Vehicle import scam targets gringos

December 24, 2009

Five people have filed complaints against a man posing as an agent for the United States Embassy in Costa Rica who has allegedly cheated them out of a collective $28,000.

The man, a 55-year-old Costa Rican named Carlos Arroyo, reportedly hangs out at bars in Escazú and Santa Ana, looking to pick up potential clients. He claims he has diplomatic credentials, allowing him to avoid high automobile import tariffs – which can be more than 50 percent the value of the car.

But six months after Michael Plachy contracted him to import a 2006 Toyota 4Runner, Plachy has yet to get the car or an explanation of the whereabouts of the $3,000 he had invested.

“He told us what we wanted to hear and I went with it,” said the 60-year-old from the U.S. city of Dallas, Texas. “But, when I followed up with it, I just hear excuse after excuse.”

Plachy is not alone.

New York native Jim Adams invested $17,000 in vehicles he needed for an airboat business he´s establishing in Limón, a port city on Costa Rica´s Caribbean coast. He lives in the same condominium complex as Arroyo and, after a few neighbor-to-neighbor conversations, he learned of the opportunity Arroyo was offering to import cars at a discounted rate.

Yet, a month after contracting with Arroyo, he has yet to get his vehicles. And, after doing some further investigation, he learned that Arroyo´s credentials don´t check out. Arroyo does not work for the U.S. E mbassy and he is not affiliated with the Pops chain of ice cream stores. (He had told Adams and Plachy that his uncle was a founder.)

“The E mbassy can confirm that Mr. Carlos Arroyo was taken into custody by Costa Rican authorities and does not have any affiliation with the U.S. Embassy,” read a statement the embassy released on Monday.

At least five of the people who have fallen victim to the scam filed a complaint with the judicial police. Arroyo was detained for a day and then released, according to Adams.

Asked whether he thinks he can get his money back, Adams shook his head.

“Not likely,” he said. “But we want to make sure this doesn´t happen to other people.”

The Tico Times made several calls left a message for Arroyo at his home phone asking for comment, but he has not answered.

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