21 Most Common Scams in Thailand

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Also known as the land of smiles, Thailand has much to offer. With a tropical climate, white sand beaches, majestic mountains, exotic food, luxury modern shopping centres and many more, the country is bound to delight. This explains why Thailand has always been one of the top tourist destinations in Asia.

However, accompanying this influx of tourists has been the rise tourist targeted scams. Before going into each scam, the best advice when visiting Thailand is to avoid engaging overly friendly strangers who approach you. And the better their English is, the more you should avoid them. Also, if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Read on to find out more!

A. TOURIST SPOTS/ACTIVITIES

1. The Grand Palace is closed/This place is closed

This is a common scam in Thailand and around the word (e.g. Brazil, Greece), because it is so easy to pull off. It can be perpetrated by anyone – random strangers around the Grand Palace/tourist areas, tuk tuk drivers and even taxi drivers.

One variation is that taxi drivers/tuk tuk drivers will tell you that the Grand Palace is closed today for some special or Buddhist ceremony. They will then recommend an alternative location such as the Sitting Buddha/Lucky Buddha/Marble Temple and claim that it’s only open once a year and that day happens to be today!

Should you go along with  their suggestion, you will end up at a jewellery/tailor shop and pressured into buying overpriced crap. Tourists have even been locked in the shop until they start buying!

Another variation is getting approached by strangers near the temple. They either say that the temple is closed, or lead you to an entrance which only Thais can enter. When the duty officer stops you, the stranger will pretend to translate, telling you that the palace is closed for some special ceremony and to come back only at 3pm.

Meanwhile, they will recommend alternative locations to visit which sound really good. Should you agree, they will help you flag a tuk tuk which they are in cahoots with. The tuk tuk will of course, send you to some gem stores or tailor shops. To make matters worse, when you get back to the Grand Palace, usually later than 3pm, you will find that the Grand Palace has already closed at 3.30pm..

Rule of thumb:

These scammers can look (wearing formal shirt with “tourist police” tags) and sound really convincing, so do not engage if someone overly friendly approaches you on the streets.

Some of them even operate in the temple! So do not assume that you are safe even when inside the compound.

Finally, the Grand Place is just an example and this can happen with any tourist attraction. Thus, always check out operating hours before visiting any attraction.

2. Jet Ski Scam

This is a common scam not just in Thailand (e.g. Pattaya, Phuket), but in other less developed countries as well (e.g. Indonesia, Mexico).

In short, when you return a rented jet ski, the operator will claim that you have damaged it. A substantial repair fee is then demanded. Should you refuse, there will be men in “uniform” who pass by coincidentally and threaten to arrest you (they can’t).

Rule of thumb:

First, never give your passport as collateral when renting the jet ski.

Next, examine the jet ski before usage. Document/remember any scratches, dents or potential damaged parts. If upon return the operator demand an unwarranted repair fee, call the local tourist police at 1155.

Don’t vex yourself up when trying to talk sense to these crooks, because it will not work.

To be really safe, avoid jet ski activities especially in Pattaya. Sometimes the police will not be able to help as they have been bought off. At best, they can help you negotiate a lower fee, as they have a cut in the money as well.

3. Tailor scam

This can happen anywhere, but is more likely at tourist locations and also at locations where tuk tuk drivers send you to.

For instance, halfway through a tuk tuk trip, your driver might ask you to wait as he take a toilet break. Coincidentally, a stranger approaches you, claiming that he is a lawyer from the US and he is back in Thailand to visit his dad or some other nonsensical story..

He will then tell you about some bargain he found at a tailor shop which only Thai people know. To boost his credibility, he will talk about Armani suits and how he uses them for work everyday. Or he ask which country you are from. and claim that some celebrity from your country have been a customer there.

At this point, your tuk tuk driver will be back and the stranger  will “helpfully” tell him where the shop is. Without hesitation, the driver will bring you there, unless you firmly insist not to. At the shop, the prices seem like a good deal and high pressure sales tactics are used to make you pay everything upfront. They even promise home country delivery!

