Scammed in the Sun: Behind the Scenes of Scam City Rio
In this week’s episode of Scam City, host Conor Woodman found a place in the sun—and in the scammer’s sight. Leticia Meruvia, Scam City’s researcher on location, talks about filming on Copacabana Beach, in Rio de Janeiro.
This is a GUEST POST by Scam City camera crew member LETICIA MERUVIA.
As a tourist in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, especially during Carnival, it’s easy to get blown away by the city’s beauty and party-loving vibe. But as a crew member of a series looking into scams, we had to keep our eyes open so we wouldn’t fall prey to the many tricks the malandros are ready to play on visitors.
The scammers in Rio have a special charm that will lure you in and you won’t notice a thing! Whoever has that skill—most locals I’d say—are known as malandros. So, even though we were being amazed by the incredible sunny beaches, unique urban forests and endless Carnival celebrations, we were also gathering all our detective-style filming gear and heading uncover to see what was happening on the backstage.
Following the tourist track, we went to Copacabana Beach, where Conor posed as the typical daydreaming holidaymaker.
As a proper malandro, our first scammer approached Conor with a smile, asking him to look after his clothes while he’d go for a swim. In a matter of seconds of distraction, a second guy took Conor’s bun bag from under his beach chair in a quick move that impressed us all—but didn’t pass unnoticed from our hidden cameras.
When he came back from his swim, Junior was surprised to know they’d been caught in the act and wasn’t ready to admit his trick: “No understand! Not me, not me!”
The scammers in Rio have a special charm that will lure you in and you won’t notice a thing.
Luckily, after using our own malandro skills, we convinced him to tell us more on camera. Junior realized it could be a good opportunity to show the other side of Rio—a side tourists don’t usually see.
After learning a bit more about his deception skills and rough upbringing, we agreed that maybe Rio beaches are not exactly a place to be completely relaxed, just enjoying the sun and the sea. It was definitely the case in the old days, but not anymore—a likely consequence of massive social inequality.
In Rio, you can easily spot many shanty towns, known as favelas, usually on the hills in the middle of the city, overlooking affluent neighbourhoods. It’s a shameful disparity that the locals are so used to seeing, but will still cause shock to the foreign visitor.
Being a bit malandro is a surviving skill for many inhabitants of the shanty towns, so they’ll target unaware tourists, cashing in some big bonuses during the Carnival period.
By Leticia Meruvia, Researcher on Location, Scam City
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