24 Most Common Tourist Scams in Brazil

Safety at 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, Gramado, Porto Seguro, Jijoca de Jericoacoara, Ipojuca, Campos Do Jordao, Sao Jose Do Rio Preto, Sao Bernardo Do Campo, Maceio, Campo Grande, Cuiaba, Londrina, Balneario Camboriu
Brazil

Image source: pcwallart.com

 

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 ACTIVITIES

1. Snatch thefts / assaults / robberies / muggings

 

How it works:

This can happen anywhere. However, definitely avoid places like Pelourinho, or Favela slums in Manaus, as drug dealings and crime are rampant in these areas.

One variation is thieves on motorbikes driving up to you and snatching your valuables from 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.
  • If you have laid out your valuables on the table, another trick scammers use is to lay out a map over them and to ask for directions. When they take the map back, they will take your valuables along as well.

Hotels and airports (e.g. Sao Paulo’s Congonhas; Rio’s Santos Dumont) are another as you will be carrying all your valuables out and are usually tired or distracted with the customs / 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.

A fourth variation is at the nightclubs and areas around, where tourists either do not keep their valuables in their line of sight are too drunk to be aware of their surroundings.

Finally, the Rio beach is another favourite hot spot for robbers to strike.

 

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. The cinderella goodnight girls

Red light district in Brazil

Image source: newslocker.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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.

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

Also, do not flaunt your valuables, but leave them in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

3. The place is closed

Image source: Flickr – A C Moraes

 

How it works:

This is an all too common scam around the world (e.g. Thailand, Vietnam).

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 bring you to a secluded spot and then rob you.

It’s not just strangers on the streets, but taxi drivers can be perpetrators of this scam 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.

 

What to do:

Keep to your plan.

 

4. Lost and found money

Image source: blog.continentalcurrency.ca

 

How it works:

A stranger approaches 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 protest.

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.

 

What to do:

Firmly decline and get away as soon as possible.

 

5. Drug planting

 

How it works:

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 for this scam.

 

What to do:

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

As for luggage, use one with a hard shell case instead of one with zippers as a pen is all you need to break through the zippers.

Consider further securing your luggage or bags with a luggage strap, TSA lock or cable tie.

Note that these would not secure your luggage or bag fully, but will at least help deter criminals from targeting your bags.

 

6. Black market tickets

Brazil Rio olympic tickets

Image source: rio2016olympicstickets.com

 

How it works:

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 Olympics in 2016.

 

What to do:

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

 

7. Restaurant’s music charge

Image source: vivitravels.com

 

How it works:

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

 

What to do:

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

 

8. Can I help you?

Image source: theworldeffect.com

 

How it works:

Another common scam globally (e.g. Morocco, Sri Lanka, etc), a stranger approaches you to offer his unsolicited help. 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.

 

What to do:

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.

 

9. Would you like a drink?

Image source: riotimesonline.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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.

As mentioned earlier, do not flaunt your valuables, but leave them in your hotel / hostel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

 

10. Fake merchandise

Image source: momondo.com

 

How it works:

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

 

What to do:

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. Car robbery / carjacking

 

How it works:

This happens at traffic lights, where armed crooks go around opening car doors to grab whatever they can find, or they may smash your car windows with a hammer.

Besides stealing from cars, there are robbers who steal cars and motorbikes as well.

 

What to do:

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

There’s really nothing much you can do besides hiding your valuables in anti-theft bag that is lockable to a permanent fixture and in a money belt or hidden pouch.

 

2. Bus theft

Bus in Brazil

Image source: Wikimedia – Jorge Andrade

 

How it works:

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

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

 

What to do:

Always keep your bags in your line of sight, and secure large valuables in an anti-theft bag that is slash resistant and has a locking system, and small valuables in your money belt or hidden pouch.

 

3. Taxi runaround

Brazil taxi cab

Image source: news.xinhuanet.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

There is nothing much you can do besides keeping yourself sober.

If not, at least keep your valuables in your hotel safe, which can be further secured with hotel safety tools.

Also, consider using a spare wallet with little money in it to give up if threatened.

 

4. Unofficial / fake taxis

Image source: ehc-global.com

 

How it works:

You may find unlicensed taxi touts especially at the airport, who will claim to charge a lower fare without having to wait in a queue to entice you.

However, these are usually operated by gang members and you run the risk of being robbed if you were to take these unlicensed cabs.

 

What to do:

At the airport, get a cab from Aerotaxi or Aerocoop to be safe.

