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Consolidated current scams, danger and annoyance to beware of in Mexico

Consolidated current scams, danger and annoyance to beware of in Mexico

Old Mar 4, 14, 1:19 pm
  #1  
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Exclamation Consolidated current scams, danger and annoyance to beware of in Mexico

The most recent one I have become aware of is in the greater Los Cabos area of Baja California. Visitors are reporting their credit card information is being compromised whilst shopping in the expanded Los Cabos area. A recent article in a divers' newsletter says:

Undercurrent reader and underwater photographer Dan Clements (Everett, WA), who takes dive groups to this area several times each year, says, "I've had several folks get their credit cards 'hacked' at grocery stores, including the big-box stores in Cabo and La Paz. So if visiting this great area, be careful about using credit cards in grocery stores, and consider using cash."
Note: This happens elsewhere as well. My sister arrived too early to check in at a property operated by a well-known US chain in Cancún, so they graciously allowed her to use a guest room they set aside for people to use in the interim.

She was quite appreciative, and took her bathing togs into the bathroom to change, locking the bathroom door. She took only moments, repacked and relocked her bag and - when she arrived home and checked her statement had some charges against her card.

So, what happened? Since she failed to lock the door to the ROOM out of consideration for other guests in her shoes, someone slipped in and very quickly took a (choose: rubbing, picture or jotted down the numbers and CCV) of her card and likely called it in to someone - who used it within moments. My sister checked her wallet in her bag, everything was all there, so she did not suspect any shenanigans - until she read her credit card statement.

Last edited by JDiver; Mar 4, 14 at 1:51 pm
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Old Mar 4, 14, 1:29 pm
  #2  
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Car rental scams

Fortunately nothing like Costa Rica, where baddies wait for you to depart the car rental outlet to slash your tire, so they can "help" later (help themselves to your belongings, that is).

False and undocumented damage: But what does happen is - like many places: you turn in your car and are either made liable for dents and scratches that were not noted when you left, or perhaps you are billed later, a few weeks after you return home, for damages that neither the rental company nor you noticed. This can include windshield damage.

Protection: Do a careful walkaround and note every chip, scratch, etc. on the car rental damages form and have the car rental company rep. sign off on it; get a copy if one is not proffered.

As well, I strongly recommend photographing overall from each side, and closeups of existing damage, with camera or phone and be sure it's dated. (Doing this saved me from something like $1,600 damage claim after the fact from a Fort Lauderdale, FL Hertz.)

Billed for "missing item": Missing hubcaps, rear view or side mirrors, trunk tools for changing spare tires, etc. are often billed if the losses have not been documented previously. In Mexico, "Theft" insurance generally means theft of the entire vehicle, not an item - and it seems only too often, something's missing.
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Old Mar 4, 14, 1:44 pm
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Gasoline / petrol stations

In Mexico, gasoline stations (GASOLINERAS) are operated by Pemex, the national petroleum company. Oil however, is often sold there (but also in oil shops). Some industrious people find "employment" at Pemex stations washing your car windshield, filling your tank, etc. Others who are employees also rely on extras - and anyone who does these chores for you should be tipped, perhaps a few pesos - it's expected. But watch:

At the pump: Some will fail to reset the pump - you are then on the hook for what the previous driver paid as well as what you owe. Some will insist on overfilling - "topping off" is not necessarily the thing to do these days.

"Let me check your oil and water": Could be reasonable, could also be an attempt to short-dip (remove the oil dipstick, clean it, insert it in partially to indicate missing oil) and an attempt to sell you oil that you do not need and can cause difficulties later because the crankcase is overfilled. If you allow it, keep an eye on the guy under the hood at all times, and make sure the person filling the vehicle (you may bot be allowed to do it yourself) is under surveillance as well. (If you are driving your own car, I do not recommend PEMEX oil anyway - look for the small stores with Mobil, Quaker State (kwah-ker stey-t), etc. signs)

Short-changing: Anything from "no hay cambio" ("there's no change") to short-changing you because you do not know the denominations well or are not watching the hands and count well. Complaining even moments after will not result in any benefit to you. (Pemex stations generally do not accept credit cards.) Try to use the oldest, dirtiest bills you have - that's certainly what you will get in change.

Petty theft: Leave your car locked if you need to go inside the station or use the toilet (a few modern "gasolineras" may be clean, but do not expect a close to reasonably clean or even functioning toilet - and place any toilet paper or newspaper used into the provided can). Leaving the car unlocked may easily result in petty theft and pilferage - after all, you'll never be back, and where would you go to report such theft?

Phony repairs: A quick squirt of oil near your wheel or under your crankcase and "señor, your vehicle needs to be looked at". They won't try this often on visitors, but they just might. If you must or need repairs, look for a nearby TALLER MECANICO or ask for the "maestro", often pronounced "MICE-trow" and usually the top dawg mechanic. Do not expect he will know too much about modern cars with lots of computer gizmology. (For a spare tire repair, look for small LLANTERA or SE REPARAN LLANTAS signs - again, generally not done at gasoline stations.)

