22 Most Common Tourist Scams in Brazil

Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Curitiba, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Porto Alegre, Fortaleza, Goiania, Recife, Florianopolis, Campinas, Manaus, Guarulhos, Natal, Ribeirao Preto, Paraty, Ouro Preto, Olinda, Foz do Iguacu, Belem, Foz do Iguacu

Brazil
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As a traveller, Brazil will never run out of sights to amaze. It is the biggest country in South America, it is home to the Amazon forest, the world’s largest rainforest and is even inhabited by the world’s biggest snake! Not to mention, it is the holy “mecca” of football and its samba carnivals across Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and many other cities attract revellers around the world.

However, Brazil is also a dangerous place. A joke is that the most costly expense on a trip to Brazil is travel insurance! As such, do not take your safety for granted and do learn how to protect yourself over here.

 

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. The cinderella goodnight girls

Red light district in Brazil

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As the name suggests, these girls (i.e. hookers) operate by slipping drugs into your drink to knock you out. Beware especially at Vila Mimosa, Rio de Janeiro’s red light district.

Rule of thumb:

Watch your drinks carefully, from how it’s made to until you finish the drink. You could consider getting a bottle/can to make tampering with your drink more difficult.

Though in the first place, it would be advisable not to engage in such activities. Or to accept offers for drinks from a random stranger on the streets.

 

2. Pickpockets

Pickpocket on Brazil beach

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As long as there are tourists, there will be pickpockets. Be careful especially at beaches such as those at Rio. There are people just scouring around the beaches to find targets, as some  beachgoers tend to get too relaxed and neglect their valuables.

Other common areas where pickpockets operate at are the airports, busy train stations and crowded markets.

These pickpockets usually work in pairs or in groups. One person will distract you while the other steals from you. For instance, scammer #1 might make an innocuous request such as asking you to help look after his clothes on the beach while he goes into the water. During the conversation, the accomplice moves in for the kill.

Other ways are: being bumped into; being distracted by something thrown onto the ground (e.g. coins) and even having one’s bag slashed unknowingly. To prevent having your bag slashed, carry your bag in front of you.

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.

 

3. Assaults/robbery/muggings

This can happen anywhere, but it is more likely to happen during night time at secluded streets. At that time, places like Pelourinho, or Favela slums in Manaus (poor sell drugs to the poorer) should be avoided at all costs, as drug dealings and crime are rampant in these areas.

There have also been frequent cases of laptop robbery around business oriented airports (e.g. Sao Paulo’s Congonhas; Rio’s Santos Dumont). So try to conceal your laptop and not look like a businessman if you are one.

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. Also, use a spare wallet with little cash in it that you can easily give up to the robber.

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.

 

4. Lost and found money

Brazil real currency note

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This takes people by surprise as it happens so fast. A stranger suddenly approaches you and tells you that he has found a huge stack of money on the floor. He then proceeds to split it with you even if you try to protest (most people would probably be stunned momentarily).

The next moment, an accomplice comes by and claims that the money is his. He will snatch the money and to his horror, find some of it missing. At this point, the stranger will egg you on to pay back half of it. Else, he claims that both of you might get assaulted by the accomplice or his gang.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject and get away as soon as possible.

 

5. Drug planting

Drugs are unlikely to affect tourists, though there have been instances of drug planting. Should you get caught by the police, you will have to pay a big bribe. The area around the Bolivian border is a hot spot of this scam.

Rule of thumb:

Keep your belongings secure/securely on yourself and stay alert especially around crowded areas.

 

6. Black market tickets

Brazil Rio olympic tickets

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Not technically a scam per se, but criminal organizations buy most of the tickets of major events and flip for a few times more through legitimate agencies.

This could be for events such as the samba parade and the upcoming Olympics.

Rule of thumb:

Only buy from the official outlets, as you can never know the authenticity of a ticket bought through an unofficial source.

 

7. The place is closed

Iguazu Falls

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This is an all too common scam around the world (e.g. Thailand, Vietnam). It works the same around here, a friendly local with surprisingly good English intercepts you while you are near a tourist attraction. He mentions that the place is closed, but there is somewhere else which is as good or even better than the closed attraction.

