Swindlers, rip off artists, and con-men. They’ve been around since long before P.T. Barnum was falsely attributed the quote “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Probably each cave had its own Neanderthal con-man preying on cave suckers.

I don’t believe that there are any more con-men here in Thailand than anywhere else in the world.  Wherever people are gullible, ignorant, and greedy, the scammers will be attracted like bees to honey.  But we really do have some pretty good con-people right here in Thailand to take advantage of them.

I’ve been scammed once, in America btw. “Send us a chunk of change and we’ll send you a list of all the high salaried openings we have in the Middle East where we will submit your resume. We guarantee a job offer or your money back.”  What could go wrong? I sent in the money, and my next call to their office was answered with, “The number you have dialed has been disconnected. Beeeep”.

But so far in Thailand I have been safe. Today, I’m a little less gullible, ignorant, and greedy than I used to be. But for those who haven’t reached that level of enlightenment yet, below is a list of some of the more interesting scams here. They are amusing, of course until you’re the one who gets scammed. There are lots more than just these few, so until then, Caveat Emptor, “Let the buyer beware”.


The Phuket Jet Ski Scam

How cool it would be to tear around the beautiful Andaman Sea on a speedy jet ski, just like James Bond would do. Of course you’ve probably never driven one of these speedsters, but what could go wrong, right? Well, lots. And maybe not what you would expect.

The scam:

You go up to the jet-ski-guy on the beach (usually Phuket or Pattaya) and ask about renting one of his jet skis. He gives you a good price; you sign the rental agreement, leave your passport for a guarantee as he requests, and off you go for your 007 adventure.

After a wonderful and exhilarating time out on the sea you come back to return your rented jet ski. Now the problems begin.

The jet-ski-guy inspects his jet ski and, low-and-behold, he discovers that you have damaged his property. There is a little chip on the paint and since you didn’t inspect the jet ski before setting out you don’t know where this could have come from. You know you never hit anything while you were out on the water, but you aren’t sure.

The jet-ski-guy insists that you are libel for the damage. He shows you the rental agreement that states your responsibilities; that’s the rental agreement that you neglected to read before becoming James Bond.

“Okay”, you say. “How much do I owe you?” Now the fun begins.

He states a repair cost that is probably higher than what a new jet ski would cost. I have seen them ask for as much as 200,000 baht for this kind of repair, some damage that was probably there to begin with, and would probably cost a few hundred baht to repair. You of course know the amount asked for is ridiculous and start arguing with jet-ski-guy. But he has seen this all before, and he has you by the short hairs since you willingly gave him your passport to hold before jumping on the jet ski.

“Then, I am calling the police.” He says. And within a matter of one minute a policeman (or someone dressed as one) shows up and tells you to pay up or go to jail. You are freaked by this but try a bit of bargaining. You get the jet-ski-guy down to 100,000 baht and the policeman escorts you to the nearest ATM where you get the money, pay up, get your passport back, and your jet ski adventure comes to an end.

BTW, the Jet Ski scam works with motorcycle and car rentals as well.

The moral of the story:

I could say, never give anyone your passport to hold, or inspect the jet ski first, or read the rental agreement, etc. Take a photo of the motor bike or car you plan on renting and make sure there are no bumps or scratches. But the real solution to this problem – Don’t rent jet skis in Thailand, period! Save your 007 experience for another time and place.


The Ladyboy under the Bed Scam

What could be worse than to have your picture on the front page of a national newspaper, dressed only in your underwear, surrounded by police, with the headline reading, “Foreigner Robbed in bedroom of Money, Passport, and Clothes by Ladyboy Prostitute Gang”?  Sounds like one of those night terrors that you just can’t awake from.  I’ve seen that picture more than once on a Thai newspaper front page.

For the uninitiated, “ladyboy”, aka “katoey”, is the term referring to either a person born a male but who is now a transgender woman or a gay male dressed and looking very much like a female. And not just any female but maybe the most beautiful that has ever paid you even the least bit of attention.

Now after looking at that picture of you half naked at the police station, just what do you think the boys back home are going to think?

