (one for each cookie) and walking away.
We heard lots of other people saying the same thing in Jemaa el-Fnaa – “oh it’s a gift” “oh this is free”. Don’t trust anything as being free – especially food!
However, in contrast, one day in Marrakech we walked past an artisan woodworker with a little shop. He was using his foot, a knife, and a hand-powered motor to carve different wooden boxes and chess sets. We were super intrigued, so we stopped to watch.
This man was incredibly nice, as he let us take a picture and video of him working (we asked before if it was okay to do that) and he started carving a chess piece to show us. When he was finished, he gave me the chess piece as a “gift.” I took it, actually really liked it, and was intending to pay for it, but when I tried to give him money, he refused.
I tell this story so it doesn’t seem like everyone is out to cheat or scam you in Morocco! A lot of people were very kind.
The Most Famous of Moroccan Scams: The Rug Bait and Switch
We didn’t end up buying any rugs in Morocco, but I’ve heard numerous accounts of rug salesmen doing a bait and switch with customers. A customer will come in, choose a rug, and then when the owner goes back to package the rug for them to take home, they actually wrap up a vastly inferior carpet.
If you buy any carpets, keep your eyes on the rug the whole time and watch them package it up from start to finish!
Marrakech Tannery Scams
We heard about the Marrakech tannery scam, but weren’t planning on going to the tanneries in Marrakech (we went to them in Fes, though!)
The scam is that a man saying “I’m not a guide, you don’t need to pay me” will stay with you and walk with you to the tanneries, and then wait for you until you’re done and pressure you to pay as you come out.
We didn’t have that experience, but we were in the section of town near the tanneries and a man latched onto us, even though we repeatedly said “we’re not going to the tanneries” or “we’re going somewhere else” or “we don’t need a guide.” He kept staying with us, even when we stopped to look at our phones to try to lose him.
He would say “Oh go to the tanneries and then go where you’re going.” Eventually, we had to say very forcefully, “LEAVE US ALONE. WE ARE NOT GOING WITH YOU.” And he finally left.
Interestingly, there were not a lot of other people around in that part of town. If you do go to the tanneries in Marrakech, I would go in a group and be prepared to stand your ground, as the hustling in this area is intense.
“This special market is only here for one day! You have to check it out!”
We heard this regularly, especially in Marrakech. It is possible that there were a whole bunch of different, separate markets that were only there for a day at a time and rotated, but from what we saw after checking out one such “special market,” it felt like a line (and not all that special).
Overcharging For Set Prices (taxis to airport)
There are two types of taxis in Morocco: grand and petit. Grand taxis generally take you between cities, while petit taxis take you around one city.
They aren’t just abstract names either, the grand taxis are actually bigger – more like a van.
While in the cities you can and absolutely should negotiate for the price of a taxi (either grand or petit), transfers to and from the airport are a set price.
In Casablanca, the price is 300 dirham ($30) between the airport and the city for a 45 minute ride. In Marrakech, the price is 70 dirham ($7) between the airport and city for a 10-15 minute ride. These are prices for the petit taxis.
While the price is set, some taxi drivers still tried to upcharge us – in Marrakech, one driver tried to tell us 100 dirham, then negotiate to 90, then 80. We stayed firm and said “no, we know the price is 70 dirham to the airport”, and when we threatened to walk away and find a different taxi, he immediately agreed to the 70 dirham price.
The Henna Ladies in Jemaa el-Fnaa
There are many women in Jemaa el-Fna, in Marrakech, offering henna designs. Be sure to haggle on and agree to the price before you get any henna drawn on you.
The scam part comes when sometimes the women will grab your hand and start drawing on a design “as a gift.” It’s not. If they start drawing, pull your hand away and negotiate first.
“Take a picture” of Animals Scam (/Cruelty)
Also in Jemaa el-Fna, there are a variety of men out with animals, such as monkeys or snakes. They would call out, “Hey come take a picture.”
We declined, but if we had taken a picture, payment would then have been demanded.
Plus, those animals were most definitely not being treated well. Pass.
Outrageous Claims About Quality of Goods
A few times we ran into salesmen claiming that their goods were much higher quality than they actually were. For example, a couple times we were told a kaftan outfit was made of silk (they were definitely not silk), with a correspondingly higher price.
In Fes, many shops had ceramic platters with a metal design overlay. The price for these pieces was much higher than regular ceramics, understandably, but the salesmen many times tried to tell us the metal was silver. It was absolutely not silver, it was a type of solder.
And if you’re going to buy saffron, be careful that you are being sold real saffron.
How to tell if you have real saffron? Real saffron is multi-colored – the base is more orange/yellow, whereas the tip is deep red. The shorter the yellow section at the base, the better – but it should still be there. Pure red is often a sign it is fake or colored artificially.
Second, if you look at a piece of saffron, it should have a flared tip – like a super small paint brush – sometimes splitting into 2 or 3 distinct strands. It’s like a little flower.
Lastly, it should have a distinctive smell, sort of like musky honey or hay, and if you get a piece wet, it should smear yellow on paper, while still retaining its own color.
A fair price is less than 30 dirhams per gram of saffron.
In Chefchaouen it is very common to get propositioned for weed. Weed (or hashish) is grown in the area, and while you can easily get it (we were offered it twice during our 3 hours in the city) it is technically illegal and you can get in major trouble for having or smoking it.
“I don’t have change. Here’s the wrong change.”
This was another one that only happened once, but it bears repeating. We were haggling for a tagine and the merchant was way, way overcharging (we had seen tagines around a lot and gathered that a fair price was around 30 dirham for a large one).
