New street scam is a drug setup and then blackmail

A.M. Costa Rica graphic Big mistake

There is a new wrinkle in scams being worked on tourists and expats. The crooks set up a fake drug deal and then extort money from victims with the threat of jailing them.

The scam works even if the victim is not interested in drugs.

One such scam took place at the Mercado Central in downtown San José Wednesday. A scammer tried to ingratiate himself to a 23-year-old U.S. tourists, and the tourist tolerated the approach and even let the man hand him a small package that the crook quickly said contained marijuana. The tourist said he hoped that the man would just leave.

Then the man identified himself as an undercover anti-drug agent and displayed some type of identification. He threatened to jail the tourist for buying drugs unless he received money. The man said he had other agents standing by. The naïve tourist allowed himself to be escorted to an automatic teller when he paid the man hundreds of dollars.

The tourist admitted to being stupid but also noted that he only has been in Costa Rica a few days and has been warned that jails here are not nice places.

The man was embarrassed but said he agreed to tell his story in hopes of helping others avoid the same fate.

An analysis of the crooks approach suggested that there might be multiple traps. For example, the man invited his victim to share a drink at a nearby bar. That evokes memories of the so-called Viper Lady who worked the downtown for several years. She would lure a victim to a bar where he was drugged and yielded credit cards, debit cards and PIN numbers.

The technique seems to be a variation on the old badger game where a man is tricked into a compromising situation with a woman only to have a man claiming to be her husband show up. Blackmail is the goal here, too.

The scammer Wednesday appeared to have acquaintances within the Mercado Central. The victim said he exchanged greetings with some individuals. He said he goes by the name of Antony or Johnny and claims to be from Utah. He speaks accented English fluently, according to the victim.

Wednesday the short man had black hair gelled in short spikes and wore a light blue basketball jersey and cargo shorts, the victim said.

A check of news files seemed to suggest that this fake drug deal technique was something new here.

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