However, what you get back home will be poor fitting polyester crap, not cashmere or higher quality threads as initially promised.

Rule of thumb:

Never pay upfront. Come up with a story/excuse to do wire transfer instead.

If you want to get tailored clothes in Thailand, do some research and only shop at reputable places. Do not take advice from random strangers, sometimes even the tourist police!

Finally, if what the tailor says sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

4. The gem scam

This is another scam which can be found around the world (e.g. India, Sri Lanka). The modus operandi is that in a gem shop, the owner will tell you that gems in Thailand are abundant. Thus you can get them for cheap, wholesale prices. If you resold these back home, you will make a killing. They might even throw in some “government sponsored sale” which is absolute nonsense.

There might even be other accomplices in the shop who pretend to be tourists. They will tell you that today is indeed the Thai Tourism Day and that they have just bought a beautiful piece of jewellery for a good discount.

Rule of thumb:

If something seems too good to be true, it is. The gems sold are worthless pieces of glass or synthetic materials. Legitimate traders also would not operate in such a way.

If you have fallen for the scam, contact the tourist police and file a report which you can try to submit for insurance claims. If you used a credit card for payment, contact your credit card company to either reverse those charges or to dispute them.

5. Bar/cafe scam

Perpetrated by young local girls, they target single male travellers by approaching them and getting them to go to a local bar or café.

They get you to buy drinks and by the time the bill comes, they will be gone. Should you refuse to pay the exorbitant amount, you will find some burly men rounding you up.

Rule of thumb: 

Never accept a street invitation to head to a local bar or cafe. Test them by offering to bring them somewhere else instead.

6. Sombondee Seafood Market scam

Very similar to the hotel scam mentioned earlier.

The Sombondee Seafood Market is a play on the Somboon Seafood Chain which is very popular in Thailand for good food at affordable prices.

However, the Sombondee Seafood Market serves crap at inflated prices. Widely perpetrated by errant tuk tuk and cab drivers in Bangkok.

Look at the reviews and you will know: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Restaurant_Review-g293916-d1675970-Reviews-Somboondee_Seafood_Restaurant-Bangkok.html

Rule of thumb:

Do some research online for reputable food places to eat at.

7. Patpong Sex Show Scam

At the red light district of Patpong, you will be approached with “The Menu”, a list of all the fun acrobatic tricks you can see by female performers.

You will be led to some shady, nameless bar upstairs (ground level ones have fixed prices for drinks, those above are likely scams). You are then made to pay for a couple of “lady drinks” for the girls at your table.

Now, the show begins. A meek and simple trick is performed and you are asked to tipped generously. Should you suspect something amiss and request to leave, you will be smacked with a check of crazy sums. Pay you will or the bouncers standing around will give you a good lesson.

Rule of thumb:

For those travelling alone, avoid such areas as you will be easily bullied and coerced. Or at least do your research online and avoid the shady/rogue operators.

B. TRANSPORT

1. Tuk tuk scam

Tuk tuks in Thailand prey on your greed with super low offers of all day tours. They justify this by claiming that it is the Thai Tourism Day and that the government is sponsoring free gas. And on this day, they know of places with some exclusive bargains which they can bring you to.

So what happens next, is that they bring you to jewellery/tailor shops where get a commission! In those shops, many tactics could be used to make you buy something, such as locking the shop or simply by wasting your time. Note that they do not just bring you there without you saying so, they do it in a shrewd way.

First, they will find out the purpose of your vacation. Is it to shop? To sightsee? Then, they ask about your itinerary and make suggestions to “better places” or places with more “bargains”. They will even claim that this or that place is closed but there’s another which they can bring you to.

If they discover that you are new to the city, they may bring you to a travel agency and offer to help you plan the rest of the trip. A famous one is the TAT – Tourism Authority of Thailand. It’s bullshit, avoid at all costs unless you do not mind paying exorbitant sums for fake bus tickets, hotel bookings and even plane tickets.

