How to stay safe from crime in Ecuador

Johan Klok | Last update:

In this article you can read what types of crime exist in Ecuador and which precautions you can take to lower the risk to become a victim of these crimes.

Crime types

Kidnappings: kidnappings in taxis

Kidnappings with the use of taxis are called secuestros express in Ecuador. These kidnappings work as follows: the victim takes a taxi and the taxi driver threatens the victim with a weapon to withdraw money from an ATM. The victims are usually left behind in an isolated area. Sometimes the victims are killed. This type of kidnapping can take place anywhere in Ecuador but especially Guayaquil is known for these kidnappings.

Recommendations:

  • Ask your accommodation (hotel, Airbnb, etc.) to arrange a taxi. This is the preferable way to take a taxi because the management of accommodations knows trustworthy drivers.
  • If you are a woman, you can use the services of taxi company Go Girl in Guayaquil and Quito. This is a company by women for women.
  • Services like Uber and inDriver are safer than official taxis because these platforms have good recommender systems. In Cuenca, it's safe to use the official taxis via the applications Cuenca Taxi and Azutaxi. These applications register all movements.
  • Avoid the use of illegal taxis (other than via Uber and inDriver).

Kidnappings: kidnappings in case of robberies

In 2022 so far, there have been several cases of kidnappings as part of robberies in Cuenca and its surroundings. In these cases, the victims went to a place to buy or sell goods (a car or household goods for example). When the money was given or the goods were handed over, the victims were kidnapped and left behind in an isolated area. In one case the criminals came to the house of a car owner to take a test drive. During the test drive, the owner of the car was overpowered and was left behind near a village in the rural area of Cuenca.

Recommendations:

  • Don’t pay large amounts of money in cash. Ask for a cheque or a money transfer. Virtually all legitimate businesses in Ecuador have bank accounts. Insist if needed.
  • Ask the police for its free accompaniment service when traveling with valuables. You can ask for this service by calling 911.
  • Don’t invite strangers to your home in case of selling or buying something.

Kidnappings: kidnappings for ransom

Kidnappings for ransom are not very common but every year there are several cases. In 2022 so far, there have been reports from Guayaquil, Manta, Ibarra, and the border area with Colombia. Wealthy businessmen are usually the targets. In the area around the border of Colombia, there are also cases of foreigners who became victims. The criminals behind kidnappings for ransom are usually criminal gangs. The police takes these cases seriously.

Recommendations:

  • Avoid the area around the border with Colombia. The road to the Rumichaca border station is safe.
  • Keep a low profile in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabí, Guayas, Los Ríos, Santo Domingo, Carchi, Imbabura, and Sucumbíos.

Robberies of bank clients

Robberies of banks and credit unions are rare in Ecuador, but robbing their clients is popular among criminals. These criminals have a special name in Ecuador: sacapintas. They usually work in gangs of up to 10 people. They usually work as follows: a member of the gang infiltrates a bank or credit union as a so-called selector. The selector can be an employee of the financial institution or can act as a normal visitor. His or her task is to identify and select a client who makes a withdrawal of a large amount of money. The appearance of this client is then communicated by the selector to the other gang members, who follow the client when he leaves the financial institution. At the most ideal moment, they will intercept and rob the client. These interceptions and robberies are usually violent and sometimes even deadly.

The interceptions often occur at one of the following moments:

  1. When the client leaves a financial institution or ATM.
  2. When the client enters his vehicle.
  3. When the client arrives at his home or office.
  4. When the client is underway to his next destination.

You may recognize a selector who is not an employee by his behavior in and around the financial institution. Examples of suspicious behavior are:

  • He frequently moves in and out of the financial institution.
  • He stands in the waiting line but gives up several times.
  • He moves around the facilities of the financial institution without any purpose or activity.
  • He suddenly approaches other clients to strike up a conversation or to offer help, without being asked.

