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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
This is a very popular pick-pocketing trick not only in Brazil but also all over the world, where poverty is present.
While you are wandering around the streets of Rio de Janeiro, a substance is squirted on you, either mustard or something else that is brown in colour, looking like bird droppings. An "accidental" bystander informs you of this and - without asking - helps clean the mess from your clothing.
As soon as you are distracted, while embarrassed, he will use the opportunity to pick your pocket. Alternatively, an accomplice (could be his "girlfriend") might grab anything you put down in the process of cleaning up.
Did you ever notice that wherever you travel the jewellery is much cheaper than wherever you live? And it just happens that you always find a good deal? Well, that's because the scammers know the tourists' mindset inside out.
Let's say today you'll find a beautiful silver necklace for $40. "It's real sterling", you will hear. "It's a genuine Brazilian jewerly that you want to have. Look at the hallmark, it's officially marked as sterling silver 925".
What you actually get is an alloy that will lose its shine weeks or months later. Don't fall for the hallmark seen on the hook of the jewel. If they can make a fake necklace, rest assured they could mark whatever they want on it.
Whether it's for toothpaste, beer, or souvenirs for your family, chances are you will be using your credit card in Brazil. Let's say you do it today. You grab your purchases and walk up to the counter, anxious to get to the hotel and get ready for tonight.
You're so excited about having the shopping done, and you're not even bothered by the man behind you texting on his cell phone. You pull out your credit card and start saying to the teller how much you enjoy Rio.
You think nothing of it and go to the hotel. It's a few weeks later when you get your credit card statement - only to find some charges you didn't make. Little did you know the guy behind you pressing the buttons on his cell phone... wasn't really texting.
He was just subtle about having his phone out so he could activate the camera and record those seconds when your credit card is passed back and forth, registering the numbers on it. Front and back, including your full name, expiry date and security code on the back of your card. Then he went and purchased stuff online.
Always be wary of people around you using a phone when you're pulling out your credit card. If you see someone, make sure to cover as much of the numbers as you can, just in case.
One of the most common travel scams is pulled when tourists change their money at local shady vendors or simply with individuals.
Not only the conversion rate is incorrect, but the scam actually works by the crooks handing you a calculator, to do the math yourself. What you don't know is that the calculator is rigged, registering fewer Reals than you should get.
Never change your currency in shops, markets, or with people hanging out in front of different stores. Always use official exchange centers, pull cash from ATMs.
If you are in Brazil already, chances are you've already been a victim of this. Most restaurants, shops, and local hotels have their own currency conversion rate and don't adhere to bank' rates. This means that every time you pay with your credit card you are charged extra money without knowing it.
Your best bet is to have local cash for everything. Pay by credit card only at well-established vendors. The smaller the business, the bigger the charges. Also, currency exchange booths are sources of several scams.
One is when somebody is causing a diversion while the teller counts the money (making sure you are not paying attention to his fingers), while another one is the delivery of the money in an envelope, so you just pick it up, put it in your pocket and leave before counting. Always ask for a receipt, as well.
The way the DCC scam works is, when you use your credit card internationally, you have the option to have the charges show up on your bill in foreign currency or the currency of your home country.
Typically, it is more cost-effective for travellers to pay for things in the currency of the country in which they are travelling due to the exchange rate. Why is that?
By paying in your own currency means you are the subject of two conversion fees: the local AND your own. You pay double. Tourists don't realize, but that's exactly how it works. It may not be a lot of dollars, but if you do 25 transactions during your trip, say 'bye' to over $100 that could still be there.
Depending on where you travel, often merchants will not convert the currency on your card – even if you ask for it to be done – and you are charged the additional funds, as well as your cards typical foreign transaction fee.
When using your card in a foreign country, always ask the merchant to honour the conversion to the local currency. If the charge isn't converted on your card, it is wise to photograph your original receipts – showing the purchases being made in rubles or rupees, whatever the currency may be. That way, you have ammunition with which to prove the fraudulent charges to your credit card company.
As you are enjoying your walk in Rio de Janeiro, a few young girls approach you with a piece of paper and a pen, pretending to be mute or deaf. On the paper, you can see the names of a few charities, along with some signatures from previous tourists. The young girls are not mute or deaf; they are just tricksters making a buck.
Often, the paper and the pen keep the tourist busy for a few seconds, while the children might even be pickpocketing the victims.
You're in Brazil so partying most of the time wouldn't be a surprise, as many locals are friendly. Let's say you find yourself in a bar.
Throughout the evening, you make a few friends and might buy them a drink. They would like to return the favour and they buy you one, too. This is a common scenario that will happen to you most likely while in Brazil but beware of the Drinking Buddy Scam.
