Gringos(as) are very easily and quickly identifiable in the middle of a Bolivian crowd, and represent the preferred target
for thieves. The few examples listed below are classics crimes committed against gringos, and give some idea of imaginative
techniques used to steal valuables. A well informed gringo(a) is better prepared for such experience. Remain vigilant regarding
your security and your travel will be trouble-free.
Robbery after diversion
- [true story] At the restaurant: a person drops the ketchup bottle on your trousers. You take
care of cleaning the stain on the clothes (or someone proposes to help you) or of picking up the bottle at your feet. These few
seconds of carelessness are sufficient to allow the thief to steal your wallet or rucksack.
- [true story] At the restaurant: From the street, a person knocks at the window shouting at you.
While you try to understand what this person wants to tell you, an accomplice standing in the restaurant takes advantage of the
situation to steal your wallet.
- [true story] In the bus: Someone "inadvertently" drops the content of his/her wallet on the ground.
Of course, you help to collect the coins, after leaving your jacket on the seat next to you. An accomplice sitting close to you has plenty
of time to empty the pockets of your jacket. The two thieves then quickly leave the bus before it departs. During the trip, you realise
what had just happened to you, but of course it is too late.
- [true story] In the street: Someone throws a glass of urine (!) at your face. After cleaning your face
and clothes, you realise your camera has disappeared
- [true story] On Plaza de Armas in Santa Cruz: A man pours a yellowish-brown liquid over your shoulder.
He starts talking to you, shows you a few pigeons above your head and offers to help you clean your clothes. During this diversion, the man
will manage to steal your wallet in your pockets (using a small razor).
When you find yourself in a situation that looks unusual or unbelievable, there is a high probability that you are the victim
of a robbery. First and foremost, have the reflex to protect your personal belongings, then and only then, react to the situation.
- Classics: Stealing hand bags, use of a razor blade to cut the pocket of rucksack, stealing jewelry (necklaces and earrings torn away)
- [true story] At the market: You spend some time wandering in the narrow, overcrowded streets. While putting
your hand into the pocket of your jacket, you feel by chance a hand that is not yours :-0...
- [true story] In the car at Santa Cruz: It is a very hot day, you drive the car with the windows open. You
rest your arm on the edge of the window. While stopped at a red light, someone jumps from nowhere and steals your watch with a magician's
dexterity. The thief quickly escapes leaving you bewildered in your vehicle.
- [true story] At the night club: there is a small scuffle, a person pushes you from behind onto another person.
Instinctively, you repel the person who is facing you not to embrace her. The thief then has no obstacle to reach your pocket and steals your wallet.
Front or back pockets, they are so professional that you don't feel anything!
- [true story] On the bus: At the bus terminal in La Paz, a man enters the bus where you are seated. He places his
large hand luggage next to yours in the storage closet above your head. Claiming lack of space, the man pushes back your bag, which disappears within
seconds through the window (where an accomplice is waiting) or through the door (after the false passenger had decided to cancel his trip), wrapped
in a blanket [Ref.: Pascalou135, www.voyageforum.com].
(1) Do not walk in the street with valuables (money, jewels), avoid hand bags and rucksacks that may catch the attention of thieves.
(2) When you do your shopping or withdraw some money (at the bank or ATM), do not publicly show the content of your wallet. A person with bad
intentions may notice you and follow you in the street waiting for the most appropriate time to attack.
(3) Do not show your camera unless you want to take a picture.
(4) While driving in a car, lock the doors and do not fully open the windows.
(5) On foot, especially at night, avoid streets with low traffic and neighborhoods that are known to be unsafe.
(6) Generally, when staring at a potential thief is enough to make him/her give up and choose another (easier) victim.
- The risk of "express kidnappings" is considered very high in Bolivia by the French Embassy.
- [true story] In Santa Cruz: Fake policemen dressed up in civilian clothes (using forged documents) ask to see
your documents in a downtown street. They invent a story about a gringo involved in an obscure crime, and ask you to follow them to the police
station for an identification check and also to go in their car (unmarked car). Avoid giving any document to strangers and refuse to enter their car.
- [true story, variante] In Santa Cruz, you have just taken a taxi that spontaneously came and offered its services to you.
A few minutes later, a fake police officer stops the taxi, shows his fake id, asks for your documents and requires the taxi driver to go immediately to the
police station. If you'r elucky and have have no luggage, take the first opportunity (traffic lights, traffic jam) to jump out of the taxi and run away.
- [true story, in Peru] At night, you take a taxi driven by an unofficial driver (the car has no distinctive
sign except the few letters "taxi" written on the front panel). The driver takes you to a narrow dead end street, another car then comes and
parks behind the taxi obstructing the exit. Armed accomplices steal all your valuables. You have no choice other than to obey.
(1) At night, avoid taxi drivers working for their own account. Take your phone and call radio taxi (taxi that is recognizable by the name and telephone number of
the company marked on the car). Avoid taking your credit card when you travel at night by taxi, kidnappers do not hesitate to use violence to get the PIN.
(2) Generally, you should select your taxi, avoid taking a taxi that has spontaneously offered its services to you. In train/bus stations and airports, you can
also ask other tourists to share with you the same taxi.
(3) In Bolivia, only police officers in uniform are authorized to check identity papers. Do not submit your documents to strangers, and refuse to ride in unmarked
cars. In case of emergency, if possible try to escape, and if you see a real policeman in uniform in the street, try to go in his direction.