Scams and Situations to avoid in Bangkok or Thailand

sak_yant_50Bangkok, like any other large city, has it’s share of scammers, people who make a living by cheating others. There are many here, ranging from a small overcharge to daylight robbery!

Before condemning this, let’s take a deeper look. Tourist areas are crowded with people who are not familiar with the culture or customs of the country. These people are from all walks of life from all over the world and so by design there will be some incredibly gullible people among them. The fact that they are in a new environment makes it that little bit easier to scam. The money is new, they are not really sure which note is which and this also makes it easier for the scammers.The locals who make a living fromsak_yant_48 providing goods and services, see clearly when an opportunity to make something extra arises and they become hardened to it. It is a numbers game, if you were to ask enough people, someone will eventually buy what you are selling. They become hardened to rejection and also to any moral issue about stealing from or cheating people. The best way to avoid these people is to look like you know where you are going and be purposeful in your movements. Just like an immigration or customs official can spot the tell-tale signs of a smuggler, stress, the beads of sweat on the brow, failure to make eye contact etc, so can the scammer see the uncertainty (or even gullibility) of the tourist. So by seeming to know where you are going and what you are doing you are not activating any signals for these people to approach you. Common sense is often the best defence. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is!
Here are some tips about scams that are known to be used here,

Foreigners in Thailand

Be careful of foreigners doing a service for you, it’s not legal to do that without a work permit. If a Thai person can do the work then a foreigner cannot, that’s the law. They do not have a work permit. So any foreigners who does this are working illegal.  All a foreigner can do is talk to you, no more. Under any travelling visa you cannot employ any foreigner. That’s the law. Examples, if a foreigner is working behind a counter, driving a car, translating Thai for you. It does not matter whatever, you are responsible and will pay dearly. You and that person can be arrested but if only you get arrested then that is a scam. They put you in jail until you pay a large amount of money and if you don’t have the money you will not get out of jail until you find it. My friend’s girlfriend walked behind our bar in our hotel and got her own drink and the police or scammers who tuck the photo to get her arrested. It cost 200,000 Baht to get her out of jail.
If you get in a car and a foreigner is driving and you are paying them in anyway and have an accident, you are responsible. If anybody is hurt you will be paying all hospital bills and if someone dies you will have to pay compensation to their family and that will be a serious amount of money before you are allowed to travel out of the country. Be careful and use Thai’s who are accountable and part of a company which is liable. They are responsible for your safety and wellbeing.

The Tuk Tuk scam. (sometimes a taxi)

The driver will ask you where you want to go and then once you are in the vehicle, he will offer to take you to a number of other places. They may range from jewelers, tailors, hotels, bars or restaurants and even brothels. The Tuk Tuk drivers all have working arrangements with a number of different tourist related businesses so they almost always try to take you to one of these. These drivers can be very persistent and often refuse to take you to your destination. A firm refusal will usually do the trick but if it doesn’t just mention the word police and that should do the trick. Tuk Tuk drivers get well paid to take tourists to shops and I have first-hand experience of this,
About 25 years ago, I was a single guy teaching English in Bangkok and through some Thai friends, I met a Tuk Tuk driver. His name was Lek and he told me that I could have a whole day of free beer drinking anytime I wanted. I enquired as to how this could be and he told me that if he takes a customer to a jewelry shop, he gets 100 baht and the customer gets to drink as much beer as he wants. One Saturday I had nothing special to do, so I called Lek and he came to pick me up. He took me to a large gem shop in Silom road and for two hours I looked at watches for my wife, talked about Phuket with the lovely sales girl and drank the finest beer (with snacks). They tried hard to close the sale but I was insistent that I would buy when I returned from my holiday in Phuket and they bundled me into Lek’s Tuk Tuk, stuffing their card in my pocket, waving goodbye. Then we went to another gem store and this time I had lunch along with a few more beers while I cleverly palmed the sales girls off with my Phuket holiday. By this time I had perfected my story, I was planning to surprise my wife with an anniversary gift of matching diamond earrings and necklace, which was happening next month. I need to see my wife in Phuket to see what styles she likes before I commit to buying something. It seemed to work well, once the sales girl realized it was a no sale today, she backed off and I received very good hospitality on the basis of future custom! We did this on and off for a month and we were both rewarded in different ways, I got free food and drink while Lek was paid cash to bring me there. We had to stop in the end as he ran out of places to take me! Anyway, there is proof that drivers are well paid to take you places and remember, the 100 baht that Lek was paid was 25 years ago so I would imagine 300 – 500 baht would be the going rate today, and the driver gets that whether you buy something or not. If you ask a driver where to get something, he will probably give you good advice but if he is the one suggesting something, then you can be sure that there is money in it for him somehow!

