Violent and petty crime remains a significant concern in Colombia. Robbery and other violent crimes, as well as scams against unsuspecting tourists, are common in urban areas. Generally speaking, if you are the victim of a robbery, you should not resist. Firearms are prevalent in Colombia and altercations can turn violent. Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can still be extremely dangerous due to the presence ofof illegal armed groups and narcotics trafficking gangs. Theft also remains a significant problem in many urban and rural areas. There has been an increase in petty crime, including a significant increase in pick pocketing of passports in the El Dorado Airport in Bogota, Colombia, and at luxury hotels, especially during Colombian holidays, Christmas, Easter Week, and summer holidays (July and August).
Some of the most common methods used by criminals in Colombia are noted below:
ATMs: People are sometimes robbed after using automatic teller machines (ATMs) on the street. In some cases, robbers use motorcycles to approach their victims and then flee the scene. For your safety, only use ATMs inside shopping malls or other protected locations. Driving to and from the location – rather than walking – provides added protection. When using an ATM, you should be on the lookout for anyone watching or following you and be extremely cautious about displaying cash.
Taxis: Robbery of taxi passengers is a serious problem in Bogota, as well as in Cali and Medellin. Typically, the driver – who may be one of the conspirators – will pick up the passenger and then stop to pick up one or more armed cohorts, who enter the cab, overpower the passenger, and take his/her belongings. If the passenger has an ATM card, the perpetrators may force the passenger to withdraw money from various ATM locations. Such ordeals can last for hours.
In most taxi-related crimes, the victims have been riding alone and have hailed taxis off the street. Rather than hailing a taxi, you should use the telephone dispatch service that most taxi companies offer. Many hotels, restaurants, and stores will call a taxi for you. When a taxi is dispatched by telephone, the dispatcher creates a record of the call and the responding taxi. The taxi company provides the caller with the license plate numbers and a security code to present to the taxi driver before departing.
When taking a taxi, note of the license plate, company and other ID for the car and driver. Also, the Colombian Tourist Police recommend checking to make sure that your taxi has inside handles and latches before committing to the ride.
Airports: U.S. citizens arriving at major Colombian airports have occasionally been victimized by armed robbers and rogue taxi drivers while en route from the airport to their hotel or home. There are taxi booths both in El Dorado (international) and Puente Aereo (domestic) airports. You may go to the booth, request a taxi, and provide the address of your destination. The person in the booth will give you a ticket indicating the amount of money you will pay for the service. Dispatchers are right outside the exit to organize the waiting line. Authorized taxis are located in the designated area, close to the booth. Give one part of your ticket to the driver and retain one for your records.
Criminals also sometimes identify potential victims at the airport and then follow their vehicles before robbing the occupants at a stoplight. Remain vigilant at airports and inform the local airport police if you suspect you may be under surveillance.
Hiking Trails: Several U.S. citizens have been robbed in recent years while hiking on nature trails in and around Bogota. Hike in groups for safety, especially in isolated areas.
Hostels: The Tourist Police in Bogota specifically caution about crimes in backpacker hostels in the Candelaria area of Bogota, noting many attacks in recent years, including a sexual assault of a U.S. citizen. Be careful when selecting a hostel- consider not just the price, but the general safety of the area.
Disabling Drugs: The Embassy continues to receive reports of criminals in Colombia using disabling drugs to temporarily incapacitate unsuspecting victims. Perpetrators may offer tainted drinks, cigarettes or gum at bars, restaurants, and other public areas, especially those that cater to sexual tourism. Typically, victims become disoriented or unconscious, and are thus vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended at a bar or restaurant, and be suspicious if a stranger offers you something to eat or drink.
Counterfeit Money: U.S. citizens in Colombia routinely fall victim to a scam in which purported undercover police officers approach them on the street and request to examine their money, supposedly to determine if it is counterfeit. The “officers,” who are in fact criminals, then flee with the money. In a variation of this scam, the thieves may ask to see your jewelry. Legitimate Colombian police officers do not make such requests. Colombian police officers will always be in uniform. If someone claims to be working “undercover” (out of uniform), they are not legitimate since undercover police are not authorized to intercept tourists on the street.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
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