He either brings you there, or gets a cab driver nearby to help. If he does get a cab driver, these crooks are actually in cahoots. Take the cab, and you will be whisked off to shops where the driver gets a commission if you buy something. What’s worst, is that the driver may drive you to a secluded spot and then rob you.

It’s not just strangers on the streets, but some rogue taxi drivers are perpetrators of this crime as well. One could simply take a longer route, then casually mention that he forgot to inform you earlier that your original destination is closed. As such, he has taken it upon himself to drive you somewhere better.

Rule of thumb:

Always insist on your original destination.

 

8. Music charge

This happens in Italy as well (e.g. Venice), where some restaurants/bar/clubs might charge you extra simply because there is live music.

Rule of thumb:

Check out online reviews or ask your hotel staff for reputable places to eat/drink at.

 

9. Can I help you?

This is almost like the #1 scam globally (e.g. Morocco, Sri Lanka, etc), where a stranger approaches you to offer his unsolicited help. Nothing good can come out of it, especially if the stranger has a good command of English.

There are many variations of this. For instance, the scammer might show you the way to somewhere, and then demand a tip. Or the scammer may offer to help you take a photo, and then demand a tip. Or he could claim that somewhere is closed, and recommend another restaurant or another hotel to stay at, which is where he gets a commission from.

Rule of thumb:

Do not accept unsolicited help. It is better to ask (e.g. asking shop owners around the area if you are lost) than to be asked.

 

10. Fake merchandise

Fake goods (usually luxury, electronics, high value items) are usually quite obvious and usually found at flea markets such as the Feira dos Importados.

Rule of thumb:

Inspect and test any item before buying. If the price is too good to be true, it is.

Or simply, shop at reputable places by doing some online research or by asking your hotel/hostel staff.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Unlicensed taxis/taxis which do not use meters/taxis which take longer routes

Brazil taxi cab

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Taxis which do not use meters and demand a huge upfront fee is unfortunately, very common. Also, avoid unlicensed taxis, as they could be operated by gang members and so, you run the risk of being robbed.

Rule of thumb:

At the airport, get a cab from Aerotaxi or Aerocoop to be safe as they offer fixed prices.

Also, for longer routes, have an idea of a route to take and map it on your mobile to protect yourself against drivers who take longer routes. You could use GPS as well.

Also, you could find out a rough price for any route by checking online or by asking your hotel staff. In this way, even if a driver refuse to use the meter, you can still negotiable a reasonable flat fare for the trip.

 

2. Car robbery

Brazil car robbery

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This happens at traffic lights, where crooks go around opening car doors to grab whatever they can find.

Rule of thumb:

To protect yourself, always keep your car doors locked at all times.

In rarer cases, these crooks smash your car windows with a hammer. There’s really nothing much you can do besides concealing or not bringing your valuables to prevent such a situation from occurring in the first place.

 

3. Bus theft

Bus in Brazil

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Stealing on a bus is easy for thieves, as there will be definitely be careless passenger who do not safely secure their valuables.

Theft cases are more commonly reported on overnight buses to other South American countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.

Rule of thumb:

Secure your valuables with locks, a money belt, or a spare wallet. You could also spread out the places your cash/valuables are kept.

 

4. Taxi runaround

This is where taxi drivers target those who are too drunk or disoriented outside clubs. They drive around town to aggravate their daze, and then head to a secluded spot to rob the victim of his valuables.

Rule of thumb:

There is nothing much you can do besides keeping yourself sober. If not, at least keep your valuables in your hotel safe, and consider using a spare wallet with little money to give up if robbed.

 

C. MISC

1. Fake policemen

You can find fake police everywhere around the world (e.g. Greece, Indonesia, etc). In Brazil, you can find them at airports such as those in Rio and Sao Paulo. Should you follow them into a car, you will be robbed there.

Another variation is where a stranger bumps into you, starts chatting, and then a fake policeman comes by and discovers drug on your new “friend”! You are escorted (abducted) with your new friend into a fake police station and stripped of all your valuables. If you are unlucky, you will be held for days as they withdraw the maximum limit from your card each day.

