Buenos Aires: How Not to Get Robbed (Part Two)

Gringo in Buenos AiresHacking Buenos Aires13 Comments

(In Part Two of this guide, we look at ‘the squirt’ and at muggings and shakedowns. Enjoy!)

The squirt

The squirt is really just pick pocketing with a specific misdirection technique, but it’s become so common that we will give it a section all of its own.

The squirt usually works like this: a perp comes up to the victim and spills or squirts something onto their clothes, often onto their back where they won’t notice it right away. If the perp is being observed, they’ll make it look like an accident. The substance is usually food: mustard; chocolate milk, tomato sauce or something similar. This is the first step.

Next either the same perp or their accomplice approaches the victim, if necessary points out the stain, and offers to help clean it off, maybe in a nearby bathroom. The victim is highly distracted by the unexpected mess on their clothes, and by the process of trying to get cleaned up, making it very easy for the perp to pick pocket the victim while they’re doing so.

How not to fall victim to the squirt:

If you’re out in public at a tourist spot and you suddenly find that something has been spilled on you, remember that it probably wasn’t an accident. Forget about trying to get it cleaned up right away. Keep your hand on your wallet, get out of the area fast, and definitely don’t accept help from any strangers. Also, be wary of anyone doing a bad impersonation of a tourist, as often the perp in this type of scam will pretend to be one in order to deflect suspicion.

Muggings and shakedowns

It would be good (or at least better) if the only robberies in Buenos Aires were of the pick pocketing / bag snatching type, but unfortunately muggings and shakedowns – where violence or the threat of violence is used – do occur. Usually they happen at night and in quiet areas so that the victim won’t be able to get help, but daytime muggings in busy areas can and do occur.

How not to get mugged:

Make yourself a smaller target. Muggers pick victims who look rich, so don’t wear clothes that mark you out as foreign and/or a tourist. That means no cargo pants, no flip-flops or sandals, no expensive hiking clothes, no trendy daypacks, no sunglasses and none of those dorky short-sleeved shirts.

Never stop to talk to strangers in the street, as a lot of muggings start this way. Forget about being polite – muggers will use your instinct to be polite against you. If someone starts talking to you (even if it’s only to ask the time) just smile, shake your head and keep walking.

Replace your Rolex with a cheap Casio, your Blackberry with a budget Nokia, your Fendi handbag with a replica, your iPod with a generic MP3 player, and your Apple MacBook Pro with an Asus netbook. You can never totally remove your risk of getting mugged, but you can make sure that you won’t lose anything of significant value if you do.

The above advice works well for most people. But what do you do if you’re a keen photographer with expensive DLSR gear? Camera gear is a prime target for thieves, but you can’t leave your camera at home (that would sort of defeat the purpose), you can’t conceal it if you want to use it, and when you’re looking through the viewfinder you’re distracted from what’s going on around you.

So – here’s how not to get mugged if you’re a photographer:

-Consider swapping your DSLR for an old second-hand film camera that isn’t worth stealing. Getting film directly processed to digital files is relatively inexpensive in Buenos Aires, and you might discover (or rediscover) a love of film.
-Find a friend to shoot with. Muggers prefer lone victims, and while one of you is shooting, the other can keep an eye out for shady characters.
-If you can’t find a friend to shoot with and you can’t bear not to use your regular gear, do this:
Comprehensively insure your camera gear against theft and accidental breakage;
-Transfer your images from your memory cards to your laptop and/or storage device at the end of each and every day so that if you get robbed you lose only a day’s worth of images; and
When you’re shooting in public places, loosen your camera strap enough so that you can wear it across your body and still get the viewfinder up to your eye. This won’t help if you get mugged, but it will prevent someone from snatching your camera and running (or riding) away.

Finally

Don’t let this guide scare you. Although robberies do occur, Buenos Aires is a relatively safe city but it is always good to be prepared. Like in all big cities, keep your head up, be aware of your surroundings, walk with confidence and you will be fine!