The Temple is closed

This scam is operated around well-known tourist spots such as The Grand Palace, Wat Arun other popular venues. It usually involves more than one person and the guide who approaches you will more than likely look very official. He or she will explain that the place is closed today, perhaps for renovation or a particular Buddhist holiday. Speaking very good English he or she will try to divert you to something else and transport will be readily available. Where they plan to take you would depend on your response but they will make some money. If you are visiting a Temple or official tourist site and you are told it is closed, make sure that this is at the gate (inside). As a general rule when around these places, do not accept free transport anywhere as this is the lead up to a scam.

Pick pockets good at this and once the apologies are over, the mark realizes their wallet or purse has been stolen but it’s too late. The one who actually lifted it passed it quickly to another and then onto another and before you know what has happened, they have all mingled into the crowds. Even if you did manage to find them, the evidence (purse or wallet) cannot be found. Sometimes they work alone, on busy trains or buses as they prefer packed areas where people are touching all the time. It gives them the edge so to speak. Jatuchak weekend market is well known for light fingered pickpockets. Tourists visiting this market should take extra care with valuables. It is not a good idea to keep valuables in a bag that is slung over your shoulder. These people are very deft with a cutter and can retrieve a purse from the bottom of a bag without you knowing a thing! Keep your money in a safe pocket, preferably with a zip. Wallet chains are always a good idea, one look will deter any thieves. Travelling in Thailand on long overland trips with buses or trains can also be a problem. Never accept any food or drink from strangers while travelling on long journeys. There have been many cases of tourists being drugged and when the transportation reaches the end of the line, all your belongings disappear with the thief and you are woken up by the staff telling you the journey is over!

More complex scams

There are deeper more complex scams and these usually involve separating you from as much of your money as is possible. These scams are very well planned and after a short introduction, you will be invited to go to someone’s house. Think about this, you are in a strange city in a strange country, would you accept an invitation like this from a stranger in your own country? I wouldn’t think so! However they are clever and at first, things will be very relaxed and you will feel under no pressure to do anything. Remember, these people are professionals! So, once you have accepted the invitation you will meet others at the new venue. It may take the form of a card game and at first you are not asked to play with your money. Often it is explained that they plan to cheat a card cheat to get back what he stole from them. They wish to use you only, they will provide the stakes for playing. So, you think this can’t be so bad, after all I’m not using my own money. That’s how it begins, I know this from a personal experience a friend of a friend had.
He was accosted while walking along Silom road one afternoon by a Thai man who spoke excellent English. After a coffee (paid for by the stranger) they then went to the man’s house. Here he was introduced to five others and they then explained how they had all been conned by a card shark and that they had devised a plan to beat him at his own game. They showed the mark (my friend) how the fix works and sure enough, they had a way of knowing what cards the other player held. So they asked my friend to be the player and that they would supply the money for gambling and together they would recap their losses and of course they would pay the mark handsomely for his help. So the game was set up and within half an hour, the card shark was there ready to play. Well the game went as they predicted with the card shark losing heavily, then the bets were suddenly increased and even though the mark was sure he had a winning hand, the card shark kept upping the stakes until the mark ran out of money. Then it was suggested that the cards be put into separate envelopes, signed and sealed, then deposited in the safe they had. Then they went way to get some more cash and the mark was so convinced he had a winning hand that he offered to use his own money. Of course the mark’s offer was accepted and he was taken to an ATM. When the game was finally resumed, Guess what? The card shark did indeed have the winning hand and scooped the pot! A very elaborate scam and devised to coax you in on the premise that you are not using your own money, therefore it can’t be risky! It cost my friend 250$!!
There are many others similar to the above scam. These scams are designed to win your trust first, only after this are you ready to be hit. It may not involve cards at all, however it always starts with someone else’s money and ends up with yours!
I spend quite a bit of time walking the streets in tourist areas of Bangkok and I get approached regularly. I always politely smile and continue on my way. I think this is the best possible way to fend them off. If they are persistent then I just speak Thai and they leave immediately.