 

5. Taxi meters not used / rigged meters

 

How it works:

Taxis which do not use meters and demand a huge upfront fee is unfortunately, very common.

 

What to do:

Insist on using the meter. Else, if you have done your research, negotiate on a fair flat fare.

You can do so by doing online research such as by using an online taxi fare estimator, checking a ride hailing app or by asking your hotel staff.

Even if the meter is used, do monitor the meter throughout the trip to to spot any volatile price jumps.

 

6. Longhauling taxis

Media source: Wikimedia – Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom

 

How it works:

There are drivers who either go on a longer route or drive into traffic to earn a higher fare from you.

 

What to do:

For longer routes, have an idea of the route to take and map it on your mobile to protect yourself against drivers who take longer routes.

You can use GPS to track on your phone as well.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

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

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 scam

 

How it works:

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 mustard, sunscreen, or any other material that seems dirty and gross.

Some of them won’t even ask, but will force themselves on you to clean you up. In the process, they steal your valuables.

 

What to do:

Stay alert while walking on the streets.

If you ever find yourself in such a situation, stand your ground and push whoever tries to help you away .

And as mentioned earlier, a money belt or hidden pouch and an anti-theft bag will make it almost impossible for these thieves to steal from you.

 

3. Rio de Janeiro (GIG) airport ATMs

Rio de Janeiro airport ATMs

Image source: jtkatie.blogspot.com

 

How it works:

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.

In fact, Brazil has one of the highest ATM theft cases. 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

 

What to do:

Use ATMs only at controlled environments such as banks and in the day.

Keep an eye out for suspicious characters, and learn how to spot the red flags which signal a compromised ATM:

Also, although not directly relevant, consider using a RFID blocking wallet. That will prevent your cards’ details from being skimmed by thieves with a mobile RFID reader / scanner.

 

4. Banco Safra

Banco Safra

Image source: first2board.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

Change at official exchanges in town.

 

5. Fake policemen

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

When approached by a policeman at the airport, always check their cards first. If you are unsure, go to any airline desk, look for a security guard to ask for help or threaten to call the police hotline (number is at the end of this article)

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 to 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, check with a local passer-by or use Google Maps.

Remember also to never give up your passport if asked. Instead, show only a photocopy of your passport.

In such cases, it is also useful to have a cheap spare wallet with little cash inside just sufficient for daily transactions, while the rest of your valuables are hidden securely in your money belt or hidden pouch.

This way, the scammers might simply let you go since you do not seem to have much cash on you.

Even if not, you can simply give up that wallet or the cash in it with minimal loss to yourself and save a ton of trouble.

 

6. Express kidnapping

Global kidnapping spots

Image source: vocativ.com

 

How it works:

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

If you are targeted, you will be abducted for a short amount of time and forced to withdraw all cash from your account over a few days.

This is due to the default daily cash withdrawal limit settings of most people’s bank accounts.

 

What to do:

To protect yourself, only use ATM in the day and in controlled environments like in the banks.

Avoid using in dark, secluded areas and look out for suspicious characters before using.

 

7. Unlicensed telco / SIM card stores

Image source: loyaltylobby.com

 

How it works:

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.

 

What to do:

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

 

8. Phone kidnapping scam

 

How it works:

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 demands payment within an hour (any set time) or the hostage will be killed.

 

What to do:

Hang up.

 

D. GETTING HELP

1. Tourism police

Brazil tourism police

Image source: citizen.co.za

 

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

Image source: brasildamudanca.com.br

 

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

 

3. Policia Militar

Brazil policia milita

Image source: cb24.tv

 

Tend to operate around highway road blocks.

 

4. Policia Civil

Brazil policia civil

Image source: brasilpolicial.com.br

 

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

 

5. Emergency numbers

  • Police: 190
  • Fire and ambulance: 193

Join the community!

Get protected!

3 Comments

  1. Matt

    This happens to us natives too… Unfortunately…

    Reply
  2. Dante

    Why spend your hard earned cash on a place you cannot “really” relax because you can be assaulted at anytime – plus third world countries tend to be very dirty – littering for instance is like a hobby in Brazil everyone does it everywhere – why risk your life and the life of you loved ones
    Australia or New Zealand would be a much better choice

    Reply
  3. JiMMU

    Brazil has sure gone downhill in the last decade. It was always a somewhat adventurous place to visit, but the crime was somewhat tolerable if you were careful. Also, crime was very low in the classy beach resorts, etc, places like Buzios. Not anymore, anyone is a target anywhere now. I had lots of fun there in the 1980s and early 1990s, but you could not pay me to go to Brazil in 2018.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares