Shysters, Shams, and Bangkok Scams

Posted by - February 5, 2012 | Category: Asia, Escapes, Thailand

Bangkok Scams: Just Say No to Getting Scammed in Bangkok

MBK Market is somewhat of a landmark in Bangkok, and apparently it’s a hotspot for Bangkok scams. It’s the one shopping mall that even folks that don’t like shopping malls tend to visit. But like most landmarks, it attracts its fair share of crooks, cons and ne’er-do-wells. I spotted this sign near the taxi stand on the main floor of MBK warning of potential Bangkok scams.

ust-Say-No-Thief-Warning-SignMBK-Market-Bangkok-Thailand

The Bangkok Gem Scam

The jewellery shop warning refers to the infamous Thai Gemstone Scam (also called the Bangkok Gem Scam) where a shady tuk-tuk driver will say that today is “a very special day” where he will get a “gasoline coupon” to pay for all of his gas for a month. That’s of course if you take a 20 baht (about 70 cents U.S.) tour with him to sites around the city. Sounds like a very good deal indeed.

He’ll then take you to lesser known sites, or claim that the major ones are closed, and you will end up at a jewellery shop (and a suit factory, and a travel agent…) for which he receives a commission.

Once you are in the gem shop they will try to convince you that jewels are priced ridiculously low in Bangkok and you that you can make a killing by reselling the gems back home. Or they will try to sell you diamonds, gold, silver or any other sort of completely worthless jewels at seemingly too good to be true deals. Shysters.

If it’s too good to be true then…plain and simple, it’s just not true.

Tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok, Thailand

Same goes for the suit factory and travel agent. The tuk-tuk driver will even claim that the travel agency you are at is the TAT – the Tourism Authority of Thailand, when it’s probably a place called Indeed Travel which charges outrageous rates to gullible newcomers.

My favourite was the British tourist who arrived at the same empty Wat that I visited. After taking some photos and engaging in some small talk, the topic got onto the jewellery scam. He said he had done it numerous times selling the stones for a hefty profit back in England. He was doing a very convincing job, and then I realized – That rat bastard, he’s in on it too!

Hundreds fall for this Bangkok scam every year.

Yes, I did take the tuk-tuk driver up on the offer of the tour. I had heard about it before-hand, but wanted to see exactly where it would lead. In all, he toted me around the city for four hours. I bought nothing, saw lots of out-of-the-way sites, and paid him a grand total of 20 Baht. Take that shyster.

The Food and Drink Scam

Khao San Road at night, Bangkok, Thailand

The food and drink warning refers to two possible scams, where you either end up at a “Lady” bar for free drinks, but then you are presented with a bill upwards of a 100 smackeroos for the entertainment, or you end up God-knows-where hours or days later because the food or drink (or even cigarette) you were offered was drugged.

Either way, you wind up with a wallet that’s a whole lot lighter.

There are plenty of other scams in Bangkok as well, such as the Ping Pong Show scam.

So be wary of these Bangkok scams my friend — not all attractions in Bangkok have a happy ending.

What Bangkok scams have you heard of in your travels?

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59 comments - add one
  1. Eek, these scams give me the heebie jeebies. I got approached by a scammer on Kensington High St. (London) saying he was a scout for ‘real models’ and that I would just have to pay for the photo portfolio (100 pounds). I was flattered and caught offguard. I just remember he wore dark sunglasses, which made me uneasy, if you can’t see their face then they might be hiding something.

    1. Sheesh! If they were scouts for “real models” you’d think that they could afford the 100 pounds. I wonder how may people they suck in what that scam?

  2. I love how I got in a tuk-tuk and told the guy to bring me to the Grand Palace, and I will pay him double to NOT take me to a tailor… he said ok. Guess where I ended up? Yeah… a tailor.