What happens is that when the new drinking buddy goes to the bar and 'grabs' you a drink, he will drop a substance in it – which will make you senseless for the next three hours. The drug is called Burundanga and sedates the victims even by touch.
According to Ask.com, Burundanga is a drug "made from the plant known as 'cacao sabanero' and is mostly used to drug unsuspecting tourists in order to rob them. It's medically defined as 'an anti-cholinergic alkaloid obtained from various solanaceous plants, used as the base or the hydro bromide salt as an antiemetic and as the hydrobromide salt as a preanesthetic antisialagogue'. It is adjunct to general anaesthesia, and topical mydriatic and cycloplegic substances."
Never accept a drink from strangers unless you see the glass or the bottle at all times.
In the historical parts of Rio de Janeiro or cities like Salvador, there are always people walking around carrying bags of bird feed and passing them out to tourists, encouraging them to feed the multitudes of birds that frequent the courtyard.
The visitors take the bags, thinking them part of the attraction, and have a wonderful time feeding the birds. Once the feed is gone, the vendor then explains to the tourist that they must pay for the feed, often an exorbitant fee. However, they are happy even with a few Reals.
This is a very dangerous "full-meal deal" scam, aiming to rip you off everything you have: wallet, personal information, and bank account access. After pickpocketing tourists of their wallet, scam artists follow the victims to see what hotels they're staying at. Then they call the hotel reception, asking to talk to the victim, as now they know their full name. The thief pretends to be an officer from the local Police station. The victim will be directed to come down in a few hours to pick his wallet up, which was apparently found by somebody.
Of course, at this point, the victim will feel a huge sense of relief, put his heart back in his chest and relax a little. Minutes later, the robbers call again and this time impersonate a rep from the victim's bank, using the cards found in the wallet.
They allege the police just informed them about the situation and continue to ask about cancelling the cards. But before they do they will need to confirm the name and address, birth date, PIN, etc. And it's the PINs they want so they can get some cash fast.
Chances are the victim won't be worried much anymore, because they think they've gotten lucky, and their wallet was found.
Banks never ask for your PIN so that should be a giveaway that something is up. One way to be sure you really are talking to the police station or bank is to tell them politely you're going to ring them back to be safe. And be sure to look the number up yourself and not ask them for the number. It's pretty easy to hop onto the computer and get the number off the website.
However, as a rule of thumb, before you are going on holidays you should always send yourself an email with all the copies of your documents, in case things like this happen. Scan your passport, ID bank cards, and store them in your inbox.
You are not home, so the streets in the Rio neighborhoods are very different than you are used to. Some narrow, some with no end, therefore there is no surprise if in some places travellers get lost in the maze. A big part of losing track of their whereabouts comes from many local teenagers, who are actually misguiding the tourists on purpose.
They are showing opposite directions when recommending the way, just to "rescue" the traveller five blocks away, twenty minutes later—in exchange for a few bucks. These little gangs of 12 year-olds are actually competing for how much money they get when "rescuing" a tourist.
Always have a local map, as you don't want to end up in a favela.
You are visiting Christo Redentor, the Statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro. As you are feeling very humble and overwhelmed while waiting in line up, a woman holding a baby approaches you. She apologizes for interrupting and says that she found a gold ring. She shows it to you and says she will give it to you for cheap so that she can get some money to feed her baby.
Your Brazil vacation has been great. You have a few days left on the beautiful beaches, and one day decide to do something different: get hair braids.
The lady offering the service is friendly, and the deal is on, as she might say "it will cost you around $50". She gets to work, but when she is done asks for $100! She claims she did 50 braids, and she charges $2 per braid. If you don't want to pay, out of the blue two or three mean-looking locals will come to collect.
Set up the price per braid beforehand. Negotiate all the details before she starts working. Don't be afraid to ask her to repeat out loud the agreement.
Many girls are standing near the Copacabana beach offering cheap haircuts to tourists. When they get potential customers, they invite them to their house, also telling a story about how the government will tax them. Needless to say, most of the victims are men.
At the house, several other girls will surround the victim and get very touchy. While the man gets the haircut, he is also robbed. In the end, a few other males come out and demand extra money for all the attention the girls gave.
Beautiful girls might get you to do a lot of things, especially if the price is very low. Keep in mind they do this several times a day, and you might not really be a lucky one. Avoid the haircut deal in other places other than the real shops/salons.
In this particular case, the crooks work hand in hand with somebody at the shop -- most of the time, the owners are not involved at all, only the part-time workers.
