Common Scams to Avoid

General Precautions

As with many popular tourist destinations, scam artists use various deceitful tactics to target foreign travelers. While most scams are relatively minor offenses, some visitors have lost considerable amounts of money. If an offer seems “too good to be true” or overly convenient, it could very well be part of a scam. Visitors to Thailand are advised to always be aware of their surroundings and belongings, especially when frequenting popular tourist sites and crowded markets or streets. Travelers to large cities such as Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and other tourist destinations such as Pattaya and Phuket, should be aware that tourist scams are most concentrated in these areas.

If you fall victim to a scam you should try to contact the local Tourist Police, or call their toll-free number by dialing 1155. They have experience dealing with tourist scams and can inform you of the proper way to proceed. If you wish to file a police report, they can assist in contacting the regular Thai Police force.

A costly scam that tourists fall victim to is the gems scam. Retailers claim that travelers can purchase wholesale luxury items, most often gems, and resell them for a large profit back home. In reality theses “gems” are likely made from glass or synthetic materials and are essentially worthless. Be cautious of persistent tuk-tuk, taxi, and bus drivers who offer to bring you directly to such stores, as they are often commissioned by these dealers. The drivers will lure in customers from tourist attractions, often claiming they know of a special, “one-day government sponsored sale”. Travelers should note that neither the Thai government nor the Thai royal family own, operate, or sponsor any jewelry or gem shops, so such claims should be ignored.

If you are interested in purchasing gems, jewels, or fine jewelry while in Thailand, be sure to get referrals for legitimate retailers from reputable sources or trusted friends/family. While scams do exist, there are many trustworthy dealers who can assist you in purchasing legitimate goods.

If you discover you have fallen for this scam while still in Thailand you should seek to file a formal report with the Thai police and have it translated into English. You may want to contact a Thai attorney depending on the amount of money lost. If you used a credit card for the purchase, immediately notify your credit card company to learn if you may dispute those charges or stop payment.

In some areas tuk-tuk drivers, taxis, and tour bus companies are hired to take tourists to certain shops, restaurants, and malls to purchase items or services instead of their requested destinations. These scams can be a nuisance for time-pressed travelers and those who wish to maximize their time sight-seeing, and can cause anxiety for travelers who do not know where they are or how to get back to their hotel. Always give exact instructions as to where you want to be taken and decline offers to be taken on a sight-seeing route for a few extra baht, as you may find yourself being taken to a gems store instead.  Less than reputable tour buses may not visit requested locations or refuse to drop you off at your hotel as promised, so be sure to get advice when choosing a company to use. Sticking to public transportation systems and metered taxis can help you avoid this scam.

Jet ski and scooter scams occur most often in popular beach destinations like Phuket and Pattaya. When you rent one of their vehicles, companies often demand your passport (it is not recommended to leave your passport with a vendor to use as collateral) and/or a deposit fee. Upon your return scammers will claim your jet ski or scooter has been damaged in some way and that they will keep your items, including your passport, until you agree to pay their fine. Some agencies also keep spare keys for stealing back scooters locked outside tourist sites. You will likely be forced to pay a steep replacement fee, even if you purchased insurance. If you choose to rent jet skis or scooters, be sure to use a reputable company and inspect and document your vehicles for prior damage. It is advised to contact the local Tourist Police at 1155 if this occurs.

Travelers should be wary of individuals or groups soliciting financial assistance. There have been numerous accounts of individuals, both within Thailand and abroad, who have been manipulated into wiring or donating large sums of money to scammers. These situations arise from a variety of circumstances including fabricated charities, identity thieves posing as friends or family members, and individuals who build “friendships” with foreigners and shortly thereafter request emergency funds to settle medical or financial departments. Caution should be taken in any situation where large sums of money are being exchanged.

Become familiar with the Thai baht and always know how much change you are owed back before paying for your items or meal. Sometimes convenience stores or restaurants will give you back change as if you paid with a smaller denomination or simply “forget” a few baht.

In this situation a person receives an email from the account of a loved one or acquaintance begging for financial assistance because they were victims of some crime, usually pertaining to a robbery, or else they have been unjustly arrested and are in prison, etc. The emails are usually very generalized and many do not refer to the addressee by name, even if a close relative. He or she will ask for funds to be wired to them through Western Union, Money Gram etc. If a person receives an email from a US citizen acquaintance who is a victim of crime in Thailand, they should first direct that person to contact the US Embassy, ACS section for assistance.  ACS can then provide assistance as well as guidance on how to best obtain needed funds if the request is legitimate.

A variation on this scam involves individuals specifically targeting elderly persons, who may be less adept at spotting fraudulent emails and more willing to provide the assistance requested.  A third variation involves persons who may barely know the person making the request for financial assistance (i.e. they met online or have just exchanged a few emails) who are then pressured into sending money.

Be cautious of individuals who approach you on the street and attempt to persuade you that a certain temple, museum, or tourist site is closed. They will offer to show you another nearby temple, typically ending up at a gem or clothing store instead. Trust the hours listed in your guidebook or online.

Further information can be found under “Security and Safety” on this site from the Department of State: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/thailand.html