A warning

Obviously certain substances are illegal in The Kingdom of Thailand and you will encounter locals who ask if you would like a little weed or something else. Politely decline. This scam is old but very workable and the cops are usually involved. It works like this,
The Mark (prospective target) is approached by someone offering narcotics, if the mark says yes, the guy will return shortly after and the exchange is made. Shortly after this the mark is approached by a policeman and subsequently searched until the substance is found. Then the mark will be threatened with life in prison but given a chance to get out of this situation. A figure is agreed upon and the mark is escorted to the ATM, the money is paid and the mark is on his way. What the mark doesn’t know is that it wasn’t sheer coincidence that he was stopped and searched, the cops and the dealer work together so the dealer will receive a cut from the money the cops extorted from the mark. Obviously one should not buy illegal substances period, however if you are so inclined, remember the golden rule, Never buy illegal substances from someone who approaches you! The number of times I have heard of people falling for this one makes me realize it happens a lot.


Like every busy city, Bangkok has thousands of taxis. They are multi coloured, orange, blue, green, pink and blue while some are green and yellow. The green and yellow taxis are the ones you should try to use. The reason for this is that green and yellow taxis are driver owned and therefore you are less likely to encounter anything untoward. Thailand is not a developed country, anyone can walk into a taxi hire outfit and rent a taxi for either 12 or 24 hours. They don’t even have to show a driving licence!  In other words you have no real control over who is driving your cab, hence the green and yellow advice. Taxi drivers in general are a good bunch of people, I see on TV regularly reports of taxi drivers who have returned large sums of cash and other valuables that customers have left in their cabs. However there are also reports of crimes against fare paying customers so we all need to be careful when hailing taxis. A quick look at the driver will tell you a lot, is he dressed appropriately? On the rear of the front seat there should be a copy of his taxi licence which would include his photo and name in English. If it isn’t there, it might be on the dashboard. Any taxi that doesn’t have this licence on display would have alarm bells ringing in my head. Another thing to realize with taxis is that they are metered. The meter will register 35 baht (minimum charge) as soon as you enter the vehicle, then it will increase according to distance (and time) to allow for being stuck in traffic jams. If a taxi driver wants to negotiate a price rather than turn on the meter, politely decline and look for another. What might seem cheap to you will probably be two or three times what it would cost by meter.
Taxis are often shared by two different drivers. They may not be able to afford to buy a taxi outright so two drivers share the cost and also the driving, each having the cab for 12 hours per day. This way the car is working all the time and it provides an income for two families rather than one. This is a main reason why taxi drivers refuse fares, they happen to be returning to the taxi centre and must be there on time so they won’t accept a fare unless it is on their way.
Motorcycles and Jet Ski rental
This problem usually occurs in places like Pattaya, Phuket or Koh Samuii. A tourist rents a machine then when he or she returns it, the owner notices some damage and expects the hirer to pay. Make absolutely sure there is no damage to the vehicle before renting it. Walk around it with the shopkeeper and check carefully. Only then can you dispute any damage, allegedly caused by you.

The beach

Believe it or not, this is a prime spot for some thieves. The usual plan is to watch somebody for a while, either a couple or single person and then make an introduction. They will sit on the beach with you, making small talk and generally appearing trustworthy, until they are asked to watch your valuables while you pop in the ocean for a swim. During that short time, they will pick their moment and your things will disappear as fast as he did! After they will prowl other beaches for a while to avoid bumping into you, perhaps two or three weeks and then they will return.


This acceptable everywhere in Thailand, with the exception of Department stores and supermarkets where the prices are fixed. While we don’t want to pay too much for something, we should understand that the vendor also needs to make a living so it isn’t a good idea to be too aggressive with this.

General comments

I have lived in Thailand for more than thirty years and I have got to know the people really well. I have talked to Thais who work in the tourism industry and those on the front line, the ones who sell you things, say that after a while a foreign face is just a face. They become desensitized and therefore see nothing wrong in overcharging a little. One reason I have been given is that the tourist has lots of money so it is ok to do that. This is not my idea but it is how some Thai people see it. In my time here I have always been polite and have received the same from the Thais. I think this says a lot and if you adopt this philosophy, things will go very smoothly for you in Thailand. I am constantly meeting Thai people who are as honest as the day is long and of course many are in the tourist industry so it isn’t all doom and gloom. I hope by following some of my advice that you can avoid any unpleasantness and enjoy your stay in this beautiful country.

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