Wednesday, 28 September 2016

THAILAND: Conmen And Scams Tourists Come Across

Before even going through the scams, the best advice to avoid these scams in Thailand is to avoid engaging strangers.

And the better their English is, the more you should avoid them.

If you must engage, LIE. E.g. make it seem like you have been to the city many times even when you’ve been there for only 5 hours.

Also, if something sounds too good to be true, such as “if you don’t like, you don’t need to pay”, it is.

This scam is so common, because it is so easy to pull off on unwitting tourists. It can be perpetrated by random strangers around the vicinity of the Grand Palace/tourist areas, tuk tuk drivers and even taxi drivers!

One variation is that taxi drivers or tuk tuk drivers will tell you that the grand palace is closed today for some special/Buddhist ceremony while you are still on the cab/tuk tuk. They will then advise you an alternative location such as the Sitting Buddha/Lucky Buddha/Marble Temple and claim that it’s only open once a year today (sounds too good to be true eh?)!

Listen to them and you will end up at some jewellery or tailor shops where you might be coerced into buying overpriced crap. Some of them might lock you in the shop until you start buying.

Another variation is where you get approached by strangers near the temple. They can simply say that the temple is closed (e.g. could be for lunch), or lead you to an entrance which only Thais can enter. When the duty officer stops you, the strangers will help to translate and bluff you that the palace is closed now for some special ceremony and to come back only at 3pm.

In the meantime, they will advise some alternative locations which you can visit that sound really good. Should you agree, they will help you flag a tuk tuk (in cahoots with them) which will eventually bring you to some gem stores or tailor shops..

By the way, the temple operates from 8.30am to 3.30pm. By the time you make it back, the temple would be close to closing or closed by then.

Some of these strangers can look (wearing formal shirt with “tourist police” tags) and sound really convincing, so do not even engage if someone approaches you on the streets.

Note that these scammers even operate in the temple! So do not assume that you are safe even when in it.

Finally, the Grand Place is just an example and any place can be conveniently used in its place. Thus, it is safer to always check out the operating hours of the places you are visiting in Thailand.

This is a very painful scam as many have found out.

It is very simple, in that the company which you rented the jet ski from will claim that you have damaged the jet ski and demand a substantial repair fee. Should you refuse, there will be men in “uniform” who coincidentally passes by and threaten to arrest you (they can’t).

To protect yourself from this, the first thing you should do is never give your passport as collateral when renting the jet ski.

Next, examine the jet ski. Document/remember any scratches, dents or potential damaged parts. If they demand payment from you, call the local tourist police at 1155.

Don’t vex yourself up when trying to talk sense to these crooks, because it will not work.

This is pretty common in areas such as Pattaya and Phuket. To be really safe though, avoid all jet ski activities especially in Pattaya. Even the police will not be able to help. At best, they can only help you negotiate a lower fee, as they have a cut in the money as well.

It can happen anywhere, but is more likely at tourist locations and also at the locations where tuk tuk drivers send you to (if you have fallen for the tuk tuk scam).

For instance, the tuk tuk driver might have told you to wait for a while as he take a toilet break. Coincidentally, some stranger approaches you, claiming that he is a lawyer from the US and he is back in Thailand to visit his dad or some other nonsensical story..

He will then tell you about some bargain he found at a tailor shop which only Thai people know to make you feel privileged. Next, he will get more specific (persuasive) such as talking about Armani suits and how he use them for work everyday. Or he may have found out which country you are from and claim that some celebrities from your country have been a customer there.

These scammers are shrewd and they all have a template set of anecdotes for different countries. Having been on the receiving end before, it works pretty effectively in building trust.

As most unaware tourists will do, they will enquire about the location. If they don’t, by now the tuk tuk driver will be back and the stranger would have “helped” you tell the driver the location to send you there.

Over at the shop, you pay everything upfront as the prices seem like a good deal and high pressure sales tactics are used. They even promise you home country delivery!

However, what you get in return is poor fitting polyester crap, not cashmere or higher quality threads as initially promised.

To prevent yourself from being exploited by this scam, firstly never pay upfront. Come up with a story/excuse for wire transfer. Then search online for reviews of the shop you are at. Next, do not take advice from random strangers, this includes even the tourist police! Finally, if what the tailor says sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Gem Scam,this scam preys on your greed, which is a very powerful force.

The modus operandi is that the owner will tell you that gems in Thailand are abundant and so you can get them for cheap, wholesale prices. You can make a killing by reselling them back home. They might even throw in some “government sponsored sale” which is absolute nonsense.

There might even be other accomplices in the shop who pretend to be tourists, claim that today is indeed the Thai Tourism Day and claimed that they have just bought a beautiful piece of jewellery.

If something seems too good to be true, it is. The gems sold are worthless pieces of glass or synthetic materials so don’t waste your time. Legitimate traders would also not operate in such a way.

