Thailand is an amazing holiday destination; a tropical paradise with friendly people, great weather and delicious food. However, it is still a developing country where many tourists are considered to be rich, and as such there are unfortunately some unscrupulous people who will try to part you from your money in many very elaborate ways. This guide is here to help you to be more aware of the kinds of tricks that these people employ so that you can avoid them, and be able to enjoy your holiday in peace.
Fortunately, even if you do find yourself in the middle of an attempted scam, you are unlikely to be in any physical danger and a very firm “no” and briskly walking away will be enough in most circumstances to get you out of the situation. However, if you realise that you have been the victim of a scam, the best thing to do is to contact the tourist police on 1155 and do so immediately, not once you have left Thailand because at that stage there will be very little that they can do to help you.
The Tuk-Tuk Scam
This is a very simple scam but one which many fall prey to nonetheless, and is very common in the Khao San Road area. As you are walking around, a friendly tuk-tuk driver will strike up conversation by asking where you are from, where you are going and if this is your first time in Thailand. Eventually, he will offer you a ride in his vehicle at the incredible price of 20 baht ($0.66) for the entire day, and he will promise to take you to many beautiful temples and interesting sights plus maybe a restaurant. The price should concern you – nobody works all day for less than a dollar, but despite this, many people take the guy up on his deal.
So you get in the tuk-tuk, and he may well indeed take you to several nice temples, and maybe stop somewhere for a cold drink or a good Thai meal, gaining your trust. Everything’s going great so you have no reason to be concerned. But this is where the scam begins, he will then insist on taking you to a few stores that he is affiliated with, be it a travel agency, a jewellery store or a tailor. He will tell you about these stores and mention to you that he gets free fuel vouchers for taking you even if you don’t buy anything, so most people will think “what the hell, lets help the driver get some free gas, we don’t have to buy anything”, and in the meantime you get to see various parts of Bangkok as he drives about.
What normally happens is when you arrive at these shops, you will get the hard sales pitch. You will be welcomed in, given a free cold drink and sat down. Whether it’s a suit, a travel package or some shady looking jewellery, you will be pressured very hard into agreeing on a purchase, and it can be very, very intense and stressful. In some cases, travellers have been locked in until they purchase something. After you have realised that something is up and said no over a hundred times, then they will suddenly become very nasty and rude and then try and charge you an exorbitant amount for the “free” drink they gave you when you arrived. If you do purchase anything, you will almost certainly find that the travel bookings are all fake, the suit is held together with glue, or the jewellery is costume jewellery.
To avoid this scam, never get in a tuk-tuk which offers an all-day package for a staggeringly low price, no matter what the driver says, you will be herded into various stores, and bullied and hassled until you buy something worthless. Not a good way to start your holiday.
The Gem Scam
This scam can come in several different types, but usually goes something like this. Someone will mention to you something about a “gem sale”, whether it is a tuk-tuk driver or a well-dressed English speaking stranger who approaches you at a tourist attraction. They will mention that today is some kind of special day which happens only once a year where you can buy gemstones at a huge discount, and it is because of some kind of mysterious government subsidy or tax break. They will inevitably mention that you can only buy a certain number of gemstones and that they come every year just for that purpose and make several thousand dollars by selling the stones back in their home country or to a local vendor.
They will make it sound very appealing, and the next part of the scam is crucial. Your driver will take you to your next temple or attraction and once again, someone will approach you telling you about this amazing, unmissable deal on valuable gemstones. After a few seemingly unconnected tourists mention it to you, it appears very convincing. Once you have decided to go and buy some stones, a tuk-tuk will take you to a “participating jeweller”, where you will be welcomed in. Then starts the hard sell and you will be offered all kinds of gems at seemingly incredible discounts. Once you’ve agreed on a purchase, they will not accept payment, but will send you to a neighbouring gold shop to buy gold to use as payment for them gems – this is essentially money-laundering and ensures that if you try and stop the payment the gem store won’t lose out.
Also, they won’t give you the gems on the spot, telling you that Bangkok is not safe and the stones will be stolen from your hotel room as people will spot you coming from the gem store, and advise you to have them sent by mail, so they will then very kindly package them up in front of you and take your details before printing an official-looking address sticker and putting it on the package. What happens next will come as no surprise, either the package never arrives, or you will get a few pieces of worthless coloured glass in the mail.
