Forbes Traveler on travel scams

(Photos of Carter Hotel here.)

Forbes Traveler has an article called "Travel Scams to Avoid" (I'm waiting for the follow-up article, "Travel Scams to Embrace"). Here are a couple of interesting tidbits from the piece. First, the "wad of money" trick:

“I was back in Moscow a few years ago and saw with nostalgia they were still trying to pull the ‘wad of money’ trick in Red Square,” says veteran travel scribe Robert Reid, author of the Lonely Planet guides to the Trans-Siberian Railway, Central America and Myanmar. “Some goon rushes by you and drops a wad of dollars–could be more than a thousand–and another goon steps in and picks it up, offering to share it with you. If you take the offer, the other goon will track you down and demand all of the money. I kinda find it cute that they think it can still work–sadly it probably does.”
The other tidbit isn't really a scam; it's a warning about the Hotel Carter in New York:
Unsuspecting travelers can get scammed into rooms only a few notches above a pig sty, places like the Hotel Carter in New York, which recently topped TripAdvisor’s list of the Top 10 Dirtiest Hotels in America. A manager at the Hotel Carter–who requested anonymity–said, “We know about the list. We’re doing OK. We’re still busy,” adding, “But we get many emails saying that it's not fair or not true or something like that.”
The TripAdvisor reviews for the Hotel Carter make the place sound so horrible I almost want to stay there for the experience:
"Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad hotel. Should this even be called a hotel?"

"CARTER = Completely Atrocious Rooms That Encourage everyone to Run-away (FAST!)"

“Don't Stay Here Unless You Are A Big Risk Taker!!”

“A Disgusting And Repulsive Sess Pit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Twilight Zone”

“Dirty, liar and impolite”

“The hotel from hell”

Travel Scams to Avoid


  1. Here’s a scam to avoid: Those annoying Forbes slideshows. It’s bad enough that they force you to click through several pages of ads for very little information on every page, but they also have the balls to automatically advance you to the next page. They’re annoying their readers and ripping off their advertisers by artificially driving up impressions.

    I clicked to that page, then got distracted for a minute or two. By the time I got back, it had advanced through several pages. I didn’t even see those pages or the ads plastered all over them, but I bet their advertisers paid for them.

    That’s just about as shady as you can get.

  2. I may be the craziest person in the world because I have stayed in the Hotel Carter… not once, but twice — all while living in Queens (my apartment was not big enough to let 4 of my friends crash for the weekend so we needed a cheap hotel in the middle of August). I assure you it is even worse than anyone says it is on Trip Advisor. I must like to torture myself, but it is the cheapest place you could possibly stay in New York. There is blood all over the mattresses, cockroaches crawling around the room, the worst mold I’ve ever seen on a shower curtain, and porno mags in the drawers. But I think if you can make it through a weekend in the Hotel Carter, you can make it through anything. Something to tell the grandkids about.

  3. A scam to embrace is the timeshare tour. I do one every trip to Cancun. I get a free meal, drinks and 2 tickets to an excursion of my choice worth about $150. All I have to do is say “No” about 1,000 times. I do it first thing while I am waiting on my room to be ready.

  4. A new niche of themed vacation trips… Try something different, make no matter what level of life you have seem SO MUCH BETTER, by taking one of our vacations in squalor!

  5. Kudos to trip advisor for publishing those photos. I had an awful stay at a hotel once, and priceline asked me to review… and, boy, did I review it in a completely factual way. I even posted a picture of the huge spider in my room, but priceline never published that review. Now, 2 years later, they still say no one has ever reviewed that hotel… surely someone did – it’s close to a major attraction.

  6. Holy crap! $120 for a room in Manhattan right near Times Square? That’s less than a third of the going rate. Bring it on!

  7. Ahahah, I have stayed at the Hotel Carter too. It was a surreal experience. I actually have a review up on tripadvisor. :D

    To summarize.. the list of crimes included.. after we had checked in and left our bags in the room, we went out for a night on the town.. and THEY RENTED THE ROOM TO SOMEONE ELSE, WITH our STUFF in it. We came back, key didn’t work, there was TV sounds in the room and all that. Fortunately the guy they put in there was an honest fellow and had just put our stuff in the closet.

    The second room they gave us was full of garbage.

