Travel Scam – The day we believed we had scabies

Travel Scam – The day we believed we had scabies

This not so common travel scam happened to us and it might just as well happen to you. It came from an unexpected angle and that’s what made it extra difficult to see through. When traveling, we always have our eyes open for tourist traps and we never take any weird offers immediately without considering the fact that it might be a travel scam. In our other stories, you’ll see that this isn’t the first time people are scamming us or at least trying to scam us. Keep reading to find out what happened and how to avoid this travel scam. 

It started with a few small bumps

As it happens more often than we want, we happened to find a few collections of bumps on our body. Lobke had a few more than I and as we always do, we Google it! The small bumps weren’t really itchy, but they were spreading and the last thing we wanted, was being covered in the small red bumps. So we decided to take action quickly before it got out of hand. After doing our research, we concluded that it would probably be a minor issue. We’d been sleeping in hostel beds, one more dodgy than the other and we had also been swimming in a variety of refreshing locations. It was actually just because of the fast way of spreading, that we decided to pay a quick visit to a doctor.

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Finding a trustworthy doctor in Guatemala

Another Google search later, we started walking to a private clinic in the city of Antigua, Guatemala. We’d been told that a private clinic is the right way to go when you need medical assistance in a country like Guatemala and we just chose the one closest to our hostel. We didn’t feel like taking a bus to the capital so our decision was made without doubting it for a second. But beware and expect the worst from the best. I shouldn’t be elaborating about my love-hate relationship with medical staff and medical doctors specifically. So 15 minutes later, we entered the clean and professional looking private clinic just outside the city center.

Travel Scam - The day we believed we had scabies - Only Once Today

Guatemalan modus operandi to tourist scams

After talking to a nice secretary, we waited for half an hour for the doctor to arrive. It appears they had called him at home and he immediately made time for us and rushed to the hospital to help us. Awesome. The clinic looked impeccable and there were a lot of people in the waiting room. They were all looking neat and rich. It was a private clinic and I would never consider consulting a private clinic at home because it’s too expensive and it is for the rich. So we were sitting between the rich people of Antigua and it showed. Nevertheless, this reassured us that we had chosen a good clinic and our plan was to see the doctor and be out within the hour.

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Rip off dermatologist out to get us

The doctor was a friendly man and there was nobody in line before us. Maybe he was almost out of business, I don’t know. He started asking a lot of questions, too many questions. He needed to know everything about our family and ancestors. In my opinion, he took it a little too far, but I guess he wanted to make us feel as if he was really interested and taking his precious time to help and save our lives. Lobke was the first who was asked to show her bites, so she pulled up her skirt and showed the man the little bumps on her legs, belly, and arm. With a magnifying glass, he looked at it for a very long time. He didn’t say anything and his face became clouded… Such an awesome actor. He’s probably played in a lot of Guatemalan movies as well. With a grim look on his face, he ordered me to show my bumps as well and I was like: I only have two! But still, he needed to see them.

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The diagnosis – a bitter pill to swallow

His diagnosis hit us like a train, especially because of all the precautions that were involved. With a sad and worried face, he told us that we had scabies. Lobke obviously had a serious case of scabies and mine was just about to break through. We never had scabies before, but in our mind, it was kind of a dirty disease. In all of our research, scabies had not shown up for the type of bumps we had and the symptoms had not pointed us in this direction, but the doctor was confident that it was scabies. Then the list of medication followed.

How to treat scabies

Scabies appears to be a hard-to-defeat little sucker and the doctor told us we had to put everything we owned in a big tub of water for a minimum of 8 hours to kill all the mites. Then there were the eggs, which wouldn’t be dead after submerging them for 8 hours. We needed a special product to wash all of our belongings with after the water treatment. He might as well have told us to burn everything. We were flabbergasted and didn’t really know how we would be able to pull this off in our hostel dorm room. And that’s just for the clothing, backpack and travel gear!

For our body, the treatment was even worse. He told us to take pills, cover our body with some sort of cream and on top of that, we needed to wash our self with a special soap. Then we had to take a second round of pills and a third one after a few weeks.

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Travel Scam - The day we believed we had scabies - Only Once Today

Our response to the news

The treatment sounded horrible and I could see Lobke’s mood sink to sub-zero. Tears were on the edge of breaking through and I wasn’t able to reassure her that everything would be fine. I was seriously doubting the expertise of this doctor, so I was telling this to Lobke in Dutch, a language I was pretty sure the doctor wouldn’t understand. Then he completely fucked up our trust by starting to pile up all the medication that was needed for a treatment of two people with a serious case of scabies.

Recipe for a tourist scam

I’m very sorry I didn’t take a picture of this tremendous pile of medication, because it would have been hilarious to add it to this post.

He started out with the cream, which was supposed to cover our entire body from the neck down. That’s a lot of cremes! We were supposed to do that for quite a few days, so again: that’s a lot of cream. With 10 boxes of cream in front of us, he went on to the next medicine: the pills. We would need a lot of pills because we had to take three rounds of them at a rate of three a day. I’m not sure if he was trying to rip us off or just plain poison us. The stack of pills was just a little higher than the pile of cream. Then there was the soap we needed to wash us with and since we both needed to use it, we definitely needed six bars of it.

With the pile of medication growing in front of me, my suspicion grew at the same rate. This could never be true. But since he was a person we were supposed to trust, we were in doubt. I totally expect a taxi driver or a tour guide to pull a travel scam, but a doctor? He even had the certificates and degrees to prove he was real. Was he really doing this?

