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Backpacking Scams: The Distract and Grab in Ecuador

Welcome to the highly popular bi monthly blog here on Boyletoday.com from ‘Next Stop Who Knows’.

The blog is written by Boyle natives Carlo Cretaro and Florence Murphy who left their homes in Boyle 7 years ago to travel the world and start an online business. They visit some weird and wonderful places and write about their experiences on their blog over at www.nextstopwhoknows.com. Specialising in web design and lead generation for local businesses, you can read more about their services at www.nextstopmarketing.com

South America was on our bucket lists for years and, back in 2014, we finally set off on an 8-month backpacking trip. One of our major concerns on this trip was safety, or rather lack of it! 

We’d read about the gangster hold ups, the crazy kidnaps by taxi drivers and the violent muggings. We left Boyle with our guard on high and an intention not to let it down again until we were back on familiar grounds. 

Fast-forward 30 weeks. We’d hiked to Macchu Piccu. We cycled the world’s most dangerous road – the Death road – in La Paz, Bolivia. We lived in Medellin, Colombia where we met Pablo Escobar’s brother. We spent days in Potosi; one of the highest cities in the world. 

And we did it all without getting kidnapped or mugged. Success! 

We were sat in a McDonalds in Quito, Ecuador and reflected on the weeks gone by. We had two weeks to go and home was on the horizon. Our guard was down a little as our bucket list was ticked and the excitement of seeing everyone was kicking in. 

Guard Down, We Were About To Become A Victim of Ecuador’s Biggest Scam

I was just tucking into a McChicken Sandwich when a lady tapped me on the shoulder. She was middle-aged and wearing a business suit. She was pointing to my coat and a runny brown liquid that was now covering it. 

Thinking it was bbq sauce or something similar; I thanked her and continued eating. Moments later, she was back at my side holding her nose and pointing at my jacket. 

Picking it up to see what she was getting so excited about, I realised that it wasn’t bbq sauce. It was poo. 

Yes, human poo. 

Not wanting to let it drip on the floor, I rushed off to the toilet without thinking. 

Whilst I was gone, a man (also dressed in a business suit), nudged at Carlo whilst eyeing up some keys on the floor. Without thinking, Carlo bent down to pick up the keys. He looked at them, signalled to the man that they didn’t belong to us but that he’d leave them behind the counter for the owner. 

The man nodded and walked off.   

What Really Happened

Moments later we were watching the security footage of how this woman and her three sidekicks plotted to steal my phone. Their tools were a bag of poo, a set of keys and a few well-timed taps and some mean manoeuvres. 

I ran off to the toilet – just like they’d wanted. Carlo gave them the seconds they needed to take my phone and bent down to pick up the keys – just like they’d wanted. We’d fallen for it all. 

The McDonald’s store manager called the police and they arrived to watch the video with us. In broken English, they said they’d take us to the police station to file a report. 

Picture this; It was now lunchtime and McDonalds was packed to the hilt. Like the Little Chick used to be years ago after Cartown! Now imagine two foreigners being escorted out of the back office by four policemen. What would you think if you saw two foreigners being escorted down Mary’s steps by Fergal O’Donnell and his Garda colleagues!

You’d think they did something wrong, right? Which is exactly what people were thinking when they saw us. Drugs? Robbery? You could see it on their faces. We were mortified! 

We got to the station and I filed my own police report whilst the officers laughed at me as I sat in the detective’s chair. Needless to say that we never got the phone back and our guards went back up again! 

****

Key takeaways? 

Never let your guard down, even when you’re at the end of a trip. 

If someone taps you on the shoulder to tell you your jacket is covered in poo, don’t just rush off to the toilet. It turns out that this ‘distract and grab’ scam is notorious in South America and hundreds of tourists are conned every year. They can use ketchup or mustard too so be aware! 

Look at the positives. I’d rather have lost a phone than be kidnapped by a taxi driver who’s desperate to make money – It’s all about that silver lining, right?  

(Log on again on April 9th for more from ‘Next Stop Who Knows’ only on Boyletoday.com)

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