Contrary to many foreign tourists’ and Expats’ belief not all ladyboys are prostitutes and bar “girls”. Many are just normal honest people, some gay, some straight, some who have had a sex change operation, and some who simply dress and style themselves effeminately. The Thai culture is accepting enough of them to have special, quite polite, vocabulary to describe them, ผู้หญิงประเภทสอง. Translated this means “Woman, of the second variety.” Also heard is เพศที่สาม, “The third gender.”

The scam:

It always seems to happen to men who are looking for a good time on the cheap. A beautiful “woman”, and sometimes two “women” approach you as you take a leisurely, often inebriated, walk, late at night after a few hours and many beers at a local bar. She says that she finds you attractive and wouldn’t you like to spend a little time with her/them having a bit of fun? She might offer this as a freebie (because you are so handsome) or at a severe discount – and if it is with two of them, this would be an offer you just couldn’t refuse.

They already have a hotel room rented and waiting so why don’t we all just go up to it and have a party. This is when a roofie might be slipped into your drink or sometimes you are already so intoxicated that one isn’t necessary.

As you begin the evening activities on top of the bed, a third ladyboy, who has hidden himself under the bed, reaches out and empties your pants of all its contents, money, wallet, passport, etc., or he may just go ahead and take all your clothes and silently slip out the door.

When his compatriots know that he is gone they abruptly call an end to the party and leave you, often in a very unsatisfied stupor. And even if you realize what has happened you have no clothes on so chasing them through the  dark streets of Thailand in your underwear and bare feet is probably something you’d rather not do.

The moral of the story:

We could say that you should be careful of beautiful ladies of the night making offers that are much too go to be true. But they would be very hard to turn down; probably too difficult for most normal men. But…Who says you have to report this incident to the police?

First of all, they have seen it many times before so they’ll just have a good laugh at your expense; a half naked foreign guy says he has been ripped off by a, who would have thunk it, dishonest prostitute.

But worse, the next thing they do is call the local newspaper reporter, and photographer, and you end up on next morning’s front page.

Do you really want to boys back home to know this about you? Better just wrap a towel around yourself and saunter back home to your own hotel room a bit wiser for the experience. You could just say that you lost your passport and money on the beach somewhere. It is always best to stay off the front page.


The Get Fall-Down-Drunk and Wake Up To a Magnificent Sunrise on a Pristine Beach, Penniless and Lucky To Still Have Any Clothes on Scam

This can happen anywhere in Thailand where foreigners overindulge and let their brains get so muddled that they forget even what continent they are on, let alone what beach they are trying to sleep it off on, and what phase of the moon is in the sky. It’s the tropical equivalent of “emptying the pockets of passed out bums” in any Western skid row.

Get fall-down-drunk just about anywhere and you’re liable to wake up with empty pockets along with that hangover. And if you are a woman alone, and you find yourself in this condition then you very possibly could lose more than just your wallet and money.

But nowhere is this activity as infamous as on Phangan Island during the night of the full moon.

It’s not really a “scam” per se since the unlucky “Marks” do it to themselves, but a mention here might help that unsuspecting “Sucker born every minute.”

Got to go to one of those parties on a beach on Koh Phangan and celebrate the “Full Moon” with tens of thousands of other foreigners? It is a great Thai cultural experience; especially the Thai custom of drinking whisky through a straw from a children’s beach bucket – NOT! You won’t see many Thais celebrating the full moon this way.

The Scam:

Even though the whisky might already be enough, there may be something else mixed in that bucket besides cheap alcohol, soft drinks, and Red Bull that will ensure the “fall down and lose conciseness” part of your cultural experience.

I used to go to a beach back in Seattle on really low tide. I’d always find a few Dungeness crabs stranded on the beach, trapped by some seaweed or other obstacle. The Dungeness crab is the king of crabs, and quite expensive if you have to buy them at the store. But here the pickings are easy and delicious.

Just as easy as the pickings on the Koh Phangan beach after a full moon party. Even at dawn there will be so many passed out foreigners that you could make a good living relieving them of any spare change they still have after a night of carousing. All you would have to do is work one morning every 28 days and then wait for the next full moon.

The moral of the story:

If you are going to get fall-down-drunk don’t be alone. Hopefully your partner will stay conscious enough to keep the vultures at bay. And for women, definitely don’t drink alone. You don’t want to be like those stranded Dungeness crabs and wake up in a boiling cauldron.

We’ll come back soon with Part II and some more scams and scammers.






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