We asked local Chicago residents what Chicago scams they would warn tourists about. These are the Chicago scams they described, mostly in their own words.
Fake Electricity Company Scams
The “ComEd Guy”. A person dressed like ComEd with fake ID, clipboard, uniform, and all will come to your door and say they’re required to check something in your house. They steal everything they can get their hands on and just walk out. Most times it’s just one guy but the really bold ones work as a duo. One has the clip board going through this fake questionnaire with you while the other is “busy checking stuff” in your house.
Happens to older folks a lot but several young people in my neighborhood have been victims. Flyers are put up to warn people about them.
FYI, ComED is NEVER showing up to your house unless YOU contact them first and they’ll usually reply by email, mail, and a phone call before they ever come out.
The power company people that ask to have a look at your bill. Not sure exactly what they do but they end signing you up for service without your consent that is much more expensive than Comed.
They sometimes want your account number to switch you without your permission….
Airport Taxi Scams
The shady dudes who lurk at O’Hare arrivals, quietly offering people unlicensed taxi rides.
Yes. I allowed myself to be talked into one of those rides. He got me home, but it was kind of uncomfortable to be in a stranger’s car.
Yes I just saw a woman doing this at the international terminal a couple hours ago. Feel like it happens at O’Hare (and LaGuardia) quite a bit.
Fake Monk Scam
The Asian guys who dress as monks. One gives you a bead bracelet. The rest flock to you like seagulls on a bag of potato chips saying you owe them money now.
Had it happen to be at a fest in Grant Park a few weeks ago. The bracelets he had actually looked kinda nice. I may have considered buying one if he was just selling it upfront.
This happens everywhere but not just monks. A bunch of African guys tried this on me at the Acropolis/Monastraki area in Athens, Greece this past April.
They were in a clearing/square between the Acropolis and Monastaraki. Said no thanks and kept walking. They tried to push it and I kept walking, went into a shop and they stopped once you hit the store fronts. They owners don’t mess around and chase them off.
Social Pressure Scam
The one where they ask you to sign a sheet of paper in support of their basketball team going down state and then say you just pledged to donate. It’s a popular one, I’ve seen it in Berlin too.
Then they shout to the world you are a sleaze. Public shaming sometimes triggers the mark to cough up some money. Another variation is spurting ketchup packet onto a victim’s pants leg or shoe and then offering to clean it off. When victim then refuses to ‘tip’ the volunteer, another round of public shaming. Just two of many versions of public shaming. Of course most effective on crowded Loop and North Michigan Ave sidewalks.
The goal is to get the victim to stop walking and to engage in some visible interaction with the con. That sets up the general passing public to assume the two know each other. So when the shouting begins, people assume the situation is legitimate.
Shoe Shine Scam
Basically, start shining your shoes, and Then tell you it’s $25 per shoe. When you refuse to pay, you suddenly realize it’s not one guy shining shoes but a team of 4 or more who suddenly surround you and stare you down. It plays on white guilt, basically… a curt “no thank you” followed by walking away usually foils the scam.
Yeah I don’t know why people capitulate to beggars like this. I occasionally spar with them but have tempered that behavior once I realized one of these weirdos might attack me some day lol. (Only the ones that clearly are not homeless but are downtown playing on white guilt. To the contrary I find they seem to be too scared or intimidated to ask white people for money and play on racial guilt/solidarity of those in their in group.)
Happened to me, right outside the Palmer house. I told the guy I didn’t have cash and dipped right into the hotel.
The scammer offers to shine your shoes for some cash or says they’ll gamble for the price of the shine. It’s usually a carnival type thing where they say something like “I bet I guess how many kids did your father had” If you know the answer you can walk away otherwise you might lose $20.
Pretending to Ask for Help
The hey I need bus money or money for medicine or to borrow money and will pay you back.
I remember a woman doing this one summer when I was walking to the beach with my then partner. She seemed so panicked and frantic he almost fell for it, lol. I pulled him away and he shot me a sheepish smile when she started right up again with the people walking behind us.
I haven’t seen this one in awhile but it was pretty common where a guy would sell you car speakers implying but not saying they were stolen but they were just bad speakers not hot and he would make a profit off selling them.
It’s a common scam called the “white van Speaker scam”
Basically they buy cheap speakers and claim there are with a “speaker installer” and just need to unload. The speakers are “valued at $1000 dollars” and they can sell it to you for $100.
