SCAM naturally concentrates around hot tourist spots. It holds multiple forms. It could be just pure low lies, clever tricks or dangerous crime and everything in between. Originally, I thought that Halong Bay and few other tourists spots in Vietnam were the places where the SCAM PhD degrees should be taken by all the lower-grade scammers from Praha, Siam Riep or Veronicas but some people from the fringes of Cusco‘s tourist industry took things to the next level.
Some scammers in Cusco are so good and cleverly inventive that sometimes I even feel good paying the extra money because they deserve it 😀 But seriously – sometimes it’s not fun. I’ve compiled here a few stories that happened to me, the people I’ve met or the urban stories travellers share over their happy hours’ cocktails. I’ll start with the mild ones.
This could simply be just flat lies, such as when taxi drivers lie to you that there’s no public transport in other to make you use their services instead. This sadly happens a lot around quite a few places around the world, bless the exceptions. Their most common SCAM used to be taking longer routes but that is now gone with GPS and Maps.me so now they just simply try to overcharge you badly without even driving the extra miles…
Another semi-SCAM could be given change in mildly damaged dollar bills in countries that use or co-use USD as their legal tender. So if you are in Cambodia, Ecuador, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador or Guatemala – always check the state of your change given, because in most cases, you won’t be able to spend those bills, nor they will be taken by a bank. Well, in some places you could sell them for a reduced price to the money exchange place, which will get rid of it at full price with the next available careless tourist.
Another basic scam is when someone tries to redirect your attention from your bag when boarding the bus for example. While they might ask you to swap seats or leave your hand luggage elsewhere, their accomplices could grab your camera or something. Sometimes they even dress in semi-uniforms so they might look like employees of the transport company. Watch out for those.
Low, undeserved and primitive SCAM
Together with the taxi shite, this is maybe the most common form of SCAM. I’m talking about situations when for example a bar person tells you that you only gave him or her a 20 note instead of 50 in order to give you back less change. Or when they will bring you peanuts you haven’t asked for together with your beer and then charge you some stupid money for eating them…
Most often it’s when shops don’t display the prices of their products and they can charge different people different prices. In Vietnam and a few other countries, there are several economies for the rich, poor and expats. Well, it’s rich people living there, who are for some reason called expats, rather than just immigrants like everyone else who moves the country.
Some scam in Vietnam was sometimes rather cute because in some places the small children were the only English speakers and therefore the interpreters. At that age, they, however, didn’t know how to lie yet so you got the normal price first which changed quickly after they were told off straight away by their mums/shop owners in Vietnamese. Cute 🙂
Hard to fight primitive SCAM
This is for example when you agree on the price with the taxi driver (yes, taxis again) about a drive from A to B and upon arrival, the price changes, while the driver’s previously rather good English suddenly turns into nearly zero English AKA “Sorry my English very bad”. Anything, where the language barrier is used, is hard to fight, especially if you are using your weaker language to make a deal. It’s like the small print in the spoken word.
The language barrier trick is also often used in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile when buying tours to explore the extraterrestrial looking beauties of the town’s surroundings. They are willing to sell you a unicorn and the next day they will show up with a donkey and press you to feel grateful about that because you have no idea hard they worked to get you at least that donkey since there was some problem with unicorns and everyone consequently wanted a donkey on that morning. I personally hate that twisted emotional blackmail, especially when you are being done…
Another example of what they are good at in Scam Pedro de Atacama is carefully picked information. Only partial information that suits the sale is provided. If you don’t ask specifically for everything you need to know, they can always say they haven’t promised you that, etc… Like in politics, it’s not really lying – it’s just avoiding the parts you would not advertise about your product or actions. If you ask about it later, they will always have an answer for everything, like with the donkeys…
In Cusco, I was done by the trick I now call “Off the menu beer”. It goes like this: you check out the menu and order a beer that says 10 Soles. The guy then gives you a choice because that beer has two variants, red or blue. The same colours as the pills in Matrix. You pick blue, not even knowing what’s the difference.
When you pay, you realise that the beer is apparently 15 Soles, because, on the menu, they only list the other variant (for 10), while the red one is apparently some new special product that’s not on the menu yet 😀 I’m sure that if I’ve picked the other blue, then it would have still cost me 15 Soles because it would have been the “new special variant”. They would o you one way or another.
Another trick is “help the disabled”. Sometimes there are people that might appear like they are partially disabled. I’ve had my valet grabbed in León, Nicaragua by a guy who barely walked and whom I was to give 20,-NIO ‘cos I felt bad for him. As soon as I took my valet out, he grabbed it and run like an athlete 😀 I chased him and thankfully he dropped my valet keeping only a small amount of cash he managed to take out during the sprint, while I got all my cards back…
Cusco‘s shoe cleaners. This is a funny one. One dude from Montreal was, like everyone who visits Cusco approached by one of the shoe cleaners. The streets are full of them, who together with their counterparts “art sellers” bother you every 30 seconds selling “their” paintings, drugs, chicks and whatever people are into.
So the Montreal dude got offered this “promotion” AKA “free” shoe cleaning by the “apprentice” 😀 Being there only for few hours, he accepted it. After about 20 seconds of the free cleaning, the “apprentice” applied the product and then he said: “Cleaning is free but this product is not part of a promotion – that would be 20 Soles” 😀
On this note, I must say that not everyone I had to deal with in Vietnam, Cusco or in San Pedro de Atacama was a scammer. I’ve also met some really nice and honest people who stood behind their words and even delivered extras. I wish there were more of such people everywhere.
