7 Common Scams in Colombia: How to Avoid Being Conned

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Stay one step ahead of the con artists on the streets of Colombia with these tips from our local insider, Jacqui de Klerk.


Colombian money Photo © iStock/David_Guanga

Colombia is synonymous with news of drugs, kidnappings and murders. But ask any traveler who has traveled through this incredible country recently and they’ll tell you there’s nothing to worry about – as long as you go in there prepared and keep your wits about you.

Travel scams are performed by cunning locals all around the world, and in Colombia there are a few scams to watch out for.

1. Corrupt or Fake Police

If you’re in a seedy area and a policeman stops and asks to check your pockets or to verify documents, request to go to a police station or hotel to do it. It’s happened before; a corrupt/fake policeman has either stolen money from the foreigner’s pockets or planted drugs – with the foreigner having to pay a hefty bribe.

How to avoid it: Always leave your passport at the hotel and only carry a photocopy and entry stamps.

2. Short Encounters

Beware of people who try to sell you magazines or stickers when sitting at outside restaurants. During the short encounter and mild distractions, they quietly steal your phone from under the magazines.

How to avoid it: Never leave valuables on the table or bags on the back of chairs that face the street.

3. Pro Negotiators

Vendors sometimes set the price much higher than it should be. During the negotiation process when the price drops, the buyer feels proud of their negotiating skills, and the vendor is paid an appropriate price.

How to avoid it: It’s always good to know the average costs of things before you start haggling.

4. Fake Goods

Colombian market stalls
A flea market in Bogota, Colombia. Photo credit: iStock/ChandraDhas

Prices often denote quality and authenticity, so if the price of a supposedly genuine item is too cheap, it could be fake.

How to avoid it: Ask your hotel where you can find legitimate locally produced items.

5. Don’t Show the Money

To avoid being ripped off by a street vendor, never show how much money you have until you have agreed upon a price. If the vendor sees you have a large note, he might not be so inclined to haggle with you.

How to avoid it: Another way to get a good deal is to arrive at a stall with a big smile and a friendly buenos días señor! Keep in mind that the starting price is not always the final price — there is always room for a bit of negotiating.

6. Switching Banknotes with Taxi Drivers

Before you get in a taxi, always agree on a price and ask if he has change for a large note (if you don’t have small ones).

Pay attention during the money exchange, often, when a traveler hands over a 20,000 note to the driver, he distracts you for a moment and then tells you, showing a 2,000 note, “Oh, you only gave me $2,000”.

Or, you hand the driver a 50,000 note and he returns the note saying, “No change”. You insist that’s all you have and magically he finds change. The next day you try to pay with that 50,000 note that he gave back to you, and you’re told it is fake.

How to avoid it: Try to always carry small banknotes and always check returned notes to see if they are fake.

7. Going Round and Round

When taking taxis, pay attention and use an offline GPS to ensure that you are going in the right direction, and not going around in circles, wasting time so that you end up paying more. The safest option is Uber, where your ride is tracked at all times. Make sure the driver keeps the app open.

How to avoid it: Tell them you've taken that particular route before - even if you haven't. That way they think you're onto them, so they're less likely to take the long way.

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  • Bernard Barbour said

    Thanks,I'll be visiting Columbia soon and this is very helpful

  • Alexis Frankel said

    Sure, but how could you tell the money is fake?A little easier said than done.

  • Evangelina said

    The foto shows $2. That's money from Argentina. But the tips also function here.

    ALEXIS FRANKEL. When you give a big amount note, always check the serial number before. If the other person returns it saying is fake or that he or she doesn't have change, check the serial number. It helps if u take a picture of all the big notes you have. That is what I do when I travell.

  • David from Travelscams.org said

    This is an article anyone visiting Colombia should read, thanks for the tips! Indeed, Colombia is one of the most enjoyable countries to visit in South America, with colorful street culture, gorgeous enclaves, Inca architecture, gleaming cities and the largest rainforest on earth to offer.

    However, there are tourist-targeting scammers and petty crime to be wary of. https://travelscams.org/south-america/common-tourist-scams-colombia/

    Do be wary of fraudulent hiking tours, drink or food spiking, overcharging restaurants, overcharging taxi drivers, overnight cross border bus thefts, long taxi routes, shoe shine scam, fake police and many more!

  • Cody said

    Ran into a scam my past trip to Cartegena. Outside of the airport I went to a guy wearing a taxi uniform and who was wearing a badge id so I had assumed he was who I should go to instead of the other taxi drivers running up to me asking me loads of questions. He got a taxi for my friend and I and asked for 20 million pesos and I refused as I knew the price for a taxi where I was headed shouln't be more than 12 mill. We agreed on 10 mill which I thought was a fair price so I gave him the cash and went on my way to our destination. The taxi driver then asked for 14 mill and stated the 10 mill I paid to the guy at the airport was a tip for him helping us with the taxi. At that point I had to pay him way more than it should have been for a 15 min taxi ride across the city.

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