20 Most Common Tourist Scams in Mexico

Mexico city, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Tulum, Guadalajara, Cozumel, Merida, San Miguel de Allende, San Jose del Cabo, Oaxaca, Mazatlan, Acapulco, Puerto Escondido, Cozumel, Chihuahua

Mexico

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Do you know that Mexico is home to the most number of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Americas? Similarly impressive, is that over 60 indigenous languages still survive till this age in Mexico, ex-home of the Olmecs, the Atecs, the Maya and many other important civilizations.

Besides the impressive culture which it has to offer, Mexico has tons to offer in terms of nature (one of the world’s top 5 in terms of biodiversity), beaches (14 five-diamond resorts), world class adventure, ancient ruins, delicious cuisines and many others.

However, what spoils the picture is the presence of both violent and petty crime against the backdrop of warring druglords. Fortunately, violent crimes are not exactly targeted at tourists. However, the purveyors of petty crime against tourists in Mexico are an extremely cunning and creative bunch, so please do your homework and not fall prey to them!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Mayan Dollar

Maya

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This is basically a bullsh*t currency shady vendors use. For instance, a vendor might offer you a gemstone or carving for only 3 Mayan dollars.

It sounds good, you agreed, and he then tells you that 3 Mayan dollars = 30 USD. Reject the offer, and you might find yourself hounded thereafter.

2. Surveyors turned “kidnappers”

There have cases reported whereby when tourists revealed their personal information in surveys done on the street, it comes back to bite them when fake kidnapping calls are made back to them.

For instance, the fake kidnapper can first call your next of kin (assuming he gets the contact), pose as someone from the telecoms company and ask him/her to shut off her phone as the network is undergoing maintenance. Next, he calls you, and claims to have kidnapped your next of kin.

Obviously, you won’t be able to contact your next-of-kin as his/her phone is shut off. It can also work in the reverse Never ever reveal your personal information, especially on the streets.

 

3. Avoid places with drugs and prostitution

Over the years, mafias in Mexico have been engaged in a brutal fight over control of trafficking routes, leading to the widespread news coverage of drug related violence in Mexico globally.

Although these happen more along the borders (as common sense dictates, such as at Durango oro Sinaloa), it’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid such places.

Besides the borders, these gangs like to hang out at resort cities such as Cancun definitely, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, Tijuana, etc

 

4. The place is closed

Mexico historic city

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This is an extremely easy scam to pull off, yet many gullible travellers fall for it.

It goes like this: a local with perfect English will approach you as you in the vicinity of a tourist attraction and tell you that the place is closed due to some holiday. He then recommends bringing you around, obviously, to places where he gets a commission.

Never trust a stranger, much less someone with perfect English. This scam is perfected in Thailand, if you’re heading there, do check out this page.

 

5. Fake sob stories

There have been quite a number of reported cases, whereby a fellow tourist comes up to you, claims he is American/German/Swiss/etc, has just been robbed, lost his passport and has no money and no idea where to go next. He then asks you for just $5 for a cab..

Interestingly, there has been this “American” pastor from Chicago who has been at it for the past 5 years, telling tourists that he has lost his luggage and his family is stranded.

 

6. Shortchanging

Mexican pesos

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One of the most common scam is note switching. For instance, you pass him a 500 peso note, he turns around and suddenly it becomes a 50 peso note! He then asks for more and you might find your yourself at a momentary loss as it totally came out of the blue and begin questioning yourself.

This is extremely common as both notes look similar (same digits, similar colours).

Another variation is for the merchant to turn around and come back with a torn note! So always, be wary of what you pass to the driver (can be any merchant in fact) and if possible, use small notes.

 

7. Shady equipment operators

Cancun jet ski

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Be especially wary when renting water sports equipment such as for parasailing, jet ski and even diving as there have been quite a number of accidents and even scams where they accuse you of damaging their equipment.

If you do not pay up, you will be threatened with jail. Ask a local/hotel for advice if possible and pay a bit more for the legit operators. Also, take a photo of the equipment and inspect it thoroughly before using.

 

8. Pickpockets

This is practically present everywhere around the world, and it pays to be especially careful around crowded tourist spots like the Ruins of Teotihuacan, Mexico’s bus terminals and even at the airport.

Some of the methods pickpockets use include slashing your bag, snatching your bag, distracting you and even by conning you (e.g. asking if you could show a dollar in your country’s currency so that he will know where you keep your money).

