Scam City

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Scam City TV Poster Image
How con men trick tourists is edgy but informative.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

It's hard to place the intentional message of this series, which gives the sense that criminals lurk everywhere in foreign locales. It notes that these criminal acts are not cultural, but the potential for creating negative stereotypes about people is there. Some might take away information that will protect them from scams -- though the show doesn't present much concrete prevention information -- while others might just feel more fearful.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thieves are usually unapologetic and are often proud of their skills. Few claim that they steal due to economic need; most say they do it because they can.


Most thefts caught on camera are not violent, but Woodman often puts his life at risk by talking to thieves. Vague references are made to violent crime. Guns are occasionally visible.


Woodman is propositioned by alleged prostitutes; references to various sex acts are audible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking (beer, mixed drinks, etc.) is visible. Thieves reveal how they drug tourists' drinks in order to rob them while unconscious.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the reality series Scam City sheds light on the various ways con men, street hustlers, and other thieves from cities around the world systematically take advantage of and steal from tourists. It shows people committing criminal acts, ranging from pick-pocketing to attempts at drugging someone's drink in order to violently rob them. It also contains some sexual references (often made by alleged prostitutes), and conversations about local gangster activities. It's strong stuff, but families who travel or parents who have older kids planning to set out on their own foreign adventures may want to watch together and talk about the different ways to avoid becoming a victim of the types of crimes discussed here.

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What's the story?

SCAM CITY is a docuseries that uncovers the many tricks that con men, drug dealers, scalpers, and street hustlers use to victimize tourists around the world. Economist Conor Woodman travels to popular travel destinations like Rio De Janiero, Las Vegas, and Dubai, to stake out thieves and purposely get scammed and/or robbed in order to see how they operate. When possible, he lets the culprits know after they commit the illegal act that they are being filmed, and allows them to keep the money if they are willing to talk to him and explain the various ways they take advantage of visitors. Whenever possible, he also participates in native rituals that tourists often pay lots of money to participate in to get a sense of how authentic they really are. Local (and sometimes illegal) gambling rings and other underground activities are sometimes explored to get a sense of how they function within the local economic system.

Is it any good?

Part reality series, part investigative exposé, Scam City highlights the daily routines of seasoned criminals around the world in order to uncover the various methods by which they are able to cash in on unsuspecting foreign visitors. It also reveals how some of these criminal activities are connected to larger, more sophisticated enterprises, some of which have surprising dealings with local political and social institutions.

It's interesting, but the moments when Woodman combines conversations about cultural practices with discussions of tourist-targeted crimes creates a potential for perpetuating negative generalizations about the places he visits and the people who live there. Meanwhile, it focuses more on the crimes themselves, and not the various steps tourists should take to avoid falling victim to them. Nonetheless, it offers some important information that even the most seasoned travelers can benefit from.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about staying safe. What are some of the basic precautions people should take when traveling to foreign countries? What do tourists often do that make them easy for criminals to target? Do you think this show can really help people become better travelers?

  • Does this series promote stereotypes by showing how thieves from specific countries target tourists? Why or why not?

TV details

  • Premiere date: June 3, 2012
  • Cast: Conor Woodman
  • Network: SCIENCE
  • Genre: Reality TV
  • TV rating: TV-14
  • Available on: Streaming
  • Last updated: September 21, 2019

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