24 Most Common Tourist Scams in Argentina

Safety at 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, San Salvador de Jujuy, Villa Carlos Paz, Ezeiza, San Rafael, San Juan

Image source: touropia.com

 

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 ACTIVITIES

1. Street pickpockets

 

How it works:

Based on a survey, Buenos Aires has been ranked as one of the top 10 cities globally for pickpockets.

Crowded streets, train stations, public transportation, markets, shopping malls, restaurants, tourist attractions, hotels, nightspots or anywhere tourists hang out at are pickpockets’ favourite spots.

A non-exhaustive list of hot spots to be careful at are:

  • Buenos Aires: shopping areas (Florida Street, San Telmo, Feri Mataderos – Sunday fair, Recoloeta street fairs), other areas (La Boca, Recoleta Cemetery, parks in Recoleta, Belle Artes Museum) etc
  • Other cities: Mendoza, Cordoba, etc
  • Public transportation: discussed later in article

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another will push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes with it.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done in a crowded environment.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead instead of the actual one.

 

 

2. Spilled liquid theft

 

How it works:

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 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.

 

What to do:

Be alert and careful in tight places. Push anyone away whos tries to help.

And as mentioned, arm yourself with an anti-theft bag and a money belt or hidden pouch, and thieves will almost never be able to steal from you.

 

3. Street tango dancer scam

Image source: blogpatagonia.australis.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Avoid taking photos unless you don’t mind paying.

 

4. Mendoza sob story scammer

Image source: touropia.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Decline and walk away.

 

5. Viudas Negra / black widow scam

Image source: yournewswire.com

 

How it works:

This is 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.

 

What to do:

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

Also, never flaunt your valuables – keep them in your hotel / hostel safe which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

6. Spiked drinks

Image source: nevseoboi.com.ua

 

How it works:

This is 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 ask if you would like to get a drink together somewhere.

It could be at a bar, a 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.

 

What to do:

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

Finally, as mentioned again, never flaunt your valuables – keep them in your hotel / hostel safe which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

7. Free bar scam

Image source: embark.org

 

How it works:

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 / “whiskeria”.

Once you are in however, you will not be allowed to leave unless you pay for a ridiculously priced drink.

 

What to do:

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

 

8. Cabaret bait / honeypot scam

 

How it works:

Another common scam globally (e.g. Hungary, Greece, etc), 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 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 burly men who demand payment not just for your own drink, but for the girls’ drinks as well.

 

What to do:

Do not enter sleazy bars. If you want, 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.

 

9. Counterfeit goods

Image source: shop-buenosaires.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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. Baggage handler theft

 

How it works:

There have 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.

 

What to do:

To prevent yourself from falling prey, first, use a hard shell luggage that is more difficult to break into one that uses zippers (a pen is all that is needed to open zippers).

Next, consider investing in an extra TSA lock, luggage strap or some cable ties to further secure your luggage. Note that these do not secure your luggage 100%, but are meant to deter the thief from targeting your luggage.

Finally, do not leave your valuables in check in luggage or luggage that you store in the storage compartment while travelling.

Instead, store them in a money belt or hidden pouch and in a sturdy, lockable anti-theft bag that is slash resistant.

 

2. Corrupted customs official

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Refuse to pay and ask for the supervisor.

 

3. Customs official and driver intercept

Image source: YouTube – Panrimo

 

How it works:

What has been reported is that a customs official will note down your passport details (e.g. name) and your accommodation and then transmit this 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 an inflated 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.

 

What to do:

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

But 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. Public transportation pickpockets

 

How it works:

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

Besides on the trains and buses, the Retiro bus terminal in Buenos Aires and central bus terminal in Mendoza are obvious hot spots as well.

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another will push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes with it.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done in a crowded environment.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

This is because once you are targeted, you will almost definitely lose your valuables in a split second. First, avoid standing near the doors.

To make it impossible for thieves to steal from you, we recommend:

  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables securely in a slim fitting money belt or hidden pouch.
  • Store larger valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and lockable. Keep it in front of you.
  • Keep most of your valuables in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead instead of the actual one.

 

 

5. Fake / unofficial taxis

 

How it works:

There are quite a number of these “official looking” cabs which look similar to the radio taxis. You will find touts of these unofficial taxis at the airport, tourist attractions and transportation hubs.

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.

 

What to do:

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

Away from the airport, only take radio taxis – you can spot the radio taxi logo on the cabs.

