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“He’s landed in Chile”, Rosh read Hosh’s message aloud for the benefit of the family, “and reached his hostel safely in the capital city Santiago”.
“But …”, his excitement turned to concern as he read on, “he’s been scammed!”
Josh and Isha gathered around him, bombarding him with questions.
“Apparently”, he summarized for them what he had read, “an “official” convinced Hosh that he was helping him.”
“And ended up ripping him-off by taking eight 10,000 peso notes to pay for an 80 pesos fare.”
“How?” asked Josh.
“By “convincing” him that a 10,000 note was not enough to pay an 80 peso fare. He needed to pay eight of these notes”, answered Rosh.
“If a 1,000 pesos is about 2 NZD”, Josh calculated, “he’s just paid a scam artist $160 for a fare that should have been $0.16.”
“That’s not like taking a 100 pesos for an 80 pesos fare”, Isha was gob smacked by the magnitude of the scam, “that’s taking over a 1,000 times more than was due!”
“How could he be so confused?” Rosh flared, “He’s educated and well-travelled. He would have known the value of the notes, because he would have bought them only after landing in Chile not more than a few hours ago.”
“Don’t let them get away with it next time”, Rosh messaged back to Hosh, as the other two chattered in the background.
“Don’t pay! Create a scene. Call the cops. The telephone number for the cops there is 133. Hope you got the scammer’s name, so you can go and report to the police if you want.”
“Yeah, I must have let my guard down”, Hosh wrote back with a sad face, “All signs were dodgy when I think about it now.”
“Tell the hostel people your story”, replied Rosh, “See if they can do something to help you. You are going to stay there for at least another couple more days anyway, so you have the time to even lodge a police complaint."
"It would all be part of the South American experience for you. You’d get to see how that society really reacts and responds to a tourist problem like this. Don’t let a learning opportunity go to waste.”
“Tell him to pay only on arrival”, Josh suggested, “and not before he starts the trip. And tell him not to worry about it now! Chile is beautiful and he will love it, if he doesn't let this incident get in his way.”
“Maybe write the taxi number or take a photo of their license plates, if it is safe to do so in future”, Isha added. Rosh forwarded it all to his son.
“Yeah, thanks. It’s been a bad start for me, but I’m not going to let this ruin my whole trip.” Hosh wrote back to his father and closed their electronic conversation.
But he was gutted. He was only a student, had a very limited budget and his trip had only begun. He stopped by at the reception, told them about the incident and asked if something could be done.
“My partner and I have been in Santiago just over 24 hours”, a guest waiting at the reception had overheard his story and joined in, “and out of the 5 taxis we have caught, we have been scammed 3 times.”
“Watch out for the sleight of hand when handing out cash. I gave a taxi driver a 10,000 peso note and all of a sudden he was giving me back a 1,000 peso note telling me I hadn't given him enough.”
“It happened so quickly that I naturally assumed I had made a mistake. It was only after we had got back into the hostel room and counted our money that we realized what had happened.”
“Even though we were aware of it, it happened two more times. It happens so quickly that you naturally doubt yourself. It's a very easy scam to fall for.”
“I recently took a cab from Merced to Providencia”, a tourist from across a nearby table spoke up, ”it should have costed 10,000 Pesos. But the guy locked me in the cab and would not let me out until I gave him all the pesos I had on me. He kept screaming at me in very rapid Spanish.”
“I was thinking of tracking him down and reporting him to police but I doubted they'd do anything. It was a black and gold cab and will be the last time I use them here. I've also been ripped off by an Airbnb host here - not a great first week in this town I have to say.”
“A lot of these scams probably go unreported and unpunished”, another guest joined in, “because the tourists don't want any trouble when they're here on a holiday.”
“Try to have small bills to pay with”, the receptionist suggested, “less than 10,000 peso notes. Or make a big deal out of counting the zeros on the bill.”
“When paying with a 10,000 note or larger, tell the taxi driver something like this when you hand it to him/her: "Pagando con dies mil pesos" or "pagando con veinte mil pesos".
“If there are other people in the taxi”, another guest joined the conversation, “show them the note as well, before giving it to the taxi driver.”
“Another good tip I read, is to show the taxi driver the note but keep it in your hand until he acknowledges the note or until he gets your change.”
“I'm sure not all taxi drivers in Santiago are trying to rip tourists off”, said Hosh, “there are bad eggs everywhere, but it sure hurts when it happens to you.”
“There are other frequent things Santiago cab drivers do”, said another tourist, “They will claim that the straight road to your destination is crowded and drive you around an extra few km so their bill comes higher.”
“Another trick is to sit on a left turning lane way too long - just to let the meter go. Maybe they do it because fares are cheap (between $3-$8 for short trips inside the city) and the cab drivers don’t get tipped.”
“Yeah”, agreed another, “so it’s best to find out in advance how long it will take you to go where you need to, and how much it will likely cost.”
“Plan your trip beforehand using a website like taxímetro. It has a tariff calculator which tells you approximately how much a taxi will cost when you enter the origin and destination. And it even gives you directions in English.”
“In general, it's safe to hail a taxi from the street but if you don't know anything about the city or how to get to a particular destination, then chances are higher that you'll be taken for a ride.”
“But if you have directions printed out from Google Maps or Taximetro.cl and you specifically tell the driver the route he should take, then you should be fine.”
“Pay the cabs in pesos not in US$, or you’ll get ripped-off on their exchange rate too. They usually change at a rate of 500 Chilean pesos to 1 USD even though the official rate is around 680-700 pesos to 1 US$ currently.”
“Get money from the ATMs. There are plenty in Santiago and all are safe. The rate is much better at the ATMs too!”
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