    When we finally got a “clean”, unoccupied room, the carpet had stains and holes, the bathroom looked like it was 300 years old with all accompanying wear and tear.

    Checking out the next day the staff was beyond rude and outright fought us about giving us a paper reciept.

    Still, I must say. The location CANNOT be beat, and the thrill of stepping outside the apartment and almost instantly being in the middle of Times Square.. without paying $2983949834… may almost make up for the aggrivation.

    Its worth giving a shot. Just don’t bring anything valuable and don’t bring kids. Or anyone with a particularly weak stomach. ;D

  8. Swanky@3: I know a couple of other people who do that. I wish I had the stomach to deal with those pushy salespeople.

  9. As a New Yorker, I do whatever I can to avoid Time Square. It’s beyond belief that someone would stay in a hell hole like the Hotel Carter just to be near it. Haven’t any of you heard about the bed bug outbreak?

  10. I’m nearly certain I’ve stayed there. In fact, my first night in Manhattan, back around the summer of ’95. I think we paid around $40 or so. I’ve stayed in some nasty hotel rooms since, but nothing came close to the Carter. For reasons I will not share on BoingBoing, that was one of the best nights of my life, even accounting for the lodgings.

  11. Not sure if anyone else has had problems, but when I clicked the link listed under the main picture of this entry I was temporarily redirected to a porn site. Careful!

  12. [Sigh.]

    Folks, the Carter is a prostitution hotel. Did you not notice the sign with the hourly rates? The underdressed women rushing through the lobby with the out-of-town choads?

    By the way–if you’re going to a strange hotel, it’s perfectly okay to ask to see the room before you sign in.

  13. Also stayed in the Carter hotel. As I recall, it was fairly run down and dingy – it looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the Depression – but not disgusting. The location can’t be beat for that price but I find it amazing that nobody’s bought it and modernised it.

  14. I still like the precious jewel scams that are well-known in various parts of the world. I found one in India (or it found me): some guy says that he recently came into a great number of diamonds and I can have them for a steeply discounted price. He produces certificates of authenticity and offers a microscope for inspection.

    The guy was actually decent pitch-man. It’s too bad he was peddling one of the more obvious scams.

  15. God my skin itches just from looking at all those guest pictures of the Carter hotel. I can’t imagine how a place like that hasn’t been closed by the Health Department.


  16. I seems extremely weird to me to have the restaurant bill presented to you when you check out. I would have thought that you’d pay for each meal at the end of each meal.

    Wouldn’t it present an opportunity to cheat the system? “Oh, I’m not paying now. I’m from room 212. Just bill it to my room.” How would they know if I’m even staying at the hotel?

  17. Here’s a tip on how to survive the Carter or any horrible hole you might find yourself in:
    Bring a cheap tent, a tarp and a sleeping bag.
    Wearing rubber gloves move all furniture aside.
    Pitch your tent in the room. Cover as much as you can with tarp.
    Wear sandals in the shower and any time you leave the tent.
    Treat the room like your personal piece of property.
    Stay in the tent when in the room-ALWAYS!

    Leave the tent in the room when you check-out.

    Urban camping at it’s best.

  18. I was taken with the utmost care.
    In Florence, Italy, long before ATMs, I went to a Thomas Cook kiosk to cash traveler cheques, remember them?
    I exchanged $500 dollars American for about L800 lira at the time.
    Not until I got back to Milano ( City of banks) was it discovered that all the lira I had been given by the Thomas Cook agent was counterfeit.
    A friend who ran a cafe noticed this and agreed to take the remainder off of my hands, explaining that business’ regularly encountered such scams but individuals with the phony script might just have in confiscated.
    The Euro has diminished such occurrences but it goes to show even the most seemly legitimate source just can’t be trusted.

    Traveler beware.

  19. The “wad of money” trick… ha! In Venezuela, that trick has a variant: the guy offers you some electronic device very cheap -let’s say, a video camera. They show you the stuff, you agree with the price, and when it comes to exchange the money for the product, someone else alerts of Police presence. Things rush, and before you notice, the guy hands you a package of the dimensions of your new “camera” and advice you to run ’cause the Police is there. Off course, the package contains an empty box, a brick, a piece of soap, etc.

    Venezuelans call this scam “The Chilean Package”.

    In Chile, we just call it “The Uncle’s tale”. And it works in a very similar way to the Russian version.