This scam can be devastating as the amounts involved will be substantial, usually more than $1000. As soon as anyone mentions gemstones/jewellery or “today is the last day of an amazing sale”, politely decline and walk away or you could lose a lot of money.
The Birdseed Scam
So you will be walking through a park in Thailand, and enjoying yourself. You will see an elderly Thai lady feeding the pigeons, and when she spots you she will come over and start asking you to feed the birds in broken English before forcibly putting some seeds in your hand. If you go along with it and throw the seeds at the birds, you will then be told that the seeds are not free and the old lady will demand money from you. If you refuse, other Thai people will appear and start advising you to pay her because you took the seeds. In this situation you can not do much except give her a much lower amount and walk away quickly, next time don’t let anyone put anything in your hands.
The Clip-joint Scam
This scam is not unique to Thailand. You will be lured into a bar by someone with offers of cheap drinks or a free show, and the bar will inevitably be upstairs, out of the view of any passers-by. The show will inevitably be awful, and the menu you order your drinks from will not have prices on it, if there even is a menu at all. After 1-2 drinks you will want to leave and request your bill, which will be something ludicrous like $500+. Most people won’t have that much on them but they will take card payments or walk you to an ATM to make a withdrawal. If you refuse to pay, the door will be locked and you will be threatened with physical violence by several Thai men who have suddenly appeared. You may be able to settle for a lower amount, but don’t count on it, these thugs won’t let you go until you’ve paid them off, after which you will need to go to the police. Use your common sense, don’t drink in shady, empty bars, and ignore touts on the street. The only possible way out of this scam is to pay on credit card, and immediately contact your bank to cancel the payment once outside.
The Train Ticket Scam
This scam begins with someone approaching you at a train station and asking you where you are planning to go. They will then tell you that all tickets for that train are sold out, but they know a travel agent nearby which has some tickets reserved and that can help you. Then you will be taken to the agency, where you will buy the tickets you need. What you will later find out is that you’ve paid double or even more for your tickets, and they may even turn out to be completely bogus tickets as well. You won’t be able to get a refund, so don’t even try, but you can report it to the tourist police on 1155. Always buy your tickets at the counter in the train station and ignore anyone who approaches you at the station, even if they are wearing an official-looking uniform.
As of 2019, many parts of Thailand are experiencing a downturn in tourism. What this means is that more and more bars and restaurants will be struggling to keep their heads above water, so may well resort to dirty tactics to get a bit of extra money out of you. Random things can appear on your bill, which will be written in Thai and if you can’t read it you can ask for a bill in English, but they may refuse. They are banking on you just paying your bill, especially if you appear to have had a few drinks. If you insist and cause a scene they may well relent and insist it was nothing more than a “mistake”, but it was nothing of the sort. Sadly, this has always happened and is becoming more and more common in places such as Pattaya and Phuket.
The Wrong Change Scam
Another simple scam. You have a drink in a bar and settle your bill with a 1000 baht note. Your change comes back 500 baht short and when you query it, you will be told that you paid with a 500 baht note. So then the argument ensues, but it’s your word against the waiters, and the police will not be interested, you will have effectively just tipped the waiter 500 baht without your consent. To avoid this, try and pay with small bills, there are many places where you can get change easily in tourist hotspots. Alternatively, show the bill to the water when you pay and say out loud “1000 baht” and make sure they see – they would then not even dare try it as they can see that you are on the ball.
It would be wrong to say that all taxi drivers in Thailand are dishonest because they are not. However, as a tourist, you will likely encounter many who want to overcharge you. The most common way that this happens is that the driver refuses to use the meter, claiming that it is broken when it is not. Invariably the flat fare they want to charge will be double or even more compared to what the meter fare would be. Always refuse any taxi who will not turn on the meter.
Some taxi drivers have their meter rigged to either start at a higher amount or to tick up much quicker, although this is much less common. If you think you are being scammed by a taxi driver, take a photo of his ID which must be shown in front of the passenger seat, and get his license plate and report it to the tourist police on 1155.
