Not too long ago, I was around El Centro Historico of Mexico City to bribe a pharmacist.
Once I left the building, I went to a nearby Starbucks that is basically in front of Bellas Artes area of the city.
It’s a Starbucks that is more suited for buying your tea and leaving instead of sitting down as there isn’t much space for that.
I figured I might as well grab some tea and enjoy an hour in the little park area in front of Bellas Artes.
A park and black tea.
What else does a man need?
Outside of maybe a hot Brazilian gal dancing in front of me at the same time…
In all seriousness, I went to get some tea.
Then when the order was made, I stood to the side and just waited for them to make it.
While waiting, this older guy, who ordered after me, began standing to the side of me and checking his phone.
A minute later or so, he looked over at me and asked “you American? USA?”
“Yeah” I responded.
The dude was a middle aged man, slightly smaller than me, light brown skin and a little bit of stomach.
Almost had a typical tourist look going for him given his more relaxed attire.
From there, the usual questions were asked.
“What part of the US you from?”
“How long you in Mexico? You traveling with anyone else?”
When he learned that I live here and have been here for 4.5 years, he found that surprising.
“Really? Why so long? What do you do for work?”
Obviously, telling him I make money from “cam model affiliate income” wasn’t going to be the answer.
In cases like this, I usually bullshit an answer.
When I began living in Mexico in my first year here, I would tell people that “I’m an academic.”
Now I tell them that “I run a tourism business.”
Honestly, I need better bullshit titles.
If I’m going to make shit up, I might as well give myself a more badass title.
Like “I work for the drug cartels” or “I’m working for the CIA to protect the Mexican President” or “I run a strip club.”
Well, the last one sounds similar enough anyway to what I actually do.
Anyway, I told him I run a business!
Which, when people ask what the business is, I find local Latinos and gringos to have different ways of understanding what I’m saying.
I try to say to them that “I make affiliate money from tourism websites.”
Any foreigner from the US or France or wherever understands what I’m talking about.
While most local Latinos, outside of those who maybe work in computer programming or something, will think that I meant that I’m running a tourism agency.
I never correct them because it doesn’t matter. It’s all bullshit anyway.
But maybe I should because “tourism agency” sounds even more gay than most other fake careers I could invent.
Anyway, the guy in question did seem impressed that I’ve been living abroad for so long.
Which, as another side point, when you explain to an older person that you live abroad for so long, you’ll get a mixed amount of reactions.
Some are impressed and dig it and say that they wish that they did that when they were young and others act jealous or snobby.
This guy was cool with it anyhow.
And we carried our conversation from there.
Which ultimately led to a very interesting story of a type of scam that I never heard of before.
“The Mexican Police Stole My Plates!”
My tea was ready.
His drink – some coffee thing – was still being made.
Instead of an afternoon at Bellas Artes, I decided a conversation with a stranger would be more fun.
So I kept on talking with the dude instead.
As we kept on talking, he mentioned how he knows Mexico quite well.
Has parents from Mexico (though born in the US) and likes traveling down through the country every so often for an occasional vacation, visit family or whatever.
Which caught my attention – he supposedly drove all the way from the border to Mexico City.
That’s a long ass drive!
And I can only imagine all of the shit he would have to deal with that.
Whenever I get talking with literally any other foreigner who drives around here, there’s always an interesting story or two of someone trying to fuck them over.
Usually it’s just a bribe.
Which, as you can guess by now, is what he began to explain.
But the story was a little bit different than what I’ve heard usually.
Whenever foreigners talk about paying bribes while driving down here – known as “driving while gringo” – it’s almost always one of being stopped on some road by the cops or some group of people demanding money to keep on driving.
The story here is a little bit different!
So the dude told me that he stopped his car at some city called Hermosillo.
I’ve never been there so I don’t know anything about that place.
Anyway, the dude parked his vehicle somewhere in the city where some homeless dude waving a rag around was demanding money for helping him park somewhere.
The guy didn’t pay him anything and kept on walking.
Which, as a side point, is an aspect to life down here that I wrote in this article here.
Anyway, the dude walked away to find a place to eat at and check some spot out for a few photos and then keep on driving south.
Once he got back, he found himself in an annoying situation.
Long story short, there was a cop accusing him of not having his plate on the back of his vehicle.