There are two ways you can be victimized in these shops: some have security cameras pointed at keyboards and screens, while others have spyware installed, to monitor keystrokes and gather passwords and personal information to access bank accounts.
Of course, the victims suspect nothing and won't realize their accounts have been drained until it's too late. They may eventually be able to get their money back depending on their insurance coverage, but most of the times it's almost impossible.
Never do your banking on a public computer.
Tourists are approached by locals and sold new iPhone X phones for half of the regular price. Or so the tourists think. Crooks approach tourists in malls or parking lots. They said that in Brazil phones are cheaper because of the lower minimum wage, so they will be willing to sell a brand new iPhone X to you for $200. "For you tourists this is cheap, but here it's still expensive", adds the scammer.
Claiming to work at the local Apple store, the scammer shows you a brand new phone and lets you play with it. As soon as you decide to buy it, he gives you a brand new iPhone sealed box out of his bag and rushes you to pay the money immediately, as he doesn't want to be seen doing this. He takes the money and vanishes immediately. While it takes you a few good seconds to unpack the box thinking you've got a fantastic deal, little you know that you'll find a rock in the box. By that time the scammer is long gone.
Buy the iPhone X only from the authorized Apple dealers.
Never buy jewellery when you are a tourist, especially in Brazil. The crooks are offering fake diamonds and sapphires that look real, making you pay $500 for a $3 piece of zirconium. The scammers will make you believe they know somebody at the "jewellery factory" and can get great deals. They will use phrases such as: "this is a blue-white diamond, so rare to find even here".
Especially for valuable jewellery like diamonds, you should never buy except from a registered dealer. Never trust people selling you things when you are obviously a tourist, especially on the streets.
This scam targets male tourists. Let's say you and your buddies just arrived in Rio and wanted to have a good time. While trying to find out which are the hottest spots in town, you might be approached by local people with various recommendations (they spotted you from far away).
If you are with a bunch of guy friends, someone might suggest a "Lady bar". As it may sound good, you are taken to a "bar" (most likely located on a darker street) where, once you sit down, a couple of girls will come to say hi and hang out. You don't mind, order a few drinks, but what will happen soon after is that several other cocktails or shooters will come out of nowhere, although you never ordered them.
The girls drink fast one after another, while the waitress keeps bringing alcohol to your table without you asking for it. When you try to say that those shouldn't go on your bill, they will hide behind the language barrier and just say short phrases, such as: "tip, tip" or "drink, drink".
You feel something is fishy and try to get up and leave, but a few large men will come your way, asking you to pay the $3,000 bill. Several victims leave these places either with their credit cards maxed out, without their jackets and jewellery, or beaten up. Other times, they are escorted to the closest ATM, to get cash out.
The fact that you are escorted to a "bar" by the referrer himself should be the first red flag. Let alone the fact that the street where the bar is located doesn't have a soul on it.
You are trying to buy some nice souvenirs, whether you're in Belo Horizonte, Rio, Fortaleza, Salvador or Sao Paolo. While shopping, you find yourself in small talk at a street market with somebody who also seems to be a tourist. He will even advise you about several fakes around.
What he will recommend as the perfect souvenir place is the shop located two doors down. "It's a non-profit shop. They donate half of the proceeds to Red Cross Brazil and the other half they use to keep the shop going. I bought a few items already for my family – my mum will love it. Go check it out. They are only open Mondays and Thursdays".
In reality, the shop he talks about is just another overpriced store, whose owner will give him a few Reals for his referral, as he is bringing in tourists.
This scam is not going to leave you without your lifetime savings, but it's certainly something to keep in mind.
You are shopping in Rio de Janeiro and find a video camera (or any other product) advertised for an amazing price.
You decide to buy it and, as the transaction goes through, the seller says they are out of stock, and the camera you just played with is just for display and doesn't have a case or charger. "No worries, he says, we have one across the street, at our other store location. Let me call them, to bring us one."
As you are patiently waiting for a long time, he will mention the camera is not really that good, and some people had a few complaints about it - "but nothing major to worry, my friend". What he is trying to do is get you to buy an upgraded version, which is more expensive. He is upselling you.
Plenty of tourists fall for this, which is why the scam works for the seller. Pay only when you have the product on the counter, in front of you.
You are in a Rio coffee shop and a guy in a hurry, looking like a tourist (maybe carrying a backpack) approaches you frantically. "Sorry to bother you, man. I've just been robbed, and I need your help. Somebody stole my satchel, and all my documents were in there – passport, ID, cash… From the bottom of my heart, can you please give me $20 for a cab to my hotel so that I can contact my embassy as soon as possible? Please?"