The Somboondee Scam
There is an exceptional seafood restaurant in Bangkok called Somboon Seafood. However, if you ask your taxi driver to take you there, some will take you to Somboondee Seafood. Somboondee plays off the good name of the original restaurant and gives big commissions to any taxi drivers who bring customers to their restaurant, so there is great incentive for them to do so as the commission will be a lot more than the fare. You can guess what happens next – the food is awful, not fresh and costs many times what it should, resulting in people having bills for several hundred dollars and leaving hardly having eaten anything. And they will force you to settle the bill, a very unpleasant experience indeed, so remember the name Somboondee and run a mile if you ever end up there.
The Suit Scam
Sometimes it seems that tailors are everywhere in Thailand, and they will pester you as you walk down the street. There are certainly some great tailors where you can get a fantastic suit made for $100 or even less, a major bargain, but you have to be cautious. If the tailor asks you when you are going home, this should immediately set off alarm bells and you should find a new tailor promptly. This is because when they know your date of departure, they will delay and delay until your last day, when inevitably the suit is still not ready, so they will have no choice but to post the suit to your home address (they will have a no-refunds policy). And you guessed it, either no package ever arrives, or you will receive an incredibly poor quality and worthless suit held together with glue. If you plan on getting a suit made in Thailand, do some thorough research and find a reputable tailor. In general, the best tailors will not need to have touts outside the shop trying to drum up business, makes sense when you think about it.
The Timeshare Scam
Again, this is not a scam specific to Thailand. You will be approached either in a hotel lobby, at the airport, or on the street by a pretty young girl asking if you can spare 5 minutes to answer some questions. She will be polite and friendly, and if you say yes she will go through the questionnaire before offering you a free scratch-card to win a prize. And guess what, you will “win” on the scratch-card, usually winning something like a $200 voucher for an expensive resort in the area. To collect the prize you will need to attend a presentation somewhere nearby, but the presentation will be yet another very hard sell trying to force you into buying a worthless timeshare in a local property, it’s a 100% scam. The presentation will last many hours if not all day, and if you waste all that time listening, you will be given your vouchers at the end. But the vouchers will be useless, they will either specify what dates they can be used on or the place will ramp it’s prices up by $200 to offset the voucher. By all means, answer the young lady’s questionnaire but don’t accept the scratch-card and do not sit through any kind of “presentation” whilst you are supposed to be enjoying your holiday.
The Jet Ski Scam
This one is fairly common and can ruin your holiday. You are enjoying your time on the beach and decide to hire a jet-ski, after all, the price seems very reasonable. The vendor will be very friendly and helpful and you agree to hand over your passport as a security deposit. After half an hour of fun aboard the jet-ski, you head back to the beach where the jet-ski is brought back to the vendor, who inspects it and finds that you have damaged it in some way. What happens next is some accusations are thrown at you, and you will be asked to pay for the damage. If you refuse, not only will you not get your passport back, but the guy will call the police. Some of his friends may appear also, and when the policeman arrives, it will be obvious that they are in cahoots.
You may well be threatened as these people are quite nasty pieces of work. If you argue and negotiate you might be able to get the sum down, but usually they want $1000+ for the non-existent damage and the policeman will also insist that you pay him. They have got you over a barrel here and you will have to pay something or risk being beaten-up, taken to the police station and locked up, or both. Once at the police station, the amount being asked for will increase as you will then start accruing “admin charges” when in reality, more people will now be in on the scam so there will be more people wanting to steal your money. The only way to avoid this scam is to never hire a jet-ski, or you can take dozens of photos of the jet-ski beforehand and make sure they see you doing so – this will almost certainly deter them from trying to scam you, but don’t count on it. A few photos and a walk around video should be the minimum, and never hand over your passport as a deposit.
The “It’s Closed” Scam
Another very common one in Bangkok. The taxi or tuk-tuk driver you have approached will tell you that the place you want to go to is closed, because of some kind of
ceremony or Thai holiday. Of course, it’s a lie, your intended destination will no doubt be open. And then they will recommend some other places to go that are just as good if not better and will pull out a map with lots of places highlighted on it. Don’t fall for it, once you’re in that taxi or tuk-tuk it just turns into the tuk-tuk scam – see above. Never believe anyone who tells you that somewhere is closed, go and see for yourself and save yourself a lot of grief!
