Following the killing of two French young women tourist-packers in the northern Argentine province of Salta, --with criminals still at large--, the issue of security, safety and crime in Argentina has been widely exposed in the European and Unite States media, particularly the so-called ‘express kidnapping”.
French magazine Le Point has an article in which it asks if Argentina can be considered a safe country. Even when the number of tourists killed in Argentina is low compared to other developing countries, crime and insecurity are in the rise, points out the magazine which strongly recommends following the French Foreign Affairs recommendations for tourists travelling to and visiting Argentina.
The article mentions the so called “express-kidnaps” by which a vulnerable person is retained for a few hours while a ransom is demanded for his/her liberation.
In spite of the strong Italian influence in Argentina, the Italian government for example strongly discourages its citizens from visiting the city of Buenos Aires and even its upper class districts at night, and suggests a contact system in each place to be visited following a pre-established schedule.
The visit itinerary should be documented in a web-site so that friends and relatives can consult or keep track of the visitors in Argentina.
The Swiss government warns about the high crime rate in Buenos Aires City and Mendoza province conglomerates and points out to hand bag and documents snatching in the street, banks and airports as a common petty crime. The recommendation is to keep to groups or anticipate the visit or tour schedule with accessible checking points.
The Spanish government warns about the kind of crimes tourists in most developing countries of the world are exposed to, but also strongly discourages from visiting certain districts of Buenos Aires City such as La Boca, Constitución and Retiro among others.
The US State Department travel advice says that street crime in the larger cities, especially greater Buenos Aires and Mendoza, is a problem for residents and visitors alike and as in any big city visitors to Buenos Aires and popular tourist destinations should be alert to muggers, pickpockets, scam artists, and purse-snatchers on the street, in hotel lobbies, at bus and train stations, and in cruise ship ports.
“Be especially careful in the La Boca neighbourhood (home to the famous “Caminito” street and the “La Boca” soccer stadium) in Buenos Aires, where violent robberies have been occurring with increasing frequency. Tourists who go to La Boca should limit their visit to the designated tourist areas during daylight hours”.
Further on it points out criminals in Argentina usually work in groups, and travellers “should assume they are armed”.
Criminals employ a variety of ruses to distract and victimize unsuspecting visitors. A common scam is to spray mustard or a similar substance on the tourist from a distance. A pickpocket will then approach the tourist offering to help clean the stain, and while doing so, he or an accomplice robs the victim.
Another scam is to entice tourists into a bar known as a “whiskeria” with a flyer for a shopping discount or free show. Once inside, the victim is not allowed to leave until he or she pays an exorbitant amount for a drink.
Thieves regularly nab unattended purses, backpacks, laptops, and luggage, and criminals will often distract visitors for a few seconds to steal valuables.
While most US citizens are not physically injured when robbed, criminals are known to use force when they encounter resistance. Visitors are advised to immediately hand over all cash and valuables if confronted. Thieves may target visitors wearing expensive watches or jewellery, or carrying laptop computer cases.
Some travellers have received counterfeit currency in Argentina. Unscrupulous vendors and taxi drivers sometimes pretend to help tourists review their pesos, then trade bad bills for good ones.
Along with conventional muggings, express kidnappings occur.
Victims are grabbed off the street based on their appearance and vulnerability. They are made to withdraw as much money as possible from ATM machines, and then their family or co-workers are contacted and told to deliver all the cash that they have on hand or can gather in a couple of hours.
The Foreign Office indicates that the most frequent incidents of crime in Argentina involve distraction theft, bag snatching and armed robberies in the street, in taxis and in restaurants. Distraction thefts commonly occur in public areas such as internet cafes, train and bus stations.
There has been a noticeable rise in reports of stolen passports in the last year, especially in the main bus stations in Buenos Aires and Mendoza.
Con-men have been known to rob tourists while an accomplice pretends to help remove ketchup or mustard that has been 'accidentally' sprayed on them. Another common occurrence is the slitting of handbags in crowded places “be particularly attentive in popular tourist areas, such as San Telmo.
The FCO also warns about 'express kidnappings' - short-term, opportunistic abductions and recommends avoiding isolated or poorly lit areas at night.
When travelling by taxi “we advise that, whenever possible, you book in advance. If it is not possible to book in advance and you need to hail a taxi, you should take care only to hail a 'radio taxi'”.
Finally “if you are being met at the airport and you do not know your greeter, ensure you confirm their identity before accepting a lift. Alternatively use a remise service from the official stand in the centre of the arrivals concourse”.