Life is what's happening while you're busy making other plans

18 avril 2010

Scams to cheat tourists

In Iquitos on Thursday we were running out of peruvian cash, so while I waited in a restaurant, Thomas set out to exchange 150€ to peruvian soles. He came back a little while later, quite please with himself as he had managed to get an exchange rate of 3.8. Amazing since up until now the best rate we had ever gotten was 3.76 and the rest of the time we had had to fight to get 3.7. The only down part was that he had only been able to change 100€ because one of the 50€ bills had a little tear in it and the money exchange guy had refused it.

This morning, ie two days later, we set out to change cash again, having this time calculated exactly how much we needed over the next couple of days until getting to the Ecuadorian border. We asked around and the rate we were told wasn't good at all, 3.5-3.62. We fished around a little more and suddenly a group of three money-exchange guys offered us the rate of 3.85. A little suprised at first, and feeling a bit guilty to let them change our money at such a good rate, we finally accepted to change 120€. This meant they had to give us 462 soles. I kept our euros firmly in my hand until Thomas counted and checked all the soles we were handed over. Once this was done, I handed over our euros. At this point, one of the men asked to count the soles again just so he could be sure also of the transaction. In the middle of doing this, the other guy I had handed our euros to, suddenly turns to me and tells me that one of our 50€ has a tear in it and that he therefore cannot accept it. I am very suprised since I had specifically checked our bills before leaving the hotel, knowing Thomas had been refused one bill two days before. So I took the 50€ bill and looked at it, and indeed there was a tear in it which I was absolutely certain was not there before. I turn to Thomas, not really understanding what the money-exchange guy could get out of tearing my 50€ bill. Thomas looked at the bill and realised it was a fake one. Right away, I started shouting at the man that he was ripping me off, that the bill I had given him was real. I demanded him to give me my money back right away. He started arguing at first, but then the guy counting the soles said ok ok fine, handed over the soles and pushed the other one away. Unhappy to have been at the center of a scam, but happy to have caught it, we took the money and left. We walked back to our hotel, quite happy with ourselves for having outsmarted the scam, and because we had walked away with a great exchange rate.

However, the story does not end here. Once at our hotel, we counted our money again, as we always do. And there, we realised that the count was not correct. Instead of 462 soles we had 320 soles. Somehow, while we looked at the fake 50 euro bill and shouted at the con man, the guy counting the soles took a few bills out of the pack before handing them back to us. We had been so caught up in the first scam that we had walked away without re-counting the bills! I was so upset at my foolishness. For having been so pleased with myself for playing out their first scam and therefore so stupid to let myself be had again. We stormed back to where the money-exchange guys had been standing. Thomas was certain they would be long gone, but there they were, sat cooly. I shouted at them right away and threw the soles in their face, calling them thieves and demanding our money back. Thomas threatened to call the police. The stayed very calm, but very quickly gave us all of our euros back. We checked them carefully to make sure that they did not hand us fake bills again, and left.

Over lunch we were still thinking about this whole story. Still under the adrenaline... when we realised that the bill Thomas had been refused two days before, was probably part of the same scam. We went back to the hotel and checked the bill. Indeed, it was a fake. So we had been cheated two days ago, and we wouldn't even have known, had we not had an encounter with the same group of con-artists again! We were mulling over how we could get our money back and who would be silly enough to take our fake 50 euro bill... and at the same time feeling guilty of trying to give a fake bill to an innocent person. Then Thomas had a very clever idea, in the end, it's a network of people who run these scams. So, although the men from that morning were not the men who had given Thomas a fake bill two days earlier, they probably belonged to the same network. So we decided to go back, and teach those con artists a lesson. Of course, by that time, the men were gone. A little upset we started walking back, but we were still in the area were all the exchange men are, and one came up to us... Thomas recognised him as being the one who had given him the fake 50 euro bill two days earlier. So we asked him what exchange rate he could give us, and with a big smile he told us 3.8. At this moment, one of the men from that morning passed behind him and started making "no no" signs to him, then disappeared. A few seconds later, our money exchange guy received a phone call and suddenly told us that the exchange rate had gone down to 3.5. We laughed and walked away. This confirmed to us that they were part of the same network. We went around the block to see if we could spot the guy from that morning again, and sure enough we did. We ran up behind him and Thomas grabbed him by the arm. Thomas started shouting in spanish "thief, you stole 50€ from us. Im taking you to the police right now. Thief, thief. 50€. Give them back to me now. We're going to the police station", and dragged the guy down the street. The noise caused a lot of commotion and everyone was staring. The man was trying to hush Thomas, calling him his friend, but Thomas did not stop. At this point, two policemen made their way across the street. I explained to them briefly that we had wanted to exchange money with him but that he had given us a fake bill. The noise had attracted a lot of people, and all the exchange money guys were around us, that allowed us to spot another of the men from that morning and we pointed him out too to the police. He tried to deny everything, saying we were confusing him but we stood strong. The two tried to blame the other saying the other should pay the money back... a real loud mess. Finally the policemen told us to get in their car, so that we could settle the matter without so many onlookers. We drove a little further off and we argued with the money exchange guys. They wouldn't give us our 50€ back, wanted to pay us back in soles but at a really bad exchange rate, 3.5. So we stood strong and explained that their exchanged rate that morning had been 3.85 and we wouldn't accept anything lower. This meant 192 soles. And Thomas even added that because of all the trouble we had been through they should round that up to 200 soles. They weren't happy but were desperate for us not to file a complaint or to have to go into the police station. So they paid up. The policemen asked us if we were happy with this compensation or if we wanted to press charges anyways. We said we were happy with the compensation, and we would think about pressing charges. We took the officers names. They told us that they would take the names of the money exchange guys and deal with them and that we could go.

I honestly doubt the policemen did anything other than give them a little warning but at least we got our money back and they got a good fright. So be warned when you travel. Don't trust a too good exchange rate, and don't only check the bills you get, also check the bills you give!

Posté par wendorej à 01:40 - Peru - Permalien [#] Partager