It goes without saying that visitors to Rio de Janeiro should keep their wits about them at all times. A big city with a staggeringly visible gulf between rich and poor, it is a sad fact that petty crime in Rio is an all too common occurrence, and ‘gringoes’ (foreigners) are very often the targets because of their perceived wealth and perceived naivete.
Fortunately for tourists, the much-reported high levels of violent crime in Rio de Janeiro is a largely confined to battles between drug factions and the police/rival factions, but it pays to be street savvy if you don’t want to lose cash or belongings.
The first thing to be aware of is that thieves in Rio work with lightening speed. You probably won’t be aware of their presence before they have struck and left you lighter of pocket, so don’t be fooled into thinking that because an area or a situation is safe just because it doesn’t ‘feel’ dangerous. Always assume that the worst could happen, and never walk around with valuables on display. Keep cameras well tucked away, and avoid talking on celular phones away from well-populated areas. Don’t even think about carrying your laptop around the streets with your. Be sure to transfer your photos to computer or disk regularly too, so that you won’t lose precious pictures if your camera is taken.
The usual common-sense rules apply – don’t take all your credit cards out at once, take cabs at night (where possible book in advance or take cabs from official ranks), don’t walk alone in deserted areas and don’t flash your ‘wealth’ – avoid obviously expensive clothes, watches and jewelry. Only take necessary cash to the beach, and keep ready money in your pocket with an emergency stash in a money belt or even in your underwear or shoes.
If the worst does happen, don’t try to argue with the thieves. Armed or otherwise, many criminals have little regard for human life so don’t take risks – hand over what is asked for and the thieves will soon be on their way. It isn’t in their interests to harm you, so keep calm.
Petty criminals head to tourist hotspots like Ipanema and Copacabana to try their luck, and common scams include offering to take your photograph or asking for the time or a light (an accomplice raids your pockets while you’re distracted). Bigger scale scams involving credit card cloning is also depressingly common, so avoid cashpoints that appear to have been tampered with, and check online bank statements regularly, keeping an eye out for any illicit transactions.
If all this sounds a little bleak, panic not. Most visitors to Rio have a trouble-free time, and a little common sense helps. If something does happen, you will need to make your way to the tourist police (known as the DEAT – Delegacia Especial de Apoio ao Turista) in Leblon. Here, English-speaking officers will take details of the crime and give you a reference number – crucial if you are making an insurance claim. The DEAT office is based at Avenida Afrania de Melo Franco 159, Leblon, and their contact number is 21 2332 2885.
Photo: Lucy Bryson