Sports Team Scam
The teens on trains trying to ask for “donations” to their basketball team using some crumpled flyer that was photo copied at kinkos.
The kids trying to sell chocolate bars to tourists downtown while their stepdad/baby mama looks on in the background, not necessarily a scam but please don’t enable that type of bad behavior.
The sports teams donations are the worst. There’s one dude in Wicker Park always asking for donations for his fake little league team but for some reason he always changes the name of the team/sport. One day it’s the Wicker Park Cubs, one day they’re the Wicker Park Bulls. Outrageous, especially frustrating because sometimes he has kids out there with him.
One dude on Broadway used to “fundraise” for his “high school team.” One day I saw the cops chasing him away and he got aggressive with the cops, and that’s when I realized he was definitely like 25 years old.
I once caught a lady trying to donate to one of their “leagues”. I stopped her and told her it was a scam. The man just stood there staring me and then swung at me just as the blue line doors opened and took off. 10/10 would do it again.
I don’t know why anybody talks to anyone on the street asking them for money, frankly. That includes the people with causes and clipboards downtown. No you cannot have my credit card and billing information on a random street corner.
Kids selling candy bars for school sports teams. These kids are usually accompanied by an adult who’s within the area where they are working.
The adult buys bulk candy from a store, and the kids walk around selling $2 candy bar packages for $8-$10. The adult keeps 90% of the profit the kids get the other 10%. None of this money goes to sports teams.
Car Fixing Scam
The auto body scammers. They cruise the parking lots looking for cars with body damage and then offer to repair it right there for $100-400.
They pull up right behind your car and can get aggressive. They use some sort of wet compound you’re supposed to leave on and wash off later- total BS. Ruins your entire paint job.
Also at red lights. They are the worst. The same guy tried to get me for dents twice in the same month. I was like, “dude, you literally asked me last week” He got pissed and sped off.
Shoe Guessing Scam
I always considered myself street smart, but sometimes you get got. This is more of a dad joke than a scam:
A guy walked up to me and said “hey man nice shoes!”. They were just some bad gym shoes so I was thinking it was the shoe shine scam or something. I said thanks and kept walking.
He followed me and said “if I can guess where you got your shoes, you have to give me a dollar” OK, now I was curious haha. I did a quick check around to make sure there wasn’t anyone else obviously in on it, and said “alright deal”
“You got them…. ON YOUR FEET!”
welp… when you’re got you’re got, enjoy your dollar.
Street Fundraising Scams
as a guy who’s worked a couple fundraising/canvassing jobs, never do it. they’ll say you get to make the world a better place, etc., then make you bring in a certain amount of money or not get paid. where the money actually goes i have no clue because I was definitely taking home more than I was raising. everybody there always seems shady and it’s mostly just exploiting college kids to get cheap labor. I only picked them up when I needed to make rent and then quit because soliciting feels super bad. not a scam in the traditional sense but if you’re a student and see an ad for “summer campaign jobs” take it down before they scam more people into that BS.
I used to see flyers on my college campus that said something like “make $15 per hour working for charity” with no real details, only a number to call. I assume this is what they were recruiting for.
Cheque Cashing Scam
Some guy asked me to deposit his paycheck in my account and give him the cash in the ATM vestibule. I’m guessing the check would have bounced.
Oh no would people actually fall for that. For sure it’ll bounce the bank might let you take the money out but once they find out it’s a bad check it will go negative. Tell him to take it to a currency exchange.
Avoiding Chicago Scams in General
If you’re in a touristy place and someone is trying to separate you from your money for something other than the reason that you came there or food, you are being gamed or scammed. This is true everywhere, but I often walk down Michigan Avenue and count the scams. Whether it’s stickers on light posts promising a cure for cancer, sham charities with binders, the fake “monks”, the “homeless” teenagers in from mom and dad’s in Naperville, you’re being aggressively scammed. If you’re worried about the homeless, the poor, the disenfranchised, check out Charity Navigator and donate to a reputable organization and travel in peace, knowing that you can ignore these parasites. Also, eye contact is not a promise.
Something I’ve noticed in restaurants is kids or young people who walk in with a stack of flyers, magazines, or candybars, who set them down on a table (on top of someone’s phone), talk to the people at the table for a second, then pick their stack of stuff up with the person’s phone and run off.
Chicago Tourist Scams
We’ll be rewriting this article into something more comprehensive detailing the Chicago scams. For now, enjoy the raw stories from Chicago residents themselves on the scams in the city!