NOTE: If you are reading this after Rio 2016 Olympics and just generally plan a trip to Brazil, this guide is still applicable as most of these scams are always there.
As were are now counting days to Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony the whole world is getting really excited – the biggest sports event in 4 years is nearly here. Soon a lot of people across the globe will be stuck to their TVs waiting for their national team to come out carrying a flag and will proudly watch them walk and wave with high hopes and Olympic medal dreams. For more than two weeks (August 5th – 21st) the world will be living and breathing Rio 2016 – cheering, counting medals and just enjoying world’s top tier athletes’ performances.
While most of us will have to enjoy all of this remotely – on TV or internet – more than 480,000 people (Source: RioTimesOnline.com) will be visiting this amazing city for the Games and experiencing the Olympic spirit live. So if you are lucky enough to be one of them, this list will definitely help you not to come back with empty wallet or pockets!
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful cities in the world: famous beaches like Copacabana, Ipanema and many others, Christ the Redeemer, Rio Carnival, culture, food, weather and vibe is just amazing. However, there are some aspects of the city and Brazil in general that is not as shiny or glittering.
As poverty in Brazil is one of the oldest and most serious national issues, many people are forced to choose a crime path in order to survive and provide for their families. As a tourist in Rio de Janeiro (or any other big Brazilian city) you are being heavily targeted by many street scammers. Some of the scams are really clever and it might be really challenging to identify them, and for that reason we are here to help you do that.
The first thing you are most likely to do when you arrive is take a taxi from the airport to your accommodation. However, in Rio it might be very challenging not to get ripped off. Drivers tend to take the longest routes and have rigged meters installed. NEVER get into an unauthorised taxi nor accept any offers from people who try to approach as soon as you walk out of the terminal. In fact, it is actually illegal to get into a cab that does not have a company name on the side of the vehicle.
Tip: Always have the address you need to travel to on a piece of paper, as not many taxi drivers speak English (if you speak Portuguese it is a different story). Our recommendation is to put the address into your smartphone and have a look at the quickest route and insist that the driver follows this route. If he still doesn’t, get off and try to catch another taxi (after you made sure that the area looks safe enough and has people on the street). Also, always pay CASH ONLY, never put your credit cards into any dodgy card readers they might offer you.
For more information on taxis in Rio have a look at this article.
2. It is Closed
This scam is related to taxis as well. What happens is basically you get into a cab, tell the driver where you want to go and he immediately responds that this place is now closed for refurbishment. But lucky for you, the driver knows “even better” place to go, whether it would be a hotel, restaurant, bar or anything else. In the best case scenario, he takes you to an alternative place (which he has an agreement with and gets paid commission); in the worst case scenario he takes you to some rough area of Rio and robs you (most likely with accomplices).
Tip: Firstly you should check whether the place is still open on the internet before you leave and if the driver tells you otherwise get out of the taxi and get a another one.
3. Lost and Found Money
A stranger will approach and tell you that he just found a huge stack of money. As you were there next to him, he will insist to share it with you and will start handing notes to you. It happens so quick that even if you try to resist you will have a few notes in your hand before you know it.
The same moment scammer’s accomplice approaches and claims that it is his money and demands to give it back to him. Of course, you will hand in the notes you have been given, but here’s the catch – the “owner” will then state that there is some money missing and will demand you pay it back to him otherwise all of you will be assaulted by the gang that this cash is owed to.
Tip: If scammers try to put money into your hands, put them away and refuse instantly. Remember, no one would share this type of finding like that!
4. Beach Distraction
This one is fairly simple and self-explanatory. Basically, while you are enjoying your time on one of the beautiful Rio’s beaches someone approaches you and starts a conversation in order to distract you. In a meanwhile this person’s accomplice is already going through your belongings and walking away with them.
Tip: Now, there is nothing wrong with meeting someone new on a beach and you do not have to be paranoid, however, always have an eye on your belongings.
5. Car Robbery
If you plan to drive in Rio de Janeiro, be sure to keep you doors locked at all times. Quite often thieves operate at traffic lights – they open the door, grab whatever they can and run away. Sometimes they even go ahead and smash your windows with a hammer and rob this way.
