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
As one of the biggest countries in the world, Argentina is home to a diverse set of stunning landscapes – you will 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, the country is also home to a myriad of scammers ready to part you from your valuables. Both violent and petty crime 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
This scam has been very well documented – 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 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: ignore
2. Corrupted airport staff
There have been reports where upon investigating your luggage at the customs, corrupted officers will claim that for whichever high valued item they can find in your luggage, that you have to pay an exorbitant amount of tax for it.
There have also been reports of airport staff, usually part of a criminal organization who are hired by the airport under the guise of a private security firm stealing from checked in luggage, as can be seen in the video below:
Rule of thumb: refuse to do so and request for the supervisor; get a good lock for your luggage and try to keep valuables with you instead of in your checked in luggage
3. Corrupted customs official
This is a tough one for many tourists to spot – what has been reported is that a customs official notes down your passport details (e.g. name) and your accommodation. The official then transmits this message to an accomplice outside for the accomplice to print/write your name and accommodation on a board to intercept you when you 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/down today.
Rule of thumb: if you have not pre-made any transport arrangements, do not take up such out of the blue offers
4. Street tango dancer scam
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 wouldn’t mind paying
5. Spilled liquid theft
This happens in many places, such as the bird shit scam in Thailand, where someone will bump into you and spill mustard/ketchup/chocolate milk/or even a semi-liquid that looks like bird shit onto you. Next, they or someone else on the streets (doesn’t matter who) will suddenly pounce forward to help you clean up.
As you are distracted, the accomplice will swoop in for the kill and make off with your bag or obvious valuables which you are holding.
Rule of thumb: prevention is the best cure – be careful in tight places; if you find yourself in such a situation, instinctively push away anyone who tries to help and note if your belongings and valuables are still around.
The pickpockets here are rife on local buses trains and as skillful as those in Barcelona, the pickpocketing capital of the world.
Their modus operandi is this: one person blocks the door, 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.
Any time you are caught off guard or when it’s crowded, you will be at risk. As such, always keep your money/valuables in non-accessible areas. Consider using a money belt or even a fake wallet.
But sometimes, 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 shoe laces or by pretending to drop something (phone, cigarette, etc). An accomplice will then cut your money belt or your backpack from the rear.
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/lap/out in the open, they would be easily taken away.
Finally, many of these pickpockets operate on crowded streets as well naturally, so stay alert.
Rule of thumb: stay alert, use a money belt/fake wallet, keep valuables securely, don’t bring valuables out
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) and avoid hanging out in these places (especially the shady neighbourhoods) late at night
8. Spiked drinks
This is one targeted at single tourists, same as the one perpetrated in Turkey.
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 for some event, so it is wise to withdraw some money first. This could be before or after the drinks, but either way, you will pass out of some point and you will be robbed of your valuables and the money you just withdrew.
Rule of thumb: avoid drinks with a total random stranger or if you do, watch out for the red flags raised in the examples above
9. Viudas Negra/Black widow scam
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, giving her time to steal all your valuables and to escape.
Rule of thumb: avoid such situations
10. Free bar scam
This is a simple yet highly effective scam, as it plays on humans’ greed. Club/bar sales promoters will be on the prowl in the streets 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, you will not be allowed to leave unless you pay for a ridiculously priced drink.
Rule of thumb: reject such offers unless you don’t mind
11. Cabaret bait
This is very similar to the “bar scam”, but even more effective, as it plays on both greed and lust.
This is a scam that targets males – as you walk around in downtown Buenos Aires, you will find promoters offering you men free drinks at surrounding cabaret bars. So you go in, get a free drink, and find yourself with a bevy of scantily clad girls who keep you company and who have drinks as well.
When you are bored and feel like going off, you will be stopped by huge sized guys who claim that you have to pay, and 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 take up such offers
12. Counterfeit goods
Rule of thumb: if price is too good to be true, it is; avoid buying
1. Overcharging taxi drivers
A perennial issue all over the world, 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; give you counterfeit notes as change (mentioned earlier); rig their meters; switch notes to a smaller denomination and claim that you gave the wrong note; take you on a longer route then required; charge you more than what the meter shows by claiming certain additional charges
Many guidebooks recommend only taking radio taxis, that is one way, but unfortunately not enough, as there are radio taxis who perpetrate these scams as well. The best way is to stay alert and use some common sense while in the taxi.
Rule of thumb: be prepared and stay alert, never pay additional fees that weren’t agreed upon in the first place.
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, which means there is a high likelihood of being overcharged or even robbed by them.
Also, at the airport, take only official taxis or remis, where you pre-pay 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
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, and then without you realizing, swop 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 you pass the driver a big note, some of the more skilful ones can pretend to rummage through their wallet, quickly flick it and then pass it back to you with the excuse 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 screwed up 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 good chance that he’s setting up a robbery further down a corner, where his accomplices are waiting and he will act scared once it happens.
Rule of thumb: refuse to board/get out if you see the driver start using his phone right upon boarding
5. Carjacking at traffic lights
More a crime than a scam, this is still important to take note of. Whenever you are in car, keep your windows closed and doors locked as there have been cases of easy robberies in such situations.
Rule of thumb: windows closed doors locked
1. Counterfeit bills
Besides on taxis, counterfeit notes are also found in several other contexts, such as 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! To avoid getting these fake bills, only change your Pesos back to USD or foreign currency at an official money changer.
Update on the black money situation: in the past, due to capital controls and the unstable peso currency, many locals were willing to pay a higher premium to switch their peso to USD, so 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 usually 60-70% better than official rates.
However, after the new president Macri elected in 2015, he got rid of the official exchange rate and allowed the peso to float freely, which 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, a level I wouldn’t waste my time and effort seeking out.
Rule of thumb: 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 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 the deposit, and ask you to head down to a specific place/contact someone to collect. Once the key is handed over, they will disappear, but what makes it worse is that you will be under time pressure, as it is likely that you have a flight/train/bus to catch soon.
Rule of thumb: never return the key without getting the deposit first, and don’t reveal your departing flight details to them
3. I accidentally dropped my money trap
What happens is scammer #1 will accidentally drop some money on the floor, and a 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 dropped.
At this point, scammer #2 will join in and pressure the victim to pay the difference.
Rule of thumb: sadly we would have to recommend not helping in this case
4. The ride-by
Very similar to “outright robberies”, this is a situation where as the thief rides past you on a motorbike, he snatches your valuables/bag/handbag if you were to have it hanging out by your side.
Rule of thumb: keep valuables close to you and be wary of motorcylists coming from behind you if you are walking along the roads
D. GETTING HELP
1. Emergency numbers to call
- Police: 101
- Fire: 100
- Medical emergencies: 107
- Tourist police: 0800-999-5000 / 0800-999-2838
- Civil Defense: 103
- Environmental Emergency: 105
- Emergency at sea: 106
Connect with Us!
Share with Your Friends!