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Bangkok Scams to Avoid for Expats and Tourists


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Even as an expat, not a tourist, you’re going to need to be aware of the scams and con artists that lurk around the city, hoping to part you from your money. If you’re not Thai, you’re game. This is the first part of a series about becoming aware of and avoiding the various schemes going on in Bangkok and how to avoid them.

Tuk tuk tour of Bangkok for gas coupon – I fell for this during my one day layover in Bangkok on my way to Nepal. If the tuk tuk driver tells you that “Today is a special promotion from the government” and he would take you around for a very cheap price, understand that it is a lie; the government has no such special promotion organized with tuk tuk drivers. The tuk tuk drivers say they will take you to a number of temples for 50 baht or so, but in return you must visit tailor shops and gem shops and request gas coupons for him as payment. The sales people in these shops simply look at you with impatience and with rudeness if you do not intend to purchase anything. Avoid all this in the first place and see the tourist attractions on your own with a good Bangkok guidebook.

Closed tourist attraction – Con artists might tell you that a place you want to go such as temples, palaces, etc) is “closed for repair today” or is a “special Thai holiday”. Don’t take their word for it, just thank them for the information and keep going. It’s highly likely that the attraction is open and the conmen want to take you to a gem shop or some sort of factory to purchase overpriced, fake goods.

If a taxi driver or a tuk tuk driver insists to take you someplace you don’t want to go, then say no. Keep saying no (mai aow, kha) or simply get out and flag down another taxi. Insist on the driver using the meter. For a tuk tuk, negotiate the fare to your destination before getting in. These methods will keep you from being taken advantage of.

The great Bangkok Gem stone scam - If you come to Thailand on holiday you might be introduced to the Gem business. You will hear a story or two of a guy from Los Angeles that flies over to Bangkok every few months, buys a load of gems and resells them for huge profits in the US. Unless you are an absolute gem expert, I am going to tell you that this simply cannot be done. So many visitors to Thailand end up ruining their vacation by being part of an extremely well-orchestrated Thai theatrical production: The Gem Scam.

This scam is certainly no secret; there are warnings in every Thai guidebook and all over the internet, yet because these swindlers are so professional at what they do, many, many visitors are caught up in it and become another victim. While the scam is found in every tourist city in Thailand, the vast majority of them happen in Bangkok. No matter how savvy you may think you are as a world traveler, you should be aware of this infamous activity and be prepared for it.

When you visit Bangkok and take some local city tours, you will find most tours will make a compulsory stop at a big gem store, often as the last stop on the tour. The stores look impressive with expensive artwork on the walls, charming sharply dressed store salespeople and very good stories on how you are getting an absolute bargain with your purchase here.

The truth is that they are all very expensive. Please do everyone a favor, especially yourself, and avoid buying anything from these establishments. Take a moment to please your tour operator to step inside, stay a few minutes and leave. Resist all temptations to buy.

Your honest tour guide will reassure you that he is taking you to the best gem supplier in all of Thailand. Your tour guide may even tell you that this gem factory is government owned, or it is an “international export center”.

Believe me when I tell you that the Thai government does not own any resale shops for gems or gem factories, or any export centers that will sell product to you.

You will probably see this huge factory with workers cutting and grinding rubies and emeralds or other precious stones. These professionals are handling these precious gems from raw uncut stones to polished pieces of jewelry. You will see large government seals on the wall (most of which is in Thai language) proclaiming its official status.

The merchants will tell you that they are the largest gem “wholesaler” in the country that is government approved. They will show you endorsements from celebrities. “Nicholas Cage bought gems from here”, as they show you a framed photo of the actor in the shop (remember, nowadays any picture can be created with photoshop).

They will encourage you to buy gems for your old age or for the college education for your young kids. They have had years of practice with developing the entire theatrics, in convincing people to buy, and you have had only a small amount of experience to counter these swindlers. The gem shops often pay Western foreigners to linger around the display cabinets posing as a customer and casually mention to you that for years they have bought Thai gems from this wholesaler, sold them back in the US and have made loads of money doing it.

If you hear that today is the last day this will be tax free and starting tomorrow there will be a new VAT added, you know this is a well-used scam. And remember there is never a special one-day discount in Thailand.

Or you might grab a Bangkok Tuk-tuk (kind of like a lawn mower with a tin roof with a bench for passengers in which the two-cycle engine sounds like tuke-tuke-tuke….hence the name) to go to the Grand Palace or some other tourist venue. You will be told that this attraction is closed today (it is not) because of a Buddhist holiday you have never heard of before, or because the monks are praying, or the King is visiting. Not to worry, he tells you he can take you to another interesting place for just 50Baht. What can you lose?

That tuk-tuk driver will take you first to a special temple (often called the “Lucky Buddha” temple) and then to a Gem export outlet (and the driver will be earning a commission for bringing you). The tuk-tuk driver will tell you that he will get 5 gallons of petrol when he brings you to the shop and because he has been so helpful and pleasant, you are happy to oblige.

You just have to stay just 20 minutes for the driver to get the petro coupon. These are all lies. Now you are in the hands of attractive, smartly dressed, good speaking Thai ladies in the gem factory outlet that are well trained in handling foreign tourists and extracting as much as possible with amazing investments.

They will be able to supply you with official certificates of the value of your gems and jewelry. The truth is there is very little control in Thailand for these certificates. They make them themselves. And a money back guarantee will be offered. It is as good as their word.

No use providing you with the names of the swindler shops. First, they could just cause problems for me printing their name, and Second, they often change their names as word gets too widespread about the operation.

If after buying you realize you have been swindled, you will not get help from the Thai police or authorities, including the Tourist Police. Even the Thai tourist office is unlikely to offer much assistance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in Thailand. You must prepare yourself and simply not allow yourself to purchase in these establishments.

So why does the Thai government allow this kind of fraud to happen on the valuable tourists to Thailand? I have been told that these jewelry and gem companies are owned by Thai politicians or important government officials, or by people that pay off Thai politicians and government officials, so nothing changes.

Also Thailand is a libertarian in so many ways, allowing the market to self regulate. That often works well for the citizenry (there is virtually no unemployment in the Kingdom), but sometimes it does not work well in particular situations.

Rule #1 – If an official looking person, or a helpful well-dressed well-spoken Thai offers you tourist assistance outside of major venue, politely decline and don’t believe anything they say.

Rule #2 – If a tuk-tuk driver wants to give you a great tour of Bangkok for very little money (like less than a 100Baht), expect that they are going to take you to somewhere that is going to scam you.

Rule #3 – If someone tells you the attraction you are planning to visit is closed, don’t believe them. Visitor attractions rarely close and stay open for almost any holiday.

Rule #4 – If you do buy, seek out a reliable source for a real appraisal of what you bought. Don’t expect to get much help from other gem shops however; they all belong to the same club.

Rule#5 – If you are still in Bangkok after buying gems and realizing you have been swindled; do contact the TAT – Travel Authority of Thailand. They might be of help to you (but don’t count on much).

Best Rule of All: Don’t buy any precious gems or expensive jewelry in Bangkok.

Oh, and all of this post also goes for Custom Tailor Shops in Bangkok. And actually, you should be on your toes and skeptical about any place in Thailand offering special pricing for a limited time that they tell you is the best price there is in the whole country.

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