    A variant: sometimes an innocent looking old man ask you to look for the number in his Lotto ticket, which turns to be the “big prize” winner number. He tells you that he feels ill, and that he will sell you the winner ticket for any amount you’re carrying in your pockets. Off course, these guys have been already following their victim and they know the guy has been in the bank or at a business office and he’s carrying a lot of cash. So, when they fall for it -and some people still do!- they go to the Lotto agency and found that their ticket is fake or invalid in some form.

    I’ve never experienced this, but every once in a while a small town newspaper will bring a story about this.

  20. That first scam wouldn’t work on me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from video games, anytime someone drops loot and a second guys picks it up, you should kill the second guy and take the loot for yourself.

  21. Seems like there’s a step missing in the “wad of cash” scam: Goon drops money, other goon takes money back? What do they need you for?

  22. With the wad of cash one, what if you just jump in a cab the minute you receive the money and get the hell out of Moscow?

  23. The Hotel Carter…

    Oh man, what a dump. A couple of friends and I stayed there a few years back, little suspecting how bad the well-located hellhole might be.

    To start with, there was an old cranky man hanging out in the lobby, if I recall, he was yelling incomprehensibly at some point.

    The lobby, such as it is, was carpeted with what seemed to be various discarded carpet samples – I seem to remember noticing that one repeated sample square had the old “The Athlete’s Foot” logo on it.


    One night, upon returning from our explorations, my esteemed associate (whom I will refer to only as “The Baron” for the purposes of this story) was implored by one woman in a cheap fur coat (and little else) to bring him with her upstairs. Presumably she’d have loved him long enough time, but as an aficionado of more masculine attentions, he deferred.

    Of course, one can’t forget the rooms – cheap rugs tacked to the walls as some odd sort of decoration, old TV sets on ramshackle endtables, towel racks within inches of exposed lightbulbs, leading to some smoky situations if one’s towel-rag were to be improperly positioned… what’s not to love?

    Hanging below the marquee sign at the main entrance is a smaller sign which pretty much sums up the Carter experience – “You Wanted in Time (sic) Square (is that like the TimeCube?) & Less”.

  24. Follow the photo link to, look at the photos, and read the other reviews. I read a bunch. Yech.


    Sheets are speckled with little blood spots! That is a classic sign of a huge bedbug infestation!

    So. While you’re sleeping, these little bugs, kinda’ like cockroaches, come out from your mattress. They crawl over your body. They find comfortable spots to park themselves and make a meal out of you. They stick their little beaks into your flesh and suck your blood, leaving as many germs on you and in your bloodstream as a green bottle fly leaves on your food.

    Then when they’re full, they pull their beaks out of your flesh, and crawl back to the depths of the mattress. And you bleed just a little, on your sheets, leaving a little blood spot that is originally red but then turns brown. Like all the other blood spots from bed-bug bites from all the other people who were stupid enough to spend the night in an unsanitary pest-hole.

    And some of those bed bugs might end up in your luggage, going back to your house, and infesting your own bed when you unpack your clothes. Nice, huh?

    That place ought to be condemned by the city health inspectors. It is an epidemic-in-waiting. The idea that a hotel is allowed to remain open when it is infested with bed bugs is beyond me. I suppose they paid off the city or something.

    Anyway, don’t spend your money, and don’t risk your health staying at that place. Read the reviews. It’s beyond disgusting.

  25. One popular small-time scam to watch out for in midtown NYC is the Broken Bottle scam, which works like this: Some guy bumps into you, hard, and drops the shopping bag he’s carrying, which he then shows you, demanding, in a VERY threatening manner, to be paid for the expensive bottle of wine that you just broke. Of course, the bottle was already broken, many times over, but most folks cough up $20-$30 bucks just to get the hell away from a threatening maniac.

  26. > Seems like there’s a step missing in the “wad of cash” scam…

    I agree. I read it five times before I was able to see what the writer was getting at. I just couldn’t see where the victim actually had any investment or stake that could be lost to the crooks. It’s the last bit “the other goon will track you down and demand *all* of the money” – including forcing you to cover the money goon2 supposedly has – that I didn’t realise on first reading.

    It sounds like a pretty hamfisted scam, though. All well thought out scams have the victim making their investment and parting with their money *before* suspicion arises.

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