Protection: Plan your "gasolinera" stops in advance. Never let the gas gauge get much lower than "1/2", and think about what you need and how you are going to handle it before you are distracted or confused.

Better yet: know your vehicle, check it every morning for low air, leaks and hazards, check the oil - before you head in for or gasoline.

Now, there are legitimate stations and people working at them, it's just there's a chance of these things occurring, and as a tourist driving through, you're higher on the "chump" list because you may be less aware than the locals, are unknown (no relationships), won't be around long and if you do try to make a case of it with the local policía, you are very likely to regret doing so.

Just be aware, and you'll have little problems - I've learned over the many years of driving in Mexico, so this is all second nature to me - even in other countries. But if you're an American, used to driving into a large chain gasoline store where you self-serve, etc. you may find yourself in a somewhat alien environment.

Wash your windshield (or worse, your entire car): At stops as well as in or near a gas station, you may have eager people (often kids) wanting to "wash your windshield". Some of these folks have really nasty, dirty water with sand and dirt from prior washings or the nearby stream they took it from, maybe even gummy pollution items like oil, etc. They may use dirty rags or newspapers. They may harm your windshield to the point you will be charged for windshield damage by your rental car company. Just wag your finger, smile and say "no, gracias" - several times in escalating volume, if you have to. I saw a VW Beetle windshield so damaged by a "street washing" the windshield had to be replaced because of the many deep scratches and opacity they created (Vicente Guerrero, Baja California).

"Watch your car": You park downtown and a teenaged kid (or several) insist they will "watch your car" (BE SURE they are not offering to WASH YOUR CAR - that can be damaging to your car and result in charges from your rental company). "Watchee?" or "¿se lo cuido?" (sounds like may low KWEE-dough") are the words often heard, and if you are not sure, you can say "may low KWEE-dah?" (will you take care of it for me?) Soemtimes, this helps prevent theft; sometimes it helps prevent vandalism by the kid(s) you told to bugger off. Either way, uh, yes, this may be worthwhile. Let them know you will pay them when you return and give them a general idea of when that will be. If there seems to be an obvious hierarchy, it may pay to address the top dawg. If you think this is subtle extortion, OK, maybe it is - it's often a version of the "protection" racket, and for a few cents, you do want it.

In some cases, there's a "tamarindo" - a guy who may or not be an actual traffic cop - acting as parking warden, usually in some type of khaki uniform, sometimes with badges (which may not even be local police or traffic badges); sometimes he may be disabled, often not. They will help you park (guide you as you back in, etc.) and are definitely worth a smile and a few pesos on your return. I usually feel quite comfortable with these people, self-appointed or not, they are still sanctioned by te locals, including the police (who may require daily kickbacks).

OTOH, if you see a pay lot, it's almost always more secure and worthwhile. "ESTACIONAMIENTO" is what you are looking for, often worth a few pesos to use.

Last edited by JDiver; Mar 4, 14 at 2:16 pm
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Old Mar 5, 14, 1:36 pm
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Originally Posted by JDiver View Post
The most recent one I have become aware of is in the greater Los Cabos area of Baja California. Visitors are reporting their credit card information is being compromised whilst shopping in the expanded Los Cabos area. A recent article in a divers' newsletter says:



Note: This happens elsewhere as well. My sister arrived too early to check in at a property operated by a well-known US chain in Cancún, so they graciously allowed her to use a guest room they set aside for people to use in the interim.

She was quite appreciative, and took her bathing togs into the bathroom to change, locking the bathroom door. She took only moments, repacked and relocked her bag and - when she arrived home and checked her statement had some charges against her card.

So, what happened? Since she failed to lock the door to the ROOM out of consideration for other guests in her shoes, someone slipped in and very quickly took a (choose: rubbing, picture or jotted down the numbers and CCV) of her card and likely called it in to someone - who used it within moments. My sister checked her wallet in her bag, everything was all there, so she did not suspect any shenanigans - until she read her credit card statement.
When I returned home from Los Cabos 4 years ago I found out that someone charged Airline Tickets on LAN to Chile. 4 tickets at $1,500 each. I disputed it right away so no problems there. I always tell my credit card company about travel even within the state of CA.
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Old Mar 31, 14, 12:03 pm
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Taxis and other annoyances In Mexico City

While living in Mexico city the regular (red-golden) cabs can mostly be considered "safe", although classically during night the taximeter "is not working", so one has to negotiate the fare.

When coming from MEX airport, during daytime it is often no problem to walk a little outside to grab a regular cab, which often slashes the cab fare in half, because most airport cabs (white, called "sitios") charge really a lot in comparison. Depending on traffic the fare with a regular cab starts from 70MXN to 150MXN with a regular cab into the city centre. To grab a regular cab just leave the terminal via one of the bridges (near the Telcel shops) that goes into the lobby of a 5 star hotel. There you can mostly find a lot of regular cab passing by, because officially they are not allowed to pick up passengers from inside the terminal area, which is reserved for the white cabs. If you still manage to pick up a regular one within the terminal the cops might stop the cab and ask the driver for a bribe. Don't allow the driver to charge you the 200MXN he just gave to the cops.

