While working with some Peruvian guys to help build the hydroelectric dam at Kadagaya, we´ve heard a few stories about ´estafas´, or scams. They happen quickly and can involve two or more people who do not appear to be working together. Of course, as with all successful scams, the main operating factor is the greed of ´The Mark´.
We´re recording these stories as we found them interesting. And pretty funny. These are not intended as some kind of warning to travellers coming to Peru. In all these cases the victims have either been Peruvians or a traveller has been taken advantage of by some other ´gringos´. Nor, indeed, are they intended as a training manual.
This one is achingly simple.
The Mark is hanging around in a public space, when a taxi driver asks them what time it is, or some similarly mundane question. By some mad stroke of luck, an unfortunate passenger has just left a smart phone in the car. The Taxi Driver is happy to sell it on for a fair price. He offers it to The Mark to test it out, and it does all the things which are expected : swipes, locks, opens applications. It is a working smartphone. Negotiations for a price begin.
In the case of our friend, the price was originally set at 200 soles, but as they did not have that much cash handy the agreed price was 60 soles. The money was exchanged for the phone, which had been gift wrapped in an envelope, and the con artist drove away before anything further could be said.
Our friend looked down into the envelope to see he was the proud owner of an expensive bar of soap.
A Fist Full of Dollars, Or A Few Dollars Less
From our conversations, two people that the workers know have fallen for this one, including one of the workers themselves. It is our favourite (if we´re allowed one) as in this case the mark is in no position to blame anyone else except for themselves, and their own greed.
The Mark is standing around with another member of the public, possibly waiting for a bus. Someone pushes past in a rush. In too much of a rush to notice they have just dropped a hefty packet onto the floor.
The Bystander picks it up immediately, and opens it enough to see that it is full of dollar notes. At this point the mark can still call or chase after The Clumsy One to resolve the situation. But that big wad of cash has excited something deep inside, and the imagination is already running wild with how it could be spent.
The negotiation begins. The Mark and The Bystander agree to split the cash evenly, but they are still in full public view. This packet contains a lot of notes, and before they can split the winnings they need to find somewhere quiet and less conspicuous. However, before a decision can be made about where to go The Bystander has to stuff the packet in their jacket and out of sight, as the person who dropped it is back and searching frantically for a stack of cash they have lost. Opportunity for Honesty Number Two.
But The Mark digs even deeper into the hole and follows The Bystander´s example by showing the contents of their wallet. The Bystander really has nothing, and The Clumsy One recognises that The Mark is only in possession of their own money. They walk away, disappointed. For now.
Having narrowly avoided being caught out, it would now look a bit suspicious if The Mark and The Bystander walked off together. They must go separate ways and organise somewhere to meet and split the money. But who takes the cash? Clearly, neither of these two are trustworthy folk. A token of trust needs to be exchanged so that both parties have something of value that the other person wants. Unfortunately, The Bystander has nothing of value. So, a deal is made.
In exchange for a deposit, The Bystander is willing to let The Mark look after the packet of dollars until they meet in the near future. Considering the amount of dollars that are estimated to be in this packet, it is highly unlikely that The Mark has anything of value that makes this a fair swap, but a meeting place is organised and a deposit is swapped for the illicit packet. In the two cases that we have heard of this scam working, the deposits offered up as collateral were a wallet with a year´s worth of wages, and a backpack with new clothes, money and a CD Walkman.
When The Mark arrives at the agreed rendezvous, The Bystander is nowhere to be seen. Opening up the packet to count their gains, they will discover that while the first few notes were real, the majority of the booty is made up of fake notes stamped on printing paper. Or newspaper.
Please See Terms & Conditions for Refunds
If any travellers or prospective backpackers are reading this, then perhaps this is the only one that carries with it some element of warning. It is the worst one, as it undermines one of the best things about exploring the world – building relationships with the people that you meet. It happened to someone who had previously been living and working at Kadagaya when they met a Canadian couple, and we have also heard of an Argentinian man enticing people in with the same trick.
While on the road, The Mark meets some people going the same way. They stick together and get to know each other. It can be hard to meet people that you get along with and trust enough to travel around, and when you do, the experiences you share often create the fondest memories.
It turns out The Newfound Friends have a contact or secure log-in with a well-known airline, and they´ve been flying around at discounted prices. If The Mark has an itinerary in mind, they could purchase the plane tickets for mates rates. But, obviously, it has to be The Newfound Friends who make the purchase. Considering that transportation between desired destinations is usually the most expensive (and often unavoidable) cost of travelling, this is of huge convenience to The Mark. Of course, it would have to be for the scam to work.
The Mark and The Newfound Friends part ways, but stay in touch. At some point down the line, The Mark sends an email with a request and a set of journeys they wish to make. The Newfound Friends oblige. They purchase the tickets and send over all of the relevant information – receipts, flight itineraries, and, most importantly, the tickets.
It´s all confirmed. It´s the real thing. The Mark sends over the required amount of money along with their thanks. The amount we have heard being handed over by the volunteer; approximately $1000.
At some point, either at the airport or from an email notification, The Mark will discover that the flights have been cancelled and the money has been refunded to the purchaser. The Newfound Friends are no longer replying to emails.