By Sam Green, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A recent scam experience is serving as the inspiration and topic of the next ‘Gringo Group Therapy’ session, a monthly event hosted by American restauranteur and small business owner Sam Flowers at his Ipanema Gringo Café. The scam involved an imposter, acting as a Light electricity-technician, demanding unnecessary work on electricity supply systems, something that any business owner or resident is susceptible to.
The informal monthly Gringo Group Therapy event stared in March of this year and is attended by business owners and residents looking to share experiences and learn from others. Subjects ranged from how to deal with the Brazilian tax system and labor laws, visa issues, real estate advice, avoiding scams or just the latest cool places to eat and drink in the ‘Cidade Maravilhosa.’
Mostly it is a chance for foreigners to make new connections in Rio and if people need extra motivation, Flowers often offers special drink promotions on the night.
“The sessions were started primarily for business people, but we are an open forum,” Flowers said. “Some issues, such as those concerning visas or scams, can touch anyone, so everyone is welcome. The sessions are also sometimes attended by Brazilian business people and lawyers who want to share their knowledge.”
The electrical-work scam will certainly be a hot topic of conversation this week. The bogus repair man turned up at Flowers’ business and said he had a problem with a cable connected to his electric meter which needed urgent attention.
The conman had credentials suggesting he was employed by Light, the electricity supplier. Flowers later made further investigations which suggested he had previously been contracted to work for the company, but had been dismissed.
“The cable did look like it had a problem and he said it was an emergency and only he could do the repair,” said Flowers. “He had all the paperwork and appeared to be the real thing. But once he gave us the price I became suspicious. He tells you that you need a bigger job than is true and then tries to get you to pay him directly. He finds a real problem and then gets payment straight away.”
The Rio Times contacted Light for a response, but the company did not reply. However, on the envelopes to their most recent bills the company warns customers that Light only employs workers who wear their uniforms and have their name badges.
Flowers advises people who fear they might be targeted never to pay for work straight away. “There’s never a reason to pay on the spot. Honest people trust you and are willing to do the work and get paid later.”
Certainly there are many other scams out there targeting foreigners as well as Cariocas, and being aware of them is the best defense. Gringo Group Therapy sessions are held at Gringo Café on the first Thursday of each month, starting around 8PM. Anyone interested in attending can contact Sam Flowers at their Facebook events page.