During night it is sometimes advisable to refer to "sitios", which you can call, as they are safer to use, especially when your Spanish is not too good.
Especially when receiving change having small bills are advisable. When receiving a 100MXN bill check it, because they might be fake. The smaller plastic bills are usually real. ALWAYS negotiate the price and destination before entering the cab, because some drivers try to charge you 150MXN at night for a fare that is 50MXN during daylight. Something around 70 to 80MXN might be fare then, not a dime more.

Alternatively, if you arrive outside of the rush hour, the metro for 5MXN might also be a good option when you're not too loaded with luggage.
But be prepared for long walks within the chaotic tunnels.

Needless to say that you should watch for pickpockets in the metro, which can be extremely cramped. Also, when walking with luggage around terminals, metro stations etc. be aware of guys with walkie talkies. These are spotters and usually whistle to the street vendors when the cops are coming, but also spot easy target tourists for their pickpockets.
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Old Mar 31, 14, 12:14 pm
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Flying to Havana from MEX

There is a Cubana flight from MEX, which occasionally can be a cheap deal (as low as 110€ if booked on time, back then with a German travel site).

Nonetheless times will be very, VERY early. Something like 6AM most likely.
That brings one essential problem: you fly so early that there is barely any customs officials along and their offices are yet closed. The only ones are the ones at the security check.

So what Cubana tried in my case was the following. Upon checkin they ask you to pay 25 to 30 USD for the tourist visa card (10USD more than it should be, but what bargaining power do you have?). Secondly, they might try to rip you off with your luggage. Not necessarily the checked luggage, but your handluggage. I had a laptop with me, which the clerk didn't know, but he was asking why my handluggage was heavy. I told him because of the laptop I had with me. So he made up a fictive "Mexican laptop export tax" of 300USD (!) which obviously was to be paid in cash on the spot. Of course I could go to the customs office (which wasn't open at the time) to check about this export tax and get a written confirmation or go to the central customs office (which is exactly between both terminals and most likely not open either.

So he wouldn't hand me over my boarding pass until this formality was solved. I solved it by handing my laptop outside of the checkin area to my friend to put it in his bag. I went back opened my laptop and told him I gave it to my dad/aunt whatever which brought me to the airport.

The rest went fine, but it was still quite annoying, because they try this with many people at the given time.
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Old Mar 31, 14, 4:16 pm
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Taxis in Mexico City, to add: there are "gypsy" or "pirate" unlicenced cabs in Mexico City and they commonly cruise the airport - no markings or maybe a cardboard or plastic sign. Avoid these - not only can they rip you off, they can take you down a street, pick up a couple of co-conspirators and rob you. It has happened.

In Mexico City it is best when you need a taxi to ask you host / restaurant etc. to call you a taxi - the sitio (taxi rank) taxis are known to them and they tend to be a bit careful lest you report them to the hotel and the hotel exclude them from taxis sent to them.
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Old Jan 1, 20, 9:31 am
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Scams appear to be growing, so it’s time to dust off this thread and add to it. One problem with scams is that often the police are corrupt and in on a scam, or unwilling to take action against the scammers, or on some occasions the originators of the scams themselves. The latter are most commonly known as “la mordida”, or “the bite” - putting a shakedown on someone to pay a bribe for an actual made up offense, or incentive to perform a duty.

Here’s a classic example of a scam that works in concert with the police, as reported by an American Airlines mileages runner intent on earning sufficient Elite Qualifying Dollars to retain his Executive Platinum status with a mileage run to SJD - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (Some posts that are peripheral to the story have been omitted.)

The subject had a couple of beers in the “Urban Bar”, was charged $300, and when he declined to pay, the police were called. The bar owner took his debit card and passport (with the police apparently assenting), handcuffed, lied to, released on bail (a bribe to be released), and had difficulties leaving Mexico without a passport. He encountered the best of Mexico, and the worst of Mexico. Beware.
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Old Jan 1, 20, 11:40 pm
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Can’t blame AA for Millennial Murmurs.

As for scams, I don’t think I’ve encountered anything worse than getting woefully petite onions at a small city market.

However, one of my Mexican friends (female) was kidnapped by a taxi for a day near La Merced, and was swindled out of a few thousand pesos at the same damned market last year. I’d rather go back to Tepito than La Merced and its F-grade mass produced sweets.
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Old Jan 31, 20, 7:25 pm
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Heading to Mexico City next month and I must admit, this thread makes me a touch nervous!
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Old Feb 2, 20, 10:18 pm
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Originally Posted by RG1X View Post
Heading to Mexico City next month and I must admit, this thread makes me a touch nervous!
Eh, you're unlikely to end up in the places I have (e.g. La Merced, Tepito). They're close to tourist sites, sure, but there will be a definite superficial change in the neighborhood to caution you.

Mexico City is good times, indeed. Check out Chapultepec Park, the Museum of Anthropology, and the busy - and often slanting (due to earthquakes) - streets forming spokes out of the Zócalo. That country does some brilliant eats, too.
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