    1. Honestly, I don’t ever take tuk-tuks anymore. Even if you get a cab, it’s usually cheaper when you’re a white dude like me (as long as they turn on the meter). Plus it’s air-conditioned, and that’s always nice… 🙂

  3. We were aware of the Bangkok scams and managed to avoid them. It helps to be from NYC– I am used to ignoring people anyway 🙂

    1. No offense, but luck was at least a partial reason if you managed to avoid it. Myself, my brother and his wife who is Thai and has lived in Thailand her entire life went to Phuket and our driver still freaking brought us to a travel agency first! She had to yell at him for a good 10 minutes before he’d leave again.

      Also, to everyone, watch out for guys posing as cops! They probably won’t hurt you or anything but it’s another popular guise to steer you away from the big tourist spots like the palace, and into more scams!

  4. [email protected] says:

    Woa! The British tourist was in on it? Good grief, that’s got to be the frosting on the cake of scam slime!

    (Then again… you really have to hand it to him for creative nuanced strategy, no?) 😉

    1. I think there is more of that going on than is reported. I remember meeting a Japanese fellow in Istanbul years ago, and he was filled with regret that he worked for a carpet shop, but would pose as someone who lived there. He said he got tons of Japanese to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for rugs that were virtually worthless.

      Of course, he wasn’t remorseful enough that he would stop it.

  5. Good old Bangkok! 🙂 You actually took the gem tour? Damn, I should’ve done that also, did get it offered a few times. And it seems funny with the tuk-tuk drivers, all the major attractions are always closed!

    1. I did take the gem tour!! It’s just a bunch of skinny Thai ladies in short skirts following you around the store telling you what a good price everything was.

      And yeah, I think my guy had a schedule of every minor site in the city and their closing hours.

  6. It is such a shame that there are enough scammers out there that they get written about. On the other hand I am glad for the amount of information made available by the blogging community!

    1. Yes it seems like a lot of countries are following the Bangkok model. Even on the way back from Halong Bay in Vietnam, they had a “rest stop” at a souvenir factory.

  7. Unfortunately, there are still tons of similar scams out there…We must stay out of this scams.And this could be only possible when we are aware regarding this.There is an iPhone app recently released, called Scam Detector, which exposes over 500 of the most notorious scams. It is worth checking it out, if you have an iPhone. The app is also online, if interested: http://www.scam-detector.com. Kinda cool, actually.”

  8. When we make it to Bangkok, we’ll just use a cab like you said and avoid these tuk tuks all together. (Look at that… even our spell check doesn’t like tuk tuks). 🙂

  9. I love that term — ne’er do wells. LOL!
    Jeez Bangkok sounds like it can get pretty shady. The first two scams don’t sound too bad if you don’t buy anything, but being drugged and extorted sounds horrible!

  10. Dodgy, dodgy Bangkok. I almost fell for a scheme or two when I was there – it was my first time overseas! So naive was I that I’d actually stop and chat with these people, tell them where I was from and, luckily, just stop short of jumping on a tuk tuk with ’em.

  11. Great post Raymond, the more these Thailand scams are brought to light the better, it really does get tiresome knowing the authorities are not prepared to do anything about it.

    All they are doing is tarnishing Thailand’s reputation.
    While I am hear I would also like to warn visitors to Pattaya to avoid Jet Ski hire, it’s one of the biggest scams going, and it’s happening every day in broad daylight.

  12. i faced some scamers during my visit to bangkok last year. i was staying in bangkok marriott resort & spa located in the banks of chao phraya river on the otherside.to get back to the city center and other major parts of the city i had to use hotel provided free ferries across the river to the other bank which takes some 20 minutes..the bts station saphan taksin is just three minutes away from the landing spot for marriot ferries..scamers are waiting for tourists near saphan taksin..i was confronted many times. somehow they know which tourist is from which hotel across the river..they guess these things from studying ferry schedules of different hotels.

