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Small Band Hustlers in San Jose

by C. H.

...Costa Rica Pura Vida

...Costa Rica Pura Vida

Small band of youngish (teens +/-) all hustled around me when I was getting into a taxi in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was dusk, the street was crowded, but extra crowded as I was making my way into the back seat of the taxi- I should have made note of this, paid attention to my gut.

I had my wallet out before I got into the cab (bad idea). I was looking for the business card of the hotel where I was staying so that I could tell the driver. I thought that that was quite smart of me. I was savvy, I thought, so the driver would not take advantage of me. I'd act confident and sort of "take charge" before he could.

The crowd hustled and bustled all around me, shouting things, "Madam! Madam! come this way" "No, Madam! Come this way!". All quite distracting. As I looked this way and that a young man just grabbed my wallet out of my hand and took off running with it while the crowd pushed and jostled in, closing in around me. I did break away from the crowd and chase him, but he was faster and had a head start.

I got back in the taxi, thinking he would be sympathetic, he'd seen my terrible plight! But alas, he was part of the scam. Drove me in an around about way to my destination, feigning ignorance. This gave the crooks time enough to fill a tank of gas for their vehicle and buy some beer and groceries, and then throw the card away. They use the card for just a few purchases, typically, then toss it away because they know it will be reported as stolen and they don't want to get caught.

Another lesson learned: don't keep your passport in your wallet. That made my life a bit difficult, but only for a day. I had copies of all of the stolen documents stored safely away from my wallet. It was invaluable. I was able to resolve most of the issues that night via phone and computer. You can fill out lost U.S. Passport documents on line to have ready when you show up at the Embassy (early) the next morning. It was an adventure. A travel experience. Not quite a nightmare, just an inconvenience and lesson learned.

Comments for Small Band Hustlers in San Jose

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Jun 02, 2010
Thanks for a different kind of 'heads up'

Your story is an important reminder about how scams can happen and how quickly it can all be over.

Thank goodness that you were a savvy enough traveler to have had copies of your passport separate and that you were physically safe. 'Stuff' can always be replaced, despite the hassles involved.

But what really caught my attention and is a 'heads up' is that this is the first time I've heard of people having this kind of problem in Costa Rica. In Canada it has a reputation for being very safe. And while it may be, as I talk to people heading there I'll be sure to let them know that it may be safe but they still have to be awake and alert!

Thanks for the 'heads up'!

Gwen McCauley

Jun 02, 2010
Lessons Learned
by: Leyla

Catherine, it's great to hear about what you did right, and what you did wrong - we can all learn a lesson from what happened to you and I hope travel more safely.

The big lesson is to trust your gut, of course, and clearly the basics - like not keeping your passport with your money - are things to be remembered. But more importantly is what you did RIGHT - like having the hotel card in the first place, and carrying photocopies of your passport. This is a stark reminder that although we can never avoid everything that comes our way, we can certainly minimize the hassle that results from running into trouble!

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