The Motorbike Scam
On the Thai islands, many people rent motorcycles, despite the dangers of doing so. When hiring the bike, you will be required to give all your details, including where you are staying. Some unscrupulous rental shops will turn up to your accommodation in the middle of the night and take the bike away with their spare key. When you go back to the shop to tell them that the bike has been stolen, they will charge you the full cost of a brand new bike, and if they are holding your passport, you will have no way out. Don’t agree immediately, go to the police station and report the incident, your bike may be magically “found” and you can get your passport back. This scam is well known and on a small island it shouldn’t be that hard for the police to find the bike, hence getting them involved should scare the shop into abandoning their scam. If you are worried about this, a cheap padlock on the wheels should prevent it from happening, and park somewhere visible to CCTV, preferably somewhere well-lit.
The Card Game Scam
There are many variations on this, but it goes something like this. You meet someone seemingly at random, usually a local, who speaks good English and they strike up a conversation. Surprise, surprise, it seems that this person’s, sister, brother, daughter or whatever it happens to be is preparing to visit your home country or even home town to study at university or to visit friends. And so, the chatty person want you to come back to their house to give some information and have a free authentic Thai meal or some other enticement. Invariably when you arrive at the residence, the traveller happens to be out, so you decide to wait, during which time you are invited to play some card games. You will be shown a playing tactic through colluding with the dealer which means you can win every hand, and after playing for free, what happens is another player will enter the scene, who they tell you is rich and stupid and that you can make a lot of money if you use the tactic on them. They will pretend to be oblivious to the blatant cheating and start to lose small sums of money to trick you into thinking that the ruse is working.
To cut a long story short, the previously infallible tactic will fail at a crucial moment, leaving you in debt by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars and you are trapped in someone’s home. This one is very easy to spot and the whole set up is very suspicious but it still happens. So, don’t ever gamble in Thailand, and never go back to someone’s house that you have only just met.
The “Bait and Switch” Scam
This one happens in many places around the world, and commonly takes place when buying electronics and suchlike. If you know exactly what you’re buying, you shouldn’t fall for this one. What happens is, a vendor will demonstrate a high-quality product, say a mobile phone or a camera, and after going through the sales patter, they will offer you a seemingly great price on the item. If you buy, what happens is they don’t sell you that model at all, but one that looks identical but is several rungs down the ladder, and suddenly that price isn’t a bargain any more.
If you think about the latest iPhone 11 Pro, for example, the top of the range 512Gb model is $1750 and the bottom of the range 64Gb model is $1300, quite a difference. However, they look the same, and the box will invariably be labelled 512Gb, so it’s not until a few weeks or months later that you realise you’ve been scammed.
The Drugs Scam
Using drugs in Thailand is an incredibly bad idea. But still, each year many people are lulled into a false sense of security in places like Koh Phangan, and end up buying illicit substances in the misguided belief that they will be fine. Thailand has some of the most draconian drug laws in the world and some terrible prisons, and your foreign passport won’t get you off scot-free, you could be imprisoned for a very long time or forced to pay a “fine” of as much as $2000-$20000 to make everything go away.
What happens in this scam is someone approaches you to offer some drugs, which is much more likely to happen on one of the islands where drug-taking appears to be more common. If you decide to buy something, what will happen is that after you have made the exchange, miraculously a policeman pops up 1-2 minutes later and asks to search you. Of course, he will find the drugs, which are then given back to his accomplice (so the dealer gets your money plus his drugs back), and then they will make sure you are aware of how much trouble you are now in. The shake-down for as much money as they can get from you will now begin – and the longer it goes on for, the more people will be involved and the “bill” will skyrocket. If you get caught with something and are offered to be allowed to pay a fine, pay it ASAP or the trouble will get worse very quickly indeed.
The way to avoid this is never to use or buy illegal drugs in Thailand. Please also bear in mind that it is also illegal in Thailand to have these drugs in your blood or urine, and you will be treated the same way for being intoxicated on drugs as you would if you had them in your pocket. So be smart and stay well away from drugs, and keep far away from anyone you know to be using them also, because innocent bystanders can also be roped in and charged as this bumps up the police conviction numbers.
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