Before I travel, I have a list of things that I do as a ritual. None of which includes searching for scams in a particular country. Well, until now!
I've never been one to worry when I travel as I carry the same conviction to any country that I visit. All this changed on my first trip to Colombia. I felt remarkable! I had just taken the cable car up to see Monserrate. At 3,152 meters above sea level, Monserrate will give you the most picturesque of shots while in Bogota.
Upon exiting the park, it began to rain. I check to see the estimating time for an Uber, then decided rather than waiting for 11 minutes I would catch a cab. I was in Bogota for three days at that point, taking taxies occasionally. I had just taken one from the Paloquemao to Monserrate. Up to this point, I had no reason to worry.
I would often use local taxies as my way of helping the local economy rather than using Uber. Nothing against Uber, however helping the local economy is the hallmark of any good tourist. So, I went across the street to the taxi stand and asked how much a cab ride would be to the Parque 93 area. His response, "my taxi is metered." I looked at the uber app, and it estimated the ride would be 27,000 COP. (USD 8.25) With that ballpark estimate in my head, I knew I wouldn't pay more than 35,000. I'd try to haggle as close to that price as possible. Accepting that cab ride, was the beginning of the end.
In the beginning, the cab ride was going smooth. To think of it, I had no problems the entire time. I even interacted with the driver and learned a few more Spanish words. As I got closer to my location, I did notice the driver was going around in circles. Since Bogota closes some of its streets on Sundays for the cyclist, I figured he was trying to avoid those streets.
He pulled up to the side of my hotel (despite the rain) and quoted me a price of 30,500 COP (USD 9.32). It was close enough so I decided not to haggle the price. I handed him a 50,000 COP note and expected my change. He then said, "I'm sorry, no cash." A bit baffled, I replied, why. He explained his company doesn't accept cash only cards. I proceeded to pay with my American Express Platinum card.
Declined, he shouted. In what seems like a total 360 mood change, he almost became hostile as if I tried to short him. He insisted that I should use a debit card. I now understood this was a scam! I told him the American Express was the only card I had and he should accept the 50,000 COP note I gave him as it was all I had. He then presented a 5,000 COP note stating I only gave him 5,000 COP and that I was trying to short him. Prior to this, I went to the ATM and withdrew 300,000 COP, 200, 000 of which I used at Monserrate. Before entering the cab I verified I had 100,00 COP ensuring I had enough to pay him before I got in. Therefore, I didn't have a 5,000 COP bill to give him in the first place.
He grew even more hostile. I noticed he parked where no one in the hotel would realize. I began to think. 45,000 COP (USD.13.75) was not worth me risking my safety, so I gave him a second 50,000 COP note (USD. 15.28) and got out of the cab. He then gave me 19,000 COP (USD 5.81) stating he had no smaller change. He stole another 500 COP (USD. 015) for good measure.
As he left, I replayed the incident in my head. I concluded I was just robbed. Using the receipt from the cab, I tried to report it. The only thing that did was aggravate me even more as the police acted like they didn't speak English. Proving my efforts to be futile, I returned to the hotel and canceled my American Express card. I took a nap as I was deflated and annoyed. I woke up to this.
Not only did he take 46,000 COP (USD 14.05) from me in cash, he then attempted to withdraw 600,000 COP (USD 191.50) from my card. For those who don't understand the amount, 600,000 COP is the maximum limit for an ATM card in Colombia. Thankfully I canceled my card.
In one afternoon, I experienced five taxi scams. (Same driver)
1. BEING OVERCHARGED. To this point, Uber and taxies were very similar in price. I spent 30,500 COP (USD 9.32) which was 3,500 COP (USD 1.07) more.
2. TOURING. He purposely drove a longer route so he could charge more.
3. CURRENCY SWAP. He switched the 50,000 note and the 5,000 note after creating a distraction hoping I didn't realize, then accused me of lying once I knew what he had done.
4. SHORT CHANGE. Stating he doesn't have enough cash to give me my full change.
5. SKIMMING. Scanned my card to wipe the details so he could use at a later date.
After the ordeal, I used uber and hotel cabs for the rest of my trip. It was a terrible feeling, almost like my prie was taken away. For the rest of the trip, I went to the ATM and used cash to avoid canceling any more cards.
When I got back to Atlanta, irony struck twice. Since my card got canceled, I went out to take a cab instead of an Uber. I got quoted a price of USD 10.00 to take me to the Delta Museum. Once I got to the museum, the driver stated he only had six dollars change for my twenty. Considering what I had just endured, I could only laugh. I smiled and acted like I didn't hear him and walked away. I then immediately added my debit card to my Uber account for my return journey.
To the Taxi drivers of the world, I know Uber has drastically changed the way you do business and the amount of money you make, however, please stop taking it out on hard working people aiming to have a good time.
Editors Note: Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any parties mentioned. None of the entities mentioned has reviewed, approved or endorsed the content listed in this post.