Scammed in Arraial do Cabo, Rio de Janeiro (Scams in Brazil)

In May, I visited Arraial do Cabo with a borrowed car.

It’s an easy three hour trip from Rio de Janeiro (where I live), pretty similar to the roadtrip to Buzios.

While I didn’t really like Arraial do Cabo in general, being scammed out of 300USD was definitely the crap icing on a pretty shitty weekend.

Here’s to hoping it doesn’t happen to you by sharing the details of what happened to me.


Avoid Scams in Brazil

How I was Scammed in Arraial Do Cabo

We woke up quite early on our second day in Arraial do Cabo, and drove to the nearest and biggest beach, parking the car along the very first side street and celebrating the rare occasion of finding a near parking spot. Woohoo!

We made our way to the beach, the only people there at first, as it was barely 9am. We got prime pick for our umbrella, and sat down to enjoy the peace and quiet.

The crime scene - Arraial do Cabo beachthe beach in Arraial do Cabo

When food and drink service started, we kicked off with caipirinhas and beers (hey – it’s vacation!) and some snacks, brought to us by the attendant apparently in charge of our strip of beach.

As the day wore on, more people came, though still we were the only foreigners (not unusual).

I had my car keys and money in my purse, but I was really worried about what would happen if someone snatched my bag (as not too uncommonly happens in Brazil), so began debating with my friend on the best place to put it. We were arguing over whether it would be okay in the bag, or if we should fasten it to the umbrella.. eventually deciding on the umbrella.Better safe than sorry, we figured, as the car was a friend’s and we didn’t have a spare key.

I twisted the keyring onto the umbrella support, breaking a nail in the process as the service attendant laughed at me, so that the key was fastened totally to the umbrella.

Arraial do Cabo scam umbrella

After a few hours of playing in the water, snacking, and drinking, we decided to go. I was getting burnt in the hot Brazilian sun, even through the SPF 50.

I went to unfasten the keyring from the umbrella… and it was gone.

We searched all around the sand, my canga, our clothes… nothing. In the back of my mind, I knew it was absolutely impossible for the key to have fallen, and I remembered how the service attendant watched me fasten the key, but at the time I’d thought he was thinking I was silly, just as my friend did.

The service attendant was oozing with helpfulness, and offered to bring a metal detector, then disappeared for a while and reappeared with a young man, but no metal detector. The attendant explained that the young man worked at a car shop, and would help us get into our car. The attendant wasn’t really interested in getting our phone number, as we offered a reward if anyone finds the key in the sand. He insisted that the young man would be able to help us get into the car, we didn’t need to find the key.


We led the young man to our car (on later thought, not the smartest choice but we didn’t know what else to do). He looked at it for a bit, and then wandered off and made a phone call. My stomach sank. Everything felt weird.

Another man appeared, looked at the car more in depth, and broke us inside with a few tools, charging 70Reais. But we still didn’t have a key.

This man offered to bring ANOTHER man, who could make a copy of our car key.


The final guy came, looked at the car a bit, took a piece of the car with him, and came back an hour later with a “new” key for us. For the low low price of 300USD.


We were just happy to have our key back. It would have been a LOT worse if they would have stolen the car.

Unfortunately, it is Brazil, so even though there were police hanging around the entire time, we didn’t dare ask them for help. They aren’t known for being the least corrupt guys around.


Moral of the story?

Hold onto your car key. Don’t be obvious about where you hide it, if you do.

One of the best tips for hiding keys or money? An empty sunscreen bottle. Leave it on your beach blanket or canga, no one will steal it.

If your key does go missing, and it may have been stolen, don’t lead anyone to where the car is (as it can be easily taken later).

Have a spare key made in advance.

If your key is stolen, play along. Don’t get into confrontations with criminals. It’s better to pay a bit of money than to lose your car or your life.


Have you been the victim of any scams in Brazil? Any advice?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook


  1. August 11, 2015 / 10:40 am

    Oh man, so sorry to hear that… Unfortunately it happens there 🙁

    • August 11, 2015 / 12:58 pm

      It was my first time being scammed since moving to Brazil.. I’m just glad the car didn’t get stolen 🙂

  2. joao
    October 20, 2015 / 3:46 am

    but the beaches in southern Brazil and some northeastern Brazil Especially Difficult isolated and access is not common on the beaches theft of personal belongings tourists.

  3. joao
    October 20, 2015 / 3:50 am

    problem that Rio has become fashionable to cultural theft on beaches, but as Rio is more tourist city of Brazil international fame takes bad as if it were in Brazil in general

    • October 25, 2015 / 10:42 am

      Actually, the theft didn’t occur in Rio de Janeiro the city, but rather Arraial do Cabo which is a few hours away. I haven’t experienced theft or a scam in Rio de Janeiro.

      • ibblybibbly
        March 26, 2018 / 7:26 am

        Arraial is in Rio

        • Steph
          March 26, 2018 / 8:17 am

          Arraial do Cabo is a town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, but makes an easy weekend trip from the city of Rio de Janeiro.

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