44 Scary Scams That You Need To Avoid In Brazil
Between the Zika virus, local tricks, beach robberies and bogus travel packages, your excursion to Brazil could become a disaster if you don’t educate yourself now.
If you travel there soon, you need to be aware of many things whether you’re in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte, Natal, Salvador, or Fortaleza. We are writing this article after experiencing, first hand, the ‘touch’ of Brazil, while spending a full month there. Here are 44 scary scams you need to be aware of if you are a tourist in this wonderful country otherwise.
Now let’s go through all the scams – we’re going to update this article so feel free to send us your experiences in the Comments section, too.
1. Stolen Bag In 5 Seconds
Watch the shocking video below to see how you can lose your bag in 5 seconds:
Scenario 1: You are having the time of your life in Brazil. You are walking down the street when suddenly you finding yourself being stopped by the Brazilian police. You ask for the reason, and the officer tells you it’s for having counterfeit bills on you. They check your wallet and pockets and the truth is… you really do have fake bank notes!
How is that possible, how did that happen? This is an organized scam. The street market vendor you just bought souvenirs from five minutes ago gave them to you on purpose, as change. Then he told his friends, who are posing as cops. Now they’re “arresting” you, saying the only way out of this is to give them some cash. Extortion 101.
Scenario 2: This one is more dangerous and could get you in a lot more trouble. Let’s say you made some local friends and had a heck of a party the night before – just like only Brazil offers. At the end of the evening, one of your newly made local friends gives you a ‘gift’ of marijuana or some other illegal drug.
Don’t be surprised if on your way to the hotel you’re being stopped by a police officer, either fake or real. The officer was informed right away about you carrying drugs and will still take cash in this situation, but it could be substantially more money.
This was reported to happen Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Natal, Salvador, or Fortaleza.
You ask the taxi driver to take you to a landmark you want to visit, say the famous statue of Jesus (Christ the Redeemer) in Rio de Janeiro, named by locals Christo Redentor.
“Sure thing”, says the driver. The conversation starts and he seems like a nice guy. “I’ll do you a favor, sir. We can stop by a ticket office so you buy it here in town instead of waiting an hour in a line-up at the Statue, in Corcovado”. You appreciate the initiative and happily sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
He will take you to an “office” where his friend is selling a fake ticket. Once the driver drops you off, you’ll never see him again.
Taxi drivers are on a mission in most countries, especially when they are driving tourists around. Every time they stop somewhere along the way, they will try to get something out of you, direct or indirect. Always tell them exactly where you want to go – no round-about ways.
There is no shortage of ‘massage ladies’ on Copacabana, Ipanema, and all the other beaches in Rio de Janeiro.
Sometimes they walk along the beach in pairs, promoting a massage with the famous ‘Bum bum cream’. Although many people don’t know what that is, but sounds interesting, they give the go ahead. How the scam works is: after you agree with one of the ladies on a price, you turn and lay down. You close your eyes, listen to the ocean’s waves, and enjoy the massage.
When done, the two ladies are asking for the same price each, as the second girl probably touched you a few times, most likely massaging your legs.
Negotiate all the terms before, including paying only one of them. You could also consider the professional massage sessions that are being held on the beach, in a particular accommodating white booth, by certified specialists.
While you’re admiring a beautiful busy Rio de Janeiro market, a stranger strategically bumps into you and drops his bag – and you both hear something that doesn’t sound good.
As he picks up the bag and looks inside, his porcelain souvenir (or photo camera, laptop, medicine bottle, eyeglasses, etc.) is broken into pieces, and a big scene takes place. You don’t hear the end of it, as he is loudly accusing you of breaking his precious item. He yells and calls for the police.
Being on holidays and not wanting to deal with local authorities, tourists prefer to give cash as compensation, just to get away. Some scammers collect up to $500/day.
Don’t even give a Real (the Brazilian currency). Counterattack, you be the one calling the police. Call his bluff. Go towards a crowd and raise your voice. He will be out of there in no time.
Scenario 1. As you are enjoying your time on one of he best beaches in Brazil, you are approached by a young gentleman, holding a paper pad. He claims to be a city rep.
He shows you the apartments located close to the beach and – stating that the beach is the property of that complex – he will ask for the “usual” $10 cover charge to use the beach. He could become aggressive if you hesitate.
Beaches are public if a fence or something similar does not enclose them. Don’t fall for it; tell him you are calling the police.
Scenario 2. If you are thinking of renting life vests, you will be recommended to purchase one, instead of renting if for several days – the deal would be better. You might be persuaded to buy one for $50US while in reality, it costs $15.