If you have fallen for the scam, contact the tourist police and file a report which you can try to submit for insurance claims. If you have used a credit card, also contact your credit company to either reverse those charges or to dispute them.

Bar/Café Scam, perpetrated by young, local girls, they target single male travellers by approaching them and getting them to go to a local bar or café.

They get you to buy drinks and by the time the bill comes, they will be gone. Now, you check the bill, and HOLY.

Very similar to the hotel scam mentioned earlier.

The Sombondee Seafood Market is a play on the Somboon Seafood Chain which is very popular in Thailand for good food at affordable prices.

However, the Sombondee Seafood Market serves crap at inflated prices. Widely perpetrated by errant tuk tuk and cab drivers in Bangkok.

At the red light district of Patpong, you will be approached with “The Menu”, a list of all the fun acrobatic prowesses you can see.

You will be led to some shady, nameless bar upstairs (ground level ones have fixed prices for drinks, those above are likely scams) and made to pay for a couple of “lady drinks” for the girls at your table.

Now, the show begins. A meek and simple trick is performed and you are asked to tipped generously. Should you suspect something amiss and request to leave, you will be smacked with a check of crazy sums. Pay you will or the bouncers standing around will give you a good lesson.

For those travelling alone, avoid such areas as you will be easily bullied and coerced.

Tuk Tuks in Thailand prey on your greed with super low offers of all day tours. They justify this by claiming that it is the Thai Tourism Day and that the government is sponsoring free gas. On this day, there happen to be some bargains somewhere that they know of..

And so it happens, on the tours, what they do is they send you to jewellery or tailor shops along the way where they earn commission should you make any purchase! In those shops, many tactics could be used to make you buy something, such as locking the shop or simply by wasting your time.

Of course, they do not just bring you there without you saying so, they do it in a smart way.

First, they will find out the purpose of your vacation, is it to shop? To sightsee? Then, they enquire about your itinerary and began making suggestions to “better places” or places with more “bargains”. They will even claim that this or that place is closed but there’s another which they can bring you to.

If they discover that you are new to the city, they may bring you to a travel agency and offer to help you plan the rest of the trip. A famous one is the TAT – Tourism Authority of Thailand. It’s bullshit, avoid at all costs unless you do not mind paying exorbitant sums for fake bus tickets, hotel bookings and even plane tickets.

The more scheming ones will bring you out of town/city/to somewhere secluded and then demand an exorbitant amount to send you back.

To top it off and make it even more authentic, sometimes the tuk tuk drivers don’t suggest the places. Rather, they send you to a location, go for a toilet break, and a well dressed stranger will approach you from nowhere, chat with you to build trust and then share “insider tips” for where next to visit.

Avoid them totally, unless you get a kick from exposing scams or from playing along.

At the train station, an “official” looking person will approach you and ask where you are going. He will then go to the counter, pretend to look through the computer and tell you that your train has been fully booked.

Surprise surprise, he then offers you a great deal in that he knows a taxi driver who can get you to your location for a minimal cost instead.

Of course, it is not minimal cost and when you reach your location, the driver will turn aggressive and demand more money. The more scheming ones will drive you to an out of reach location and then demand more money.

Another variation is that the “official” looking person will offer to help you book train seats outside the train station. They bring you to a nearby travel agent, pretend again to check with the train company via phone only to find that the train is fully booked. They will then tell you your only option is to use a cab as mentioned earlier, on or one of their buses.

Obviously, avoid taxis without meters, especially those with “broken” meters. If you are left with no choice, negotiate the price first.

For those taxis with meters and yet try to negotiate a flat rate price with you, never do so.

Beware of the taxis in airports as well, as they cost more than taxis outside.

Also be wary of the final location which you end up in, as they might send you to a wrong place with a similar sounding name to fleece you of your cash.

Also, do not reveal much info and definitely do NOT take up advice or offers from the driver.

The first variation is similar to the jet ski scam, but could be a whole lot more troublesome.

The second variation is much more treacherous. When you leave your motorbike parked and locked somewhere, the company will send someone with a spare key to unlock it and steal it back.

Then, you will be forced pay up for losing your motorbike.

Again, do not hand over your passport as collateral when renting the motorbike.

A simple turnaround to this problem is to use an OLD passport and also to use your own lock, no matter how troublesome it is. Better to be safe than sorry.

Bus Scams, this happens anywhere, be it in Europe or Asia.

Your belongings are at risk of going missing on overnight buses or trains unless you secure them with a lock. Some have been reported of being drugged and losing their wallet when they woke up.

Note that you can be a victim of theft even in the day, not just overnight!

Do not expose your valuables in the public unnecessarily. Beware of private bus companies with VIP buses. Theft is normal on these VIP buses and travel time takes longer than advertised.

Hotel Scams,check that the hotel you’ve arrived at IS the one that you intend to stay at.

There are hotels which trade on the names of popular ones and cab drivers which are in cahoots with them to send you to a wrong hotel which you think is right.

