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Mexico City’s reputation has improved greatly over recent years, but it sometimes still gets a bad rap—as with any big, metropolitan hub—when it comes to tourist scams. If you’re planning a trip to Mexico City, though it’s highly unlikely that something unfortunate will happen, keep these scams in the back of your mind. Better safe than sorry, right?
Let’s get what you could consider the most ‘common’ scam of all out of the way—overpriced (or fake) souvenirs marketed as more valuable (or real) than they are. For the most part, if you’re overpaying for souvenirs, that’s on you. However, considering you’re probably spending on a Western budget, it’s not the worst thing you could do to support local vendors. Even so, it doesn’t feel good to be sold on something fake, so be careful when buying silver products, jewellery and especially anything people try to tell you is a ‘genuine relic’.
It might sound incredibly unsporting, but if someone you don’t know randomly approaches you on the street asking to borrow your phone to make an urgent phone call, or even just to find out the time, don’t whip it out without thinking. While this line might be true on occasion, some people are just trying to steal your phone quite literally from under your nose.
Another ‘scam’ that you could end up falling victim to in Mexico City (as with basically any other large city in any country in the world) is pickpocketing, especially in the crowded central areas and on the metro. Taking the necessary precautions to prevent having your stuff swiped is easy enough, though—keep bags and pockets zipped, if possible, wear backpacks on your front side when using the metro and try not to flash your valuables in busy public places (or very quiet places, for that matter). Need to use your phone? Pop into a shop.
This is one Mexico City scam that tends to affect locals rather than tourists. However if you’re not careful, or if you speak decent Spanish, you might fall victim. Sometimes strangers will ask you to fill out a form or survey which involves putting down a contact number. Later, you may receive a call from someone claiming to have kidnapped one of your friends or relatives and demanding money in order to release said loved one. Obviously, this is a scam that banks on your panic, but try to stay calm and simply hang up.
The fake cash machine scam is one that’s as old as time in Mexico City, although you’ll probably be very unlucky to actually fall victim to it. Sometimes, and typically at random street-facing ATMs that are unaffiliated with banks, the machine will be rigged and can swallow or clone your card. Safeguard against this by using only the cash machines located inside banks (there are many across Mexico City) and making sure people always charge your card in front of you.
Not exactly a scam in and of itself, but more of a tricksy robbery: vendors will hop onto Mexico City buses in hopes that you’ll buy some sweets or chocolate from them. Sometimes, although mainly in the outlying areas of Mexico City, they will become aggressive when nobody buys and insist you hand over wallets and phones instead. This is a highly unlikely ‘scam’ to come across in the middle of a touristy area.
More ‘insult to injury’ than ‘scam’, watering down drinks tends to be more common at resort locations on the Mexican coast, but it can also happen in Mexico City. Sometimes, bartenders or servers will simply pour from a bottle of pre-watered-down alcohol and other times, they’ll be more direct in their scam and add less alcohol than they should. How can you avoid this scam? Go to reputable drinking establishments, make sure you can see them making the drink and ask for your liquor by brand (e.g. Grey Goose) so that the staff has less of a reason to use an unlabelled, random bottle.
Fake bills circulate in practically every country in the world, and you can easily fall victim to this particular scam anywhere, without even realising it. In Mexico City, you should always keep an eye on the vendor or cashier to make sure he isn’t short-changing you, or even just swapping the bill you handed over and feigning ignorance. Avoid this by paying in exact change where possible and remaining alert.
Finally, express kidnappings are perhaps the scariest scam in all of Mexico City, a destination that has certainly developed a reputation for carrying them out in the past. In this scam, you’ll be whisked away by a fake taxi driver (in a real taxi, usually hailed off the street), after which the driver will take you to various ATMs and force you to withdraw all your money. Nowadays, express kidnappings are extremely rare; in fact, the worst thing that will probably happen to you in a taxi is the driver jacking up the price of your journey a bit!