Scams and Touts in Thailand


Beware of Scams in Thailand

Thais can be so friendly and laid-back that some visitors are lulled into a false sense of security that makes them vulnerable to scams of all kinds. Scammers tend to haunt the areas where first-time tourists go, such as Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Wat Pho area. Though you could come across them anywhere in Thailand, the overwhelming majority of scams take place in Bangkok, with Chiang Mai a very distant second.

Most scams begin the same way: a friendly Thai male (or, on rare occasions, a female) approaches a lone visitor – usually newly arrived – and strikes up a conversation. Sometimes the con man says he’s a university student, other times he may claim to work for the World Bank or a similarly distinguished organisation (some even carry cellular phones). If you’re on the way to Wat Pho or Jim Thompson’s House, for example, he may tell you it’s closed for a holiday. Eventually the conversation works its way around to the subject of the scam – the better con artists can actually make it seem like you initiated the topic. The most common scam involves gems. The victims find themselves invited to a gem and jewellery shop – your new-found friend is picking up some merchandise for himself and you’re just along for the ride. Somewhere along the way he usually claims to have a connection, often a relative, in your home country (what a coincidence!) with whom he has a regular gem export-import business. One way or another, victims are convinced (usually they convince themselves) that they can turn a profit by arranging a gem purchase and reselling the merchandise at home. After all, the jewellery shop just happens to be offering a generous discount today – it’s a government or religious holiday, or perhaps it’s the shop’s 10th anniversary, or maybe they’ve just taken a liking to you!

Gem ScamsThere is a seemingly infinite number of variations on the gem scam, almost all of which end up with the victim making a purchase of small, low-quality sapphires and posting them to their home countries. Once you return home, of course, the cheap sapphires turn out to be worth much less than you paid for them (perhaps one-tenth to one-half).

Many have invested and lost virtually all their savings; some admit they had been scammed even after reading warnings in this guidebook or those posted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) around Bangkok.

Even if you were somehow able to return your purchase to the gem shop in question, chances are slim-to-none you’d get a full refund. The con artist who brings the mark into the shop gets a commission of 10% to 50% per sale – the shop takes the rest.

The Thai police are usually no help whatsoever, believing that merchants are entitled to whatever price they can get. The main victimisers are a handful of shops who get protection from certain high-ranking government officials. These officials put pressure on police not to prosecute or to take as little action as possible. Even TAT’s tourist police have never been able to prosecute a Thai jeweller in cases of blatant, recurring gem fraud.

Card games are another way to separate suckers from their money. A friendly stranger approaches the lone traveller on the street, strikes up a conversation and then invites them to the house or apartment of his sister (or brother-in-law etc) for a drink or meal. After a bit of socialising a friend or relative of the con arrives on the scene; it just so happens a little high-stakes card game is planned for later that day. Like the gem scam, the card-game scam has many variations, but eventually the victim is shown some cheating tactics to use with help from the ‘dealer’, some practice sessions take place and finally the game gets under way with several high rollers at the table. The mark is allowed to win a few hands first, then somehow loses a few, gets bankrolled by one of the friendly Thais, and then loses the Thai’s money. Suddenly your new-found buddies aren’t so friendly any more – they want the money you lost. Sooner or later you end up cashing in most or all of your travellers cheques or making a costly visit to an ATM. Again the police won’t take any action because gambling is illegal in Thailand – you’ve actually broken the law.

Other minor scams involve túk-túk drivers, hotel employees and bar girls who take new arrivals on city tours; these almost always end up in high-pressure sales situations at silk, jewellery or handicraft shops. In this case the victim’s greed isn’t the ruling motivation – it’s simply a matter of weak sales resistance. Follow TAT’s number-one suggestion to tourists: Disregard all offers of free shopping or sightseeing help from strangers – they invariably take a commission from your purchases. We would add: beware of deals that seem too good to be true. You might also try lying whenever a stranger asks how long you’ve been in Thailand – if it’s only been three days, say three weeks! Or save your Bangkok sightseeing until after you’ve been up north. The con artists rarely prey on anyone except new arrivals.

Contact the Tourist Police if you have any problems with consumer fraud.


Thailand touts and scamsTouting (grabbing newcomers in the street or in train stations, bus terminals or airports to sell them a service) is a long-time tradition in Asia, and while Thailand doesn’t have as many touts as, say, India, it has its share. In the popular tourist spots it seems like everyone – young boys waving fliers, túk-túk drivers, saamláw (three-wheeled vehicle) drivers, schoolgirls – is touting something, usually hotels or guesthouses. For the most part they’re completely harmless and sometimes they can be very informative. But take anything a tout says with two large grains of salt. Since touts work on commission and get paid just for delivering you to a guesthouse or hotel (whether you check in or not), they’ll say anything to get you to the door.

The better hotels and guesthouses refuse to pay tout commissions – so the average tout will try to steer you away from such places. Hence don’t believe them if they tell you the hotel or guesthouse you’re looking for is closed, full, dirty or ‘bad’. Sometimes (rarely) they’re right but most times it’s just a ruse to get you to a place that pays more commission.

Always have a look yourself before checking into a place recommended by a tout. Túk-túk and saamláw drivers often offer free or low-cost rides to the place they’re touting. If you have another place you’re interested in, you might agree to go with a driver only if he or she promises to deliver you to your first choice after you’ve had a look at the place being touted. If drivers refuse, chances are it’s because they know your first choice is a better one.

This type of commission work isn’t limited to low-budget guesthouses. Travel agencies at Bangkok International Airport and Hualamphong train station are notorious for talking newly arrived tourists into staying at badly located, overpriced hotels.

Bus Touts

Watch out for touts wearing fake TAT or tourist information badges at Hualamphong train station. They have been known to coerce travellers into buying tickets for private bus rides, saying the train is ‘full’ or ‘takes too long’. Often the promised bus service turns out to be substandard and may take longer than the equivalent train ride due to the frequent changing of vehicles. You may be offered a 24-seat VIP ‘sleeper’ bus to Chiang Mai, for example, and end up stuffed into a minivan all the way. Such touts are ‘bounty hunters’ who receive a set fee for every tourist they deliver to the bus companies. Avoid the travel agencies (many of which bear ‘TAT’ or even ‘Lonely Planet’ signs) just outside the train station for the same reason.

Source: WorldNomads.Com

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Updated: January 2, 2011 by admin

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