You are in the Rio de Janeiro airport or a train station. You need to make a phone call back home, but you don’t have the proper coins or a roaming plan on your mobile. At last, you find a public phone that takes credit cards. The phone, just like many others, has a sticker on it: “For international calls, dial “1-800-xxxx” (see pic below).
Following the directions you make your call keeping it brief, thinking it’ll save you from some of the outlandish charges. But a month later when you finally get your bill, you notice that two-minute call cost you $90!
Scammers post stickers on public phones advertising their own hotlines which they set-up to rip off victims who believe it’s a long distance deal. Several train stations are very well known for this scam.
Do not make phone calls using your credit card, especially in tourist cities. Not even if the rates are posted. Buy a coffee or a pack of gum to get the change you need. If you wonder how to make international calls from Brazil, do your homework before the trip. Get phone call plans and use reputable services.
This is a scam that happens mostly in neighborhoods where sidewalks are crammed with patios and coffee shops. You are sitting at a table on the side of the street, really enjoying the vibrant atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro. People pass by you, and everyone is friendly.
While you are sipping your drink, somebody is squeezing by your chair with the intention of passing by– say on your right-hand side. It’s a busy place, so you politely try to make some room.
As you are moving, he “accidentally” drops his keys right at your feet. Because you are sitting, it’s easy for you to bend slightly and pick them up, returning them to him.
In those five seconds, as you are doing your move while he is apologizing for almost hitting you, his partner in crime grabs your bag or purse, which was on the left side of your table (the first guy passes to your right). Victims are distracted just for a few moments, but scammers are ready to operate. Since they are doing this several times a day, they are so smooth that it’s almost unnoticeable.
Hold your bag between your legs and if it has a shoulder strap, put your foot through the strap.
As you are walking through the vibrant Rio de Janeiro amongst other tourists, somebody is running fast between you and another person and “accidentally” drops a wad of a few hundred Reals. The person beside you sees it, as well.
He begins to pick up the money, but because he knows you noticed too, offers to share it with you, 50-50. You look after the owner of the money, and he is long gone. You take your share of $200 and walk away.
Three minutes later, the original owner of the money, along with another couple of big guys, taps your shoulder and asks for the amount back – the full amount. As you only have half, you will need to see the closest ATM to get away without being hurt.
Never take the cash from the other “tourist”.
You just got off of a long flight to Rio. You walk out of your gate, get your luggage and are finally on your way out when you stop and take a second look at something. It’s a chauffeur holding up a sign with your full name on it! You didn’t schedule a pickup, you didn’t tell anybody what time your flight arrives, but apparently someone is looking out for you.
You approach the man, and he introduces himself as the driver for the hotel you are staying at – which he also accurately knows! He said he was sent to pick you up, and you really appreciate the gesture. You hop in the car, and he takes you in the direction of the hotel, but stops along the way!
He then informs you he won’t take you there unless you pay him $100 for a fare. It’s night, so you see no other choice than to pay him the money. How did he get both your name and the hotel you’re staying at? This man did not work for the hotel; he just had an insider within the airline crew, who called him as soon as all the passengers filled out the Customs cards during the flight, where they need to write down their name and place they’ll stay at.
11. Gas Station Fill
If you rent a car in Brazil, be really careful when you stop at the gas stations, and three or four attendants come to help you.
While one attendant will start washing your windshield, another will point to the front wheel (“O pneu está vazio”), saying you have a flat tire. Meanwhile, the third guy will start pumping the gas.
The flat tire ploy is just a reason to divert your attention to the front of the car and ignore the third guy, who fixes the pump’s payment clock.
When you have a few attendants coming at once, get out of the car and go straight to the pump. Keep an eye on it and make sure it flows correctly. They see a rental car (read “money”) from a mile away.
You are in Rio de Janeiro Galeão International airport. A well-dressed gentleman approaches you, introduces himself and tells you he is short $11 to pay for a boarding charge because he has extra baggage weight.
He might say: “Now they charge an extra $20 if you have more than 20 kilos. They don’t take credit cards at the gate, and I only have $9 in cash. Could you please help me out, it’s just nine dollars… This is my cell phone number and my e-mail address. Please let me pay you back” while handing you a fake card.
Of course, he will ask you for your e-mail or phone number as well. However, the phone number and the e-mail address he gives you are not his. If you really believe he is out of luck, when he hands you the fake business card ask him to show you his ID as well.
This is one of the most common travel scams, especially when hot destinations are on everybody’s mind and Brazil’s Rio is top of the list. Tricksters create great websites for “new” travel agencies offering fantastic last-minute deals for the Rio vacation. Wouldn’t you like to brag to your friends that you went to the Rio de Janeiro for only $350?
