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A-Z of Thai Scams And Financial Annoyances

  • Written by Cotambear
  • November 12th, 2008
  • 19 min read

ATM fake

This western scam has made it to Thailand. Scammers place their bogus device upon the cash machine. When you make a withdrawal the scammers harvest your card details and PIN enabling them to clone a duplicate card which is used on a spending spree or to drain your account.

Do not use ATMs which seem to have an odd interface. Use ATMs outside banks as their machines are likely to be checked regularly for any interference.


Beggars

Beggars in the tourist areas may not be as poor as they purport, and for some it is a lucrative career. Bangkok has even seen scammers dress as monks for the purpose. Real beggars do exist, the more likely candidates are those that you see Thais giving money to.


Cheap Charlie

'Cheap Charlie' means 'miserly' and is a term of derision. It is so well known in bargirl and punter circles that 'CC' is a known abbreviation on Thai forums.

Now you may think that your hard earned dosh is yours to spend as you see fit. Not so, as a hardened bar girl may describe you as a CC to attempt to cajole you in to buying her an overpriced 'Lady drink'.

This verbal whip has become so hardwired into the brains of some regular mongers that they can be quick to deride their fellow drinkers at a bar who fail to fall for it. Bizarrely they think they are morally superior. In doing so they hope to remind the bargirl of the monies that they have shelled out in Lady drinks in the hope of gaining her respect. Some hope. The last person in the world a Thai girl respects is a fool who parts with his baht too easily. <You have my respect for this tremendous definitionStick>

The term is rife on Thai forums and is often used by the aforementioned suckers to denigrate those who choose to assertively negotiate fees for services.

If you haven’t been called a 'CC' at least once on a trip you’re doing something wrong. If a bargirl calls you it say; 'yes I am, thank you very much', and give her a big smile because she has just paid you a very big compliment.

p.s. Another big compliment in a similar vein is 'you know too much'.

Dual pricing

AKA double pricing, racist pricing.

Dual pricing refers to the practice of charging farang a different (invariably) higher price for entry to tourist attractions.

(Almost) unbelievably it has its defenders amongst farang. Let’s run though the excusers' excuses.

  1. Tourists have lots of money so paying extra is not a burden.

Tourists' wallets come in all shapes and sizes and not all are super rich. Why should a Thai billionaire pay 10 times less than a farang backpacker? Additionally, the cheaper cost of living is one of the attractions of Thailand for many farang.

  1. Upkeep of attraction is paid for by taxes that are paid for by Thais so farang should pay more.

This argument has no consistency as private attractions dual price as well. Farang pay taxes on their flights (Thai Airlines), departure tax, hotel room tax, beer, tobacco, petrol and alcohol tax. Also being a Thai income tax payer does not automatically guarantee entry at the local rate.

  1. It’s only a small amount of money so it’s not important.

Opponents of dual pricing would oppose it if the farang was expected to pay only 1 baht more than a local – it is the principle of discriminatory pricing based on skin colour that is objectionable. It also sends out a message that the state sanctions unfair treatment towards farang, which can have knock on effects in areas like the police and judiciary.

See also Zoo, Phuket.

Exact change required (taxis, tuk tuks)

An increasingly common annoyance is drivers almost invariably having 'no change' for your proffered note, hoping that you’ll forgo the change. Have the change before your ride, or make the [email protected] wait while you get some from the bar.

Free taxi ride

A friendly chap approaches and says he will give you a free taxi sightseeing trip of the area, including Buddha monuments and the like and 'duty free' shops. He claims he can do this because he gets 'petrol vouchers' from the shops. Actually he gets a fee, or cut of your spending. What follows is a dreary tour of tourist trap shops where you will be (usually soft) sold into buying pearls, silk shirts etc. Not particularly evil, but a waste of an afternoon.

Gem scam

This scam is rife in Bangkok, particularly around tourist attractions like the royal palace. A friendly chap approaches and informs you that the venue you want to visit is closed for a holiday or some such. However, joy of joys, he has a profitable way to kill the time. A gem shop has an offer that means that the stones you buy in Thailand can be sold back home for many times their worth! Back home the hapless tourist finds out that the stones he bought are low quality and worth nothing like promised. This scam is a big money earner, and as Thailand has virtually no consumer protection laws to speak of, there is no redress.

Hotel safe

Your hotel safe may not be as safe as you think. Safes can have a master override combination that can be learned by a thieving employee. Counter by not bringing large amounts of cash into the country and opt for ATM withdrawals instead.

Internet love

See sponsorship.

