Scams in Mexico

Most tourists probably begin their trip to Mexico full of fears and suspicions about pickpockets, slick little kids on the corners, and. Regardless of the headlines, dangers of scams in Mexico are real, but no more so than in New York City, Paris or Rome. Cities with large tourist populations typically have problems with scamming and other crimes both petty and serious.

Take the following warnings for not only Mexico but of most of Central and South America.

Buy Cheek-lit, Meester?

If you drive in Mexico at all, you will notice tiny boys with winning smiles selling the small boxes containing two Chiclet gum pieces in each. It is almost impossible to refuse these winning youngsters and the fact is, you don’t have to. Go ahead and buy some gum, already. The packs are sold straight from the carton and are too invaluable and too difficult to bother to fake.

My Meter Is Broken

No, it’s probably not. This is an international favorite and avoiding it is easy. When you hire a taxi, before you get in, make certain that the meter is operational. Negotiate a fair price and hold the driver accountable. If you fall for this scam from a shady cabbie, you may end up paying many times the fair price of the ride. The driver will threaten you with police and more if you don’t agree to become a victim of this extortion.

Taxis in Mexico

© Steve Cadman - Taxis in Mexico

The Hotel Switch-Up

Again, the dishonest cab driver. The driver may tell you that the hotel you want him to take you to is now closed. He will generously offer to take you to an alternate, “better” hotel. Rooms at this alternate hotel will be quite a bit more expensive, probably to help pay for the generous commission the drivers will earn for the scam diversion.

If you run into this scam, just tell them you are there to inspect the repairs being made on the hotel you asked for. That should give him pause.

Taxi Waiting by a Mexican Hotel

© Jimmy Smith - Taxi Waiting by a Mexican Hotel

My Lovely Gift to You

No, it’s probably not so lovely, and it is certainly not a gift. It’s more like a grift. When approached by someone who gives you a big smile and puts a bracelet on your wrist, most likely with a sprig of rosemary or some other herby offering. Once it’s on you, so are the scam artists. They will request and offering for this crypto-religious symbol.

If you don’t pay, prepare to see their entry into the Scam Artists’ Academy Awards. They will yell and scream to make a maximum fuss. Don’t be surprised at tears and tearing of hair, but notice they won’t take you to the police station. Run the other way clutching your wrists to prevent herbal applications.

Jewelry, Mexico

© Crystal Marie Lopez - Jewelry, Mexico

Please Feed My 17 Children

No matter where you travel in any developing country, you will meet sad women, ostensibly mothers and grandmothers. These women will have as many children as they can gather up to pretend to belong to them. The women will implore you to help buy their starving children food before they starve.

The kids are dirty and ill-dressed, which is your first hint. Grandmothers in Mexico will scrub their fingers to the bone and then burn the skin off with bleach to make sure their grandchildren appear in perfect, pristine white to go to school or church. They positively beam with pride and the thought of using the children to beg would never occur to them.

Beware the variation, the starving child. They don’t get to keep the money. It goes to their “handler”. Turn your head and pass on by.

The Honeypot Pickpocket Detail

This pretty much only happens to men, mainly because women know better. If you go to a club, and a bevy of lovely young women whom you know are all out of your usual class approach you, watch out!


Beware of Pickpockets

© Francisco Uhlfelder - Beware of Pickpockets


Meet My Friend the Travel Agent

Again, the cab driver. When do these guys have time to drive? In this case, he (almost always) offers to save you much money by using his buddy, the travel agent (kind of). Here’s the upshot. The tickets aren’t real. So, any money you supposedly saved, you lost. Now you have to buy another, more real ticket at a reputable agency. Official ticket offices and real websites are the defense.

Taxi in Mexico City

© Jorge Brazil - Taxi in Mexico City

Hi! Free Wi-Fi!

Don’t be tempted by an open Wi-Fi connection. Ask the management of the restaurant or hotel the address of their official connection and use only that. There are virtual private network (VPN) apps you can use to avoid the whole scene. It is easy to lose much personal information to a phony connection. This scam happens worldwide, so make this a habit at home, too.

Help Me Get Home, Compatriot!

Courtesy of a native American, you might fall victim to the Lost American scam. It’s better called the Ugly American fraud. There are variations to every possible country on earth.

This well-groomed, well-spoken person claims to have been robbed/scammed/wrongly arrested/in an accident; you name it. Of course, they’ve lost all their money, their passport, etc. They put the touch on you to help. Not only might you lose your cash, but they may also clone your phone, get your credit card information if your wire money for him, etc.

Own a Mexican Timeshare? Watch out!

You might be called by a so-called real estate agent who claims they have a buyer who wants your timeshare for more than you paid. Lucky you! Watch out! Greed is the pathway to victimization. They claim that to receive this windfall, you need only wire money to an escrow account in Mexico. I’m sure you can guess the rest. There is no buyer, no escrow fund; only your banking information has been purchased and you paid for the privilege.

A related scam tells you that you will receive money from a government fund set up to repay victims of timeshare fraud. You guessed it! Just send a deposit to the following escrow fund ….

'For Sale' Sign

© Miss Shari - 'For Sale' Sign

And the Survey Says …

If you are stopped on the street and asked to participate in a survey, don’t stop and don’t speak to them. What they want is personal information about you. It might be where you went to school, where you work and information about your family. They will dutifully record your answers and thank you. You are free.

Your family, however, will shortly be called and told you have been kidnapped and offer the information you volunteered as proof they have you imprisoned. Your family will be convinced they must pay whatever is requested to save your life. This is a real punk move. Please don’t give out any information about yourself to anyone for any reason.

Just Try This Drink I Made for You

Be very careful accepting food and drinks from new friends or people on the street. Drugging and subsequent robbery happen all the time. Women need to be especially vigilant. Never leave your drink while you even turn your back, to say nothing of a visit to the restroom. Keep your drink in your hand at all times. If you lose sight of it even for a moment, ask the bartender for a fresh one. Remember; food can be drugged even more easily.

Margarita, Mexican Drink

© Melissa Wiese - Mexican Margarita

How to Avoid Scams in Mexico, or Anywhere Else

The real lesson here is to keep yourself to yourself. Find out about victimization before you travel anywhere. The lessons for Mexico City work just as well for Rio, Sydney or Bucharest. Be aware and keep your open, friendly, trusting American persona for the PTA meetings.

You can still be a gracious ambassador of our country; you can be polite and warm. Please, though, develop street smarts and doubt first; ask questions later.