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Swindles and Scams in Peru

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No matter how big your budget, being victim to a scam in Peru is sure to tarnish your travel experience. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, a significant swindle could cut short your entire trip. If you want to stay a step ahead of potential scammers, you need to know what kind of tricks to guard against.

Shopping Scams

Overcharging foreign tourists is commonplace, but Peru is a haggling nation. Don’t assume you’re being scammed -- it’s often up to you to lower the price. Shortchanging is also common, whether intentionally or not, so always check your change. There’s also a lot of counterfeit money floating around in Peru. The sooner you become familiar with Peruvian currency, the sooner you’ll be able to spot a fake (easier said than done -- some of the fakes are near perfect).

Foreign Currency Confusion

Con artists and opportunistic swindlers are adept at playing on a foreigner’s unfamiliarity with the local currency. If you hand over a S/.50 note, for example, a scammer could switch it for a S/.20 before asking for more. Are you sure you handed over a S/.50, or did you really pay with a S/.20? It’s a tricky situation if you’re unsure. Again, familiarity with the nuevo sol is the best prevention.

Changing Money

Know the current exchange rate before exchanging dollars, euros or pounds in Peru. If an unscrupulous moneychanger senses your lack of understanding, you could lose a lot of money on the deal.

Taxi Driver Swindles

Peruvian taxis don’t run on meters, so always set the price in advance. If you don’t, you’re leaving yourself wide open to an overblown fee on arrival. Ask for the price before accepting the ride and don’t be afraid to say no if the price seems high. There are plenty more taxis in Peru.

Border Crossing Scams

There have been reports of border officials checking luggage for cash on the Peru-Bolivia border. If money is found, the border officials claim it is counterfeit and must be confiscated -- straight into their own pockets. The best prevention against this type of swindle is to carry only enough money to get you across the border (and hide that money in a shoe or money belt).

Another border scam, this time between Peru and Chile, involves local taxi drivers. After agreeing the fare for the trip from Tacna to Arica, some drivers tell their foreign passengers that they must pay a “tourist card” fee (about $20). This is a lie; if any additional fees are necessary, you should pay them directly to a border official, not to a taxi driver.

Dubious Identities

Scams involving fake police officers and unofficial taxi drivers can lead to far worse things than theft. Do not accept a ride in an unmarked taxi; always try to use modern-looking, officially licensed cabs. Be very cautious if you are approached by a plainclothes police officer. The officer may not be genuine, so do not get into his car. If he persists, insist on walking to the nearest police station or demand to talk to a uniformed official (ideally a member of the tourist police).

Phone Scams

Phone scams are an attempt to extract money from a traveler’s family back home. After obtaining the traveler’s home contact details (through theft or conversation with the traveler), the scammer phones or sends an email to a family member, asking for money. Reasons may include a medical emergency, trouble with the police or kidnapping (situations in which the traveler could be unavailable).

Some wily scammers will try to befriend you before you go on a multiday tour, ensuring that you are out of contact immediately after the scam. Phone scams are rare, but it’s worth mentioning the scenario to your family before you go to Peru.

Confidence Tricks

Confidence tricks come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them target an individual’s naiveté, good faith or, quite often, greed. The lottery ticket scam is just one example. A person with a “winning” lottery ticket approaches, offering to sell it to you for much less than the winning amount. It’s an obvious trick, but people still fall for it. New confidence scams emerge all the time, so don’t be too quick to trust anyone offering something that seems too good to be true.

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