Taking caution to not get scammed or robbed while traveling is always a concern. The first time I was scammed, it occurred months before I realized it.
When I arrived at The Casa Mona Lisa, a hostel in Panama City, I didn’t expect to pay upon arrival — the money had been drawn from my bank account months earlier between late March and early April.
The next day after my first night in the hostel, Carmen, one of the hostel managers, informed me that I hadn’t paid.
I’ll admit I had a strange feeling about the money being drawn from my account in the pervious months — according to Hostelworld, the site I booked on, I was supposed to pay upon arrival. In fact, I had printed out my bank statement in the case I ran into problems.
The problem though, was not that I wasn’t that paying according to Hostelworld‘s guidelines, the problem was that the hostel had no record of my payment.
I gave Carmen my bank statement and the last four digits of my debit card for her to investigate. Still nothing.
I was scammed.
The scammer took my payments in two rounds. The first, for $24, was withdrawn soon after I made my booking. With this, I sent an email to ask if I could pay the rest upon arrival.
The response, a little confusing yet palatable, made it seem that paying the last $66 upon arrival would be fine.
Two weeks pass and then $66 is drawn from my account.
Was strange, but then again, I also thought, “Oh, okay, well, I guess I can just complete the payment now.”
Time passes and I arrive at The Casa MonaLisa thinking I’ve made the complete $105 payment for my stay.
The scammer was good. Hostelworld only took $15 as a pre-booking fee. The rest taken straight from my bank account, and into the scammer’s pockets.
Not bad work, huh? Clearly he doesn’t deserve the compliment, but even after calling my bank, there was no account number to trace the payment to. He charged my account as La Casa MonaLisa PYT, so it looked legit from the beginning.
At the hostel, they realized who it had been — a volunteer who had experience in IT. That explains quite a bit.
Lucky for me, I didn’t lose my money. My bank, PNC, sent it back to me after hearing my story. Well, I have to sign a paper when I get back to the US in order to make sure the $66 still remains in my account, but I feel lucky to have such protections.
As for the hostel, they didn’t charge me I ended up with a free stay.
I felt terrible for what happened although I know it was not in mine or their control.
At the end of my program in Panama, I plan to return to The Casa MonaLisa for a few nights. The hostel didn’t just provide a bed to sleep in, but was full of extraordinary people — including the managers who I look forward to seeing again.
For my first time being scammed, I’m grateful to have my money back and that no serious damage was done. I certainly learned a new lesson.
Unfortunately, the scammer will probably continue to do what he does, so writing this story is best I can do to warn others about this type of scam.
Safe travels to all!