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It wasn’t like we had never heard of this happening. But coincidence (or was it?) and a number of factors converged in an almost uncanny way, that made us victims of a common scam pulled off here in Ecuador. The scam basically involves people dressing up as officials of some agency or another and coming to “inspect” or check out your business.
Friday last week we had called our contact in the Ministry of Health to have our health permit renewed. He said he’d show up on Monday, and as usual, he didn’t so we expected him for Tuesday. Tuesday two gentlemen came knocking at the door, dressed in suits, with those kinds of folders you get at a seminar with logos emblazoned on them. They said they were from the Ministry of Health and if memory serves me, on the part of Sr. Carrera, our contact in the Ministry. This is where things get doubly suspicious already.
They came in and immediately told us our permit was out of date and since we had let it expire-we were under the impression there was a grace period from our original contact-and that to renew it we would first have to pay a $1,000 fine, which is a legitimate amount based on the schedule of fines the Ministry is authorized to issue. They poked around a bit, pressured us, and finally settled on a much smaller amount, paid in cash there and on the spot, to not fine us, as long as we promised to go get our papers in order ASAP.
They had a number of official forms from the Ministry of Health as well as the logo-emblazoned folders. When we mentioned that we had just called our contact, Sr. Carrera, to come renew our papers, they told us, indignantly, that he was not authorized to be doing what he was offering and they would be looking into his activities and sanctioning him appropriately.
After they left, we had the growing suspicion that we had been duped. Putting together all the stuff they said and details, we felt like we were in a hall of mirrors. They knew everything, and they even seemed to know Sr. Carrera, our original contact, which lent them legitimacy. But since Sr. Carrera, and the whole system, functions in such a corrupt way, it was impossible to tell who was who. We decided we’d call Sr. Carrera.
He immediately told us we’d been duped and that he knew of these two pulling this scam, since, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is not an uncommon scam in Ecuador. Of course, he’s pulling his own scam too since everything works on such a corrupt level here, but there is not much we can do about that. We were left wondering, given some of the uncanny coincidences, if even he had been in on the whole thing, sending these two first as part of a scam to collect money, then assuming we would call him to help us out of the jam, and collecting yet more money for his fees for processing the permit.
Since this unfortunate event, we’ve instituted an appointment-only policy for visitors, unless they are a known and frequent customer. All visits from “government” authorities will be denied, unless they have been vetted first and then arrive on-time for a scheduled appointment.