21 Most Common Tourist Scams in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Mendoza, El Chalten, San Carlos de Bariloche, El Calafate, Salta, Cafayate, Puerto Iguazu, Rosario, Cordoba, Mar del Plata, Ushuaia, Villa Carlos Paz, La Plata, San Martin de los Andes, Villa Gesell, San Rafael, Tandil, Merlo, Villa La Angostura, Tigre, San Miguel de Tucuman, Mina Clavero, Puerto Madryn, Santa Fe, Brailoche, Cordoba, Mar del Plata, Villa La Angostura, Esquel, San Salvador de Jujuy, Villa Carlos Paz, Tigre, Posadas, Resistencia, Ezeiza, San Rafael, Tandil, Lujan, San Juan

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As one of the biggest countries in the world and in South America, Argentina is home to a diverse set of stunning landscapes. You can find glacial lakes (Patagonia), spectacular waterfalls (Iguazu Falls), haunting steppes (Tierra del Fuego), some of the highest peaks in the Southern hemisphere (Andesean peaks) and of course, a bustling and cultural city that is Buenos Aires.

However, due to years of economic mismanagement and unrest, living standards amongst the locals have since suffered. Both violent and petty crime against tourists have been reported, along with a multitude of creative scams. Read on to learn how to protect yourself and enjoy this beautiful land!

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. Mendoza sob story scammer

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This scam has been very well documented in Argentina.

A blond guy, seemingly Dutch or Belgian will approach you and chit chat a bit, asking how you have enjoyed Mendoza. He will then say that it sucked for him, as he has lost all his belongings in a robbery, and that he was even pepper sprayed!

He’s now at his wits’ end, as he has no identification documents on him and so is unable to receive money from Western Union from his family. At this point, he will start tearing and then ask if you can help him with a small amount of money for his bus fare to his country’s embassy to get help.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and avoid.

 

2. Corrupted airport staff

When inspecting your luggage at the customs, there are corrupted officers who will look out for high valued items in your luggage. Once they spot one (or more than one), you will be asked to pay an exorbitant amount of tax for it.

There have also been reports of airport staff, who are hired by the airport under the guise of a private security firm, stealing from checked in luggage. They are usually part of a criminal organization.

You can see this captured in the video below:

Rule of thumb:

Refuse to pay and ask for the supervisor.

Also, get a good lock for your luggage and try to keep valuables with you instead of in your checked in luggage. Consider getting a spare wallet or money belt to diversify the places where you keep your valuables.

 

3. Corrupted customs official

This is a difficult one for tourists to spot.

What has been reported is that a customs official will note down your passport details (e.g. name) and your accommodation. The official then transmits this message to an accomplice outside. That accomplice then prints/writes your name and accommodation on a paper/board to intercept you when you are ready to leave the airport.

In the meantime, the customs official will take a long time to let you get pass, so that the accomplice has time to write/print your details. Once you are out, you will be intercepted and should you take the vehicle the accomplice drives, there are a few possibilities. You might be charged a fee, you might be robbed, or you might even be sent to another hotel with the accomplice claiming that the hotel you booked is full/closed today.

Rule of thumb:

If you did not arrange for any such transport arrangements, then do not take up such offers from a stranger.

If you did, always check for the name and contact number of the driver before your trip. Then, you could verify it with whoever intercepts you at the airport.

 

4. Street tango dancer scam

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Similar to the movie characters you see at New York Times Square or the Roman warriors you see at the Colosseum in Rome, you will find tango dancers as you walk along the streets (primarily Caminito of Barrio La Boca) and who gamely pose for a photo with you.

Right after the photo is taken however, you will be hounded for payment of course.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid taking photos unless you don’t mind paying.

 

5. Spilled liquid theft

This happens in many places (e.g. Thailand, UK, etc), where someone will bump into you and spill mustard/ketchup/chocolate milk/or even a semi-liquid that looks like bird poo onto you.

Next, they or someone else or a group of people will appear out of nowhere to help you clean up.

As you are distracted, the accomplice will swoop in to steal whatever valuables he can find on you.

Rule of thumb:

Prevention is the best cure – be alert and careful in tight places.

If you find yourself in such a situation, stand your ground and instinctively push away anyone who tries to help. Check subtly if your belongings and valuables are still around.

 

6. Pickpockets

The pickpockets here are rife on local buses trains and as skillful as those in Barcelona and the Netherlands, the pickpocketing capitals of the world.

Their modus operandi is this. One person blocks the door while the other steals. Some of them are also as nimble as acrobats. They are able to time it so well that they can snatch your stuff and jump out right when the doors are about to close. Other times, especially at escalators, they might trip you or bump into you and the next moment your valuables are gone.

Sometimes however, you might just meet muggers who are more aggressive. For instance, they block you at the train door or at the escalator by pretending to tier their shoelaces or by pretending to drop something (phone, cigarette, etc). An accomplice will then cut your backpack from behind.

Another variation happens in the restaurants. There have been reports where a scammer acts like a waiter, comes over to you, bends over and ask how the food tastes. If you had left your valuables on the table/out in the open, they would be easily taken away.

