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Scams in South America

know of any scams? how to recognize one?, and how to avoid or prepare for it?
7 years ago, June 8th 2008 No: 1 Msg: #37728  
B Posts: 171
fake policemen and their accomplice? "bad" taxi drivers? street money changers? bank machine scams? distraction bag-snachers? have i missed any?

im researching my soon to be trip through Ecuador Peru , Chile & Arg and basically the impression im getting is,
of course South America is full of beautiful things but there are also dangers.

A Peruvian friend told me "no camines solo, te pueden engañar! " (dont walk alone, you can be cheated/tricked)
i hate hearing that i will be tricked but not exactly knowing how!

but from reading blogs there seems to be many people who do this all the time and never seem to get scammed or robbed.

how do you do it? any tips?

maybe you can help me with some questions:

  • how to tell a fake policeman from a real one?

  • what policemen ask for passports? is it better to carry a copy of the passport in this event?

  • how to get a good taxi?

  • what are the scam/crime hot-spots and what are the less dangerous areas ?

  • what are the safest modes of travel? im guessing bus

  • what treatment to give to over-helpful "amigos" on the street?

  • know of any other scams worth a mention here?

any tips / advice / stories are appreciated.


Reply to this

7 years ago, June 8th 2008 No: 2 Msg: #37739  
B Posts: 140
Hi Matt,

To be honest I was often wary of policemen anyway due to how much police corruption there is, half of them are just as likely to try and get money off you as a fake one! In Ecuador at least it a legal requirement to carry id, easiest thing being a colour photocopy of your passport, this is perfectly ok so there is no need to show your passport unless you are crossing borders.

Real taxis are registered and have numbers but to be honest a good fake is hard to spot. Just avoid the obvious ones. If you want to be paranoid don't sit behind the driver and keep a window open (to avoid having something sprayed in your face to knock you out and money stolen - only person I knew that this happened to was Ecuadorian though.) And obviously don't get into one if the driver has a friend with him.

Buses are fine especially the slightly pricier ones who generally 'check' your bags into the storage compartment so you have a ticket to match to it and no one else can go of with it. Don't put bags on the overhead rails as they are the easiest to steal. Keep a moneybelt with your money and documents if you're going to sleep. On local buses just keep a tight hold of bags - my friend managed to have her bag opened and her purse stolen whilst three of us were standing next to her.

Try to avoid street money changers and go to banks instead. Just common sense with ATMs such as not going alone/at night.

Distraction bad snatchers are often very clever. Despite being warned another friend fell for one where someone spills something on you without you noticing then offered to help him clean his coat (obviously involving taking his bag off) and then ran off with the bag. Just basic traveller common sense and you'll be fine. I wouldn't say South America is particularly any more dangerous than anywhere else in the world.
Have fun! Reply to this

7 years ago, June 8th 2008 No: 3 Msg: #37779  
B Posts: 171
hi, thanks for the response katherine,

by the way:
do you know anyone whom a policeman has tried to get money off? how did he do it?

also as a matter of interest:
have you come across many hostel rooms that have hasps on the door for your own padlock?

do the hostels generally have a trusted cab driver? is that the best way to go for short excursions?

yea, i guess i sound paranoid, but a little paranoia is no harm i think.
I have a friend who was pick-pocketed on a crowded bus in Cuba, i think this was just obviously going to happen and if he had read up on it before going it might have saved him the hassle. in fact i myself was even pick-pocketed in Ireland of all places! and i tell you what, i dont leave my wallet in that pocket anymore when on a bus.

and that exact "spill-something-on-your-jacket" trick happened to my sister in Italy.

your tips have been very helpful , and by the way i love your blog, i have been readin it 😊

Reply to this

7 years ago, June 8th 2008 No: 4 Msg: #37784  
B Posts: 140
I had no problem with the police but just generally tried to avoid them. One person I met had had an 'on the spot fine' for not having their passport to show a random policeman and she just paid it - think he was just bored and looking for some quick cash! Borders are the main place to be wary, either of fake money changers (couple of friends had $500 changed into fake Peruvian soles at the border) and officials demanding various non-existent taxes - just read ahead if taxes are charged or not, between Ecuador/Peru/Bolivia there are definitely no taxes.

Hostels will generally call taxis for you if you want or some can give you the number of a company but I never bothered once I knew what registered taxis looked like as there always seem to hundreds around anyway. I never had a hostel that didn't have a lock on the door and I stayed at some pretty cheap ones! If you're worried about your belongings just lock valuables in your bag while you're out or, at night, take either a door stop for the inside or you can buy a door lock that fits over any door but generally they will have locks on the door.