The possibility of the presence of a selector is the main reason why it's forbidden to use cell phones in financial institutions in Ecuador.

The video below shows an example of expats who became victims of this type of crime in 2021 in Cumbayá, an affluent suburb of Quito. They suspect that a bank employee is involved, but there are more suspects: school employees, people waiting in or near the bank building, and their Uber driver.

Recommendations:

  • Avoid withdrawing large amounts of cash. Alternatives are making bank transfers and using cheques.
  • Report suspicious people inside or outside financial institutions to the security guards or the police.
  • Keep a low profile and be discreet: if you go to a financial institution to withdraw or deposit money make sure that no one around you is aware of your plans.
  • Never accept help from strangers in or near financial institutions.
  • Do not use your usual route: try to go to your destination by a different route than the one you would normally take and choose a route where there are many people.
  • Be alert: pay attention to what is happening around you when you leave financial institutions and during your journeys. If you think that you are being followed, go back to the financial institution to ask for help. You can also go to the nearest police station.
  • Go to financial institutions accompanied. An extra pair of eyes can help to better identify any strange behavior.
  • Don’t take taxis in front of financial institutions but a few blocks away. Some taxi drivers are also involved in this type of crime.
  • Ask the police for its free accompaniment service when traveling with large amounts of money. You can ask for this service by calling 911. You can also ask the staff of financial institutions to call the police. For this service, you don’t need to make an appointment in advance.

ATM robberies

Related to the robberies of bank clients are robberies at or near ATMs. ATM robberies occur often in Ecuador. In July 2022 for example, an expat reported that he was robbed at gunpoint by three criminals while withdrawing money from an ATM in Cuenca’s historic city center.

Recommendations:

  • Don’t use unlit ATMs.
  • Don’t use ATMs when it’s dark.
  • Use ATMs inside financial institutions and shopping malls if possible.
  • Be aware of who is behind you when you walk to or from an ATM. If a person seems to stay behind you, stop walking and let him by. This person may use his mobile phone to be in contact with another person who walks ahead of you. It's best to frequently change sides of the streets. This is especially helpful if you have the idea that a motorcyclist is following you. Walking towards oncoming traffic also makes it difficult for motorcyclists to rob you.
  • Don’t get forced to use a specific ATM when there are multiple ATMs available. A popular setup used by criminals is to occupy the ATMs on the left and right sides to force their victims to use the ATM in the middle. They then can easily overpower their victims.

Street robberies

Street robberies are quite common in Ecuador. In 2022 so far, there have been reports from expats and tourists of street robberies in Quito, Cuenca, Salinas, and Manta. The victims are usually approached by one or two criminals who threaten them with guns or knives. They may be part of a larger group of criminals that is near the place of the robbery.

Below a video of an expat who got into a suspicious situation along the river in the Gringolandia neighborhood in Cuenca.

Recommendations to prevent street robberies:

  • Read in our area guides which areas you should avoid.
  • Avoid empty streets early in the morning and from the time when it starts to get dark (about 6 pm).
  • Avoid empty beaches and desolated parts of beaches. It’s best to stay on the parts of beaches where many people are.
  • Walk in groups, especially when it’s dark.
  • Avoid taking public transportation at night. Many victims were robbed while waiting at a bus stop.
  • Do not talk a language other than Spanish if you notice a suspicious person.
  • Be cautious when you are approached by strangers. Some criminals may ask you questions to distract you.
  • Don’t hang around outside your home when it’s dark.
  • Refrain from flaunting expensive items like cell phones and watches.
  • Walk towards oncoming traffic to make it more difficult for motorcyclists to rob you.

Recommendations when you have become a victim of a street robbery:

  • Don’t resist or fight back. South American criminals are usually professional criminals who don’t hesitate to hurt you.
  • Don’t make the robbers nervous by acting in a suspicious manner. Again: they usually don’t hesitate to hurt you.
  • Always give your belongings when you are threatened with a weapon.