Finally, many of these pickpockets operate on crowded streets as well.

Rule of thumb:

If you want to avoid becoming a victim, stay alert especially in busy places and keep your cash safe and secure. Only carry small amounts of cash around with you. Avoid carrying the purse or wallet in the back pocket. Also, use a spare walletmoney belt or anti-theft bag to further protect yourself from pickpockets.

Further, keep most of your valuables and passport in the hotel safe. Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead. Also, consider using hotel safety tools such as a hotel safe lock or door jammer to further strengthen the security of your hotel room.

 

7. Outright robberies

Unfortunately, there have been reports of outright robberies at tourist attractions in Argentina (e.g. La Boca, San Telmo), transports hubs (e.g. Retiro bus terminal) and shady neighbourhoods (e.g. Villa Lugano; Villa Riachuelo).

Rule of thumb:

Be especially careful around these areas (e.g. keep valuables close to you; feel if anyone is eyeing you, etc). Also avoid hanging out in these places (especially the shady neighbourhoods) late at night.

Only carry small amounts of cash around with you. Also, use a spare walletmoney belt or anti-theft bag to further protect yourself from pickpockets.

Further, keep most of your valuables and passport in the hotel safe. Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead. Also, consider using hotel safety tools such as a hotel safe lock or door jammer to further strengthen the security of your hotel room.

 

8. Spiked drinks

This is one targeted at single tourists, and is again, another very common scam globally.

The scammer will approach you, act like a fellow tourist and ask you for directions. Next, he will continue the conversation to build trust and familiarity and ask if you would like to get a drink together somewhere. It could be at a bar, at restaurant or somewhere. It doesn’t matter, as the drink will be spiked.

Next, he will casually advise you that the banks will stop operations, or that they are so stricken that they will run out of cash in the next few days/week because of some event. Thus, it is wise to withdraw some money first. This could be before or after the drinks. Either way, you will pass out at some point and robbed of your valuables and the money you just withdrew.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid drinks with a random stranger but if you do, watch out for the red flags raised in the examples above. Watch how your drinks are prepared and monitor them throughout your time.

If possible, get a can or bottle as these are more difficult to tamper with.

 

9. Viudas Negra/Black widow scam

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This is similar to the spiked drinks scam, but one usually perpetrated by an attractive woman on single men. Long story short, you find them at bars where they approach you, make small talk, and then they will suggest going back to your room.

Back in the room, once your back is turned, she will slip a drug (e.g. Benzoate) into your drink which will knock you out. This will give her time to steal all your valuables and to escape.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid such offers. If you do, watch your drink throughout.

 

10. Free bar scam

This is a simple yet highly effective scam, as it exploits humans’ greed.

On the streets, you will find club/bar sales promoters offering something free, which could be a shopping discount ticket or a free show to tempt you into their club/bar. Once you are in however, you will not be allowed to leave unless you pay for a ridiculously priced drink.

Rule of thumb:

Reject offers from these touts. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Check out reviews online to only go for the reputable bars/places.

 

11. Cabaret bait

This is very similar to the “bar scam”, but even more effective, as it plays on both greed and lust. Another common scam around the world (e.g. Hungary, Greece, etc)

This is a scam that targets males. As you walk around downtown Buenos Aires, you will find promoters offering men free drinks at surrounding cabaret bars. You go in, get a free drink, and find yourself with a bevy of scantily clad girls who accompany you and have drinks as well.

When you are bored and feel like going off, you will be stopped by huge sized guys who demand payment. Payment not just for your own drink, but for the girls’ drinks as well. Needless to say, reason wouldn’t work here, and it’s best to just pay and leave as it has been reported that the police do not care.

Rule of thumb:

Do not enter sleazy bars. Check out reviews online to find the reputable establishments.

Should you end up in a situation where you find a bunch of girls surround you, get ready to leave. If you can’t, then pay the bill, get out and call your credit card company as soon as possible to block and dispute the charge.

 

12. Counterfeit goods

Similar to those fake goods you see along roadside stalls in Europe, you will find a lot of fake designer goods here as well, one place of which is Barrio Balvanera.

Rule of thumb:

If the price is too good to be true, it is.

Also, only shop at reputable places, you can find them through some online research or by asking your hotel staff.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Overcharging taxi drivers

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A perennial issue all over the world (e.g. Brazil, Philippines, etc), as taxi drivers aim to make a quick buck off unknowing tourists, and there are many ways they can do this.

They can claim that they do not have change should you hand them a large note. Or they could give you counterfeit notes as change (mentioned earlier). Some will rig their meters. Others will switch notes to a smaller denomination and claim that you gave the wrong note. Then they could also take you on a longer route then required. Or they charge you more than what the meter shows by claiming certain additional charges.

Many guidebooks recommend taking radio taxis, that is one way but unfortunately not enough, as there are radio taxis who perpetrate these scams as well.

Rule of thumb:

The best way is to stay alert and use some common sense while in the taxi. For instance, agreeing on a clear price before the trip. Or looking at the meter during the trip to ensure it is not rigged or checking your phone’s GPS to ensure that it is the fastest route. After the trip, look carefully at the notes while the driver is handling them.