Enterprising net savvy girls have learned that they don’t even have to meet love starved farang in the flesh to extract money from them. Chat sites are used to establish online relationships and the financial request begin. Amazingly many farang pay up, and large sums can be earned by girls who groom large numbers of marks.


'Joiner' Fee

Most hotels and guesthouses near the naughty nightlife areas understand that a large number of their guests are single men who will occasionally bring home female company for the night to the room that they have paid for. Fair enough.

More family orientated hotels may take the view that the breakfast walk of shame of Brian from Birmingham with his latest bed mate, a katoey that looks like Elvira dragged backwards through a hedge, does their image no good. They ban guests, or 'joiners.' Fair enough.

The third group want to be in the image bracket of the second, but cannot resist the temptation to screw the tourist for some extra dosh and charge a fee per guest, called a 'joiner fee.' Not fair!

Katoey Pickpockets

Not all Katoey are pickpockets, not all pickpockets are katoey, but it seems that a high number of tourists get their wallets lifted by some of them. They often operate in packs using distraction methods like the crotch grope.

Lady drink

Bargirls can be liberated from the bars by paying a 'barfine', ranging from 200, 300 and 500 baht in the beer bars, to 1,000 baht in the gogos.

The fine is perfectly reasonable as it represents compensation to the bar owner as the girls encourage customers to come and drink in the bar and therefore less girls equals less money.

Unfortunately most bar owners also operate the 'lady drink' system whereby a customer who wants to buy a girl a drink is expected to pay double the price of a beer for a small whisky and coke. So following the logic of the barfine system, if the girls are there to encourage the customers in to a bar to drink, why should the drinkers be penalised by being expected to buy lady drinks when the use the bar?

Bar owners often give minimum targets that the bargirls are expected to meet otherwise they get fined or lose their jobs. It can also encourage pushiness from the more hardened girls who can get quite nasty in the pursuit of the drinks.

Avoid bars with pushy girls. Do not buy lady drinks. If you wish you can tip a girl that you like, or bring in a bottle of whisky and coke so that all the girls get some drinks and the greedy bar owners get nothing.

Money changing

Some travellers have noted being short changed while changing their currency, particularly at money changing booths. Count your notes there and then.

Need you for a card game scam

You are approached to take part in a card game for money. The promise is that the game will be rigged in a way that you and the scammer’s friends make money. The 'mark' will be a rich foreigner (say from Singapore) and your presence is needed to reassure the mark that all is kosher before he loses his money. Unfortunately the 'mark' is one of the scammers too, and you end up losing your stake.

The beauty of this scam is that as gambling is illegal in Thailand, how would you sound if you went to the police? 'Hello officer, I just took part in an illegal card game where I tried to scam someone and it went wrong and I lost all my money'.

Overpricing

Similar to double pricing.

Here the farang is seen as a sucker who is unaware of the real price. The exponents can vary from roadside vendors who might try and charge 40 baht for a 20 baht snack, to tradesmen like builders who will inflate their usual fees.

Counter by (in the first instance) learning the real price and offering it and refusing to pay any more. In the second instance you can get a Thai to do the price negotiation for you, and then enjoy the consternation of their faces as they discover who their real employer is.

Padding the bill

Thai bars operate the civilised 'bin' system which saves queuing at the bars and reduces the opportunity for short changing. It does however leave open the possibility of someone adding extra drinks which you have not ordered e.g. 2 Lady drinks, on to the bill. In a busy bar this can happen quite accidentally. Counter by checking occasionally and keeping a rough total of what you’ve drink. Sadly, I’ve even seen expat bums try to 'signal' staff to add their drinks to a newbie's bin.

Questionnaire and Scratch card

Some bars and restaurants may have a tourist 'questionnaire' form. You are invited to rate the establishment you are in and tick the box for the prize you would like if you’re lucky in the 'free draw' (after filling in your accommodation address). Unfortunately the only prize you receive is a visit from an overfriendly timeshare rep who will whisk you off for three hours of hard sell which will commit you to paying out big money for a property you have never even seen.

Counter by filling in the questionnaire with false address details. The establishment gets 50 baht from the timeshare scammers, you get a chuckle imagining their wasted journeys, and everyone’s a winner (well, two out of three ain't bad).

Another timeshare standard is stopping you in the street and giving you a scratch card which amazingly you win and entitles you to a free prize which can be claimed at their hard sell HQ. Politely say no, but if they persist tell them to [email protected]@k off and say that you are looking for a policeman to report them for working without a work permit.