Scammers use amazing pictures stolen from the Internet to promote their trap and create fake travel agencies for a month at a time, get hundreds of eager tourists who pay on the spot, and then close down the “business”.
Websites are created in such a high quality that is really hard to differentiate a real business than a fake one. The scammers then proceed to buy a bunch of Google AdSense or Facebook ads and close deals on the spot. After a month of work ‘in’, they collect, shuts down the website, and create a new one. And the show goes on. Beware!
In a different variation of the scam, criminals create duplicate websites of real travel agencies. They use legitimate logos and offer amazing travel deals, luring the victims into filling out an application with their personal information, including credit card numbers, which are charged right away.
You arrive in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo for the trip of your dreams. As you come out of the terminal you are approached by a gentleman dressed in a suit, telling you that you have a free ride to your hotel.
Interested, you ask if you have to pay any other fees. “No”, he says. “We just want to invite you to visit our new hotel tomorrow located close to the Copacabana beach. Come for an hour or so. It’s been built this year, and we are trying to promote it. Please come and check it out. That’s all. So yes, the ride is free”.
Do not take the offer of the free ride. He will want to make sure you are not scamming him by not showing up tomorrow (just to make use of the free ride) and will ask for your credit card number.
That’s not all. The worst happens when you arrive at the “new hotel” the next morning. The one-hour promised will be a 6-8 hour ‘imprisonment’, where they will aggressively try to sell you timeshares. They will not take no for an answer. They will use intimidation and make false promises such as, if you change your mind, you can always get a refund: nobody ever gets a refund from buying a timeshare.
Also, if you say you can’t afford it, they will offer a credit line that makes it look like the best deal of your life.
The bottom line is – because they deal with hundreds of people a day, they know every possible trick to scam you, according to your reactions and questions. And, because they hold you in that room for hours, chances are you will end up buying in.
Do not accept any free cab rides from the airport unless it’s a shuttle to your hotel organized by the hotel.
15. Luggage Storage
Travelling always seems to require an insane amount of luggage and packages to carry. Bus and train stations and airports offer storage lockers for travellers that arrive early and don’t want to have to lug everything around with them.
Let’ say you get a locker while in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo. The luggage storage key scam begins when a stranger approaches, noticing you are having trouble with managing all your various bags and offers to open the locker for you and help you load it. The person then loads your bags into the locker, closes it and hands you the key.
When your flight, bus or train ride is called for boarding, you head over to the locker to get your things, only to discover that the key doesn’t fit or the locker is open and your things are gone.
How did that happen? Read the full Luggage Storage scam article here.
Some travel agencies have their agents paid by commission when it comes to medical insurance. Nothing wrong with that, just like in so many other businesses.
Often, though, some of these agents trick their customers into buying insurance, which they really do not need – or if they do, they could get cheaper elsewhere. They make their quota and get the commission. Not to mention that your credit card has most likely medical insurance covered for your travels. Check it out.
According to studies, over 70% of tourists don’t have the medical insurance details properly explained to them. The fees are just added without a proper explanation and consumers just pay without full knowledge.
17. Wi-Fi Login
While you’re enjoying your stay in Rio de Janeiro, you also want to keep in touch with the family and with what’s happening in the world, so chances are you want to use the Internet. Whether you are at a coffee shop or a motel you’re staying at, you open your laptop and try to connect to any network available on the spot. That’s where the scam comes in.
Several web tricksters set up traps creating fake “Free Wi-Fi” networks, which, once you log in, basically give scammers access to your personal data. They set up fake logins with the name of the coffee shop or hotel/motel you are at. They bank on the fact that once you open the laptop and see the name of the hotel twice – once with a lock icon beside and once without – you’ll choose the latter one.
Always use reputable networks or the ones that belong to names you can check. At hotels or coffee shops, ask the receptionist or the barista which network is the right one to access. Better safe than sorry.
Let’s say you ran out of local cash, Reals. You walk up to an ATM, insert your card and type in your PIN. You walk away with your cash and get on with the day. A few days later, you start to notice some unusual charges on your card. Little did you know, the ATM you used had a thin device in the slot where you inserted your card.
This device can read your card number. Meanwhile, a minuscule video camera mounted just over your shoulder recorded your PIN. After you had left, scammers came to collect the device and empty the accounts recorded using the PINs they captured on camera.
Always make sure the slot where you insert your card has nothing attached to it. These devices may be cleverly disguised to look like normal parts of an ATM, so look carefully.
Watch the video below to see 10 ATM scams exposed:
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