 

6. Taxis with rigged meters

Image source: snowbrains.com

 

How it works:

A perennial issue all over the world (e.g. Brazil, Philippines, etc), there are taxis which rig meters, or 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.

 

What to do:

Monitor the meter throughout the trip.

 

7. Taxis without meters

 

How it works:

There are drivers who insist on not using the meter but on charging a flat fare, which is in most cases inflated.

 

What to do:

Take only those which use meters.

However, if you have done some online research such as by using a taxi fare estimator, used Uber, or have asked your hotel staff and the quoted fare is fair, you can still take the taxi.

 

8. Longhauling taxis

Image source: YouTube – Driving in Argentina *Fed Sher*

 

How it works:

There are taxis which take you on a longer route then required or drive you crowded areas just to inflate the fare.

 

What to do:

During the trip, check your phone’s GPS to ensure that it is the most optimal route.

You could also do some online research such as by using a taxi fare estimator to identify the best route and the fare required, or simply ask your hotel staff.

 

9. Currency switcheroo

Image source: bigthink.com

 

How it works:

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

One reported scenario 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.

 

What to do:

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.

 

10. Taxi set-up robbery

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

It will also help if you have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside to give up, while you keep the rest of your valuables hidden securely in your money belt or hidden pouch.

 

11. Carjacking at traffic lights

 

How it works:

The Province of Misiones is one hotspot, as the area borders Brazil and Paraguay, and is used to smuggle goods, drugs and weapons, across the borders. It can happen in many ways.

You could simply be asked to pull over by an armed criminal. Or gangs could set up an emergency or debris / fake checkpoint on the road to get you to stop.

 

What to do:

Do not stop if someone tries to flag you down. If you find anyone tailing you, drive immediately to a safe place where you can alert the authorities.

It is also important to lock your car doors and to keep the windows closed especially when driving at night.

When you see a red traffic light upfront at night, slow down but avoid coming to a complete stop as you may get ambushed.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Snatch thefts / motochorros / robberies

 

How it works:

Unfortunately, there have been reports of outright robberies and snatch thefts in Argentina. A non-exhaustive list of hot spots to be careful at are:

  • Buenos Aires: tourist locations (La Boca, San Telmo), transport hubs (Retiro bus terminal), shady neighbourhoods (Villa Lugano, Villa Riachuelo), northern affluent neighbourhoods (Vicente Lopez, Olivos, Martinez, San Isidro), other neighbourhoods (Palermo, Belgrano, Nunez)
  • Mendoza: bus terminal, General San Martin Park

There are endless variations of snatch thefts:

One such is thieves on motorbikes driving up to you and snatching your valuables from you or simply robbing you. This can be dangerous as you can also get dragged along the road at the same time.

Another variation is that of a simple snatch of your phone / jewelry from behind you, and then running into a getaway car to escape.

  • Restaurants seem to be a favourite place for these thieves, as victims are usually in a relaxed state.
  • A bag, wallet / purse or camera slung around the chair, or left on an adjacent seat are super easy pickings for thieves. The either steal it stealthily, or do a distract and grab.
  • Hotels are another as you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually distracted while handling the registration process.
  • The seats beside a train’s doors are a great spot as well as the thief can time his escape perfectly just before the doors close.

A third variation could be a thief snatching your valuables through a car / bus window.

 

What to do:

Stay alert at crowded places, and even at seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

  • Do not lay your valuables out on the table or expose them unnecessarily in public.
  • Keep your bags in your line of sight and as close as possible (e.g. on your lap when at a restaurant).
  • Ideally, use a money belt or hidden pouch to conceal your valuables securely.

 

While out walking / on a vehicle on the road or streets:

  • Watch out for motorcyclists who seem to tail you, especially if they have a pillion rider (accomplice).
  • Carry your valuables in a bag across your body with a cross body anti-theft bag, away from the road / windows of your car / bus.
  • Do not carry items in your hands such as a mobile phone when walking by the road or when beside the window in a car / bus.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off your body.

 

 

2. Counterfeit bills

 

How it works:

Besides on taxis, counterfeit notes are also used in several other contexts (e.g. nightclubs, restaurants, stores, etc), 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 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.
  • After the new president Macri was 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.

We recommend not to waste your time and effort to seek these out.

 

What to do:

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.

 

3. Apartment security deposit scam

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

4. I accidentally dropped my money trap

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: wanderingwagars.com

 

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

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