Like every major city in the world, in Buenos Aires there will be opportunities for pickpocketing and theft, and there will be people who are more than willing to take advantage of those opportunities. Each city seems to have their own special way of conning people out of money and some are more forceful and others are more passive aggressive.
As the most populated city in Argentina, Buenos Aires also has the most prominent scams. The city has a unique combination of deception and trickery used to snatch valuable personal items off your person without you noticing. The scams don’t tend to be especially elaborate and many are “classics” which make them that much easier to pull off with just a little intentional distraction. Here’s a rundown of the most popular scams and trickery that will separate you with your things in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This method of stealing is immensely popular in Buenos Aires. Here’s how it works: the victim is walking along a reasonably quiet sidewalk. They may be talking on their cell phone or swinging their bag. Out of the blue the thief rides up behind the victim on a bicycle or moto, snatches the goods and rides off with the victim left stunned in their dust. There is no way for the victim to catch the thief even if they react quickly.
For as long as pants have had pockets, there have been pickpockets operating. This sort of crime is popular because it is non-violent, is often too subtle to be noticed by anyone and gives the crook time to get away before the victim notices anything is wrong. Pickpockets often rely on misdirection and distraction because while you are paying attention to an amazing tourist hotspot, you aren’t paying attention to your back pocket. Note that pickpockets in Buenos Aires will often carry a newspaper or jacket with them so they can cover one arm to hide what they’re doing from the general public.
This is a pretty self-explanatory scam. Counterfeit bills generally are made in $100 and $50 peso bills and if you know what to look for they can be pretty simple to spot. Usually, these bills are exchanged for the real deal in quick situations, i.e. someone looking for change, receiving change from a bar tab. It’s easy to quickly hand off the fake bills to someone unassuming, especially if they have a few drinks in them.
The taxi scam plays off the counterfeit money scam mentioned above. A wide majority of taxi drivers in Buenos Aires are hardworking and honest people. But, there is a small percentage of drivers that can rob you blind and leave you on the side of the road not knowing what hit you. Bill swapping is the quickest and easiest scam that drivers can pull. Basically you hand them a $100 peso bill to cover your fare, and they quickly swap it for a counterfeit bill saying they can’t accept it and you still owe them the fare so in the end you are out $100 pesos and the fare of the taxi. Another scam is running the metres. In some places metres are dependable and you can trust them to accurately figure out your fare. Some taxi drivers however will run the metres so by the time you realize what is happening you owe them a ton of money and there is no feasible way to work around it.
Much like the pickpocketry discussed this is really just a fine-tuned method of misdirection and distraction. It is so incredibly common that it’s worth its own description and section. Usually this is how the “stain on your shirt” scam is carried out: a con artist will come up the victim and squirt or spill something onto their clothes, more often than not, on the victim’s back where it will take a little longer to notice. Usually the substance is something food-related like mustard, or ketchup or chocolate milk. If the thief is observed, they can play it off as an accident. Next the perp will approach the victim, or their accomplice will approach them, to point out the stain and offer to help clean it up, maybe in a nearby bathroom. Because of the unexpected mess on their clothes, the victim is often highly distracted which allows the thief time to pickpocket the victim while they are “helping” clean them up.
Regardless of how hard street criminals try to get to your goods, with this prior knowledge of their tricks, you can stay alert and spot these criminals more easily than an unsuspecting tourist wandering the streets. You now know the keys to staying out of harm’s way and that being suspicious of strangers isn’t a bad thing, but the best way to stay safe. Protect your holiday in Argentina even further with a travel insurance plan that covers theft or loss of important personal items while you are travelling abroad. If the sneakiest of thieves wants your things, no amount of preparation can keep your bag from their grasp. With an international travel insurance plan from Cover-More, policyholders can receive cover for lost or stolen goods.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Cristina Valencia