Tip: Try to avoid carrying all your valuables in the car or at least do not be flashy so it does not attract unnecessary attention. For example, even though it might not be the most practical way to drive around, we would recommend to keep your GPS device down low – ask a person in a passenger seat to be your “navigator” and keep the it in his/her hands.
6. Drinks Scam
If you plan to go while in Rio, never leave your drinks unattended. There are many scammers that are waiting for this split second so they can put some pills into your drink and make you unconscious. What happens next is pretty obvious, you are robbed with no chance to protect yourself.
Unfortunately, robbing might not be the worst thing that can happen, especially to women.
Tip: Never leave your drinks unattended, not even for “10 seconds”.
Thanks to selfie sticks this scam is getting less popular, however it does still happen a fair amount of times. Again, it is fairly obvious, but if a scammer sees you trying to take a photo he will approach you and offer his “services” as a friendly gesture. But as you probably understood, he/she is not doing it because of that reason. In the best case scenario they will only ask for some money, worst – they will run off with your camera.
Tip: If you have an expensive camera, always look for another person with similar equipment if you want a photo to be taken. It will not only protect your belongings from theft, but also the picture taken will be a much better quality.
8. Boys on Bikes
It is not really a scam where thieves are trying to trick you into something, but as it is very popular in Rio de Janeiro it is definitely worth mentioning. In well known tourist areas these young muggers on bicycles choose their victims with most valuables and then proceed to follow them until they reach an area that is less crowded. Consequently, the muggers then rob them and pedal away with no chance of being caught.
Tip: If you have noticed that you are being followed, just report it to the police and stay in a crowded area until the muggers go away.
This is one is more of a mix between scam and simple robbing. If you like to keep your iPhone or wallet in your back pocket, you might need to change this habit whilst in Brazil. Snapping it out of there is the easiest and most popular activity amongst pickpockets.
Sometimes, similarly to beach distraction scam, scammers work together. While one or a few of them are trying to chat you up, their accomplices are doing the dirty work in the background.
Tip: Always be aware where your belongings are. Do not put your wallets, phones or any other valuable items in your back pocket.
10. Fake Bird Poo
A little kid will approach you, most of the times without you even noticing, and will squirt a black and white goop on your shoes or clothes. But guess what? It is your “lucky” day as there happens to be a friendly guy close to you who has this special shoe polish that will take the fake poop away instantly. Obviously, he will then ask for a payment for his services.
Tip: Beware of kids running around. If they have done it already refuse the cleaning and walk away – it is not a real poop, just wash it off in the nearest bathroom.
11. The Shoe Shiner
A elderly man will “accidentally” drop his shoe brush next to you. Once you pick it up for him he will immediately start shining your shoes to show that he is grateful. However, it is not just a nice gesture, he will then demand a payment for this.
Tip: Just walk away without picking it up.
12. Fake Police
As tourist you are not expected to know every detail of the official policemen are meant to look like. Scammers know that very well so they exploit it. What normally happens is fake police officers will approach you and tell that there is some fake currency circulation around in this area and that he needs check your wallet for fake notes. While one of them will be explaining “this serious matter” the other one will steal money from your wallet.
Tip: Never give your wallet to anyone, real police would never ask to do that.
13. Sabotaged ATMs
This is one of biggest scams in Rio. In fact Brazil has one of the highest % of ATM related crimes in the world.
Most of the time scammers rig ATMs with special equipment that steals your credit card details and PIN number. Alternatively, sometimes they have mini hidden cameras above the keypad.
Tip: We would recommend not to use any cash points on the streets, wait until you are inside of a supermarket or ideally a bank branch.
14. The Guide
Like many other scams this one is done in a group. Basically, when scammers identify you as a tourist, especially when you seem to be looking for something, they will approach you with a map and offer you some guidance on how to get to your point of interest. Firstly, the accomplice will try to pickpocket you while you are concentrating on the map, secondly “the guide” will ask for money once he helped you.
Tip: Do not accept any voluntary guidance unless you asked for it yourself.
15. The Broken Camera
You will be approached by someone and asked to take a group picture. The trick here is that the camera does not actually work. After you have realised that, you will try to hand the camera back to them and explain that it does not work. In the process of handing it back the scammer will then “accidentally” drop it and blame you for it. The whole group will then approach you and demand money for the repairs.
