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5 top scams in Costa Rica

The Judicial Investigation Police, or OIJ, recently released a list of the five most common scams in Costa Rica. Read through the list to see what people are falling for and how to avoid their mistakes.

1. Fake driver’s license

Driving in Costa Rica can be a bit of a contact sport and part of the reason is the number of drivers on the road who bribe their way into a driver’s license. According to the OIJ, some of these less-than-stellar drivers are getting scammed as they try to scam the system.

In this situation, someone leaves the Roadway Safety Council (COSEVI), which grants driver’s licenses, after failing a driver’s test. Scam artists approach the would-be driver as he leaves the office and offer to help him get his license for a price.

The fraudster claims to know people who work at COSEVI who can fudge the report and get the mark a license that same day. First, the scam artists take the mark’s money and then say that their contact at COSEVI needs a photo. Then they say that any photo will do and ask the person to use their camera phone to take the shot. Finally, they tell the unsuspecting driver that they need to take his phone inside COSEVI so their friend can download the photo, but they never return. By the end, the victim has lost the money he paid the scam artists and his phone.

OIJ advises people to avoid these offers, adding that even if the scam were real the buyer would be committing a crime by using a false document besides becoming the victim of a scam.

2. Homecoming interrupted

The swindler finds the contact information for a family here in Costa Rica who has relatives living in the United States or Mexico. The scammer calls the family impersonating the relative, claiming that they sound different because they are sick and their phone connection is bad. The imposter says he is planning to come back to Costa Rica and is bringing gifts.

Soon after, the family receives another phone call saying the relative has been detained in Mexico and the family must send money to post bail. Expecting the relative, the family deposits the money in remittance bank accounts without verifying the detention. The scammers trick the family into depositing still more money into the accounts to supposedly cover other costs. By now the money has been transferred to Mexico or the United States. 

Investigators remind people with family members outside of Costa Rica to always contact their relatives first to corroborate the story before depositing any money.

3. A deal too good to be true

Cars, even older used ones, are notoriously expensive in Costa Rica, so getting a good deal would catch anyone’s attention.

Hustlers from Europe advertise cars they supposedly own abroad or in Costa Rica for sale online at low prices. They use information from cars listed for sale in Costa Rica including the model, year, color and make of the vehicle to convincingly execute the fraud.

The seller requests the money be sent via money order under the name of one of the buyer’s relatives so as not to raise suspicion. The unscrupulous seller then asks for a scanned receipt of the deposit so they know it has gone through.

The scammers can then cash the money order since these countries do not require identification to prove if someone is authorized to claim the money.

OIJ recommends not depositing money into bank accounts of people you don’t know without first verifying where and in what condition the vehicle is in through the National Registry.

4. Oil money

Another common confidence scheme here in Costa Rica involves that classic of email scams: wealthy Nigerians who need someone’s help to get their money out of the country. OIJ noted that the scam could also involve people supposedly from Afghanistan, England, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates, among others.  

In this classic fraud, a wealthy person from abroad contacts a Costa Rican online and offers to give a percentage of huge sums of oil money they have that they cannot nationalize because of problems in their home country. The scammers ask for the Tico’s bank account numbers to send a portion of the fortune, but they also ask the Costa Rican to deposit between $500 and $5,000 in another bank account, supposedly to cover the legal fees to send the money to the unwitting Tico.

In attempt to allay any of the mark’s concerns, the scammer may tell the Costa Rican that the deposit can be in the name of one of their family members. The hustler, however, also requests the transaction number, allowing them to access the funds regardless.

OIJ recommends ignoring these emails and not sharing personal information with or deposit money into bank accounts of people you do not know. 

5. Craigslist scammers

Classified ads have long been a source for scams and it remains one of the most common in Costa Rica.

A supposed buyer calls someone advertising an item for sale, presenting himself as a doctor or other professional. The scam artist tells the seller to drop the item off at his office where he will pay the buyer.

The hustler then calls the seller on the day of the exchange claiming to be in a surgery or important meeting and is unable to meet the mark in person. The scam artist tells the seller to leave the item at a nearby business to hold in the meantime and meet him at another location to get paid.

After leaving the package with the collaborating business, the mark leaves to get his money only to find no one to pay him. Meanwhile, another scam artist picks up the package.

According to the OIJ, the phone calls for this scam sometimes originate in jails or prisons across the country and possible family or gang members carry out the theft.

OIJ recommends that if people decide to sell something online or in classified ads that they not hand over the item to anyone until they are paid.

OIJ received information on these scams through the investigative agency’s Confidential Information Center phone line, 800-8000-645. The agency’s fraud investigation team asks the public to please report any of the cases listed above or others to help shut down these scam artists.

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