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HomeTopicsExpat LivingThe Art of the Con: How Swindlers Thrive in Costa Rica

The Art of the Con: How Swindlers Thrive in Costa Rica

Anyone who has spent significant time in Costa Rica has a rip-off story to tell. From a credit card used without authorization to an overcharge when filling the gas tank, every few minutes a new victim counts his or her losses. Swindlers abound in Costa Rica, separating the innocent from their money and vanishing into the night– or into cyberspace.

I recently joined a Facebook page called Estafadores en Costa Rica (Con Artists in Costa Rica). It makes for interesting reading. As you might expect, there is a continuous flow of new posts each week. Scammers would not exist if there were not so many innocents ready to take the bait. To a person experienced in dealing with these types, many of the scams seem obvious.

A person offering iphones at half the price one would normally pay, accepting payment only in bitcoin or via moneygram, and with a Facebook address somewhere in England, is a parade of red flags. Yet someone fell for it.

The variety of swindles in a given week might feature furniture that is never delivered, baby clothes that are never worn by the newborn, shoes that are never run in, purebred dogs that don’t actually exist, construction materials paid for that are never received, drivers ed classes that are continually canceled and ‘computer experts’ whose main expertise is getting money from whichever suckers are ready to pay in advance for a service they will never receive. All of these swindles have a few things in common.

One is that the seller and buyer never actually meet in person, and in every case I have seen, never speak either. All communication is by message, mostly via Whats App or Facebook Messenger. The buyer then pays either a deposit or the full amount in advance without receiving the product.

The swindler, in time, blocks the person duped or simply shuts down the fake profile, and creates a new one, in search of a new victim. The comments below each scam victim’s post are a mix of sympathy and derision. Sometimes there are responses from people who claim to have been scammed by the same person, or else fallen to a similar scam.

Others scoff at the naivete of the poster and ask the obvious question of how anyone could front money without actually knowing the person they are dealing with. Some of the complaints are humorous. One guy got a fast-food job, needed the food handlers permit, and found someone who would sell him a permit for 15000 colons, without taking the course. The fast-food worker took the bait, paid, and was told by his bosses that the permit was a fake.

He then posted his story on the site in full indignation, seemingly unaware of the irony. Lately there is a woman with a California facebook address, who appears on the threads telling victims that she has experience in these matters, and to contact her for help in getting their product paid for or their money back.

This is another red flag poster, offering what is likely the chance for victims to double down on their gullibility and be conned from the very Facebook page that is a forum for those who have lost– a swindle within a swindle! You could say it all starts at the top.

In my 30 years here, I have lost count of the number of cases involving high ranking officials accused of financial crimes. Few are seriously punished. And all of these grifters are minor league compared to the guy who was once an invited guest of Costa Rica. Fifty years ago, fugitive financier Robert Vesco escaped from the US to Costa Rica with a cool 200 million dollars in looted funds. He was so generous with his stolen money that the congress passed a law protecting him from extradition.

It took five years and a change of presidents before the law was repealed and Vesco was booted from the country, doubtless less wealthy than when he arrived.

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