Falling for a Whopper: A Canary Islands Scam

For the first time in my digital nomad life I had a visit from my parents, and it was wonderful to be able to explore some of my island with them. On my recommendation they stayed further south because, although I love Las Palmas, the weather is generally better (which is my only bugbear with this city). But it gave me a great excuse to explore some of Gran Canaria’s southern resorts.

Overall, I have to say I wasn’t particularly impressed with the south, although I realise I only saw a fraction of it. The weather is generally better because of the Panza de Burro (Donkey’s Belly) – a natural phenomenon that sees low cloud hang over Las Palmas for much of the time – but the bits I saw were overcrowded resorts with large white, impersonal hotels, restaurants serving English breakfasts and fish and chips, and beaches with rows of sunbeds packed in like sardines. I know lots of people enjoy this and each to their own, but it’s not what I travel for.

But that’s not what this post is about. Unfortunately, the main tourist resorts are also home to a scam that’s doing the rounds in many tourist resorts across the Canary Islands. We learned about it the hard way when visiting Puerto de Mogán, a place described as picturesque and Venetian-like, but I have to say I found it a little like a Canarian Clacton-on-Sea with better weather! Anyway… 

A Canary Islands Electronics Scam

I like to think of myself as fairly savvy. I’ve navigated scams in Southeast Asia and Egypt. But the thing is I was aware that scams are a big deal in those places, so I looked them up beforehand and I was prepared. This one caught me completely on the hop. And I was furious with myself for falling for it. Even writing it now, I can’t believe we did. All I can say is kudos to these guys – they’re professionals at scamming people and they did it with a smile.

It went like this…

We were wandering past the shops when Dad paused to look at a display of cameras (honey to a bee for my Dad). Instantly, the sharks moved in to circle their prey… Mr Shopman looked at my parents’ cameras – fairly high range Panasonic compacts – and asked what type of cards they were using. When they told him, he began his spiel.

He took Mum’s camera, took a picture outside the shop, then showed us the result on a screen in his shop. It looked terrible. Then he put in a ‘new, fancy HD card’, gave Mum her camera and asked her to take the same picture. Sure enough, the difference in picture quality was superb. He did a deal and my parents walked out €70 lighter with a card each.

And it bugged me for ages. We left, and I kept replaying bits of the conversation in my head and it just wasn’t sitting right with me. I’d tried to look the cards up on my phone, but he told me I wouldn’t find any information as they’re too new for the internet – I’d given up as I couldn’t get a very good signal in the shop, but jeez, when is anything too new to be online… And I work online for fuck’s sake!

When I got home that night, I looked it up and found the exact same scam described in Lanzarote, Tenerife and Fuerteventura. And I realised what he’d done – he’d taken Mum’s camera to take the initial picture and changed the quality. Once he’d changed the card, he changed the quality back and let Mum take the next picture. So simple.

I stewed on it all night because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being taken for an idiot. The next morning I had a plan, insisted we went back, and told Mum and Dad to leave the talking to me. But these things never go to plan, right?

The look on this chap’s face when we turned up was a picture – his guilt was written all over it. He was crapping himself. But he very quickly recovered, transformed from the lovely, smiling, laughing salesman we’d encountered the day before, and did not let me get a word in edgeways. It turned into a long, uncomfortable, nasty argument, which at one point resulted in them falling on reverse racism, stating that they were entitled to rip us off as Britain had ripped off their country for years (they were Indian, which sadly seems to be the case for this particular scam).

They were prepared to give us the money back, but didn’t like the fact that I’d taken pictures of them and the shop. Eventually, I swapped my card, showed them that I’d ‘cleared’ the pictures, and they processed the refund before I mentioned that their mugshots were safe on my other card. And we left, feeling horrible.

Aside from a wasted morning, we got off lightly. Dad got his money back and cancelled his card, just in case. But these scams are commonplace in the main tourist resorts, and they get much worse – I’ve read stories of people being sold dodgy cameras and video cameras and being ripped off for much more money.

Normally I’m an advocate of small independent shops, but my advice in the Canaries is to avoid the independent electronics shops in tourist resorts. Either stick to the big name places, like Media Markt, or ask the locals for advice. I’ve discussed it since several times, both with locals who work in Puerto de Mogán and friends in Las Palmas, and they’re furious at these scams because it gives the island such a bad reputation. But as a rule, they know which places are dodgy – my guy was certainly well known around Puerto de Mogán – and are happy to direct people to the more trustworthy shops.

I don’t want to post pictures of the men on my blog, but I’ve included one of the shop name board, plus a couple of the card and the packet, which they were strangely keen to keep once we’d bought the cards. As you can see, these are actually very old boxes for a product long out of date –  if you Google ‘Yashica Europe’, you can see the amount of results that discuss counterfeit goods in the Canary Islands. The card itself (sorry, the photo is a bit rubbish, I snapped it quickly on my phone before returning it) is probably fake and presumably they wanted to keep the box to sell to the next unsuspecting idiot…

Have you ever fallen for a scam in the Canaries or further afield? Share your scam stories below…

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