The more scheming ones will bring you out of town/city/to somewhere secluded and then demand an exorbitant amount to send you back.

To top it off and make it even more authentic, sometimes the tuk tuk drivers don’t suggest the places. Rather, they send you to a location and go for a toilet break. Next, a well dressed stranger will approach you from nowhere and share “insider tips” for where next to visit.

Rule of thumb:

Avoid tuk tuks, no matter how cheap or how sincere they seem.

2. Gang at Hua Lamphong train station scam

At the train station, an “official” looking person will approach and ask where you are going. He will then go to the counter, pretend to look through the system and tell you that your train has been fully booked.

Surprise surprise, he then offers you a great deal in that he knows a taxi driver who can get you to your location for a minimal cost. However, should you accept the ride, more money will be demanded once you reach your destination. The more scheming ones will drive you to a secluded location and demand more money.

Another variation is that the “official” looking person will offer to help you book train tickets outside the station. They bring you to a travel agent nearby, pretend to check with the train company via phone only to find that the train is fully booked. They will then tell you your only option is to use a cab as aforementioned, on or one of their buses.

Rule of thumb:

“The train is full” should instantly raise red flags in your mind. Check with the real official staff in the station instead of a random stranger who approaches you

3. Taxi scam

There are many ways rogue taxi drivers can scam you of your cash.

  • Claiming meter is broken and asking for an exorbitant flat fare

  • Aggressive touts at airports getting you into unofficial taxis for a seemingly cheap rate. These drivers will demand more money from you halfway through the trip.

  • Claiming the fare is only for one person; claiming a fare for luggage in the boot

  • Shortchanging through sleight of hand or claiming no change

Rule of thumb:

Avoid taxis without meters, especially those with “broken” meters. If you have no choice, negotiate the price first. Make sure the price covers everyone, not just for one person.

For those taxis with meters and yet try to negotiate a flat rate price with you, never do so, unless you have already done your research and know roughly what price to pay.

At the airport, only take the official taxis.

Also be wary of the final location which you end up in, as they might send you to a wrong place with a similar sounding name to fleece you of your cash.

Also, do not reveal much info and definitely do NOT take up advice or offers from the driver.

4. Motorbike scam

The first variation is similar to the jet ski scam, but could be a whole lot more troublesome.

The second variation is much more treacherous. When you leave your motorbike parked and locked somewhere, the company will send someone with a spare key to unlock it and steal it back.

Then, you will be forced to pay for losing your motorbike.

Rule of thumb:

Do not hand over your passport as collateral when renting the motorbike.

A simple turnaround to this problem is to use an OLD passport and also to use your own lock, no matter how troublesome it is. Better to be safe than sorry.

5. Overnight bus/train/private bus theft

Your belongings are at risk of being stolen on overnight buses or trains unless you secure them with a lock. Some have even been reported of being drugged and losing their wallet when they woke up.

Note that you can be a victim of theft even in the day, not just overnight!

Rule of thumb:

Do not expose your valuables in the public unnecessarily. Beware of private bus companies with VIP buses. Theft is normal on these VIP buses and travel time takes longer than advertised.

C. ACCOMMODATION

1. Hotel scams

There are hotels which trade on the names of popular ones and cab drivers which are in cahoots to send you to a wrong hotel which you think is right.

By the time you realise, you might have already paid in full for the hotel and also a number of tours that you have signed up for.

Rule of thumb:

Always check that the hotel you’ve arrived at IS the one that you intend to stay at.

Even better would be to bring around a paper/card with your hotel’s name on it. Along the way, use the GPS on your phone to check that you are moving in the correct direction.

D. MISC

1. Bird shit scam

Apparently, the bird shit is common around the world (e.g. Argentina, USA, etc). Just that it takes different forms in different countries (e.g. spilled liquid, mustard, sauce, etc).

This works surprisingly well, because when you are hit by bird shit, your emotions take over and you become distracted. While distracted, some stranger appears out of nowhere and helps you clean up. In the confusion, an he might steal your valuables, or let another accomplice do the job.