Rigging the price at the petrol station

Make sure the price is set to zero before the petrol attendant fills your tank. Let’s say the previous driver got 50 baht of petrol. You ask for 100 baht of petrol but in reality receive only 50. So now the attendant has 50 baht of petrol (x however many times he does it) to sell to his friend who rolls up in a big 4×4. This scam is so common that the Patong petrol station has warning signs about it.

Plus, if you don’t specify an exact amount the operator will almost invariably make sure that the bill comes to an odd amount, say 102 baht. This is to prompt you to give him 120 baht and say keep the change. Just wait there with a smile on your face and a long line of bikes behind you while he mutters off to get change.

Sponsorship

Perhaps the most peculiar of all scams is sponsorship.

Upon his return to Farangland the love sick 'sponsor' begins sending money to the Thai girl he has just met on holiday. Motives vary but the usual suspects seem to be that the farang hopes that the money will enable the girl to have sufficient money not to have to work the bar and perhaps return home to her rural village where there will be no farang to tempt her to stray.

Firstly, the idea that you can pay a girl to restrict her emotional and sexual life is morally repugnant. That said, life has its ways and you can be sure that money from abroad has no way of fettering these girls.

I have had the pleasure during 3 recent trips of observing the career of two young sisters from Isaan. Arriving in Patong a mere 18 months ago they began by working in a bar off Bangla. Pretty and personable they are not short of admirers and currently have around 6 men each who regularly send them money from abroad. The only significant alteration to their behaviour has been that the money frees them from bar work and enables them to work as freelancers in Patong's discos where of course they meet other farangs. They do this every night. When I ask why the sponsors send money they shrug shoulders in incomprehension. One then states that she thinks it may be to keep her from working but then says 'it’s never enough', and she is right.

These girls were brought to Patong by their mother who was clearly aware that their beauty was a great asset. Thailand’s great peasant population retains the extended family system which has its strengths and weaknesses. If granny is poor and sick then the whole family must help out. Children are made exceedingly aware of the 'debt' to their parents for bringing them up and their responsibility to poorer family members. The family has a large percentage claim on whatever money the girl brings in. Therefore however much a sponsor sends, it is 'never enough' to stop working as the families needs rise accordingly.

I stated earlier that I thought that this was the most peculiar of all scams as the farang usually enters it voluntarily and willingly. The girls I mentioned are young and still a little romantic and currently see the farang as friends sending money. More hardened girls will actively cultivate sponsors and escalate demands for money with invented woes of family illnesses etc (the 'sick buffalo' scenario).

Sin Soht

Sin Soht is a dowry, usually cash and gold given to the bride’s family on the occasion of their virgin daughter’s first wedding. However, some unscrupulous families have attempted to extend the tradition to encompass farang suitors of worn out bar girls.

Do not pay sin soht unless;

  1. You are Thai
  2. It’s her first marriage and she is a virgin

I personally have no medieval hang ups about brides being virgins, I am merely outlining what sin soht is supposed to be about. Messing about flirting with 40+ year old hotel girls, they thought it was hilariously funny when I suggested I pay sin soht to marry them.

Tipping

Tipping is a farang, particularly US American practice, that has no part in Thai culture. However quick to see the opportunity for extra baht some bars may try the old trick of giving change in multiples of 1 baht coins. Put them in your pocket without hesitation, they come in useful paying for the toilet.

Tuk tuks

Transport in Patong is under the iron grip of a nasty cartel popularly known as the 'tuk tuk mafia'. Prices are rigged artificially high, visitors to Pattaya or Bangkok will be shocked to learn that a 5 minute tuk tuk ride costs a minimum of 200 baht. There are no baht buses circling the city, about 10 years ago there was an attempt to start one and the driver was dragged from his cab and beaten mercilessly in front of shocked passengers. Taxi drivers not part of the cartel face the same treatment if they dare collect or receive fares on what the gang regards is their territory.

Motor cycle taxi operators have recently begun operating in a similar way.

This set up leads to a distinctly shady cohort of drivers. Passengers commonly report drunken drivers, drivers who try to charge even more than the agreed fare, with menaces.

Since visitors to Patong are likely to have a high level of negative contact with these vermin you might think that the authorities would take some action against them. However, the high fares charged by the tuk tuks can buy a lot of influence…

Under the influence (driving)

Police in Phuket have been issued with breathalysers and it can be a nice little money earner. After arrest the drunken farang is faced with spending two nights in the monkey house before going to court and being fined typically 2,700 baht. He is also threatened with a visit to the immigration police.

The police demand 20k to avoid court. However they have been known to accept 5k.

