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Unfortunately, La Paz is no longer the super safe city that it once was, but with a few precautions you can avoid being a target.

Fake taxis

The biggest safety issue in the city right now is fake taxis. Thieves posing as taxi drivers pick up passengers and are then joined by accomplices who mug the customers, sometimes forcing them to take money from an ATM. This problem is particularly bad at night time, and there have been isolated incidents when people have been kept for several days so more money can be taken out of their bank account.

It’s easy to avoid this issue however – call a radio taxi. Hotels, bars and restaurants can all call taxis for you, and many of the bigger bars have contracts with taxis firms to have cars waiting outside. If you do have to get a taxi at night in the street however, choose a radio taxi and ask the driver to call the office for the price. If there is general taxi chitchat going on over the radio, then you know it’s a licensed radio taxi. Generally, the taxi drivers who seem most eager to have you as a passenger are probably best avoided, although there are no set rules. It’s worth remembering too, that there are many friendly, legitimate taxi drivers whose livelihoods are being ruined by these crooks.

Staying safe and avoiding scams

As a general rule, don’t carry around valuables such as cash cards, passports and expensive electrical goods unless you need them. If you are carrying anything of value, keep it well hidden and close to your person, especially around transport centers and main tourist areas. Bag slashing is not uncommon in crowded areas, so keep your belongings close. There are also a number of scams, which normally involve a distraction of some kind, to keep you occupied while you are relieved of your belongings. One of the most common scams is when someone will spit or spill something on you, and your goods will be stolen while they are cleaning it up.

Another scam is dropping money if front of you, and when you pick it up, your own valuables will have magically disappeared, or you will be accused of stealing. If this happens, just ignore the commotion and keep walking. Teams of thieves also work restaurants, causing a distraction like dropping money or falling down stairs, then leaving the establishment with patrons’ bags when nobody is looking. Keep your bags close to you at all times (not on the floor next to you!) and you won’t be a target.

If anybody approaches you asking to see your documents, politely refuse. Police officers who deal with tourists will always be in uniform, will not ask to see your passport on the street and will never ask you to get in a taxi with them. They may also be another ‘tourist’ present who seems more than happy to show their documents – they are part of the scam. If these con artists are persistent, try and find a real police officer or a police station.

08 Mar 2010

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