Watch Out for these Scams and Rip-offs

No matter what country you visit there are always a few bad apples looking to take advantage of tourists and exploit their disorientation and unfamiliarity with their surroundings. Unfortunately this is also true in my beloved Buenos Aires.

Personally I’ve not fallen victim to a tourist scam in Buenos Aires, and I’ve taken numerous trips, staying for months at a time. I don’t think the city is particularly “scam-ridden” and I don’t believe tourists are preyed upon nearly as much as in other destinations, such as Mexico for example. For the most part tourists are left in peace to enjoy the city.

Below are the most common scams and rip-offs you need to be aware of when visiting Buenos Aires. These scams have either happened to friends of mine or have been widely reported on Buenos Aires message boards and websites.

For a more thorough analysis of crime in Buenos Aires and how to avoid becoming a victim, see the article How Bad is Crime in Buenos Aires.


Mustard or Bird Poop Scam 

In this scam the unwitting tourist is sprayed with mustard or some other messy substance resembling bird poop. The thieves, sometimes pretending to be fellow tourists, then offer to help the tourist clean up. In the process, the tourist is pickpocketed or robbed. 

To protect yourself, don’t let anyone help you clean up or let them lead you to a place where they say you can clean up. If they touch you or get too close, get angry and yell at them.


100 Peso Taxi Switcheroo

When a tourist pays for a taxi with a large bill, usually 100 pesos, the driver switches the bill for a fake. He then shows the fake to the passenger and explains why it is no good. He demands payment with “real” bills. Sometimes the driver may ask to inspect your money before the trip, again so he can make the switch. This scam is particularly common at the Retiro train station and in front of restaurants in Puerto Madero. It happened to a friend of mine in Retiro.

To protect yourself from this scam, always pay taxi drivers with small bills. Avoid taking taxis near the Retiro train station.


Other Money and Taxi Scams

Many other scams are less blatant but can still cost you money if you’re not alert. 

Some hotels quote their rate in US dollars but at check-out charge you in pesos at a ridiculous exchange rate. Also, some businesses may charge non-Spanish speakers more than they would charge locals for the same merchandise. Expats sometimes refer to this as the Stupidity Tax.

Sometimes a taxi driver may pretend to forget to turn on the meter then charge you an inflated fare on arrival at your destination. 

One other taxi scam I’ve heard of, which I think is extremely uncommon, involves the taxi driver pretending that his car has broken down part way into the trip. He then offers to call you another taxi. The second taxi is operated by his accomplices who will rob you.

One time my taxi broke down in a dicey part of La Boca and the driver said he would call another taxi. Sensing a scam, I declined and caught a taxi in the street. However, in retrospect, I think the taxi really did break down. The engine wasn’t running smoothly and many Buenos Aires taxis have been converted to use natural gas which can cause engine problems.

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