“It was there before!” he told me.
Well, I wasn’t there so I can’t say how true it was if he had a plate on the back of his car or not but I imagine he would if he managed to get it into Mexico from the US.
Granted, I’ve never driven a car into another country or ever driven one down here at all so I have no idea.
But it would make sense to me that he would have a plate as he drove into the country.
Anyway, the cop was going to charge him money for not having a plate.
And, in the end, there was discussion about “other ways to fix this” and a bribe was paid ultimately.
Now, I didn’t ask the dude how much he paid in the bribe.
If I had to guess, maybe 20 to 50 bucks?
The dude was Latino, had Mexican parents and knew Mexico well.
So his Spanish skills and knowing Mexico would probably help him with getting a lower bribe amount.
But, on the flip side, you have videos like this where people are expected to pay hundreds or a thousand bucks driving back into Mexico from the US.
So who knows.
Anyway, I was just more curious about this new type of scam (or is it a scam?) that I’ve never heard of before.
It’s probably not new at all but just new to me because I never heard of the scam regarding cops stealing plates and demanding a bribe.
And, initially, I thought maybe it was the homeless dude who stole it?
I mentioned that and the dude said “no, definitely the cop."
Later on, I wanted to see if this is true.
Have other gringos or Mexicans reported anything similar?
While I couldn’t find too much on Google, I was able to find mentions of this on Facebook expat groups as you can see here.
And that’s the story.
We kept on talking about other things related to Mexico after the story he gave but nothing of interest to most people reading this I think.
Soon after, I did go to Bellas Artes park to sit down for maybe 30 minutes or so before heading back to my apartment.
Given this happened in December, it’s not as surprising either.
Granted, bribes happen in every month but, as I wrote here, bribe demands are more common in December when cops and others need extra money around this time.
And when, in theory, more people should have more money to spend.
Still, I can’t comment on how common this scam is because it’s the first time I’ve heard of it.
The cop steals the plate and demands money accusing you of not driving properly.
What should you do in this situation?
Honestly, given I never heard of it before, I’m not sure.
Even harder for me to say because I’ve never driven in the country before.
Right off the bat, I wonder if it's even a scam to begin with.
From the sound of it based on those screenshots above, it seems like supposedly some cops just take the plates to make sure you actually pay a fine for some other driving offense?
I'm not sure if the dude committed any other driving mistake and that provoked the cop to fucking with his plates or not.
Still, it obviously is different from back home and still seems odd for any cop to just take your plates while demanding money.
So, regardless of what other driving offenses you commit in the moment, what should you do in case this happens to you?
For one, we can take some of the advice of those in the screenshots above.
Perhaps have photos of the plates saved on your phone and also buy some security screws for your plates.
Also, I imagine maybe having a dash cam always on in your vehicle recording anyone walking around your car would help.
Maybe have it pointed towards the back where a cop would steal?
I don’t know if that’d help – just a guess.
At least you could post the video online and expose the dude.
Perhaps take it to the local police station.
While I know corruption is bad down here and cops often don’t do jack shit, I have heard the rare story from time to time of bad cops being chewed out properly when someone confronts them with evidence at the station.
So who knows.
Outside of that, obviously be like this dude. Know Spanish and know Mexico.
While some gringos argue that pretending to be the dumb gringo with no Spanish helps get out of bribes like I wrote here, I don’t agree with that from my experience.
I find speaking Spanish helps me a lot and they have Google Translate.
Plus, in situations like this, there isn’t anyway out of it given that they literally stole your fucking plate supposedly.
You ain’t driving no more until you get that fixed anyhow.
Anyway, that’s all the advice I got for this situation that, as I said, I’ve never been in before as I don’t drive in this country.
If you got anything to add, drop a comment below in the comment section.
I'll emphasize again that I don't truly understand all of the details behind this practice by some cops to steal the plates.
On one hand, some online make it seem like it's meant to force a payment for some other driving infraction.
On the other hand, from what I heard personally, it does sound kinda like a scam.
Given the corruption of cops though in Mexico, I can definitely see this practice being abused.
Thankfully, I don't have to drive around in the country so my experience with this minor annoyance isn't zero.
Would love to hear more insight anyhow into this topic in Mexico or, if by any chance, if it happens in other Latin countries also. Comments appreciated.
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Thanks for reading.