Readers' Submissions

Gem Scam The Golden Argosy Factory Export Center Bangkok



All shop assistants were Thai women, ages ranging from a couple in late 20's to more with approximately 7 ladies in their late 50's. There was one Thai man in his late 30's as security on the inside of the store who opened the door for customers, another Thai man of the same age that controlled traffic for customers leaving and entering the store. Both these men well dressed in neat uniform, all shop assistants dressed well in blue uniform complete with name badges, shop well cleaned and appeared genuine all jewellery in jewellery cabinets, a large shrine to Buddha, staff friendly offering free bottled water and coffee / tea, two shop assistants per customer – one does the talking, one retrieves jewellery. The one doing the talking speaks fluent English, the other not so good. There was one Thai man in late 50's-60's with a little beef on him who I suspected to be either the manager or owner of the store who had that arrogant look about him.

Many foreigners came in and out during our 1 – 1½ hours in the store, one late aged man who spoke with an American or Canadian accent purchased goods over heard him saying he had been in the year before. Another couple, not sure of nationality, purchased goods and paid by USA $100 bills. They were in the store and left and came back with the money.

Four of us walking down Sukhumvit Rd near Chidlom towards Siam Square were approached by a well dressed Thai man with fluent English, almost as if he was born in an English speaking country. Stated he worked for the Thai Tourism Board and how the government has made them hit the streets to restore tourist confidence and boost falling tourist numbers because of the recent riots. Asked us what we had seen and what we would like to see. We told him some temples. We were holding a copy of the Lonely Planet so he marked the book where tourist attractions were and how to get there. He stated he could arrange a tuktuk and driver for 100 baht for the day to take us to some attractions and we would not have to pay the tuktuk driver until the end of the day and the driver would wait at each location for us to finish before taking us to the next one. He recommended a trip to 'The Lucky Buddha', a visit to Thai Export, and a long tail boat ride down the river. We agreed and a tuktuk appeared. We all thought he was being helpful and nice and I just hope he chokes on the food that he buys from the 100 baht tip I gave him.

Description of escort / driver: One Thai man late 30's – early / mid 40's

Arrived at Lucky Buddha, and after finishing our visit returned to the tuktuk which had moved from the position it had originally parked. On approach to tuktuk where the driver was waiting asked us if anyone needed restroom. Our reply was no, and he stated he had to and off he went. No sooner had he left another Thai aged approx late 20's or mid 30's approached and started a conversation. After telling him where we were going next, Thai Export, he spoke highly of this place and when he found out we were from Australia said he had friends in a suburb of Melbourne and when he visited Thailand he would visit this store and purchase an item and resell them in Australia for a profit.

He said that the government was closing some of the mines in 2009 and this would be the last day Thai Export would be open, and recommended that if we purchased items to say that they were for personal use only. He also said that because of the mines closing there was a one item limit per person. The tuktuk driver returned.

Next stop was The Golden Argosy Factory Export Center, commonly referred to as 'Thai Export'. We looked around the store and two rings were chosen after lengthy decision process. We were generally interested in purchasing jewellery for our own use. The prices ranged from approx 55,000 – 65,000 baht each. Paperwork was then completed which included a typed form with questions from our name and address, nationality to what we were purchasing and the use for the item. The next form was a letterhead page which we had to handwrite three points copied from a typed page which included the following:

1. I confirm that I purchased the ring for my own personal use.
2. If I sell back to the Golden Argosy Factory Export Center Co., LTD I will follow all conditions in agreement
3. This item was purchased for personal use and not for resale.

They then stamped their logo onto the letterhead. Items were then paid for using Amex and MasterCard (one ring on each). One ring had to be resized and would be ready later that afternoon and they offered to deliver it to our hotel. We declined instead opting to return and collect it. While we were there we were offered coffee and tea and brought bottled drinking water.

A tuktuk driver dropped us off at a food place of our choice and waited for us to return. We asked him to return to the store. We had to wait a further 30 minutes before the ring was ready and it was boxed and we left with the goods.

A couple of days later I found a section in the Lonely Planet on gem scams and my heart raced while my stomach ached. A discussion amongst the four of us and the coincidences of that day's occurrence became apparent and it was not until a Google search on the Golden Argosy it became clear we had just been scammed big time and that website revealed and confirmed our horror. According to the website this company has been scamming tourists for many years and was previously know as Blue Dragon / Imperial jewellery / Ma Mere Gems Collection / Blue Sapphire / TGJ Thai Centre. The only thing on our side was this had occurred on the second day of our 7 day trip.

A call to the Tourist Police was useless to say the least. The person on the other end claiming to be an officer was uninterested and although apparently recorded details would not give us his name or a record number for the report, instead telling us to return to the store to obtain a refund.

A phone call was then made to the store using the numbers listed on their letter head, 0-2628-3565 or 0-2628-3566 and finally after several attempts the call was answered and a request to speak to the manager was apparently accepted. Whether we were speaking to the manager I don't know. After telling them how we believed we had been scammed and that we had contacted the police, they told us that in Thailand the Thai people do not conduct business over the phone and to return to the store if we had a problem. The phone was then hung up by them. Their fax number is listed as 0-2628-3564 (country codes have not been included in any of the phone numbers).

A short time later after two of us took a metered taxi to the store's location we were greeted by a middle-aged lady who stated she was the accounts manager. We started to demand a refund and we were quickly ushered upstairs to an office away from other customers. We were sat down and were in the office with the lady and another younger Thai girl. We told her we believed their operation was a scam and that the goods we purchased were not worth the amount of baht we had paid for them and we wanted our money back. She asked where we had heard that this was a scam and we told her from the internet and she claimed that the reports there were from people who had purchased goods and then tried to resell them upon returning home and since they did not get as much as they wanted then they had tried to bad name their company. We told her if the goods were worth 65,000 baht then we wanted something worth 65,000 baht as we had purchased the goods in good faith for our own use and had no intention of trying to resell. She told us that the lady who had served us had given us incorrect information and had been sacked for doing this, something we know isn't true. Again we demanded a refund and we were told they would only refund 80% of the cost as this was their policy. We tried to fight it but at the risk of losing even that 80% we accepted. The paperwork was then completed and refunds to our cards will hopefully be put through by them. As we only arrived back yesterday we have not yet received a credit card statement. All paperwork has been kept by us and a dispute will be lodged with our bank in the hope of gaining the remaining 20% of the balance which indeed will make us happy that we got them back. I just now so want to add their name to as many websites as I can to make people become aware. The story is believable and honestly not suspicious as all.

Stickman's thoughts:

I am really in two minds over this. I hate it that these firms have been scamming tourists to Thailand for decades and that the authorities allow their businesses to flourish. Why that it should be pretty obvious…

But it cannot be overlooked that stupidity and greed (although that would not be relevant here for you have no intention of selling) plays a part in matters too.

Thailand will struggle to be the high quality tourist destination it wants to be until this sort of carry on is cleaned up.