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
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 common joke amongst travellers is that the most costly expense on a trip to Brazil is the insurance! As such, do not take your safety for granted and do learn how to protect yourself if you are making a trip here.
A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES
1. The Cinderella Goodnight Girls
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.
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 and finding targets, as it is extremely easy for people to get too relaxed and not be aware of their valuables or surroundings. Stow away your valuables in your hotel or at the beach bars if you have to.
Other common areas are the airports, busy train stations and crowded markets.
Most common trick would be for the pickpockets to work in pairs, with one distracting you while the other grabs your valuables right under your nose. For instance, the accomplice might make an innocuous request such as helping to look after his clothes on the beach while he goes into the water while the other 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.
Can happen pretty much anywhere, but the most common time and place is 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.
To protect yourself, use a moneybelt, or conceal your money somewhere (in your shoe/socks/internal pockets, etc) and only bring what you need. Avoid wearing expensive items as well.
There have been frequent cases of laptop robbery around business oriented airports (e.g. Sao Paulo’s Congonhas; Rio’s Santos Dumont), so be careful of showing your laptop or that you are a businessman.
4. Lost and found money
This takes people by surprise as it happens so fast. A stranger suddenly approaches you and mentions that he 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 for a moment).
The next moment, an accomplice comes by and claims that those money is his. He will snatch the money and to his horror, find some of it missing. At this point, the stranger will immediately egg you to pay back half of it as he is afraid that both of you might get assaulted by the accomplice or his gang.
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.
6. Black market tickets
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.
7. The place is closed
An all too common scam around the world, especially in Thailand. It works the same around here, a friendly local with surprisingly good English intercepts you while you are near an attraction. He mentions that the place is closed, but there is somewhere else which is as good or even better than the place you were intending to head to.
He either brings you there, or gets a cab driver nearby to help.
Apparently, these crooks are in cahoots. Take the cab, and you will be whisked off to shops where the driver gets a commission if you buy something. The worst, would be for the driver to drive you to a secluded spot and rob you of your valuables.
It’s not just strangers, but taxi drivers are perpetrators of this crime as well. They simply have to go a longer route elsewhere, then casually mention that about forgetting to inform you that your original destination is closed and thus will be bringing you somewhere better.
8. Music charge
Happens elsewhere in Italy as well (especially Venice), some restaurants/bar/clubs might charge you extra simply if there is live music.
9. Can I help you?
There are of course, good bystanders/strangers who will come forth to help if you seem lost, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
10. Fake merchandise
Is there a need to explain this?
1. Unlicensed taxis/taxis which do not use meters/taxis which take longer routes
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 you run the risk of being robbed.
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.
2. Car robbery
Happens at traffic lights, where crooks go around opening car doors to grab whatever they can find. To protect yourself, always keep your car doors locked at all times. In rarer cases, these crooks smash your glass with a hammer, and there’s really nothing much you can do besides concealing or not bringing your valuables to not tempt the crooks.
3. Bus theft
Stealing on a bus is an easy way for thieves to operate, as there will be definitely be some unwitting/overly trusting passenger who do not take precautions to lock up or keep safe one’s valuables.
Theft cases are more commonly reported on overnight buses to other South American countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.
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 victims of his valuables.
1. Fake policemen
Happens at airports such as those in Rio and Sao Paulo, there are crooks who dress up like policemen. Should you follow them into a car, you will be robbed there.
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.
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.
To protect yourself, similarly do not leave with the policeman just like with the earlier scenario in the airport unless you are sure of his authenticity.
2. Express kidnapping
Be wary when withdrawing money, as there might be some shady characters camping around at ATMs picking their targets. If you targeted, you will be forced to withdraw all cash from your account. To protect yourself, only use ATM in the day and in busy/less secluded areas.
3. Dirty your stuff
This is a rather common scam around the world, but in different variations. In Brazil, there have been reports where one accomplice will squirt green/brown goop onto you/your stuff, and another accomplice will 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.
4. Rio de Janeiro (GIG) airport ATMs
There have been reports of ATM skimming/cameras in this airport – how this works is that the skimmer records your card details, while the cameras capture your PIN, so 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
5. Banco Safra
Not exactly a ‘scam” per se, but 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.
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. If you need a SIM card, get it from proper telcos such as Vivo, TIM, Oi and Claro.
7. Bar tab
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 (common around Mexico too), 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 almost everyone there at inflated prices.
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.
D. GETTING HELP
1. Tourism Police
The tourism police, or Policia de Tourismo, are a solid bet should you need help. However, they only have a strong presence in Rio but pretty thinly spread out in the other cities.
- Rio de Janeiro: 021/3399-7170
- Sao Paulo: 011/3107-5642
2. Policia Federal
Found at frontier posts, airports and ports, these policemen deal with visas.
3. Policia Militar
Tend to operate around highway road blocks
4. Policia Civil
Helps with petty crime such as theft, but extremely inefficient.
5. Emergency numbers
Fire and ambulance: 193
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