  13. Ive been to bkk twice got scammed in to buying tailor made shirts that did not fit so gave i them away on the first trip the place was recommend by taxi driver..
    a day later i met Bangkok’s best taxi driver and have used him ever since wonderful service and he will escort you where ever you want and make sure you dont get ripped off..
    There are some good thai’s out there you just have to find them

  14. Hi,

    in july I came for around a week to Bangkok to visit my Thai girl friend. As she had to work during the day I decided to have some fun with the well known scammers. In fact I was strolling around Grand Palace for a long time until finally somebody approached me and told the “Buddha day – everything is closed story”.

    He asked me if I was for the first time in Thailand? “Yes I said, arrived yesterday evening”. OK, he had Tuk Tuk (50 Baht) and then the fun startet. Actually I hoped to be taken to a gem shop, but I had a little bit overdone by telling the “nice guy” that I am goldsmith (I am not) (to make him more interested, but may be that scared him off a little bit). So I was only taken to T.A.T. and to a tailor.

    As I did not buy anything anywhere my driver became angry and threw me off somewhere near Khao San Road. He was surprised, that I anyway gave him 100 Baht for his good acting…

    Tuk Tuk: Sometimes my girl friend an me are using Tuk Tuk, but she always tells me to hide when she stops a Tuk Tuk. So she gets the Thai price and then – surprise, surprise, the Farang appears…

    Oh… I am looking forward to november, then I will be in Bangkok again! And may be I do again, to look if there are some new actors…

      1. Thanks for your reply.

        Yes, would be good. But in a way I felt bad after my post. In reality I have experienced so many nice and helpful persons in Thailand. It is such a shame that some bad people give Thailand a bad reputation.

        Other countries also have their scams. Fx. I have been more than 15 times in Tunisia… There the equivalent to “Budhha day” is “Date festival”…. (Probably in Green land it is “Santa Claus’ Birthday… ‘Sorry Sir… all igloos are closed today…’ :-)”)

        But also in Tunisia you find most people are incredible friendly…

        So… scam the scammers, and talk to the normal people in each country…

  15. Sitting at the Bar at Nana, watching some nice girls. This guy sitting next to me says this place is expensive, here farang pays double price, he knows nice place with real beauties, not expensive and mostly visited by Thai and Japanese locals. He writes something on a note in Thai and says to show it to a taxi driver who can take me there. I walk outside, get a taxi, the driver reads and understands, puts the taxi meter correctly on and there we go. And we go. And we go. After more than 20 minutes I ask how far it is. No answer. I don’t trust it anymore and tell him to stop and get back to my hotel. No answer. And we go. I take my cell phone, do as if I call someone, and speak loudly the taxi number displayed on the taxi’s dashboard. That helped. He turned left in a narrow street and stopped. He said better you walk further and your place is around the corner. The meter showed 380 Baht but he wanted 1000 for special service. At least I got out of this taxi, paid him 500 Bt and told him to fuck off. He got angry, but luckily enough a car stopped close by and the guy asked if there was any problem. I said yes, the taxi driver jumped in his car and drove away very fast. The guy there told me there was no club or anything in the area, and was kind enough to show me the best way back to the nearest bus station to get back to the hotel.

    That’s my story. I still don’t know what exactly was written on the original note.

    John

  16. I would like to add do not buy anything from the cell phone shops on the 3rd floor. They are by in large fraudsters. For example, I bought replacement glass for my ipad once from the shop A46. While traveling in Cambodia I dropped it. My fault. I repaired it again at this shop, and when I woke up in the morning it was broken. I did nothing to cause that. I went back and foolishly repaired it again at that shop. Within hours it was broken. I’m 150% sure that I did nothing to warrant such damage the 2nd and 3rd times. I wouldn’t buy anything from those people. The gold is probably not gold, good luck with glasses or any repair job.

