Bolivia: Warnings of Scams in El Alto

Falling victim to scams in Bolivia is not uncommon. Attempts to swindle people out of money come in all shapes and sizes, and often come at times when people are most vulnerable, in a hurry or when they are alone, for example. There is a term called “El Cuento del Tío” that is often used to describe these tricks targeted on people in attempt to receive money or other material goods. There is no exact translation for the phrased, but it loosely means, “The Uncle's Story” and can refer to a relative or the god of the mine shafts.

Two bloggers from El Alto share their experiences of being deceived, as well as a failed attempted to be tricked, respectively. They both wanted to share their stories, so that the same thing does not happen to anyone else.

Nancy Condori of El Chairo [es] retells her experience during some travels with her mother, where they fell for a convincing story:

Al promediar aproximadamente las 8 de la noche, nos encontrabamos en la terminal de el Alto en busca de una Flota con destino a Potosí ,en vista de que mi madre se dedica al comercio y entre tanto lleva mercadería al lugar ya mencionado; entonces, como era un dia de demanda de pasajeros no había flota disponible para transvordarla,tanta era la desesperación de viajar supongo que el antisocial se dió cuenta y se acerco a nosotras ofreciendonos llevarnos, indicando de que venía de la terminal de la ciudad una flota vacía y que podía cargar toda la mercadería afirmando que era ayudante te una linea de buses X, pero a cambio teníamos que adelantarle para reservar espacio, bueno mi madre le adelanto un monto considerable para tal hecho.

Sin embargo nosotras no fuimos a la oficina de tal empresa para serciorarnos de que ese tipo pertenecía al personal, hasta que llego tal flota a la parada, mi madre se subio tranquila y yo le dije al ayudante que estaba cargando en ese momento las maletas suba mis bultos pero, el me dijo su boleto y le dije le page al otro ayudante, no existe ningun otro ayudante respondió, me quedé asustada y mi madre al percatarse de tal situación hizo un escandalo porque el muchacho que le cobró ya no aparecía en esos momentos, no sabíamos que hacer talvez es culpa nuestra por confiar y no aserciorarnos de que era cierto de lo que decía ese muchacho ladrón y no pudimos rescatar tal dinero fue una estafa que podíamos evitar si hubiésemos comprado los boletos de la boleteria.

At approximately 8 pm, we were in the bus terminal in El Alto looking for a bus heading to Potosí, and since my mother is a businesswoman, every once in awhile she takes merchandise to that city; since it was a high demand day there was no longer any seats. We were so desperate to travel that the delinquent must have noticed and approached us offering to take us. He indicated that there was an empty bus coming from La Paz, and that he could help us load the cargo, assuring us that he was an employee of the X bus line. However, in exchange, we needed to pay him in advance in order to reserve space. My mother gave him a considerable amount for advance payment for this.

However, we did not go to the office of this company to make sure that this man belonged to the staff, until the bus arrived to stop. My mother boarded the bus and I told the bus assistant that they were loading the suitcases and cargo. The assistant asked for the bus fare and I told him that I already paid the other assistant. There is no other assistant, he responded. I became scared and when my mother noticed what was happening, made a huge fuss because the man already charged her and did not appear at that time, we didn't know what to do. Maybe it was our fault for trusting and for not making sure what the thief was telling us and we could not get out money back. It was a scam that could have been avoided had we bought the tickets at the ticket counter.

Marisol Medina of Lengua, Cultura y Sociedad [es] was a little more vigilant when she soon noticed that things were too good to be true:

Estaba en la ceja de la ciudad de El Alto esperando a unos amigos para ir a pasear por alguna extraña razón llegue temprano, y como era domingo no había mucha gente. Me encontraba sola y de pronto se me acerca dos mujeres que afirmaban ser de la empresa COCA COLA y que estaban entregando premios.

Bueno la señora me da un calendario con dos papeles envueltos y me dice que los abra para ver que me gane (lo mas increíble era lo rápido que hablaba esta señora, realmente te confundía). Abrí el primer papel y según ella me gane 10 bolivianos yo me alegre luego me ice que abra el segundo papel y lo hice me gane 15 camisetas las cuales, según ella, debía recoger en la empresa con mi carnet de identidad.

Lo siguiente que paso es que ella me dice que le tengo que dar 100 bolivianos si quiero ganarme mas premios y ahí fue cuando me di cuenta del engaño hice una mueca con mi cara la cual no pude disimular y la señora me pregunta que me pasa y yo le dije que nada. Bueno la señora sigue y me pregunta si quiero ganarme más premios, y yo le dije ¡NO! Me pregunta por mi celular y yo le seguí respondiendo ¡NO! Las dos señoras se apuraron y se marcharon llevandose los 10 pesos que me había ganado. Creo que se dieron cuenta de que yo ya me había dado cuenta de su artimaña

I was in the Ceja (area of the city with a lot of pedestrian and public transport traffic) in El Alto, waiting for some friends. For some strange reason, I arrived early and because it was Sunday, there were not many people. I was alone and soon two women approached me saying that they were from the COCA COLA company and that they were giving away prizes.

One woman gave me a calendar with two wrapped papers. She told me to open them to see what I had won (what was incredible was how fast the woman spoke, she really confused me). I opened the first paper and according to her, I won 10 bolivianos (approximately $1.50 USD), which made me happy. Later, she told me to open the second paper and told me that I had won 15 t-shirts, which according to her, I must pick up at the company with my identification card.

Later, she told me that I should give her 100 bolivianos (approximately $14.00 USD), if I wanted to win more prizes. That is when I realized that it was a trick. I sneered, which I could not hide and she asked me what was wrong and I told her nothing. The woman continued and asked if I wanted to win more prizes, and I said No! She asked to see my mobile phone and I continued to say No! The women hurriedly left and took the 10 bolivianos that I had supposedly won. I think they realized that I knew about their trick.

These types of attempted scams happen in every large city in Bolivia, and comes in different variations. These bloggers share their experiences, so that others can spot similar attempts in the future.

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