Riviera Maya: Beware of This Scam

Source: istockphoto

There is a common scam in the Riviera Maya area that seems to be growing in popularity, so I decided to do a post to warn others about it.

I personally know two people who have fallen victim to this one in the last month or so. The most recent one was earlier today at the Home Depot in Playa del Carmen.

The Scam

Since I am a former law enforcement officer, I’m going to use terms like “victim” and “suspect” to identify the players in this one. If you’re unfamiliar with those terms, feel free to look them up or just watch a few police shows on TV.

These incidents typically occur at larger stores like Walmart and Home Depot. Here’s how they typically go…

While the victim is shopping, they are approached by the suspect who tells them that they have something on the back of their shirt. The suspect is usually carrying a napkin (presumably with the foreign substance already on it) and begins wiping the back of the victim’s shirt.

The suspect then offers to help the victim get cleaned up and directs the victim toward the bathroom. Once inside, the suspect suggests that the victim remove their shirt to make the clean up easier.

While the victim is pulling their shirt up, the suspect removes the victim’s wallet, quickly removes the credit cards, and then puts it back in the victim’s pocket.

In each case, the victim didn’t become aware of the theft until later when they wanted to pay for something and discovered the cards missing.

Let’s Wrap This Up

As a cynical former cop, I immediately become suspicious of unsolicited help from strangers. That suspicion level grows exponentially if the person is trying to get me to accompany them to more isolated location, like a bathroom or a parking lot.

If you find yourself in a similar situation as the one described above, the best course of action would be to distance yourself from the “helpful stranger” and ask a store employee for assistance. If the person that approached you does have nefarious intentions, he or she will probably flee the scene at that point.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

30 Comments on "Riviera Maya: Beware of This Scam"

  1. Elinore Craig | January 25, 2018 at 2:40 pm |

    We are in Nayarit on the other coast of Mexico. It happens here too. As Paul says it’s not just a Mexico thing.

  2. Solid post. I’m still stuck here in Florida caring for my elderly mother. I fear every time she goes out she’ll be “helped” out of her money and possessions by some helpful citizen.

  3. As I read about various ways scammers scam, I say to self….how I would NOT do as scammer did and be safe, aware of my surroundings, etc. I hope as I continue to read for 11 more months prior to our move, I will definitely act as I imagined I would sitting here in USA reading ….thank you for the awareness. It’s all appreciated.

  4. We had this happen to us in Barcelona, where a team of 3 pulled this off in broad daylight, and managed to get both of our bags. We lost everything. (Except our passports, thank God.) The Barcelona police have a station set up specifically to report such cases, it’s that common. In the two hours we were in the station, 14 foreigners and 7 locals came in to report such thefts. So it’s definitely NOT a solely Mexican occurrence.

  5. Lori Wegener | January 25, 2018 at 2:51 pm |

    Another helpful blog Paul. My husband always carries his wallet in his front pocket.
    Thank you Paul for taking time out of your relaxing lifestyle (jealous) to makes us aware, laugh and dream about living the life in Mexico.
    Get a tan for me!!

  6. Yes ,this is exactly what happened to my father at Walmart ! A man used a spray bottle of ketchup like the kind you use for putting condiments on hotdogs . I started looking for napkins in my purse when this man that looked fairly proper wearing a stylish hat a prescription glasses came up to us concerned and said that my father should go to the mens room to clean it up or it would stain. When we got to the check out my fathers credit card was missing but not his wallet . After my poor Dad back track a few shops looking for his card and the hotel as well he gave up and reported it missing by this time the thief had managed to charge a considerable amount on the card. I feel sorry for the poor reflection it has on Riviera Maya.

  7. Thanks for the head’s up, Paul. And for looking out for us all. I can’t believe this is happening in places like Home Depot! That seems like a risky place for theft..we will definitely be on the watch.

    I cant speak for men, but ladies – there are handbags available through Amazon.com.mx called TRAVELON bags. I successfully purchased 2 bags through Prime so they got here quickly; I am trying to spread the word to all my friends and visitors. They are reasonably priced, RFID and have locking clips to secure every outside zippered pocket. Cross-body style is probably the best, so that the perp has difficulty trying to get your purse :D.

    All listings:

    Cross body:

    Also, swapping out your “real” wedding ring and other jewelry for silver cheaper jewelry is smart here…I figure if Im robbed, I will give the suspect my ring as it has little value. There are Cubic Zirconia rings available online for super cheeeeap!

    I’m only 32 but I know it’s easy to get comfortable here with all the nice people. Going on my 2nd year full time with my husband and we love the lifestyle here. Unfortunately all ex-pats are viewed as rich folk with expendable money, jewelry, and gadgets 🙁 Some of the ex-pats here are…LOL, but no matter how much money you have, it feels awful to be a victim.

    Like I said I’m only in my 30s so I don’t know everything & there are definitely people out there have more experience living in Mexico…so please be kind in your replies. I’m simply offering for ex-pat-pals out there a fashioable solution for being safe while we are out there enjoying Playa and the many wonderful places in the Rivera Maya.

    Que vaya bien y tenga cuidosa. <3

  8. This is a scam that has been going on forever nation wide it’s not new our unique to one area.

  9. Having been a victim of the Catsup Caper it’s amazing how dumb you feel after it happens. Next time someone wants to help with something similar, for me I’ll go to Security rather than the Sanitorio.

