We consider petty crimes to be where there is no weapon involved and no physical abuse of any kind. Crimes such as snatch and grab are fairly common happenings with foreigners and locals in Ecuador, as is pick-pocketing. Violent crime on expats is rare in the city of Cuenca and other small cities but it still happens occasionally.
What happens is a hoodlum or a group of hoodlum’s eye out something you are using and enjoying and they think they are entitled to it, such as your expensive cell phone or camera. To the thieves, owning such a piece of equipment spurs envy and desire, two emotions that cause some people (with no morals) to steal.
There is much more petty crime in the large Ecuadorian cities where there is more poverty and where there are a lot of “rich” tourists. Tourism boosts crime, especially petty crime. Vulnerability and showing-off your things by tourists boosts petty crime considerably. Just the simple fact that “you are a tourist” tells the hoodlum that it is not going to be a big deal for you if you have to go buy yourself a new cell phone or camera when you get back home. Of course, it is not true but try telling the thieves that.
And this is the “state of mind” of those who steal things that do not belong to them. They have buried their conscience and justified in their mind that “all foreigners are rich” and therefore their stuff can be replaced. These hoodlums may even go as far as to pity themselves because they don’t have anything. “Oh poor me, attitude” spurs them on, especially when they eye out a “rich gringo” using his/her $1,500 camera and taking photos of the run down shacks in the neighborhood.
After all, if a foreigner pays $750 to $1,200 dollars a month for rent, eats in the most expensive restaurants in town every night, and or pays $80 to $100 per night for a small hotel room, why would they care about losing a cell phone or camera? The thief sees the foreigner as moneyed and sees himself as poor and needy, which gives him more justification to steal from the (so called) rich foreigners.
Think about it; we “supposedly” rich folks go to these third world countries wearing hundreds of dollars worth of Jewelry and clothing, staying in luxurious hotels, spending on one night’s dinner bill what they spend for the whole month’s family’s food bill! Yeah, you’re going to get robbed, and especially if you make yourself vulnerable and don’t blend in; two common mistakes we’ve seen foreigners make in Ecuador.
We know of several people personally who have been robbed within their first 30 days of their arrival when visiting Cuenca. One such incident was friends of ours, it was a “snatch and run” at around 4:30 pm on the stairs at Calle Larga. The victim appeared as if she could not run after the thieves for various reasons and they felt confident in snatching off the beautiful, shiny necklace she was wearing. And you know what, the hoodlums were right, she could not run after them, nor could her husband.
Incidents like the one above can be prevented by not wearing flashy jewelry or any jewelry that gets noticed by these low-life thugs. Also, sadly the thieves do take advantage of seniors and it does not matter what time of day it is. If you happen to be a senior, or if you happen to just be an expat woman alone or with your friend or husband, and if you are wearing expensive, shiny jewelry, you are likely to get robbed eventually.
The best way to keep yourself from getting robbed is don’t wear shiny, noticeable jewelry on your person. Try to blend in as much as possible and never walk around Cuenca alone, especially where there are no other people. Look around and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Don’t wear a camera around your neck and use your cell phone in well lit areas where there are people. Don’t act rich. Don’t open your leather wallet and flash a bunch of big bills. You know that everyone eyes out wallets when you pull them out, and it is definitely no different here.
Be a smart, blending in, low profile expat and you probably will never encounter any problems. Behave like a show-off, unaware of what’s going on around you, and you will most likely get robbed of something sooner or later. For more about personal safety and crime in Cuenca, click here. Your personal safety is really up to you because you’re in control of what happens to you!