Rule of thumb:

When approached by a policeman (which is actually a rare thing for real policemen to do), always check their cards first. If you are unsure, go to any airline desk or look for a security guard to ask for help. Do not leave the terminal as you will merely set yourself up to be robbed.

If you are approached by a fake police officer on the streets, do the same thing and ask to check their identification. Threaten to call the police hotline (you can find it at the end of this article) to further verify their identification. If they are still not scared off, demand to only “deal” at a police station. To ensure you are not brought to a fake station, call the police hotline again to ask.

 

2. Express kidnapping

Global kidnapping spots

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Be wary when withdrawing money, as there might are shady characters who wait at ATMs for the right targets to rob.

If you are targeted, you will be forced to withdraw all cash from your account.

Rule of thumb:

To protect yourself, only use ATM in the day and in the bank or in busy/less secluded areas.

 

3. Dirty your stuff/spilled liquid

This is a rather common scam around the world (e.g. USA, UAE, etc) but executed with different material.

In Brazil, there have been reports where a scammer will squirt green/brown goop onto you/your stuff. Next, an accomplice or a group of them will appear out of nowhere and offer to help you clean it off for a fee. Some will say it’s for free, and then go on to demand a fee once they have completed the service.

In other countries, it could be fake bird shit, or any other material that seems dirty and gross. Some of them won’t even ask, but to help you clean up. In the process, they steal your valuables.

Rule of thumb:

Stay alert while walking on the streets. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, stand your ground and push away whoever tries to help you.

 

4. Rio de Janeiro (GIG) airport ATMs

Rio de Janeiro airport ATMs

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There have been reports of ATM skimming/cameras in this airport. How this works is that the skimmer they install on the ATM records your card details, while the cameras installed above the keypad captures your PIN. Thus, use it at your own risk.

In fact, Brazil faces one of the highest ATM theft charges. News report such as this aren’t uncommon over there: http://g1.globo.com/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2013/04/policia-prende-homem-que-clonava-cartoes-em-caixa-eletronico-no-rio.html

Rule of thumb:

Use ATMs only at banks and in the day.

 

5. Banco Safra

Banco Safra

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Not exactly a ‘scam” per se, but more a tourist trap. Do not change your money here unless you have no choice because the rates are outrageous, due to it being the monopoly in Rio de Janeiro.

Rule of thumb:

Change at official exchanges in town.

 

6. Unlicensed telco/SIM card stores

Avoid, as you will probably buy a “fake” SIM card where data is either used up almost immediately or where data prices are sky high.

Rule of thumb:

If you need a SIM card, get it from proper telcos such as Vivo, TIM, Oi and Claro.

 

7. Would you like a drink

Should you be approached by a stranger for drinks at a specific bar, it is almost never a good thing.

This is a common scam in the Americas (e.g. Mexico), where once you are led into the bar, there will be girls waiting for you and toasting you. When the bill comes, you will have to pay for everyone there at inflated prices.

Rule of thumb:

Do not accept a drinks offer from a random stranger. If you would want, propose to head to another bar and see how the scammer reacts. If he/she is genuine, he/she would probably be alright with it.

 

8. Phone kidnapping scam

Not necessarily a scam that happens to tourists, but it is still good to know.

As is common around the world, you get a call from a strange number and hear a little girl/boy whoever who cries out for help. The kidnapper then demand payment within an hour (any set time) or the hostage will be killed.

Rule of thumb:

Hang up.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Tourism police

Brazil tourism police

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The tourism police, or Policia de Tourismo, are a good bet should you need help. However, they only have a strong presence in Rio and are pretty thinly spread out in the other cities.

Contact numbers:

  • Rio de Janeiro: 021/3399-7170
  • Sao Paulo: 011/3107-5642

 

2. Policia Federal

Brazil policia federal

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Found at frontier posts, airports and ports, these policemen deal with visas.

 

3. Policia Militar

Brazil policia milita

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Tend to operate around highway road blocks.

 

4. Policia Civil

Brazil policia civil

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Helps with petty crime such as theft, but allegedly inefficient.

 

5. Emergency numbers

  • Police: 190
  • Fire and ambulance: 193

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1 Comment

  1. Matt

    This happens to us natives too… Unfortunately…

    Reply

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