I didn’t want the thing, but knew I wouldn’t bother to return it. The next morning, I decided to open it. The box was empty. The realization dawned on me. We’d been scammed.
It was kind of fun to shop so much
The first week we were living in Mexico, we went to the store nearly everyday. It turned out that we needed so many things, especially since our shipment wouldn’t arrive for an unknown amount of time (it took 37 days total and 33 days after arrival). After a trip to Walmart, we returned home and put our items away. I discovered a box for some special deodorant among our stuff. It wasn’t ours and yes, we paid for it. It was around $4 or $5 USD.
The next morning, I decided to get the deodorant out and use it because I knew I wouldn’t bother taking it back with my non-existent Spanish language skills. The box was empty.
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we aren’t the first and we won’t be the last
We aren’t the first of our expat group to be scammed. One woman has had more than her share of scams: being charged $40 at the movies for one person, being forced to pay $1200 pesos (over $65 USD) for a bad car wash in another Walmart’s parking lot and then harassed after she wouldn’t let anyone wash her car there anymore. Someone went as far as to scratch her car. For the record, car washes run between $50-$60 pesos ($2.75-$3.25 USD at the time of publication) for someone to come to your house to wash and vacuum your car.
Scams are not unique to Mexico (I’m looking at you, “Nigerian prince” email scams). However, people will take advantage of Americans and other naive travelers here and in other parts of the globe. Even in America, too! A friend of mine had his wallet stolen while he was vacationing in Hawaii. Should you avoid these places? NO! Here are some tips to stay safe while living in Mexico (and some may apply to other areas).
A few tips
1. If there is a part of town you are warned to stay away from, stay away from it. This seems like a no-brainer, but needs to be said, especially if you will live somewhere long term and plan do a lot of exploring.
2. Be aware that going out at night deserves extra caution (for men and women both) and it is best to stick to areas that you know. We’ve gotten lost in iffy areas during the day. And you definitely want to avoid the bad areas at night.
3. Costco seems to be a better option than Walmart, at least in central Mexico. I still shop at Walmart, but there are a few things I do differently now. I have the cashier wait until all of my items are on the belt before I let them start scanning. This is normal here and people don’t complain or roll their eyes about the wait. Count the items as you put them on the belt. Once you have your receipt, check that the number of items matches the number you counted.
4. Tip your bagger.
5. I do not have the parking lot people wash my car. If you do, get the price in advance. Once you either agree or they’ve done the washing and stated a price, you will have to pay. I certainly don’t want to pay $65 American dollars for a car wash with dirty water and then be harassed every time I return to the store.
6. Do tip the parking lot attendants before you leave. I park in the same row every time and tip the attendant very well (no less than 10 pesos). This goes for all grocery stores where you aren’t otherwise paying for parking. I do not believe the attendants are employed by the store in most cases, but they are allowed to be there and will help prevent thefts from your car. They will remember you, especially if you stand out because you look different.
7. Do not leave your purse unattended. The same woman I mentioned above almost had her wallet stolen at, you guessed it, Walmart. she left her purse open as she paid the cashier. When she turned back to put her change in her purse, the patron behind her had her hand on the wallet. Again, this can happen anywhere. I had my wallet stolen from a community center in Columbus, Ohio.
8. Those of us distracted by kids will be more likely targets for petty theft and that will hold true in Mexico, the USA, and anywhere. I purchased an anti-theft purse before moving, so I had that much more protection, just in case my attention is elsewhere. It may not prevent theft, but might slow it down enough that I don’t become a victim.
avoid the scams
I hope these tips help you avoid scams in central Mexico and around the world. Look up the known scams in your area of travel. Also, always be aware of your surroundings. The world isn’t necessarily crazy dangerous, but people will take advantage of a distracted or other easy looking target. There are steps you can take to keep you and your family safe.
Go forth and safely travel!