Several people fall for this scam as the con man might be very convincing: the speech (having a slight accent as well), gesture, and clothes.
Don't get us wrong. Robberies are happening daily in Rio, so it might not be a surprise actually to meet somebody who has just been robbed. In this particular case, if he is very convincing, instead of giving him cash offer to drive him to his hotel or embassy, or even let them call using your cell phone. If they refuse, just ignore them.
The shell game has existed since at least the 90s, all over the world, but people still lose money over it. The same thing happens in Brazil as well.
Scammers set up on street sidewalks, especially in high tourist areas. The game requires three shells (lids, bottle caps, plastic cups, etc), and a small object, usually a soft round ball, about the size of a pea. It can be played on any flat surface.
The operator of the game (the scammer) begins by placing the pea under one of the shells, then quickly shuffles the shells around. When he is done, he tells the audience to bet under which shell is the little ball. The operator has a couple of partners in the audience, so they will act as tourists, betting on the game.
After a few winning hands from the audience (his partners), it seems pretty easy to spot where the pea is going to be – that's when real tourists get involved. They start betting little amounts, and they win.
Feeling that they could handle more and see themselves winning big, the travellers increase their bets. When they are finally hooked, and confident they are winning, victims bet hundreds of dollars – and that's when they lose.
The scammer waits for this moment to palm the pea and lifts the shell chosen by the tourist, revealing the losing hand.
Sometimes, the game is played with three cards instead of shells. The three cards faced upside down, are two tens and a queen, and the audience is invited to guess which one is the queen. When pulling the scam, the crook is just too fast for the gambler, while somebody else distracts him for a second.
Don't think you can win. These crooks are fast and do this a thousand times a day – you'll never win. Wanna see how the scam work? Watch the video below to see the trick exposed:
This is still happening a lot in several places but preponderantly takes place at corner shops and convenience stores. When you go to pay, the attendant will try to switch - for example - your 50 Real note with a 20 Real note (they are both orange), and then argue with you about it.
There might even be somebody who distracts your attention right when you are ready to pay, just so the discussion goes somewhere else for a few seconds, while he switches the banknotes.
When you hand him the bill, ask if he has change for it. Make sure you mention the amount of the note. Also, keep your eyes on the note at all times.
The scammers approach you with this business proposal after they befriend you and, often, after you get to know each other over at least a few days – so you trust them. Smooth talkers, they "secretly" reveal to you that their gemstones are worth a lot of money if sold in another country. 'The Imperial topaz is coming from the Amazon Jungle and will take your eyes', they might say.
However, blaming the fact that they are from an underdeveloped country, they say they can't afford the high taxes to export them.
On the other hand, they say, if you were to buy the gems for a "good" price, you can export them under your duty-free allowance and then sell them on at a huge profit. The deal is that as soon as you arrive in the airport of your destination, an agent will meet you and help you to sell the jewels for two or three times the price.
The scammers will ask you for an upfront payment for the gems. To make it look official, they will seem concerned about your fairness and ask you for a "guarantee" – meaning your credit card number. Long story short, there is no "agent" waiting for you, while the gems are made of fake plastic glass.
In a different version of the scam, the business aspect is replaced with a friendly approach: you are asked to transport the gems to a "friend" who happens to live in the same city where you reside—and you will get a tip of $300 for doing it. The same thing happens here as well-- you have to leave a deposit, and you'll receive your tip when you deliver the stones.
Never buy gems when you travel. Let that statement sink in for a bit.
Many people from US and Canada are going to South America's #1 destination and need to fill out applications to get a Brazil visa. As a US/Canadian citizen, you are required to have one.
Because the process is not that simple, cyber crooks create fake Brazilian consulate websites and have the victims send their credit card numbers and personal information via these bogus pages.
Needless to say, weeks after, applicants don't receive anything since the consulate websites are fake.
You are taking a break from all the walking, sitting on a bench. Somebody walks very fast by you and accidentally drops his wallet. You yell: "Sorry sir, you dropped your wallet". He can't hear you as some cars might pass by.
The good person you are, you jump off the bench and run 8-10 yards to catch up with him. He picks up the wallet, says thank you, and leaves in a hurry.
You are back at your bench 10 seconds later, but your backpack is gone. You've been a mark since the moment you sat down. They looked at the bag, calculated the moves, and knew exactly where to get you walking – enough for both of them to disappear at the perfect moment.
If you decide to go after the person, grab your bag, especially in busy places. However, now that you know somebody might drop a wallet in front of you while sitting down in a train station, you might even consider not bothering to stand up.
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