The simplest solution to this problem is not to drink and drive. However, due to Patong's transport nightmare (see 'Tuk Tuk's and their drunken drivers) options for the nighttime reveller are limited to the choice of drunk driving, or be driven home by a drunk, or walking home and be run over by a drunk. <I don't consider this one a scam at all. Drunk drivers deserve what they getStick>

Vehicle damage

Farang hires Jet ski. Farang returns Jet ski. Jet ski owner 'notices' scratch on Jet ski which farang has caused and demands a ridiculous (£1500 in one account) amount of compensation. Farang refuses and protest innocence. Threatening crowd gathers. Police take no interest as it’s a 'private matter'. Increasingly scared farang capitulates and pays a healthy slice of what is effectively protection money. This scam is very common and jet skis should be avoided like the plague.

Patong's gouging tuk tuk prices and lack of baht buses mean that many farang hire scooters. Indeed it’s a great way to see the island. Some (albeit a small minority) of scooter owners will try the scam outlined above so always check over the bike and perhaps take photos. Do not leave your passport with them as 'security', it can be held ransom against payment for 'damages'.

Wife’s name (business or property)

Thai laws mean that it is difficult for farangs to own a house or business premises without going through shaky and untested quasi legal channels. No problem, thinks the farang, I can put the house or business in the 'wife’s name'. Three things can result;

a. She was a gold digger, and he is quickly out on his ear penniless as the assets are all in her name.

b. She comes under great pressure from the extended family to sell up as they all have pressing financial needs. She may like him or even love him but family comes first.

c. Like many relationships the love fades, but instead of a half half split, the farang end up potless.

The solution – rent.

X rated shows (touts)

Formerly in busy hotspots like Bangla, touts would approach farang with promises of hot shows at reasonable prices. Escorted to dingy holes the farang would watch a couple of girls shuffle aimlessly, get bored, try to leave, and then be presented with a massive bill. The 100 baht drinks for example have suddenly become 500. The appearance of male bruisers at this point encourages the mark to pay up.

Bangla Road now has a new twist. Off Bangla is Soi Seadragon which hosts 5 or 6 gogos. The drinks are 120 baht. What the tout will do is escort the farang to the bar where the drink now becomes 500 baht. The difference in price is pocketed by the tout.

Up to two dozen of these parasites can now be seen on Bangla in any one night.

Now you may think this makes no economic sense as the enraged farang will not return after such extortion causing the loss of repeat trade and a bad rep.

The truth is that the gogo owners did not recruit the touts, the touts imposed themselves on the gogos. Businesses attempting to avoid paying the touts have had property damage and death threats.

And the most amazing thing is that the touts proudly display licenses from the local municipality!

Yah Bah

Yah Bah is a type of amphetamine (speed) which comes in tablet form and is usually smoked. Penalties for possession are harsh. There have been cases where drug dealers have sold drugs to farang then immediately tipped off the police. The drug dealer earns tolerance from the cops and a potential pay out if the farang manages to stump up the hefty bribe money.

Some of the Patong Beach Road tuktuk cartel are now bold enough to openly push drugs to strangers, which implies at least some tolerance to their behaviour from the police.

Similarly you don’t want to hang around with a Thai girl with a habit. If provoked, revenge could take the form of the above.

Zoo. Phuket zoo

Privately owned Phuket zoo costs 80 baht to enter. This price is displayed only in Thai using Thai script, despite Thais using Arabic i.e. 0-9 numerals in their markets, on TV etc. Farangs are expected to pay 5x that amount – 400 baht. Excuses given are that 'no one complains so everyone is happy' (from the zoo owners) to 'discrimination happens all over the world' from TAT.

If everyone is happy then why conceal the dual pricing levels?

You might think from reading all this that Thailand (LOS) stands for land of scams rather than land of smiles. The truth is that the vast majority of visitors have a great time without encountering any problems.

Indeed many of the scams here are present in other countries, and some, like timeshare touting, have been directly imported in by farang 'businessmen'.

One 'golden rule' is remembering that Thai people are generally warm and friendly, but also reserved and polite. It therefore follows that a Thai stranger who approaches you is usually after one thing, your money.

The information here is to enable you to make better choices rather than scare you away. It is not a set of rules that you must obey, just my take on things. Forewarned is forearmed in the choices you want to make.

If you want to buy a timeshare, pay sin soht, buy lady drinks, be overcharged or pay dual pricing then it is your money and up to you how you spend it. Up to you.

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent summary of scams prevalent in Thailand.