  10. Tracy and Glenn McDougall | January 25, 2018 at 3:42 pm |

    It’s good advice, for sure. But why would anyone go into a bathroom or semi-secluded place with a perfect stranger , stain or no stain? That’s just plain ‘ol looking for trouble. Just my opinion.

  11. Why would anyone fall for this? I would never let a stranger help me with a “spot” on my shirt and I sure would never go to a bathroom and take off my shirt with a stranger. Crazy!!

  12. Judith Pelayo | January 25, 2018 at 4:08 pm |

    Really good information no matter where you are. Thank you.

  13. Kasha Rudner | January 25, 2018 at 4:09 pm |

    Thanks Paul.
    What in your opiniom would be the best reaction to such scam attempt?
    Say “I am calling security” or
    “ I am calling police”
    Scream out loud or just walk away?

    • We would recommend going to a store employee or manager and requesting assistance. If the person who approached you is actually a crook, they will most likely abandon their plan at that point.

      I edited the article to include that advice.

  14. Great advice, thanks!

  15. alice hesselrode | January 25, 2018 at 5:14 pm |

    I advise not carrying anything you don’t want to lose in a pocket. Carry my backpack in my front. If I have to set my package down I wrap it around my foot. But it is true that this sort of thing can happen anywhere. And when ever I hand someone money I state how much money I am handing them, Puedes cambiar doscientos? for example. I learned that by not getting proper change back. Great info as always

  16. I find it incredible that anyone would be naive enough to follow a stranger in the bathroom and remove their shirt, etc. People need to have some common sense – regardless of where they are.

  17. Isn’t it crazy to follow a complete stranger into a public bathroom on the pretense of something on the back of your shirt(or for that matter anything else)! Wouldn’t common sense tell you thanks, but I will take care of it later?
    Hard for me to understand this way of thinking. Incredible!

  18. Ethel aka Fran | January 25, 2018 at 5:50 pm |

    In other words, “trust, but verify!”

  19. Unfortunately, this just happened to my 84 year old buddy at the Chedraui by Playacar this past Sunday. I saw him yesterday and he described it word for word. Muther humpers, an 84 year old?!. But at least he wasn’t physically assaulted. But this guy is still very sharp. So he won’t accept a shopping buddy to mitigate. I fear his pride and false sense of personal abilities will lead to a physical encouter one day.

  20. sheila schultz | January 25, 2018 at 8:12 pm |

    Years ago, my husband and i were walking single file on a muddy path to a museum in Buenos Aires. Jim suddenly turned around accusing me of splashing mud on his shirt! It didn’t happen. All of a sudden women walking home from work on their diagonal path to the bus came rushing over to us to help.
    Fast forward… a flock of sick geese dropped their poop on our backs, and these kind women rushed to our rescue. They herded us to the nearby museum and washed the poop off our backs with a water spigot they knew existed with our kleenex. We were aware of the scam way back then and protected our $, but these were just nice women. My question has always been… would I be as kind? The honest answer has always been no.
    Be aware of your surroundings in Mexico as we all should be anywhere in the world. Also, be thankful to everyone that is just being kind. We backed into the taxi to take us back to our hotel! We were pretty gross!

  21. Richard Pargot | January 25, 2018 at 8:22 pm |

    For those who say they would never go with a stranger into a bathroom, don’t be so cocky and sure. I’m the guy it happened to, and when the brown stuff that looks like you know what is all over your back and running down your pants in the middle of a public place you just might go to a public bathroom, There are other people there. In the heat of the moment when somebody offers to help you in a embarrassing situation, let’s see how well you respond. And, yes, you feel like a fool.

  22. Good advice! New scam ! But then again happens all over the world, not just Mexico…Riviera Maya…

  23. Thanks for making us aware of such a scam. Another one I became aware of in Peru during an extended year stay. In a bus or market where crowds are passing close, one person will brush against you, knocking something out of your hands. While they are helping you recover something lost, someone else is getting your wallet or even has a hand in your bag. Down there razors are often used to slit a backpack.

  24. I had also read in the Pelican Press from Puerto Adventures that at the Chedaraui individuals were putting a sticky substance on the shopping cart handles or your car handle and while your discovering it on your hands your busy trying to wipe it off etc. Distraction. Meanwhile someone is taking your bags your purse etc.
    Be aware. Like anywhere.

  25. I have Pacsafe and Travelon bags as well. Lightweight, secure, washable. Love them. Some are quite stylish. Nice colors, good quality zippers.

    As, far as thieves, they should cut their hands off as they do in Saudi. No tolerance for that.

    I have traveled the world with Pan AM, and ONLY in the countries colonized by Spain is, there this assumption that if someone has more than you, you are entitled to steal from them. It isn’t in India, China, Europe, Vietnam… Anywhere the Spanish colonized, they left behind a culture of theft and gross corruption.

    • Your post is very unfortunate. I am just curious, what does someone like you, with the generalizing opinion that you give, is doing in this kind of blogs.

    • Linden, great Bigoted post! Thanks for reminding me why I no longer want to live in the states

  26. i My money hangs off the center of my bra in a special holder.and back back has steel mesh in it so can not be cut into. No purse ever and cheap watch. Money for the day in front pocket under crumbled tissue. Throw down wallet on hand if things get iffy and always travel insurance.

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