There are many other methods pickpockets can use – learn more on these techniques by checking out the list of scams in Spain, home to the pickpocketing capital of world (Barcelona). Also, be especially careful with your passport! You wouldn’t want to lose it in a country where drug smuggling is a mammoth business.

 

9. Fake goods

At tourist attractions, many vendors peddle their ware such as fake jewellery and artifacts. Silver is especially common, as it is mined in Mexico.

However, you can be sure that almost all of these street peddlers are selling fakes, even if they show you licenses as authentic silver sellers.

 

10. Missing goods

Always check your goods after purchase, as some dishonest vendors may remove one or items when packing your items into a bag.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. “Pirate” taxis

Mexico taxis

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Something to really watch out for, as it can be a real harrowing experience.

At Mexico City, there are cab drivers who rent out their cabs to gang members/criminals to earn a quick, easy buck. Should these fake drivers in legit cabs pick you, you will be at their mercy. They can threaten you with a knife, or even a gun (!), bring you to an ATM, or even stop on the expressway/secluded spot and demand money.

To protect yourself, use official airport tor radio taxis (sitos) and avoid the green Volkswagen Beetle and libre taxis. If you must, always check for a cab driver’s license before boarding, especially when you hail a cab on the streets. If you are a victim, do not resist.

 

2. Pemex/The gas station scam

Pemex

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You will be surprised at the number of times you can get scammed over here, though these tend to happen more at touristy areas (Playa del Carmen, Tulum, etc), especially near airports (Los Cabos) where tourists are usually under time pressure.

Firstly, make sure that the pump is zeroed, i.e. starts at zero, or you will be getting less than desired. Next, watch out if they start pumping from the other side of the pump as you will not be able to tell if it truly started at zero and if it is really providing you the desired amount of petrol. Also, watch out if an attendant brings a container while filling your car with gas, as the container will be where they let out some gas to.

Besides the technical aspects, you can get scammed when paying too. One scenario is after an attendant collects money from you, he disappears and another attendants appears to collect from you.

Another possibility is as described earlier, note swapping.

Finally, the most irritating one would be where they claim your credit card does not work, swipe twice, and then ask you for cash. Should you hand over your cash, you would have paid double the price.

Here’s an interesting real-life encounter: http://old.seattletimes.com/html/travel/2025678329_mexicoscamtravelwisexml.html

To not fall for such scams, avoid the use of credit cards and try to keep small change instead. Alternatively, go to the gas stations where taxi drivers go.

 

3. Paying for a van taxi at the airport

You will definitely be approached by a throng of taxi drivers upon arrival at the airport. Should you take a van taxi or something similar that can hold more people than what a taxi usually holds, the driver will not bother filling the van up, and charge you for the whole van.

 

4. Use toll roads instead of free roads

Based on the number of robberies and bus/car hijackings, free or libre roads have been found to be less secure than toll roads.

 

C. MISC

1. Corrupt Policemen

It is obvious, these policemen will claim that you have broken some law, and will then hint for a bribe. Also, when dealing with them, never hand over your original documents. Should you hand those over, they now have bargaining power when trying to extract a bribe from you.

 

2. Violent crime

Mexico crime

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Not technically a scam per se, but worth a mention as it has serious consequence (muggings, thefts, etc) though uncommon for tourists.

Use some common sense here, for instance, do not flaunt your wealth, carry a backpack instead of a suitcase, avoid being out alone at night, etc.

Avoid these places especially as it where drug related violence is most rampant at: Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Tampico, Durango, Zacatecas as well as the states of Michoacan and Guerrero.

 

3. Spiked food/drinks

As one of the drug capitals of the world, obviously never accept food or drinks from a stranger. You never know what they might have put in it.

 

4. ATM helpers

How obvious is that?! If anyone wants to help you with the ATM because it is not in English, run, as all he wants is to skim your card. Use the ATM only in the day and when there aren’t too many people around.

 

5. Fake immigration officers

If you have lost any important travel documents, please only head straight to the official immigration office to replace them. There are fake immigration officers who will stand ready to steal your personal information should you turn to them.

 

6. Switching drinks

Mexico beer

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Some bars like to do this, sometimes they switch to another (cheaper) liquor, or they simply use less of it. A good practice is to ask for the glass of alcohol separated from the mixers.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Tourism Police

The tourism police are decked out in green uniform, though I wouldn’t rely on them unless as a last resort.

 

2. The Police

Call 060 or 080 for emergencies

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