On the Road

Colombian Scams

The Millionaire’s Ride Scam

The following scams are typical in much of Latin America but are particularly common in Colombia, a country whose hustlers are particularly adept at the art of the con.

One of them is the straight forward viaje de millionario, the millionaire’s ride. A traveller hails a taxi in the street but it turns out to be an unlicensed one. Instead of taking him to the airport or the hotel, they turn down a backstreet and out to some waste ground. There they meet some friends of the taxi driver with a good collection of knives.

This scam also happens in Mexico City a lot and hopefully the traveller has enough sense not to look at any of his hustlers so that they leave him his eyes after they take his cash.

The Knock Out Drops Scam

The next scam is a favourite with prostitutes but it can happen in any bar. You’ll be in a bar somewhere when a good looking local comes up to you and begins to flirt. The next time you go to the bathroom, the scammer puts some drops in your drink. The drug used makes you sleepy and compliant and when you’re invited to go to a hotel you find yourself staggering along obediently.

The next morning you wake up with nothing left but your underwear (if you’re lucky) and the worst liver poisoning of your life.

Never leave a drink unattended.

Impersonating Cops Scam

In Bogota it’s not uncommon for backpackers to be accosted in La Candaleria district by men claiming to be police. A quick show of fake identification and the ‘police’ demand to see your papers.

Threatening to introduce you to the terrifying world of Colombian police stations and detention cells, they pull the whole psychological intimidation a bit further until you’re wishing you’d remembered the phone number of your embassy.

Naturally, the problem disappears once you agree to pay a special tax for them to overlook the matter.

Planting Cocaine Scam

Then there’s always the planted drugs. We know a traveller who was drinking with in a bar in Cali and having a good time with his new friends. The girls went home but he went to sit in the park and have another beet with a guy from Panama that he’d met.

Suddenly, from nowhere arrived two cops and declared that they were going to search him for drugs. He wasn’t too worried as his only indulgence was a few beers in the evening. To his horror though the cops pulled a small bag of coke out of his trouser pocket. The Panamanian had planted it there.

“Very bad, my friend!” the cops gurgled, “Fifteen years in Colombian jail – very bad for a gringo!”

The traveller started to sweat pretty badly and couldn’t believe it when the cops demanded $20,000 baksheesh to let him go. He gave them the fifty bucks he had on him and said the rest was back in his hotel room.

“So we go to your hotel – better for you if you have the money, gringo!”

They walked along the night streets, the cops jeering all the time and the Panamanian acting like he was surprised and advising the traveller to pay. He was quite a resourceful type though and he took them to a different hotel. They waited outside while he went in and he walked up and explained to the receptionist that he was in trouble.

“Is there a back door here?”

Fortunately, the receptionist was sympathetic and gestured towards a back exit. He left the hotel and had to climb over three garden walls before he found himself back in the street. Turning the corner he saw the cops and the guy from Panama waiting outside the hotel, exchanging uncertain looks.

He flew out of Cali the next day.