  17. Just left Bangkok and found this post to be spot on. You’d like to think there are friendly strangers or you’re getting some inside tip, but best to just ignore anybody approaching you. Something else we encountered in Bangkok and all over Thailand was the Thai Squeeze, where you,ll either get overcharged when the bill comes or shorted on change, even in some more established businesses. I touched on that some more in this post: http://www.aimlessadventuring.com/bangkok-scams-and-pitfalls/

  18. No need to explain the scam…. But I just want to warn people the Dusit Collections uses these tuk tuk drivers to lure you in and sell you really crappy suits! I hope you google this BEFORE you give them any of your money!!!

    1. Dusit Collection claim to be an outlet store of the Thai King’s Royal Cashmere Factory, promising a Cashmere suit and delivering a synthetic one.

  19. Hi Raymond, there are a few other common ones that somehow tourists keep falling for 🙁

    1. Grand Palace/Some place is closed. That’s what some helpful stranger tells you, recommends alternative places and helpfully gets a tuk tuk driver accomplice to get you there. Of course, those are gem shops and tailor shops..

    2. Jet ski scam. You are made to pay for scratches on the jet ski which you did not cause. There’s nth much you can do, besides calling the tourist police. However, even they cannot do much. The best is to avoid jet skis totally. Same goes for motorbikes/cars. Oh and nv give your passport as collateral.

    3. Timeshare scam. some stranger approach you with a scratch card. You scratch, win a prize but have to go somewhere to claim it. Over there, you have to sit through a timeshare apartment presentation.

    Many others which I have detailed here: http://travelscams.org/asia/21-common-scams-thailand/ Hope this will help anyone heading to Thailand soon! 🙂

  20. Hello, my wife and I recently got scammed by Nakorn Sawan Tailor trading as Dusit Collection. We took a Tuk Tuk to the Grand Palace where we were approached by a man who claimed that he was a government worker employed to protect tourists. He told us that the Grand Palace was open but as it was a Buddhist holiday, he recommended that we come back after 12pm (lunch time). He then asked if we had a map so that he could point out a few local temples that we could visit while we were in the area. We didn’t have a map so he kindly provided us with one and circled a few temples. Then he told us that we should hire a government Tuk Tuk which we could identify by their yellow number plates and that we should only have to pay about fifty bht fare for two hours. He asked us if we had heard about a special sale on television last night as, this week only, Thai export quality cashmere was available for purchase by the public. He circled a place on the map and said that he would tell the driver to take us there too. So we went to the temples one by one and at one of the temples we started talking to a Buddhist monk who seemed like a nice gentleman who told us that he was a banker and that he was here on his day off (it being the 8th day of the week and he, being Buddhist, would spend his time at the temple). He told us that just yesterday he had bought four suits as the cashmere was only available for purchase this week. We then went to the tailors, ordered two winter coats on the promise of an international deliver which never came. Our bank said that as we had no evidence of a non-delivery agreement, we could not get a refund of our purchase. So as a heads up, if you buy anything from Thailand on the promise of a delivery. Get a written non-delivery agreement(!) and pay with Visa.

    1. What a bummer they sucked you into their scam! The thing is, they are so nice and friendly with such believable stories that it’s sometimes hard to discern who’s genuine and who’s fake.

      Thanks for sharing your Bangkok scam story Scott! Hopefully others will become more aware.

  21. I’m in Bangkok now, I followed the scenario of the scam. Exactly the same, I even met a businessman kind of guy in an unknown temple known as ‘Lucky Buddha Scam Temple’ then I put myself on purpose on ‘Jewelry Shop Gasoline Coupon Scam’, after all that shops stop, the tuk tuk driver took me to the shop I’d like to go in a first place. Then when a guy out of the blue approached me and said some keywords, “Big Buddha”, “Tall Buddha”,”Big Gold Temple”, “Lucky Buddha”, I told him, ” I’ve been there, also to the jewelry shop, twice. I’m already here for weeks, leaving tomorrow.”, He said,” Oh, ok you been there”. He then left me and approached another tourist with a big map wide open. All those scams still going on.

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