By the time you realise, you might have already paid in full for the hotel and also a number of tours that you have signed up for.

Somehow, even bird shit can be a scam.

This works surprisingly well, because when you get hit by bird shit, your emotions take over, logic fails and you become distracted.

How it works is very simple, you get hit by bird shit miraculously, some stranger appears out of nowhere, helps you clean up and in the confusion, clean up your valuables as well.

Note, it can be anything else besides bird shit! It could be a clumsy waiter who spills water on you, a random jogger who bumps into you, etc.

Fake Police,sometimes even real Police do this Scam

A scam as old as human history, it is still common and not easy to detect.

You will be approached by the police who then ask to see your passport. Something wrong will be found with your visa and you will be asked to pay a fine on the spot.

To solve this, first do NOT let emotions get the better of you (fear), stand your ground (I’m sure you would have done your visa properly) and then offer to accompany them to the police station.

This is a simple and effective solution but not easy to carry out if you are easily intimidated.

Again, ANOTHER stranger you should know by now to avoid strangers, approaches you with a FREE scratchie card (free is the most expensive!) or questionnaire.

Since there’s no harm done, or so you thought, you proceed to scratch the card or do the questionnaire and next you know you have won a prize!

But to claim that prize, you would have to head to a hotel which may or may not be nearby. Anyone sane would probably have said thanks but no thanks and rejected the offer. However, the stranger will play the sympathy card and claim that if you don’t go, he would not be paid for doing his job.

So you go.. And you end up in a room with other tourists, listening to a presentation on timeshare apartments. At the end of it, you are presented with a very special discounted price and pressured into buying it.

The timeshare scheme on offer probably does not exist by the way.

Wrong Change Given Scam, this scam can happen anywhere as tourists are usually not familiar with the local currency and some do not even bother checking their change.

There are also of course, honest mistakes, so the onus is on you to check.

Cards,Poker,Blackjack Scam, A stranger will approach you and try to befriend you.

For instance, he may ask where you are from. It does not matter what you say, as he will say that he has a relative who is going there soon (for any reason such as studying) or share some other anecdotes (they all have a template).

Then, he will ask if you are willing to come over to his house as his relative has some questions, or he might outright invite you for a game of cards.

Over there, somehow you will end up playing poker or blackjack with them.

They WILL let you win the first few rounds. Then, the real fun begins as the stakes get higher. Your losses start piling up and should you refuse to pay, gang members will appear and threaten your life.

Fake Baht Scam, This is how it usually goes.

When you pay for an item, the shopkeeper may claim that your note is counterfeit, bring it to the back/out of sight to swap with a counterfeit note!

He comes back, gives you the counterfeit note and demands for new payment.

This is a double or triple whammy as you had to pay more than the original plus you get a counterfeit note! The solution to this is to never let any note get out of your sight.

Also, be wary of the 1000 baht note as it is most commonly used. Take note of the serial numbers of the large notes as well.

Bird Food Scam, first, the stranger approaches you with a bag of bird seeds. He then forces you to take the bag and to scatter the seeds on the ground.

When you are done with a bag, the scammer might give you even more bags or demand 100 baht for that bag. Refuse and he will get aggressive.

Note: you must forcefully stand your ground as the scammer is likely to be rather aggressive.

Laundry Scam,your expensive items might just go missing and you get no recourse besides an apology. But that’s just the first part of the scam.

The second part is that the laundry company will assist you by bringing you to a shop to buy the set of clothes/pants that you lost, which they earn a commission from.

Pickpockets,What is a scam article without pickpockets?

Besides the bird shit scam as mentioned earlier, there are pickpocket pairs as well. One person will knock into you and the other will pickpocket you from behind.

I was scammed by taxis in Bangkok as well as in Phuket the first couple of times I went to Thailand.

When choosing a taxi:

1. Ask politely if s/he will use the meter. If s/he says no, find one that will. Or, if you know the price to where you are going, negotiate it before getting in.

2. Beware of highway charges. One taxi driver insisted on taking the highway with me one time despite my wishes to take the local roads. At every toll gate, he shouted at me “100BAHT!!” (the actual toll was 20BAHT as shown on the sign).

3. If you are backpacking and do not have a hotel reserved, NEVER tell the driver so. This happened to me in Phuket. I was taken off the highway (from the airport on the way to Patong beach) and into the jungle (seemed so at the time as it was night) to a tour agency. I was forced to take one of their expensive hotel packages in order to proceed.

4. At the airport, only take the taxis that are at the taxi rank and where you buy the taxi ticket from the girl at the desk. I made the mistake of being impatient and flagging a taxi who was sitting on the road just away from the taxi rank. Once on our way, he proceeded to try to charge me triple the charge to downtown BKK from the airport or else drop me and my wife in the middle of the highway. I had to negotiate only paying double the real fare of 300BAHT at the time. (But, I asked my wife for all the coins she had and paid him with a large handful of coins, which I dropped on the ground in front of him when we got to the hotel