It’s a new backpack-stealing scam that I’ve never seen or heard of before. Be aware! Here’s what happened before my bus left the station a couple of days ago.

I was the only gringo on the bus, which is normal. I was sitting patiently in my seat, waiting for the Pisac bus to leave Cusco and was doing what I usually do: people-watching. The bus seats were full and people were beginning to stand in the aisles. Certainly nothing out of the ordinary.

I saw a group of three guys who seemed to know one another – again nothing out of the ordinary. But something seemed amiss. One guy had bloodshot eyes and I noticed that another one was staring at me.  I stared back. The third one had scars on his face. None of them looked all too friendly.

I paused, wondering what their deal was . . . they seemed like they were trying to push their way to the back, which is a little strange, because no one ever does that. Everyone just kind of stands in the ailse near the front of the bus. I turned and began to look out the window.

Suddenly, a lady behind me poked my shoulder. “Tu mochila?” she asked, your backpack? She pointed to the cubbyholes above the bus seats. I still had no idea what was going on.

“No,” I said. “Yo la tengo.” I have it.

Then I realized what had happened, just as the lady began to yell in rapid-fire Spanish to everyone else on the bus. The only thing I caught was, “son tres.” There are three.

But the three mean-looking young men who’d been crowding the bus moments before had vanished. Everyone was checking above them to make sure their belongings were still there. A Peruvian lady with a toddler reached up. “Mi tarjeta!” she cried. My card! The three had stolen her purse with her credit cards inside.

I always, always, always carry my bag around my shoulder. I don’t ever take it off and put it up above while I’m on the bus, mostly because I’m spacey and I would forget later when it came time to get off the bus. I suggest if you carry a backpack, to put it on the floor, between your legs while you ride local busses.

But mostly, just be aware of your belongings for every single second while they are not physically attached to you. And listen to those feelings you may have when something seems amiss. That little voice inside my head told me that something was not right with those three guys. I dismissed it. It was right.