Falling for the Cash Payment Scam in Cabo San Lucas

“Good afternoon, sir! Is this your first time in Cabo?” asked the polite young man standing near the taxi counter in the San Jose del Cabo international airport.

“Yes, it is,” I replied. I had just picked up my suitcase from the baggage claim carousel and needed to get a ride to the coastal town of Cabo San Lucas, 45 kilometers away. I usually arrange my arrival transportation before leaving home, but for this quick trip to the beach I thought I would wing it. I’m an experienced world traveler after all.

“If you would like a taxi, the cost is $85 to Cabo San Lucas for up to three people.”

I thought that sounded pretty steep. I hesitated.

cabo beach
A walk on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

“Or you can take a shuttle for only $17 one way,” said the man. Calculating the cost savings in my head I quickly realized how taking the shuttle was a much better deal, even when I had to pay for myself and my traveling companion. We could get to the hotel for $34 and save $51! That’s at least five margaritas! Maybe ten at happy hour!

“Sure, we’ll take the shuttle,” I said.

“Will you be needing a return ride to the airport at the end of your trip, sir?” asked the man.

I don’t know. I might just spend the rest of my life here in Mexico relaxing in a comfortable lounger next to the pool, with the sound of ocean surf reaching my ears, and a waiter at my beck and call bringing me an endless supply of margaritas and nachos. I might never go back home.

Cabo resort
Palm trees, pool, ocean, and sunny warm weather!

“Yes, I need a ride back to the airport on Sunday,” I said.

“OK, here is the very good deal for you sir. You can pre-pay today for your shuttle ride back to the airport. I will give you a voucher to give to your shuttle driver on Sunday. In addition, you will get free breakfast tomorrow and a 50% discount on selected excursions from the Cabo marina. You can pay for today’s ride in cash or by credit card, but you pay for the return ride in cash.”

That sounded like a decent deal. I handed over my credit card. The man processed the transaction and gave me a ticket to give to the driver for today’s ride. I gave him two twenty dollar bills and he promptly gave me $6 in change along with the return voucher, which I stuffed into my backpack.

Cabo land's end rocks
Rocks at Land’s End in Cabo.

The ride to Cabo took about an hour. It was reasonably comfortable in the van and the views of the countryside were nice. I was stuck next to two girls who carried on the most inane conversation I had heard in years. I couldn’t figure out if they were drunk already or just uncommonly stupid. They were holding half empty Coronas.

First girl: “I see some water! Is that the Indian Ocean?”

Second girl: “I dunno…”

Cabo land's end rocks boat view
A view of the rocks at Land’s End from a boat.

A couple of nights later I was wandering around the small town of Cabo and decided to stop in a tequila factory outlet store. I had already drunk a few margaritas at a semi-famous bar called Cabo Wabo. I wasn’t at my sharpest mental acuity.

“Hello!” said the woman behind the counter. “Would you like to taste some tequila?”

Yes, I would indeed. Bring it on.

She brought out a dozen bottles and gave me many small tasting cups. I had never known that there were so many varieties of tequila. Some were delicious, some were disgusting, but most were somewhere in between.

I picked out a couple of bottles of tequila to buy and took them to the counter. The sign on the shelf listed the price as $35 per bottle.

“That will be $80,” said the woman.

Wait a minute, said my brain. I just saw a sign that said $35. I know that 35 times two is only 70.

“Uhh, I thought these were $35 each?” I asked.

“Yes, but there is a $10 tasting fee that you have to pay in cash,” said the woman.

I was thinking hard about how I was going to find my way through the streets of Cabo back to the resort as I gave her my credit card and a ten dollar bill. She expertly packaged my tequila bottles so they wouldn’t break on the flight back home.

More cabo rocks
I wisely did not try to climb these rocks.

The next morning I was stretching out on the lounger by the pool, contemplating the mysteries of life, when it hit me like a thunderbolt. There was no tasting fee. She had taken me for $10 and pocketed the cash. The purchase of the tequila bottles had a paper trail via the credit card transaction. The purported tasting fee became a nice tip. How many tipsy gringos could she get with that scam every night? Probably more than one.

Cabo Arch
The Arch at Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

This got me thinking about the shuttle ride back to the airport. I didn’t go to the free breakfast and I hadn’t tried to get a discounted boat ride. I dug out the voucher that the guy at the airport had given me. It was a generic form for some vacation resort. The guy had filled it in with the return date to the airport, the free breakfast, and the discount offer. The form, however, did not have any information about the shuttle company. No name, no address, no phone number. I had nothing. The guy had gotten me a legitimate shuttle ride to the resort, but had kept the $34 cash for the return.

I had unwittingly fallen for the cash payment scam not once, but twice!

(for a story about another Mexican scam, check out The Mexican Police Holdup

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