Identifying Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Hi Billy and Akaisha,

I admire your free spirit, and hope to travel in Latin America someday.

One thing that concerns me is reports of apparently friendly people in Latin America who turn out to be surprisingly evil. For example, there’s “Wild Bill Cortez” and his wife, Americans who befriended people, then killed them, took their belongings, and took over their properties. (Stealing Paradise)

And Javier Martin, who became friends with Don North, after Don rescued Javier after his boat sank in a storm. Javier later killed Don for his property and money, and also killed a French boat owner for his property. (Dark Side of Paradise)

I know bad things happen everywhere, including the US, but with the social support of friends and family, we have a little more resources for dealing with some of these situations, compared to being in an unfamiliar location and at the mercy of strangers. I also recognize that the majority of native Latin Americans, as well as expats are goodhearted peopled. Do you all have any suggestions about how to identify these wolves in sheep’s clothing?


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Hi Joan,

Your questions are excellent ones and we thank you for taking the time to write.

We are familiar with both of those stories, the one about Wild Bill and the one about Javier Martin. In fact, a few nights ago we just watched the TV story about Don North being killed by Javier.

Several years ago I read a book by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear.

Mr. De Becker takes the position that violence isn’t just ‘random’ and that clues and access to information which can prevent us from becoming a victim is available to us beforehand. He explains that caution is different than fear, with fear actually being a gift that can save our lives. He explains how gut instinct is much different than an over-active imagination.

The information in this book is good, solid advice to use anywhere, including your own home town.

A very high percentage of victims of violence will admit that they knew ‘something wasn’t right’ or that they felt strangely before violence struck. They shushed themselves up and went ahead into the dangerous situation anyway. In other words, we as human animals ‘know’ but often don’t take our warning signs seriously.

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Violence doesn’t normally happen to someone who looks confident, or appears to know where they are going and walks with a purpose. Perpetrators look for someone who is distracted or lost, seems weak, has their purse, money bag or belongings helter-skelter while they are looking at a map. They could have their hands full and generally they appear worried or look down at the sidewalk when they walk. Criminals seek the weak not the strong.

If you are lost or trying to get your bearings, step inside a building and gather yourself, then go back onto the street.

Distraction or desperation brings with it a high probability for trouble. Walk confidently and with a destination in mind. Give the impression of being self-possessed when you are traveling and walking around in unfamiliar locations.

Desperados don’t want trouble, they want an easy take.

In most situations, using common sense is … well… common sense.

Keep a low profile, avoid being loud or argumentative, and if you meet friends at a bar, don’t get so looped that you can’t find your way back home. Too much alcohol consumption contributes to situations we call ’leaving your brains at the border.’ Keep a certain ’situational awareness’ about yourself at all times. This situational awareness is probably your #1 defense mechanism – that, and how your gut feels about anyone you meet, no matter how nice they seem to be.

When complete strangers get overly chummy or street or beach vendors ask politely ‘Where are you from? Where are you staying? Where did you have dinner?” realize that these people want to know this information for a reason. Vendors (and criminals) have years of experience sizing up tourists in order to see if you are a good target or estimate what price they might be able to extract from you for their goods – they are not ‘just being friendly’. When you divulge too much information about yourself, your whereabouts and what kind of money you may be carrying, you are clearly asking for trouble.

If you travel dripping of jewels, yielding loads of cash, staying in high end resorts with a false sense of security, brandishing an attitude and generally not aware of the impression you are giving to poorer locals or those with mal-intent, you are setting yourself up to be a target for theft or worse.

Remember, in most circumstances you are not at the mercy of a stranger. You make decisions every day with confidence. Be willing to use all of your abilities — the rational, conscious mind as well as the subconscious mind which picks up hundreds of clues and thousands of bits of information in seconds, processing them more quickly than the rational mind is able to do.

Do not be taken in by a stranger in strange circumstances. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck. Politely and quickly disengage yourself from the situation and get out of harm’s way.

Violence and the unexpected can happen anywhere, including your own home city, with or without your loved ones being nearby.

Put things into perspective, trust your abilities and enjoy your life wherever you are.

Thanks again for taking the time to write, and I hope you find these tips and the insight I have offered to be useful.

Stay well, and keep in touch.


About Retire Early Lifestyle

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired three decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. As recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel, they have been interviewed about retirement issues by The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, The Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter, nationally syndicated radio talk shows and countless newspapers and TV shows nationally and worldwide. They wrote the popular books The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement (Your Simple Path to FIRE) and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
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