Vehicle Importation Scam Targets Gringos

January 8, 2010

Five people have filed complaints in Costa Rica against a man who is posing as a U.S. Embassy agent and has allegedly cheated his victims 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. Police say Arroyo claims he has diplomatic credentials, allowing him to avoid high automobile import tariffs – which can be more than 50 percent of the value of the car.

But six months after Texas-native 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 invested.

“He told us what we wanted to hear and I went with it,” said the 60-year-old, who lives in Costa Rica part-time. “But, when I followed up with it, I just heard excuse after excuse.”

Plachy is not alone.

New York native Jim Adams said he invested $17,000 in vehicles needed for an airboat business he’s establishing in the Caribbean port city of Limón. Adams said 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 said he has yet to get his vehicles. And, he said, after further investigation, he learned that Arroyo’s credentials don’t check out. Arroyo does not work for the U.S. Embassy and he is not affiliated with the Pops chain of ice cream stores. (Adams and Plachy said Arroyo claimed that his uncle was a founder.)

“The (U.S.) Embassy 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 Investigation 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 tried unsuccessfully to reach Arroyo by calling his home phone, sending e-mail and contacting a neighbor.

–Chrissie Long

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