Last updateFri, 24 Jun 2016 6am

How to help crooks empty your bank account: Old and new scams popular in western Mexico

Two years ago a relative of mine had his credit cards and money stolen at Walmart by a well-dressed man who supposedly helped him clean mustard from the back of his shirt. I discovered then that “The old mustard-on-the-shirt trick” is well known to every reader of the Guadalajara Reporter, but unknown to many Mexicans, no matter how well-read they may be.

As a result, I summarized seven of these scams and put them on my website both in English and in Spanish ... and I printed out copies of the Spanish version for all my relatives.
All this came back to me a few days ago when one of the very in-laws to whom I had given that list of scams, fell for “The old helping hand at the ATM trick” also well known to readers of this newspaper. My relative, who ran into problems while using an ATM, actually put her card into the hand of a very well-dressed woman who had offered her assistance. “She only had my card for an instant,” I learned, “but when I got home I discovered she had switched cards on me.” And, of course, every centavo in that account was soon in the hands of the well-dressed woman.

While sharing these stories with friends, one of them told me he had almost experienced “The old let-me-help-you-change-your-tire trick” which is also on my list of Scams in Western Mexico. Roberto banks at Banorte. One day he took out a little money. “As I left the parking lot, I noticed a gray car which almost seemed to be waiting for someone to leave this little parking lot. Well, I drove off and after a short distance, my steering felt funny. I figured it was a tire problem and slowed down and that’s when I saw that same gray car following me. I signaled the driver to pass me, but instead he kept right behind me, creeping along.”

“Fortunately I was close to a company I know in the area and I pulled into their parking lot where there were people standing around. That’s when the car following me sped up and took off. I parked, removed my tire, which by then was completely flat, and took it to a garage in a taxi.”

While sharing these stories with friends, I was told about yet another method—a new one for me—used by the unscrupulous, here in Mexico, to quickly and efficiently empty the bank accounts of the innocent (or naïve):

Once upon a time, an expat we’ll call Mary went to a spa. While she was being massaged, someone went into her bag and stole her checkbook, which had 20 checks in it. Two hours after leaving the spa, Mary discovered that the checkbook was missing. Within that short period of time, the thieves had already written and cashed all 20 checks, emptying her account of 250,000 pesos. What is amazing about this is that the signature used on these checks was a special signature on register in her bank, a signature not on her driver’s license nor her passport. The thieves were so well organized that they were able to send people to ten different banks within a space of two hours in order to get a maximum of two bearer’s checks per bank, payable to anyone.

Mary went to her bank to tell them the story. They checked their surveillance cameras, which revealed that the check casher was someone wearing a hat (which is not allowed in banks) and essentially unrecognizable. “There is nothing we can do about this,” said the bank (a Canadian bank, by the way).

Mary decided to sue. When her day in court came up, she duly presented herself and discovered that someone had changed the date for her court presentation to one day earlier. She never recuperated anything of her 250,000-peso loss.

Let me close with a scam I personally discovered years ago as a customer of Bancomer. While checking my monthly statement I found a very small withdrawal made using a check whose number was not in sequence with my other checks. Suspicious, I dug up the previous month’s statement, and sure enough, there was a similar anomaly for a very tiny amount.  Once I had three statements showing this same phenomenon, I went to Bancomer where bank officials reluctantly agreed to refund those small amounts that had been withdrawn using checks that weren’t mine. They refused, however, to accept my contention that “this must be happening to other Bancomer customers as well.” They simply looked away every time I mentioned this,  and the only satisfaction I got was from closing my account.

Most of the scams listed here could not have been carried out without the collusion of employees and staff members of respectable banks, businesses and governmental agencies. I suspect that scammers and confidence men get far less cooperation in Germany or France and I conjecture that if Mexican workers received satisfactory wages on a par with Canadians, Americans and Europeans, we would hear far fewer of these stories.

My list of scams has been updated and expanded and can be found on RanchoPint.com. You can print out the Spanish version for your friends ... you may be doing them a great favor!

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