Avoid taxi scams in Buenos Aires, Argentina

They say a fool and her money are soon parted. I’ve never considered myself a fool, yet I hadn’t even reached the hotel when I found myself scammed out of $200 by the most cheerful taxi driver you would ever meet. No doubt his successful scam improved his mood further.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out that I’d been scammed, of course by then it was too late and I’d already donated to the cause of unscrupulous Buenos Aires taxi drivers. To rub salt in my wounds I was scammed not just once, but twice.

Taxi driver scams by charging in Dollars instead of Pesos

Be careful of Buenos Aires taxi drivers
Be careful of Buenos Aires taxi drivers

I thought we had done everything right. On arriving in Buenos Aires we went to the taxi stand to get a taxi. It’s always a good idea to get a taxi from the official taxi stand, rather than rely on someone who accosts you on your way out. At best they’re not fully legal and licensed as a taxi driver, at worst it could be life threatening.

After getting in the taxi the driver asked us if we spoke Spanish. He was a jovial sort, so we joked around a bit and said that we knew a few words – gracious, olya and the like. My guard hadn’t yet been raised. We chatted a bit on the way to the hotel, the taxi driver pointed out a few sites, and in general seemed a good, likable person.

After dropping my coworker off at her hotel we were off to the last stop. I was staying the the Marriott Plaza in Buenos Aires. The taxi driver pulled up next to the hotel, and then proceeded to give me a receipt for $120. US Dollars. I was initially taken aback. I hadn’t expected quite a high charge, but it wasn’t that far off a similar ride in Seattle – a ride about 70% as long costs $60 in Seattle. So after some questioning I decided to pay, after all he had an official receipt and all.

That was my first mistake. The price of a taxi from the airport to my hotel should have been about 180 Pesos, or about 1/4 of the price I was actually charged. I only found this out afterwards.

The first two mistakes I made were being so cavalier about not speaking the language, and not being firmer when the price seemed too high. I’m told that a good way to handle a situation like this in the future is just to walk away without paying.

Be careful of taxi drivers switching bills

The second scam happened so close to the first it still boggles my mind. I gave the taxi driver $140 – one hundred and two twenties. The second twenty being a tip (ahhh, how naive Vanessa, how naive…).  No sooner had I given him the money when he turned around and said, “No, you only gave me $41”. He held out the $41 back to me. Thinking I’d made a mistake I took the $1 and gave him two $50 bills back. It didn’t occur to me until later that in the split second he was out of site he’d switched my $100 for a $1, and proceeded to scam me out of the second $100.

Scammed even when you know it’s coming

Lest you think I was just ditzy, or perhaps a little jet lagged and not paying attention, let my coworker’s tale offer some more caution. Upon realizing that I was scammed I dashed off an email to my coworkers who were due to arrive the following day, letting them know the appropriate procedure – pay inside the airport with a credit card, and don’t get charged more than 200 Pesos.

With this warning in hand they successfully made it to the hotel without getting scammed. However it didn’t take more than two days before one of my coworkers was scammed in a very similar fashion to my bill switching event.

Bill switching scams come in all varieties

It was later at night, and he may have had a drink or two. The taxi driver asked him for 100 Pesos for the ride. My coworker handed him a 100 Peso bill, and within a split second he turned around and complained that the bill was torn, and asked for another one instead. Obligingly, my coworker fished another 100 Peso note out of his wallet and handed it to the cabby. Who then promptly turned around and complained that the note was fake, and handed it back to him.

In exasperation my coworker dug out another two 50 Peso bills and handed it to the taxi driver. It wasn’t until the next day that he discovered the slight of hand. The taxi driver had switched out the 100 Peso bills for fake ones each time, and scammed another 200 Pesos from our group.

In Buenos Aires a tourist and her money are soon parted. Be careful, and don’t trust the cabbies!

A Crooked Taxi Driver Caught on Camera


Photo by trekearth.