Common Scams in Mexico

Tourism in Mexico continues to grow year by year, with the most recent data reporting that 41.4 million people visited the country in 2018, and the numbers are only going up. With such a huge draw, it’s only conceivable that scammers who want to take advantage of unsuspecting vacationers will get more creative. While moving around, keep these possible scams in mind, and use caution accordingly: 

Taxi Scam

Illegal and unauthorized taxis run rampant throughout the country, and it’s not uncommon for actual taxi drivers to loan their vehicles to gang members to be used in express kidnapping schemes. For this reason, never hail a random taxi off the street. Always call a taxi from a reputable company, or better yet, use trusted ridesharing apps such as Uber so that you can use the review system and GPS tracking to your advantage. 

Card Skimming and Bill Switching

Card skimming, or the process of copying or cloning the information from a credit card when it is swiped, is becoming increasingly more common. It’s always best to pay with cash whenever possible, and don’t use questionable ATMs (only ATMs within an actual bank). You can also keep yourself extra safe by using credit cards instead of debit cards – in the event your card information is taken and used, most banks are much more willing to forgive fraudulent credit transactions, but not debited cash. 

And if you do pay cash, keep in mind that some people handling your money will have exceptionally quick hands, and can easily convince you that the 500 peso note you handed them was actually a 50. The best fix: pay in small denominations so that they don’t have a chance in the first place. 

Timeshare Scams in Mexico

Common in very touristy areas: someone will approach you (never a good sign) and very excitedly offer you excellent perks (free food, discounts) or even tell you you’ve won some sort of prize. In order to collect, it is necessary to come with them to sit through a mundane presentation on an “excellent” real estate or timeshare opportunity. The meeting is real, but the offer is not – either the property they are offering is fake, or is not accurately represented by the pitch, and you would be a fool to put down a deposit which will never be returned to you. Best to ignore this person and keep walking. 

Watered-down Drinks

Common at major resorts which are doing everything they can to get their money’s worth out of the tourist crowd (and also at any regular venue), some bars will water down their house liquor or cut it with toxic components to save a dime. You can increase your chances of getting a quality drink by calling the liquor you want in the drink – a “Beefeater and Tonic” (or whatever recognizable brand gin they have on the shelf) will get you a better result than just asking for a regular old “gin and tonic.” Better yet, watch the drink being made to make sure they’re pouring as much as you actually ordered. 

Jet Ski Operators

You’re walking along the beach when an enthusiastic jet ski operator offers you to take their equipment out on the water for a good time. You take them up on it, spend the next hour having a blast on the water, only to return the jet ski and have them accuse you of causing damage, scratches, etc. They will demand compensation, and even threaten to report you to the police if you don’t oblige. The best way to avoid this scenario is, if you actually want to use a jet ski, look up a reputable company ahead of time, or ask your hotel for recommendations, so that you know you won’t be walking into such a headache. 

General Tourist Naivete

You probably aren’t going to know a lot about the local culture before you go, and that’s okay – that’s why people travel. That said, here’s a quick list of common tricks that suspicious locals will use to take advantage of tourists who don’t know better: 

  • The Sob Story: Don’t believe anyone who walks up to you asking desperately for your help because they lost their valuables/need money to get back to their home country/other likely stories. That’s what police stations and embassies are for. Also, don’t let them use your phone to make a call (this is good advice anywhere in the world) – you might not see it again. 
  • The Priceless Gem: If it seems weird that the craft stand selling obviously cheap/fake wares is also trying to sell you “genuine” crafts made of real silver, it probably is. Don’t believe the shopkeeper that suspiciously talks up the value of a particular item, and definitely don’t believe them when they say it’s an ancient relic.  
  • The Mayan Dollar: doesn’t exist. The Mayans didn’t have dollars. Some locals peddling their wares will quote you a price in Mayan dollars, and when you agree to a final price, convert it to a final amount which just so happens to be 10 times as much in local currency. Do yourself a favor and ask for a price in real currency before you start negotiating. 

The takeaway: there will always be people who want to trick those who are in the vulnerable position which tourists find themselves in every moment of their holiday. With a little know-how, you can make sure to keep your money (and yourself) safe! 

Looking for more information? Check out our other articles on staying safe in Mexico:

Safety in Mexico

Food and Water Safety in Mexico

Getting around in Mexico

Solo Travel in Mexico

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