You could also do some online research to identify the best route and the fare required, or simply ask your hotel staff.

 

2. Fake taxis

There are quite a number of these “official looking” cabs which look similar to the radio taxis. However, these cabs are not registered with the government and hence not subject to the industry’s rules and regulations. This means there is a high likelihood of being overcharged or even robbed by them.

Also, at the airport, only take official taxis or remis, where you prepay inside the airport at a taxi counter.

Rule of thumb:

Only take radio taxis – you can spot the radio taxi logo on the cabs.

 

3. The banknote switcheroo

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This is one usually perpetrated by taxi drivers and can be executed in different forms.

One reported scenarios is that the driver offers to help you review your pesos as you may be unfamiliar with the currency. Then, without you realizing, he swaps your good bills with bad bills (i.e. counterfeits) of his. He then accuses you of passing him a counterfeit note.

Another reported scenario is that when you pass the driver a big note, some of the more skillful ones can pretend to rummage through their wallet, quickly swap it with a fake and then pass it back to you claiming that they have no change.

Rule of thumb:

Reject the “kind” offer and try to pay with small notes. If not, ask the driver if he has change for $x first before passing a big note over.

 

4. Taxi set-up robbery

This is one scary scam.

What happens is that when you board a taxi and the driver starts using the phone for a call or SMS, there’s a chance that he’s setting up a robbery further down a corner. That is where his accomplices are waiting. When the accomplices attack your cab, the driver will play along, act scared, give up his wallet and ask you to do the same.

Rule of thumb:

Refuse to board/get out if you see the driver start using his phone right upon boarding. Better to be safe than sorry.

 

5. Carjacking at traffic lights

More a crime than a scam, this is still important to take note of.

Rule of thumb:

Whenever you are in a car, keep your windows closed and doors locked as there have been cases of easy robberies in such situations.

 

C. MISC

1. Counterfeit bills

Besides on taxis, counterfeit notes are also found in several other contexts. You could find them at nightclubs and even restaurants/stores, so it is useful to learn how to spot a fake note.

Some tips (check out http://landingpadba.com/ba-basics-counterfeit-money/ for more detailed pictures):

  • Fake notes usually are of a different, cheap feeling material, the print is bad with faded colours
  • Watermark of face/animal can be seen without shining light behind the bill
  • Always check for the watermark and security thread by raising a note to a light source

Next, besides counterfeit Pesos, there are even counterfeit USD/foreign currencies around!

Moving on to the black money situation, here’s a quick update. In the past, due to capital controls and the unstable Peso currency, many locals were willing to pay a higher premium to switch their Pesos to USD. Hence, a black market grew where tourists went to these “cambista”/”cueva” (illegal exchange houses usually at gold shops – touts will inform you of these places by mentioning “cambio”) to exchange at a rate that was generally 60-70% better than official rates.

However, after the new president Macri was elected in 2015, he got rid of the official exchange rate and allowed the Peso to float freely. This pretty much wiped out the black market. However there are still remnants of these operators today, who can offer rates which are at best maybe 3% better. This is a level I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time and effort to seek out.

Rule of thumb:

To avoid getting fake bills, only change your Pesos back to USD or foreign currency at an official money changer. Also learn how to identify the fakes from the real.

 

2. Apartment security deposit scam

There have been cases of travellers having their deposits unreturned to them, because they misplaced their trust in the apartment owner from whom they are renting. The video above shows one such example.

For instance, the apartment owner can collect the key from you (or send someone to do so), then claim that they forgot to bring the deposit. They then ask you to head down to a specific place or contact someone else to collect.

However, once the key is handed over, they will disappear. What actually turns the odds against you getting your deposit back is that you will be under time pressure. This is because you are most likely going to be having a flight/train/bus to catch soon.

Rule of thumb:

Never return the key without getting the deposit back first. Also, don’t reveal your departing flight/transport details.

 

3. I accidentally dropped my money trap

What happens is scammer #1 will accidentally drop some money on the floor, and scammer #2 will be nearby to make sure someone picks it up. Once the victim picks it up to pass it to scammer #1, scammer #1 will claim that it is less than what he had dropped.

At this point, scammer #2 will join in and pressure the victim to pay the difference.

Rule of thumb:

Unfortunately, we would have to recommend not helping strangers when you see them dropping something unknowingly, unless it’s something of little value.

 

4. The ride-by/snatch theft

This is a crime more common in Asia (e.g. Malaysia, Myanmar), but you can find them in Argentina as well, so do watch out.

A thief will ride past you on a motorbike and snatch your valuables/bag/handbag if you were to have it hanging out by your side. This can be very unsafe if the strap of your bag doesn’t break.

Rule of thumb:

When walking, carry your bag on the other side of your body away from the road. Keep valuables close to you. Also, try not to have items dangling into the road areas such as carrying a camera in your hand by its strap.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

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  • Police: 101
  • Fire: 100
  • Medical emergencies: 107
  • Tourist police: 0800-999-5000 / 0800-999-2838

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