The Tram Scam
Most common complaint of tourists visiting Budapest?
It’s sure to be some variation of the following:
“I was fined for not validating my ticket.”
“Someone with an official-looking wristband walked up to me and told me I owed them 6,000 HUF for not validating my ticket but they barely spoke English and didn’t wear a uniform.”
“Someone with a ticket-master uniform told me I would be taken to the police if I didn’t pay a 10,000 HUF fine for not validating my ticket.”
Spoiler alert: YOU HAVE TO VALIDATE YOUR TICKETS. EVERY TIME. NO MATTER WHAT.
As soon as you enter the Metro, swing by the validation machines located RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU and validate those tickets. On the trams, trolleybuses, and buses, there are two types of validators, red and yellow/orange. The red validators do not auto-validate and require you to place the ticket into the top of the machine and pull the lever forwards. The yellow validators auto-validate the ticket after you place it in the front of the machine. The fine for not validating your tickets is 8,000 HUF cash on the spot. If you don’t pay on the spot, it’s 16,000 HUF.
The scam part: Anyone who is not wearing a purple armband with an ID or badge identifying them as part of the BKK (Budapest’s transportation authority) who corners you is probably scamming you. This is one of the most common scams in Budapest. The good news is that people with a validated ticket are, for the most part, left alone. There are so many unwitting tourists in Budapest that the scammers aren’t going to waste their time on those who have a validated ticket.
How to differentiate? All BKK ticketmasters have the legal right to kick you off of the tram or bus immediately and demand payment of the 8,000 HUF fine or ticket you 16,000 HUF. They also have the right to patrol the trams and buses in plainclothes, but they should have their badge and armband (although it may be in their pocket). They will NOT take your passport and will NOT threaten you immediately with arrest, and will NOT lay a hand on you. Unless you run away, in which case they are authorized to call the police and can absolutely lay hands on you. Just pay your fine and move on. If you don’t have the cash, pay at the BKK office in District VII at Akáfca Street 22, in the facility marked by the “Pótdíjazási ügyek intézése” sign. ASK FOR A RECEIPT. IF THEY ARE LEGITIMATE, YOU WILL GET YOUR RECEIPT. IT IS TYPICAL FOR BOTH SCAMMERS AND BKK AGENTS TO HAVE LIMITED TO NO KNOWLEDGE OF ENGLISH. A grasp of the English language or lack thereof does not a scammer make.
On the other hand, scammers may or may not have an armband (but it is often not purple) but no ID badge (beware the officer who escorts you off the tram and then surreptitiously takes off his or her armband). They typically attempt to take your passport, which official BKK personnel will not do. They will immediately threaten you with arrest or imprisonment (again, not typical) and will demand more or less than 8,000 HUF depending on what they think they can get out of you. THEY WILL NEVER GIVE YOU A RECEIPT.
It’s a big scam, and it’s a good one. Tired tourists often skip ticket validation or don’t understand the concept of transfer tickets (see my blog on this here. Just save yourself several thousand Fiornet and validate your tickets. It’s so not worth the trouble to try and scam the system.