Tip: If caught in this situation, be extra careful when handing the camera back, so they do not have a chance to drop it.
16. Free Wi-Fi
If possible try to avoid using free public Wi-Fis, especially when accessing personal information like online banking or emails. This is a virtual scam that hackers do to steal your sensitive information.
17. Free Peanuts
Whilst you are enjoying a nice cup of coffee or a cocktail, scammer approaches and pours some “best quality” peanuts on your table. And no, he does not ask if you want any, he just does it. Once you touch them (most of the times to get rid of them) he will then demand a payment, as he cannot sell them to anyone else anymore. If you refuse, in most cases his accomplices will approach you and will not leave until you have paid them.
Tip: If you are caught off guard by these scammers do not touch any of the peanuts and call the restaurant/bar staff.
18. Fake Front Desk Call
A scammer will call your hotel room pretending to be a receptionist and informing you that there is some sort of problem with the system so they need to confirm your credit card details again. Most of times they will do it in the middle of the night as you are less likely to go downstairs and sort it out.
Tip: Never give any details over the phone. Regardless what time of the day it is, always walk downstairs and double check.
A scammer will approach you with a big colourful parrot on his/her arm and as you are most likely to be very excited to see such a beautiful bird, it will be on your shoulder before you know it. They will encourage you to take pictures and will obviously demand money once it is done.
20. The Bar Tab
This applies more to travellers who are on their own, especially men. In a bar you get approach by English speaking scammer who is very friendly and offers some company. After you have had a drink or two your “new friend” offers to go to a great bar nearby that he knows and promises that there will be some friends of his. Once you get there, two attractive girls come over, sit next to you and open an expensive bottle of wine. Without realising you are actually paying for these and many other drinks. You will not be let out of the bar/club by the bouncers until you pay the tab.
Tip: Do not agree to go to a place offered by a stranger that you are not familiar with.
21. Money Change Mistakes
If you are visiting Brazil for the first time, you will probably not be well familiar with the Brazilian Real. When shopping in local businesses, shopkeepers like to count the money really slow with weird pauses expecting you to lose your patience, accept what they have given and leave. What they do is they give much less than you are meant to get.
Tip: Try to familiarise yourself with the money before you go out. Recount the cash before you leave the store.
22. Fake Lost Valuables
While sitting somewhere like cafe, park or beach you will see deliberately dropped change, ring or some other small item that might be valuable. Once you stand up to pick it up, thieves will steal any of your belongings that you have left on your table/chair or bench.
Tip: Never take your eyes of your valuable items.
Olympics Related Scams
As the demand for tickets is high the scammers will certainly use this opportunity to make people buy fake or invalid tickets. Before you purchase the tickets online check this official Authorised Tickets Resellers’ list.
When outside the stadiums, it is very likely that you will be approached by ticket resellers that just want to make a bit of profit. Some of them do sell genuine tickets, some of them are fraudsters.
Tip: There will be a lot of staff in and out of the stadiums and arenas so be sure to check the validity of the ticket with them first before you hand over the cash.
Scammers are sending unsolicited emails informing people that they have won a trip to Rio 2016 courtesy of the event organisers in Brazil or the International Olympic Committee. Once the link is clicked tracking software is installed on your computer or phone. Alternatively, they may ask you to put your credit card and other personal details in to confirm your identity and claim the prize.
Tip: Never respond to this type of correspondence and do not click on any links provided.
Olympic Games being such an enormous event, it requires a lot of construction and infrastructure projects to be completed. Even when these are finished fraudsters promote them as investment opportunity and encourage international investments due to high value post-games sales. Whilst some investment opportunities through official bodies might be legit, a lot of them are just well planned scams.
Tip: If you are interested in making this type of investment you should always conduct some logical tests beforehand.
Last Piece Of Advice
Tourism Police called Policia de Tourismo should be one of your first ports of call if you have been affected by any of these frauds or have experienced any other difficulties. Save this number before you travel:
Otherwise, these are the emergency numbers in Brazil:
- Police: 190
- Fire and ambulance: 193
Have you experienced any of these scams in Brazil or elsewhere in the world? Leave a comment below and share you experience with us.