Rule of thumb:

If you will find a liquid poured onto you, raise your guards immediately and fend off anyone who tries to come near to help you.

2. Fake police (sometimes even real ones do this)

A scam as old as human history, it is still common and found all over the world (e.g. Malaysia, UAE, etc), although different tricks are used in different places.

In Thailand, you will be approached by a fake police who will ask to see your passport. Something wrong will be found with your visa and you will be asked to pay a fine on the spot.

Rule of thumb:

If you ever face such a situation, always stay composed first. Next ask for police identification and threaten to call the police hotline to verify.

3. Timeshare scam

On the streets, you might find a stranger approaching you with a free scratch card or questionnaire. Since it’s free, or so you thought, you proceed to scratch the card or do the questionnaire. Next thing you know you have won a prize!

However, to claim the prize, you have to head to a hotel which may or may not be nearby. Most sane tourists would probably have said thanks but no thanks and rejected the offer. However, the stranger will play the sympathy card and claim that if you don’t go, he would not be paid for doing his job.

So you go.. And you end up in a room with other tourists, listening to a presentation on timeshare apartments. At the end of it, you are presented with a special discounted price and pressured into buying. The timeshare scheme on offer probably does not exist by the way.

Rule of thumb: 

Reject the “kind” offer.

4. Wrong change given scam

This scam can happen anywhere as tourists are usually unfamiliar with the local currency. Some do not even bother checking their change.

Rule of thumb:

There are also of course, honest mistakes, but the onus is on you to check.

5. Cards/poker/blackjack scam

A stranger will approach you and try to befriend you.

For instance, he may ask where you are from. It does not matter what you say, as he will say that he has a relative who is going there soon (for any reason such as studying). Or he might share some other anecdotes (they have a template) to build rapport.

Once rapport is built, he will ask if you are willing to come over to his house as his relative has some questions. Some will invite you for a game of cards outright.

Either way, at the house, you will be pressured into playing poker or blackjack with them. They will let you win the first few rounds, but the real fun begins as the stakes get higher. Your losses start piling up and should you refuse to pay, gang members will appear and threaten your life.

Rule of thumb:

Whenever someone say he has a relative going/in your home country or some anecdote about your home country, red flags should be raised. Also, never accept an invite to a stranger’s house.

6. Fake baht scam

This is how it usually goes – when you pay for an item, the shopkeeper may claim that your note is counterfeit. He then bring it to the back/out of sight to swap with a counterfeit note!

He passes you the counterfeit note and demands another note. Should you pay, you will effectively be paying double!

Rule of thumb:

Never let any note get out of your sight. Also, be wary of the 1000 baht note as it is most commonly used. Take note of the serial numbers of the large notes as well to ensure that your bill is not swapped.

7. Bird food scam

This scam is simple. First, the stranger approaches you with a bag of bird seeds. He then forces you to take the bag and to scatter the seeds on the ground.

When you are done with a bag, the scammer might give you more bags or demand 100 baht for that bag. Refuse and he will get aggressive.

Rule of thumb:

Firmly reject.

8. Laundry scam

Be careful where you send your laundry, as your (expensive) clothes might go missing and you get no compensations besides an apology. But that’s just the first part of the scam.

The second part is that the laundry company will offer to bring you to a nearby apparel shop to replace the  lost clothes. Of course, they get a commission there.

Rule of thumb:

Send your laundry to your hotel/hostel or seek recommendations from them.

9. Pickpockets

Besides the bird shit scam as mentioned earlier, there are pickpocket pairs as well. One person will knock into you and the other will pickpocket you from behind.

Rule of thumb:

However, the real pros operate in the Netherlands and Spain, check them out for the many different creative situations they leverage.

D. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency Numbers to Call

  • Tourist Police 1155

  • Police (General Emergency Call) 191

  • Ambulance 1554

  • Fire 199

  • Medical Emergency Call 1669

  • Tourist Service Centre : 1672