The Tricks & Scams of the Big Easy

New Orleans is kind of a city of degenerates. Take that as you will, but I’m in no way insulted by it. We’re a drunk, merrymaking, corruption embracing (although not so much anymore, Mr. Nagin) kind of city where the basic concept of morals slowly dissolves in a brightly colored solution of sugar and grain alcohol.

For those of you from the area, this should be of no surprise. From those of you not from here, this should also be of no surprise. The national media isn’t too shy with showing our true colors. We’re loud and we’re proud, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always keep a look out over our shoulders for someone trying to get the best of us.

Like any wild city in the world, our lovable population has its fair share of scammers and con artists. This deplorable but sometimes enjoyable underbelly of the New Orleans populace preys on the drunk, the unexpecting, and the tired masses of both tourists and of defensive locals pissed off that they were mistaken for a tourist.

Scams and cons in this city are far too numerous to list alphabetically, word by word, but let’s talk about 3 of the most common ones you’ll see in the depths of the The Big Easy.

Shot Girls

Let’s propose a hypothetical: 5 bros on a bachelor party. As soon as they lay their eyes on the crescent city skyline, one thing is on their minds – Bourbon St. They get to their hotel, pound some tequila shots and are off to hit the streets. They finally stumble into a bar that’s not a strip club, and to their surprise, some girl named Star has a test tube of red liquor stuffed in her cleavage asking them to get on their knees. “Free shots?” they think. “Hell yeah” they scream. Down the hatches, until Star holds out her hand. “What’s this, no, you forced the shot on me! You never even asked if I wanted it!” they try to argue. Star comes back with the bouncer, and you get to go home with a genuine Bourbon black eye if you’re lucky enough. The rule of thumb here is, nothing’s free. Avoid overpriced and watered down cleavage shots from scantily clad shot girls, and you’ll save yourself $20.

Too Good to Be True Parking

This is all-too relevant during Mardi Gras, when a quarter of your allocated parade time is spent either finding a good parking spot, or trying to drive away from one. Unless you’re one of the smart ones taking a bike this year, you’ll be one of the lucky few scrambling to find a tiny curbside spot no less than ten blocks from your destination. You may, however, see a guy standing on a roped off empty lot holding a sign that says “Parking $10” and think that it looks like a pretty solid idea. You could be, and probably are, very wrong. Oftentimes, scammers will stand with those signs next to roped off lots they don’t own and will charge cars to park in them. It looks like a great deal, but when the police or the owner of the property rolls by, they drop their sign and run with the cash. You get a ticket on top of your fake parking fee, or even worse, towed for illegal parking. It’s as simple as that, and there’s no way to put the blame on the guy charging you. You’re the one who illegally parked. When it comes to parking in anything resembling a lot, stick to reputable establishments such as churches or schools in the area, and avoid the sketchy lots with a guy waving a hastily drawn sign in your face.

The Infamous Shoes

In addition to "on your feet", we also would've accepted Kansas.
In addition to “on your feet”, we also would’ve accepted Kansas.

What’s a good New Orleans scam list without discussing this time-weathered and infamous scam? Quick, if you’re not on the same page, I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes.

Where, you ask?

Buddy, you got dem on your feet!

Despite the bad grammar and lighthearted nature of the whole interaction, some of these guys are quite serious about you losing this bet. I’ve heard rumors of harmless looking men acting out the bet, with a larger “enforcer” that physically and/or emotionally makes you crap your pants and ensures that you pay up. This isn’t the only one of these downtown verbal cons, either. Watch out for people betting you that they can guess how many letters are in your last name. The answer is 12. Y-o-u-r-l-a-s-t-n-a-m-e. Tricks like these can seem all in good fun at first, but can turn into a confrontation. A simple “I’m a local,” or not even acknowledging them can ward off any confrontations with these colorful folk.

Like I said before, though, there’s too many of these scams to name. Hopefully this short list will keep you safe for a while. In the meantime, get out there and figure out your own street smarts. Scams are easier to catch if you keep your eyes open.

About Eric

Eric is a New Orleans native and graduate of Loyola. He grew up in Kenner and is embarrassed to tell you that. He lives Uptown and frequents local watering holes to socialize with peers. His hobbies include writing, making bad jokes, and casually observing the day to day life of New Orleans.

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  1. The shoe thing is rampant. I was recently in NOLA and was approached constantly because I wear black boots, which are shineable. Ignoring them works most of the time but some just get in your face. “I’m local” works well, but not always. I even told one to “F off” and that was almost a fight..but remember, they don’t want police attention should it get to that. One of my go-to acts for dealing with such crap world-wide (cities like Barcelona and Rio in particular) is to pretend to speak some language they have no way of communicating with you in. I just blurt out some Danish-sounding gibberish and they move on. Works everywhere.

    The trick is not to engage them AT ALL. Don’t stand there and argue that you know it’s a scam..just kill any conversation and don’t stop moving.

    I cannot sugar coat it. NOLA is dangerous. You are constantly being sized up and viewed as a mark. Those who say it has “It’s fair share..” are being charitable. NOLA’s street hustlers are more prolific than in any other American city, and probably more so than some international cities as well. Even Rio and Tijuana have less hustlers approach.

    Carry little cash, don’t speak to anyone who approaches you in the street, don’t engage in conversation, don’t worry about seeming rude, and bear in mind that they usually work in even if it seems like one guy is trying to work you, there are wingmen watching. Don’t look too much like a tourist. Stay somewhat sober.

  2. We were just there. I had two guys try the shoe scam on me. I couldn’t figure out the fascination with my shoes and then Google “I like your shoes scam.” BOOM!! The French Quarter popped up with each hit. I’m glad that I didn’t get too involved with either one. One guy was fairly sizable.

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