You hear a lot about Thais scamming farangs, such as the infamous jewellery scam. But this story goes the other way. My Thai wife's very best friend from way back in high school earlier this year started a new business with her husband. They borrowed
a few thousand baht from us to help them with costs related to putting up a booth at the BiG trade fair. Later we lent them a few thousand baht more for supplies when orders started to come in. Basically, we had the spare cash, and we were quite
happy to help. There was no question this was a loan, in fact we even had a standard legal document signed by us, them, and witnesses to guarantee that repayments went as planned.
Then back in May our friends told us a huge order was coming in from England. We were thrilled for them. By September, we started to question to ourselves what was really going on when they reported that the buyer kept delaying his promised trip to Thailand to sign the deal. However, we were told they needed to produce a large quantity of their product for immediate dispatch upon his arrival, and needed 200,000 more baht. I decided something wasn't quite right and refused to lend them any more money. However my wife broke down and cried and begged me to approve – after all this was her best and most trusted friend. I still wouldn't budge, but eventually the sight of my poor wife's never ending tears wore me down and I transferred the money.
A few weeks later we were unable to find our friend – no reply to emails. They would answer their phone, but as soon as we spoke the connection was mysteriously cut. As we live in Australia we couldn't easily go visit them. We asked my wife's family and friends to telephone and they also found the phone would either never answer or would mysteriously hang up as soon as they spoke. My wife began to realize that not only was the money gone, but so was her friend. She also felt terrible guilt for pressuring me to send the money in the first place. She cried and cried for days on end and swore she would never loan money to anyone again. She was really suffering physical pain, and it seemed almost impossible to console her.
In a last ditch effort, just last month, we sent my wife's sister off to find them at home. They let her in and then my wife got on the phone and her friend was forced to talk to her. She admitted there was some trouble and that the big order was happening any day now and her money would all be returned. The situation seemed resolved, though we still had lingering doubts. Sure enough, just a week later, she had disappeared again. So once again the sister was sent round to find out what happened. She made up another excuse and we basically called her a big fat liar and said we want our money back — NOW. She said she didn't have it as it was all tied up in materials, but she still swore the money was coming soon. Over the following days my wife finally came to terms with the situation, and tried to wrote it off to experience. I wished I could do the same, but heck, this girl had 300,000 baht of MY savings, it's not pocket change!
Then just last week, a surprise confession arrived in our email box. The guilt had finally reached such a point that our friend wanted to come clean. Turns out that back in May a gentleman from Ghana introduced himself, by email, claiming to be a representative of an overthrown government. He was in possession of some 25 million dollars belonging to the former administration and need our friend's assistance to slip the money out of the country. A fair share was offered as a reward for her assistance. Need I say more? This is the classic "419 scam", aka "Nigerian letters scam".
Our friend proceeded to forward several dozen emails they had sent one another from May until just the day before. Several official looking documents were very cleverly created, and they also played on her Christian faith, and always, just after she sent
them some money, there was a bureaucratic delay of some sort and for just a few hundred dollars more the wheels would be greased and the briefcase of money would be on the way. The final messages indicated that they were arranging to meet my friend
and her husband in Indonesia to close the deal and make the exchange. Surprisingly, our friend STILL hadn't figured out she was being scammed!! I've heard of people flying to Nigeria hoping to close the deal and ultimately getting murdered.
My wife immediately called her and told her what was really happening. She was shocked and at first doubted this was really true. We told her to lookup 419 Nigerian scam in Google. She finally realized the truth and there were a lot of tears going down both ends of those phone lines. She and her husband had already gotten their passports and plane tickets to Jakarta. They had borrowed serious money from nearly every relative and friend, credit cards maxed out, bank accounts emptied, and had sold or pawned everything they owned, even their scooter. Everything was lost, but clearly a lot more than money was lost. It was good fortune she confessed when she did, as we fear they may not have come back from Jakarta alive. Still, we just wish she had told us when she first got that email back in May when we would have been able to warn her about the scam. The scammer had informed her to never tell family or friends the truth because we might try to get in on the action… She later told us she had never once suspected a thing, even when she went to Western Union to transfer the money she read a sign warning about the Nigerian scam. She thought, "oh well, this is going to Ghana, so no problem".
So, will we get our money back? I would say probably, but certainly not too soon. She really is my wife's best friend – still. She just screwed up. Big time. I feel sorry for her. She is a uni grad, and she and her husband have both been in the international business world for long enough to know better. They just really wanted to believe they could get something for nothing. Well, who doesn't? It seems the 419 scammers are likely to find rich pickings amongst Thai people who are still, by and large, naïve and unaware of these scams, unlike most westerners by now. And our friend learned the hard way that trusting your friends is far more important than all the money in the world.
It is unbelievable that people actually believe these stories…