The world needs more of them, especially nowadays when we have scammers in politics and executive business positions. Or do you think that the bullies like Bezos, Trump, Bolsonaro or Maduro are any different, except the fact that they took their “shoe cleaning” product-applying apprentice tricks to insane levels of influence?
Also, please watch out for the too-friendly people. First, they help you to find where you are going and then they “accidentally” bump into you in the evening. You might feel good and comfortable to finally meet someone of a non-opportunistic nature but in reality, they might want to earn your trust so you drop your guard and…
This generally is applied upon younger and therefore a bit less experienced people. It could be buying drugs when the dealer turns into a corrupt cop right after the transaction. Those situations could be quite costly because nobody wants to get arrested for possession of drugs in for example Thailand. You’d pay literally any bribe to get out of that situation quickly 😉
The victims of this particular SCAM also most likely don’t even do drugs – often they are just on holiday, going a little crazy, trying different things. I personally believe that it’s something like: “I’ve drunk snake’s blood yesterday, eaten a scorpion the day before for the first time – why shouldn’t I try this shit today?”
Another example of a semi-dangerous SCAM is this good story I’ve heard was from one 20yr old Harvard student, the first timer in SEA. His friends and he got stupidly drunk in one of the Hoi An’s drink-what-you-can for $5 bars and he got off with a moto-taxi (it’s basically a drive home on a scooter) to his hostel. The old man drove him 15km out of town, took his money and left him there.
FYI: those moto-taxi drivers are usually old men, often illiterates. The Harvard boy lost about $50 and 1,5 hours to get back to town. He should be lucky he still has his liver. This way it’s just a cheap lesson Harvard would never teach him. Harvard boy being done by an illiterate – I kind of like that social karma contrast 🙂
Criminally dangerous SCAM
Oh well, here we are in the very dangerous waters. Everyone heard about the rape drugs or kidnappings for instance. In some SA countries, another SCAM was reported on several occasions. On a night bus, they spray you with Scopolamine drug to knock you off and take all your stuff and that is not the worst thing that can happen to you.
Furthermore, if you are a solo male traveller, you’ll be forced to deal with the traps and tricks of the “oldest job in the world” whether you want it or not because it’s present nearly everywhere. If you are not into such a scene, you will quickly learn that it’s often not only about saying “Gracias señorita, no me interesa“. For example, I got into a situation that wasn’t easy to get out of, although I must say that it wasn’t really about providing any services of sexual nature.
The “prostitute” approached me from behind and locked her elbow with mine. She wasn’t getting NO for an answer, while the dangerous-looking pimp followed us in a close distance as she’s tried to drag me into a dark side street. So my choices were to physically push her away but then it would look like I was being violent towards a lady, which would, I guess, be the trigger for the pimp to step in to defend her and take my valet as compensation (:0 *
So girls and boys – be careful out there – I know you are on holiday, which might sometimes mean that you’d be willing to do things you normally wouldn’t. You don’t have to be a boring conservative – try new shit, have fun – as much as you can, after all, you live just once 😉 Just don’t be stupid and be aware that there sometimes are arseholes out there, waiting to get you so stay sharp 😉
Some practical info for a traveller in Latin America
- Budget: in case you were interested, here‘s an article listing the country-by-country basic expenses for a traveller in Latin America
- Safety: Few safety tips on how to secure your valuables, what to watch out for and more could be found here
- Transport: Information, safety and some other practical advice regarding public transport in Latin America can be found here
- ATM withdrawal charges: Some practical info, including the list of free-of-charge ATMs in Latin America, can be found here
- Border fees: To find out how much will you have to pay to enter or exit certain countries in Latin America, please click here
- Pre-trip preparations: Few things you can do ahead of time before you’ll become frantically busy prior to your departure are listed here
- Packing list: What to take with you for an extended trip as well as some security tips could be found here
- Cheap Flights: few tips on how to score a cheap/er flight, better seat on a plane, where to get a nap at a particular airport and so on
Locations covered on Quaint Planet
Santiago de Chile ► Valparaíso ► Santiago de Chile ►Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas ► Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales ► El Calafate (Perito Moreno Glacier, Arg) ► El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park) ► Chile Chico (Ch) – Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) ► Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – (Carretera Austral) ► Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón/Castro ► Puerto Varas – San Carlos de Bariloche (Arg) ► Buenos Aires ► Colonia (Ur) ► Montevideo ► Punta del Diablo – Cabo Polonio ► Montevideo ► Salto ► Concordia (Arg) ► Puerto Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) ► Salta ► San Salvador de Jujuy ► Tilcara ► San Pedro de Atacama (Ch) ► Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bol) ► Uyuni ► Sucre – La Paz (Death Road Tour) ► Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Isla del Sol – Copacabana ► Cusco (Per) ► Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) ► Cusco ► Lima ► Máncora – Montañita (Ecu) ► Puerto López ► Quito ► Ipiales (Col) – Pasto ► Tatacoa Desert ► Bogotá ► Medellín ► Villa de Lleyva ► Santa Marta – Cartagena – Rincón del Mar Necoclí ► Capurganá ► Puerto Obaldía (Pan) ► Panama City ► Las Lajas ► Cerro Punta ► David ► Bocas del Torro ► San José (Costa Rica) ► San Juan del Sur (Nic) – Ometepe ► Granada ► Managua – El Rama – Bluefields – Corn Islans ► Léon ► El Tunco (El Salvador) ► La Antigua Guatemala – Lake Atitlán ► Lanquín (Semuc Champey) – Flores (Tikal) ► Belize City ► Bacalar – Tulum – Playa del Carmen – Mérida – Valladolid – Cancún ✈️ .