This merchant’s opening offer was 100 dirham, and he wasn’t going lower than 60 dirhams. (We would’ve just walked away and found someone else to buy from, but we were on our way to the airport to leave Morocco when we decided to try to buy one – it was our last chance).
We finally settled on 45 dirhams, but when we gave him 100 dirhams, he told us he did not have change.
We weren’t sure how a large merchant would not have change, but whatever. He ran across the street to make change, and a couple minutes later came back with our change… but he only gave us 40 dirham in change, not the 55 we should have received.
We pressed the issue, he played dumb, but went back to get us the rest of our change… and came back and again shortchanged us.
At this point, we pulled out of the transaction. We felt like we were getting cheated, and we weren’t happy about that.
Negotiate Before Eating or Taking Ride, or Anything
These next two scenarios aren’t Moroccan scams, per se, just situations to be aware of.
You absolutely must haggle on and agree to the price for any food or taxis that you take, before you take it. Do not get in a taxi without agreeing on the price beforehand.
In Marrakech, a fair price for a taxi in the medina is 15-25 dirham (depending on how far you are going). I wouldn’t pay anything more than 25 dirham, unless you are going somewhere farther than 15 minutes away by car.
If the taxi won’t come down to a reasonable price, start walking away. They will usually call out and agree to your price.
The Fake Close
Again, not a scam, just a little trick to watch out for. When haggling, often the salesmen will do a “fake agreement,” trying to close you.
The situation: He’s saying 200, you’re saying 150. He starts to agree with you, acts very acquiescent, comes in close to shake your hand, saying “ok, ok ok, I agree… 180 let’s do this” trying to catch you off guard and close you higher.
When it got to that point, we found we could usually still get them to go lower in price. Don’t get caught off guard by the fake agreement! Though to be fair, Matthew latched onto this tactic and started turning it around – “Ok fine, you’re right, we’ll do 150 and call it a day.”
A Couple of Phrases You Will Probably Hear:
“Brother!” – Often men on the street who wanted us to go with them would call us brother, as a way to soften us up.
“I just want to practice my English” – Another line from people who want to take you somewhere or be your guide.
“Where are you from?” – Both a way to get you talking and to gauge how much to charge you. It was funny when they would press and start guessing themselves. Apparently we look Dutch. (We are American)
A Contrasting Viewpoint + A Story
Okay, after detailing all of these Moroccan scams and hustles, found especially in the bigger cities like Marrakech and Fes, I just want to add again – not all Moroccans were like this. Most people on the streets were just minding their own business. Many shopkeepers seemed honest and friendly.
Speaking of shopkeepers, I want to add that haggling is an absolute must in Morocco when it comes to shops and taxis. I don’t consider the culture of haggling to be a scam, it’s just the way that things are done there. We had very pleasant interactions with many shopkeepers, even staying and chatting with a few of them just for fun.
I also want to shoutout one situation where several Moroccan people went above and beyond to help us. We were on our way to a cooking class (one of our top top favorite activities in Morocco – can’t recommend it enough) and had taken a taxi to the meeting point. After we got out and had walked down the street, Matthew realized that he didn’t have his phone – it had gotten left in the taxi.
We frantically searched the square and the spot where we had gotten out – no phone. We figured it had either gotten left in the taxi, or had dropped on the ground and someone had scooped it up.
We tried calling the phone, but it rolled to voicemail – Matthew hadn’t been getting great cell service in Morocco, and we figured if someone had grabbed it, they would’ve turned it off or taken out the SIM card. We tried calling it many times with no success, and finally just had to accept it: the phone was gone.
We tried to put it out of our heads and enjoy the cooking class. An hour or two later, I got a text on my phone from a friend back home, who said “Matthew left his phone in a taxi.” Apparently the taxi driver had been calling contacts, trying to get a hold of someone to return Matthew’s phone to him, and had been able to talk to this friend of ours.
With that information and a spark of hope, we tried calling Matthew’s phone again, and long story short, with the help of the cooking class instructor, we were able to get in touch with the taxi driver and meet up with him to get Matthew’s phone back (and give the driver a very big tip).
We got so incredibly lucky and the driver and the instructor were both so honest and helpful, going above and beyond. to make the situation right for us.
While the scams in Morocco were definitely intense, and between shopowners calling out to you and guys on the street trying to talk to you, it can be a lot, I don’t want this post to make it sound like everyone in Morocco is out to get you. In addition to the taxi driver phone story, we met so many lovely Moroccan people and had lots of great interactions.
Moroccan Scams: Final Thoughts
With all of that being said, here are 5 main things to remember:
- Don’t be afraid to stop a minute and just take a second to think and assess the situation.
- Act confident. Project an air of purpose with your movements.
- If you do need help, seek it out yourself rather than accepting unsolicited help.
- It’s ok if you do get scammed! Don’t feel bad as it will almost certainly happen to some degree because, dang, those guys know what they are doing and it can happen so fast.
- Most importantly, my biggest advice is to not let the hustle and bustle of the streets, and the frequent attempts at hustling, get you down. Traveling in Morocco is an absolutely amazing experience – If (when) it happens, learn from it, and then brush it off and keep enjoying the beauty and exoticness that is Morocco.
Like this Moroccan scams post? Check out our other Morocco articles!
- How Much Does a Trip to Morocco Cost? Our Morocco Travel Budget
- 12 Great Things to Do in Fes, Morocco
- 16 Unique Things to Do in Marrakech, Morocco
- Driving in Morocco: How to Navigate Your Morocco Road Trip
- 24 Traditional Moroccan Foods and Drinks to Try in Morocco
- 13 Souvenirs from Morocco to Bring Home with You