Always fix the price of taxis before going as well, some will agree a price in Peruvian soles for example, then when you get there demand that amount of dollars saying that was the agreement - taxis can be the biggest rip-off!

If in doubt just ask anyone! South Americans are generally very friendly and want to help. Reply to this

7 years ago, June 16th 2008 No: 5 Msg: #38701  
B Posts: 50
I have been here for 6 months and have had zero issues (female traveling on my own). I started in Ecuador, then Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, a bit of Chile and now back up in Ecuador to hit Columbia in a week.

Out of all the places I have been.....Quito and Lima are the sketchiest. I was ALMOST robbed in Quito...dude loaded my bag under the bus as normal and then told me where to sit on teh bus...at the VERY back....I got a red flag and refused sitting near the front. He then tried to get a hold of my small backpack to put it underneath and I of course refused. Finally someone noticed and it turned out the dude did not even work for the bus company and his buddy was trying to steal my big pack underneath while he was trying to get my small pack on the bus. So beware.

I know a lot of ppl that have been robbed in Lima...and Quito (Mariscal area...aka Gringo Town).

I think the biggest fearfactor is on buses. I know of A LOT of ppl that have had stuff stolen on buses. Grip your bag tightly and guard it with your life. I sleep on buses a lot...can´t help it....so I just fall asleep with the bag all wrapped around my arms so it is hard to just grab and i would wake up if anyone grabbed at it. Never lay it beside you or on the floor or above your head, etc. Thieves are impressively good at what they do...they can reach behind the seat, under the seat, around the seat, etc without you even know it. Be careful. And of course pickpocketers are bad...I have only been pickpocketed once and they got a notebook probably thinking it was a wallet. I don´t know when it happened...they were good....

Cops are advised by law to not hassle gringos in Argentina...and Bolivia if I recall. Not sure about other countries. I have never had ANY issues with cops whatsoever. They usually do not bother you. Never allow a cop not in uniform to take anything from you....I have heard of this happening. Just refuse and go to a cop station...chances are they are fake.

I use my gut/intuition with taxis but having the hostel call for one is probably teh safest. I have refused some taxis cuz i get a bad vibe...or they are unmarked, etc.

I would also advise stitching on some secret pockets inside your pants and/or shirts. Stash money in a few places so that if you do get robbed, they likely won´t get it all. I also would advise taking your memory card out of your camera on buses so that if you do get your camera stolen...you won´t lose your pics. I always wear a money belt on buses but I don´t wear it otherwise. A friend was robbed at gunpoint on a bus in the afternoon in Ecuador...3 armed men robbed the entire bus. All they wanted was money so he was pretty lucky really....but still, scary and something you should be prepared for just in case. Hence the variety of pockets for stashing.

With all that being said, again, i have had no issues. Just keep aware of your surroundings...don´t walk down the street with headphones on or reading, etc....keep your head up and looking around. I tend to walk down the middle of streets later in the evenings too so that you are further out from little hideout places along the sidewalks. And, after having the near robbing experience in Ecuador, i pack around pepper spray just in case. I carry this in my hand if i feel uneasy about a place. Probably a bit overboard but it gives me some comfort knowing I have some way to protect myself. Reply to this

7 years ago, June 16th 2008 No: 6 Msg: #38702  
B Posts: 50
in response to your questions

how to tell a fake policeman from a real one? they usually don´t have a uniform on...and again....real officers shouldn´t be hassleling you.

what policemen ask for passports? is it better to carry a copy of the passport in this event? I have never been asked for my passport. Never. I would advise to NOT carry your passport on you...instead, keep it locked up at the hostel. But i would advise you to carry a copy of your passport at all times. This is accepted pretty much everywhere.

how to get a good taxi? have the hostel or restaurant call you one if you are worried. but i usually just tag them on the street and go off my intuition. not too many are corrupt...maybe i have been lucky but i have never had a problem.

what are the scam/crime hot-spots and what are the less dangerous areas ? have the hostel tell you this when you arrive. they are your best knowledge really...and other travelers. it is different in different places. sundays are usually sketchy in all major cities though....probably a good thing to know.

what are the safest modes of travel? im guessing bus Taxis and buses are fine....but beware...buses are hot spots for robbings...they are not that safe. keep an eye on your bag down below when the bus stops and they open that compartment....and always guard your bag on the bus.

what treatment to give to over-helpful "amigos" on the street? keep walking and preferrably to a more busy area with more ppl around.
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