In Buenos Aires a few weeks ago I met a young traveler on her first backpacking trip. As I spoke to her over a few beers at the hostel she was excited and happy to be travelling solo around South America. Unfortunately, the next day she walked into the hostel on the verge of tears, visibly shaken.
I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I’ve just been robbed.”
Her bag with her expensive iPhone and her camera (containing her priceless travel photos) had been snatched in broad daylight on a busy street – and it was all because of a little bit of “bird poop”.
I wanted to write this blog to educate travelers about this common scam, which happens not only in South America but also in Europe and other parts of the world.
The young traveler in this story was walking along the streets of Buenos Aires when she stopped to take a photo. A stranger tapped her on the shoulder and told her that she had bird poop in her hair and down the back of her shirt. She turned around, took off her bag and started wiping at the whitish goo on her back.
As she was distracted with this, someone else picked her bag up and ran away with it. Before she realized what was happening, the thief was gone.
The truth is that she wasn’t even hit with bird poop at all. The way the scam works is that someone will squirt you with a white substance that looks like bird poop, or sometimes even mustard or ketchup. They spray it on you when you are not looking, so that they can create a scenario where you are distracted by the stain and they can steal from you without you noticing. It’s a clever ruse and it has fooled many travelers – so don’t let it happen to you.
How can you avoid the bird poop scam? First of all, knowing that it exists is the most important thing. If you weren’t aware of it you might be more likely to trust the helpful stranger who offers to help you wipe off your soiled shoulder with a tissue.
Notice that the fake bird poop will usually fall on your shoulder or your back, prompting you to take off your purse or your backpack to clean those areas better. Also, the helpful stranger will usually be quite aggressive and will insist that they help you. This should be a red flag for you, especially if they are touching you or trying to help you take off your bag.
While walking around on your travels, if any stranger tells you that you have bird poop or any other type of stain on you – just say thank you and keep on walking. Don’t engage with them and never clean up the mess right there and then. Get to a safe place before you clean it off and you can avoid being a victim of this nasty scam.