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Then the bill came

Even for European standards, the bill was a little high and we calculated it to be around 150€. But this was Guatemala! There wasn’t a clear statement to show us which product was expensive and which wasn’t. He just wrote down the amount of Quetzales he needed in return for his expertise and the pile of medicine. Luckily, we didn’t have enough money with us to pay for all of these. So we paid the man a little bit in front and promised to be back with more money soon. That was actually the only line we could come up with. I still needed to convince my girlfriend that we probably were the victim of a tourist scam. She didn’t want to take any risks with this and if in fact, we had scabies, we would need a treatment anyway, so why question the expertise of this dipshit?

Travel Scam - The day we believed we had scabies - Only Once Today

The quest for money… and truth

We were lucky again that the ATM next to the hospital wouldn’t accept our card and the bank itself wasn’t willing to give us any money. They called our bank to make sure we were good for the withdrawal and banks in Belgium were long closed, so she wasn’t allowed to give us the money. We had to travel back into town in order to withdraw money. In the tuc tuc, we were talking about the fact that we were probably scammed and we should do more research on this matter before giving this man all of our money. So we decided to head back to the hostel, where wifi was good only to find out that none of our symptoms pointed in the direction of scabies.

These are the actual symptoms of scabies:
  • extreme itching, especially at night
  • visible tracks underneath your skin
  • rash in folded places of your body, like the inside of your elbow or knee
And this is the real treatment of scabies:
  • Use the special cream
  • Or use an antibiotic
  • Or use the special scabies soap
Travel Scam - The day we believed we had scabies - Only Once Today

Beware of this emotional travel scam!

You should never take all of these medications at the same time. In extreme occasions, two of the medication types can be combined, but never three.

But still, there were these bumps we didn’t know what they were. That’s when we decided to visit pharmacies, one after the other. We acted as if we never visited a doctor and were looking for a medicine to treat the little bumps. All five pharmacists told us the same thing. The bumps were the result of the bite of a mite, a little like bed bugs, but less violent. Each of the pharmacists offered us a solution for less than 1€. In the first pharmacy, we bought one pill to kill parasites and in the next, we bought the anti-scabies soap for little more than 0,5€. The other three just helped us with free information.

Travel scam exposed

We never went back to the scamming doctor and decided to tell our hostel owners about what happened. They didn’t know that a doctor in this private clinic would ever scam tourists and they admitted that if a tourist would ever get sick in their hostel, the private clinic was the place they would send their customers to. They probably still do, since it’s the only private clinic in Antigua, but they were quite concerned and sent a picture of one of our bumps to their mom who’s a doctor too. Our bumps ended up to be nothing to be worried about and this tourist scamming doctor just fucked up one of our precious days.

Tips to avoid the emotional doctor travel scam

It’s not because a person has a degree in medicine, that he is to be trusted without question. Apparently, it’s not just the people who you expect to try a tourist scam, but also the ones who could one day have your life in their hands. Be cautious before paying someone a lot of money.

If it looks suspicious, it probably is! It’s not just my medical background that was onto him. Common sense was enough to unmask the system of this tourist scam. There were just too many holes in his explanation.

Before paying a lot of money for treatment, Google it! Google is your best friend and you can find symptoms, pictures, and treatments online within minutes. Just do it!

Travel Scam - The day we believed we had scabies - Only Once Today
Travel Scam - The day we believed we had scabies - Only Once Today

About The Author

My name is Inge. I'm a traveler, writer and photographer. All those things I want to share with you. I've traveled a lot and wish to explore some more unknown territory.

9 Comments

  1. Timothy

    Luckily you were paying attention! :/

    Reply
  2. Sabine

    Luckily you decided to visit those pharmacies afterwards. Imagine you had bought that huge pile of medication for a rip off price. Shame! Good to inform other travellers about this scam.

    Reply
  3. Constance @ The Adventures of Panda Bear

    Wow that’s such an insane story! And to think a doctor would be trustworthy and then end up to be completely not is so crazy. I’m glad that you let the hostel know and were able to verify with their mom that the doctor’s diagnosis didn’t seem legit. I appreciate you sharing this story so we’re more aware of the possible scams that can happen.

    Reply
    • Inge

      Since it’s the only clinic in the neighbourhood, I guess the hostel would still send you to that clinic anyway. I would definitely recommend asking around in pharmacies. We found them very helpful on different occasions!

      Reply
  4. Elaine Masters

    So happy to hear that your heads cleared once you were out of the office. There are scammers everywhere but those taking advantage of people in pain are the worst. Your angels worked overtime – no ATM and banks closed (hahaha.) A great cautionary tale. Get a second opinion is my mantra!

    Reply
  5. Sarah

    This is COMPLETELY INSANE! I’ve never heard of such a thing but in hearing the story it actually does seem like an easy way for someone to make a quick buck. Great account of the whole situation to try and warn others.

    Reply
  6. Anisa

    Wow that is crazy! Glad the doctor did not get all your money and it is good you reported it to the hostel. Did you consider reporting to the police too?

    Reply
    • Inge

      We didn’t consider reporting it to the police. Never thought about that and I guess it wouldn’t make much of a difference…

      Reply
  7. My Ticklefeet

    Thanks for sharing your experience! Wow.. that was one scam you dodged, so glad you went to get second consultation from pharmacies. Definitely something we could easily get trapped into. Glad I read this post to keep being more cautious in the future.

    Reply

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